I have had a blog since 1998, a Flickr account since 2004, a Facebook account since 2007, and a Twitter account since 2010. Somewhere in there I also spent some quality time with MySpace and Friendster and had brief flirtations with various other social networking sites. (I, like you, often wonder, “When does it end?” The answer, of course, is never.) A few years ago, pretty much everyone I knew got on Tumblr—a platform that has successfully combined blogging and social networking to the tune of more than fifty million users—but I skipped that trip until this past winter, when I moved down to New Orleans for a few months. A savvy young friend of mine pushed me to launch a Tumblr page because my fourth book was coming out and she believed it would expose me to a new audience, which is exactly the right reason to do it. And I had a bunch of pictures from Mardi Gras parades I wanted to post somewhere, which, as it turns out, is also exactly the right reason to do it. Three months later I have close to two thousand followers and I am consistently impressed with how easy it is to post content, expose myself to new ideas, and become a part of the larger conversation. Whether that will help with book sales remains to be seen, but it sure is fun. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Customize. As with most blogging platforms, Tumblr offers a number of free templates (called themes) you can use to create your own blog. There are also premium themes you can purchase. All these templates are customizable, which means you can choose fonts and background colors and also add descriptive text about yourself. If you know a little bit of HTML or have any design skills, even better: The templates offer an option that allows you to edit your theme’s HTML code.
Choose your content carefully. You can post text, photos, audio, video, and more. “Before hitting that Create Post button, ask yourself, ‘If this post popped up in my dash, would I care about it enough to share the link with a friend on Gchat?’” says Cole Stryker, author of Epic Win for Anonymous: How 4Chan’s Army Conquered the Web (Overlook, 2011). “Imagine every post you write will be seen by a powerful editor who could make your career.”
Show your personality. “Tumblr is all about personality,” says Maris Kreizman, creator of the wildly popular Slaughterhouse 90210 Tumblr, which combines pop-culture images with excerpts from books. “Use your Tumblr to share your voice, your particular point of view, with the larger Tumblr lit community. Straight-up self-promotion should be kept to a minimum, unless it somehow involves pugs.” (I must admit that I do post a lot of pictures of little dogs.)
Keep it simple. Brevity is the soul of wit, especially on the Internet. People don’t tend to read on Tumblr so much as scan. When you’re grabbing a piece of text from somewhere else, publish the most relevant section rather than just reposting the entire article. And if you’ve written a giant rant about the publishing industry, recognize that your brilliance might not get read in its entirety, and in fact might turn people off from your Tumblr.
Join the conversation. Like and reblog other people’s posts, and never reblog without adding your own commentary, Stryker suggests. Follow people you admire, not only because you like their content but also so you can engage with them. “Add your two cents to their conversations,” he says. “Ask them relevant questions. Argue with them. Compliment them. Embed yourself into the discourse.”
Be visual. “In the case of Tumblr, image is superior to language. It’s a hard pill to swallow for us literary types, but that’s the key,” says Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow (Algonquin Books, 2011). A compelling photo is more likely to get attention than anything else. The photos I posted of crawfish boils and po’boys in New Orleans got multiple reposts and likes—many more than most of my posts. I almost always try to attach an attractive image to a post. If nothing else, it makes things more entertaining.
Tag it. Tagging your post—adding a list of searchable words—can help attract a new readership to your Tumblr. You can also search other people’s tags to find blog posts related to what you are interested in, whether it’s literature, politics, or Southern cuisine. In the end it should all feel natural and authentic, and finding Tumblrs you like is all part of the fun.
Jami Attenberg is the author of The Melting Season (Riverhead Books, 2010), The Kept Man (Riverhead Books, 2007), and Instant Love (Shaye Areheart Books, 2006). Her fourth book, The Middlesteins, will be published by Grand Central Publishing in October 2012. Visit her online at jamiatt.tumblr.com.