As I’ve said many times before, Blog Carnivals are a really smart way to get the word out about your work, no matter what you write about on the web.
But submitting to blog carnivals is only one side of the equation. Hosting a blog carnival can be far more complex and isn’t always an easy feat. In fact, it can occasionally be somewhat of a headache, especially if you’re hosting one with lots of entries. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Why? Because I have developed a comprehensive system that breaks down the process into 7 steps.
In fact, this is exactly how I put together the Byteful Travel Blog Carnival (BTBC), and I’ve gotten tons of positive feedback about how well those are put together. And as you can probably guess, the quality of a blog carnival depends a great deal on the quality of the submissions, which is why it’s so important to…
1. Pre-Qualify submissions as they come in.
When you are assigned to host a new edition of a blog carnival, you will be sent an email notification whenever someone submits an article to your blog carnival through the BlogCarnival.com website. The first few times I hosted a blog carnival, I would read these as they came in and then forget about them. Over time though, I realized that they could save me valuable time if used correctly.
To get the most out of these notifications, I click the link to see the submitted article and then decide if it fits the blog carnival or not. (Cuz believe it or not, blog carnivals get a fair amount of spam.) I skim the article, and if it looks good, I “star” that email. I try to do this once a week for the BTBC and once every few days for blog carnivals that are hosted more frequently.
By “pre-qualifying” entries, I always have a list of entries that I already know are good. This saves me time on the day I actually assemble the blog carnival and makes everything flow much more smoothly.
2. Use the Opt-In Method for Inclusion
The list of starred emails containing known-good articles is extremely helpful to us in this next step where we make the final decision on which articles are included. I usually do this when BlogCarnival.com emails me a reminder that the carnival is coming up, which is usually right after the carnival’s submission deadline. In that reminder email is a link to the “InstaCarnival editor” which is a wonderful little feature that creates an assembled blog carnival for you. (If you can’t find this reminder email, head over to BlogCarnival.com, log in, click “My Carnivals”, and click on the number to the far right of the list (which is the number of submissions that edition received).
Now, just because the InstaCarnival is great doesn’t mean it does all the work, though. It doesn’t come with any kind of artificial intelligence; you still have to decide what’s included. And when you get to the InstaCarnival editor, you will see a list of submitted articles. The first thing you need to do is check the “exclude” checkbox on all of them, and then click “Save” on the bottom. This may take a minute or two, but it’s totally worthy it because, by doing this, you ensure no spammy articles will get through.
Then, uncheck the “exclude” box for only those articles that you starred back in your email inbox. Even though this opt-in method sound strange at first, it’s a surefire way to avoid any spam creeping into your carnival (the importance of which we’ll discuss in a bit). Once you’ve done that, click “Save”.
3. Fix Categories & Finalize the Preview Draft
Once the InstaCarnival has been saved, click the “Preview Draft” button at the top. You will now see a rough draft of your blog carnival, complete with attribution, links to the articles, and everything broken up into categories. This is a huge time saver! But we’re not done yet. The InstaCarnival isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t always get the carnival right the first time. Be sure to double-check for duplicate categories and ensure that each article is in the category you want it to be in.
If you see a duplicate category, it’s because your entries aren’t grouped by category properly. To fix that, you need to click “edit” and change the order of the entries in the blog carnival so that entries that belong in the same category are grouped together in the list. To change the order of articles in the list, type the corresponding number in the “order” box and click “Save”. For instance, if you see an article that says “order: 50” and you want it just after the article that is “order: 10”, type in “order: 11” and click save. It sounds strange, but it makes sense once you do it.
4. Verify Entries & Gather Twitter Names
Now that you’ve got your blog carnival organized the way you like it, take this opportunity to click through to each article and make doubly sure that you want to endorse each of these articles. That’s what you’re doing here, after all; and it’s not meant to be taken lightly. When you include someone’s article in your blog carnival, you are, in effect, saying that “this is relevant to this topic and I support more people discovering this article”; so if you have mixed feelings about including something, think long and hard before you let it into your blog carnival.
While you’re doing that, be sure to look around for any Twitter usernames referenced beside the articles so you can @reply the carnival participants once the carnival is published. In fact, it’s best to keep a list of the Twitter names in a separate text file. To find the usernames, I often view the html source code of a given article and search for the word “twitter”. (How to do this varies from browser to browser. Check the “View” menu or similar.) Ironically enough, looking at the source code can be the quickest way to see what someone’s Twitter username is!
5. Give your Blog Carnival a Human Touch
Making your blog carnival really speak to the reader is extremely important! I cannot overstate this. Too many blog carnival hosts simply take the output of the InstaCarnival page and throw it up on their site. But is that personal? Does that honestly invite your readers, who have graciously given you their attention, to checkout your blog carnival?
In my experience, a blog carnival is enjoyed much more (and therefore catches on much faster) when given a healthy dose of humanity. To do that, click on the “preview draft” button (if you aren’t on the page already). Then scroll to the bottom, and copy the HTML code in the box. Paste the code into a new post in your blogging software. If the code is broken, don’t worry! I’ve encountered this problem, too. Try clicking the checkbox above the box that says “Check for WordPress compatible HTML”. (If the code still doesn’t work after doing that, let me know and I’ll share another solution in the comments.)
Now that we have the actual code for this blog carnival edition, we can write a concise introduction the draws the reader in. I suggest you replace the standard “Welcome to XYZ edition” introduction with something more unique. For ideas, you can see past BTBCs as well as other blog carnivals I’ve hosted.
One great way to introduce a blog carnival is to take a paragraph or so to talk about a couple of your favorite entries. It gives you an opportunity to put your own spin on the carnival, and your readers will appreciate knowing which entries to check out first.
It’s also a great time to write a short outro to the carnival thanking the people who submitted their articles, letting your readers know when the next edition will be, and providing links to the submission page. The InstaCarnival page adds these links automatically, but you may want to phrase them into a sentence. I also recommend you delete the “technorati tags” that the InstaCarnival puts at the end of the carnival since I’ve found them to be largely useless.
6. Proofread your carnival. Aloud.
While this may even sound silly, I always recommend reading your blog carnival out loud to yourself before you publish it. Seriously, say all of the words. This is the best and most natural way to find typos as well as awkward phrasing. Proofreading aloud may not sound that fun, but trust me, your carnival will be much better if you do it. 🙂 (I even read this article aloud as I proofread it!)
If you’re still resistant to proofing your carnival edition out loud, remember that many people will be seeing this. Try making it a game. If it helps, try reading the whole edition in a StrongBad voice. As long as you read it and understand it, it will make catching errors that much easier.
7. Spread the Word & Tweet all about it!
Now comes the fun part: spreading the word. It’s time to use that list of Twitter names that you made before. Usually I’ll phrase my tweets rather like this:
“Congrats @Somebody & @Someoneelse You’re in the latest YOURCARNIVALHERE carnival! Give yourself a High-5! http://bit.ly/YOURLINK”
Depending on the length of the usernames, I’ll fit two or three usernames per tweet. (Pro tip: put together your tweets and make sure they’re all under 140 characters before you tweet any of them out. Then send the tweets once per minute until you’ve tweeted them all.) By grouping tweets together, I not only reduce the amount of tweets I send out (which reduces the chance of people getting tweet-fatigue) I also help bloggers find out about each other. Think about it. Another interesting bit is that whenever “@Somebody” retweets my tweet, “@Someoneelse” will see the tweet twice in their @mentions section on Twitter. When done correctly (especially when the edition of the carnival has lots of entries) it can create a veritable storm of twitter reactions!
You also may have noticed the example link above is a bit.ly link, and there’s a very good reason for that. I use bit.ly for my links because, in addition to being a great url shortening service, they also let me track how people find the link and where they’re from.
Once you’ve published the carnival, head over to BlogCarnival.com one last time, click on “My Carnivals”, and click on the number to the far right of the list. Viola, you’re back at the InstaCarnival page. From here, click “edit this edition” and click the “already posted” button. Doing this is very important as it keeps the carnival manager at BlogCarnival.com up to date as well as lets BlogCarnival draw attention to the edition you just published. This is even more important when you’re a guest host for a carnival. After all, if you don’t remember to do it, the owner of the carnival will have to do it; so updating this status is a matter of courtesy.
And finally, if the carnival belongs to you, remember to schedule the next edition once you’ve marked the current edition as “already posted”. To do that, click “Schedule New Edition” on the left hand column on BlogCarnival.com.
And that’s it! That process has seen me through many blog carnivals so far, and I expect it will see me through for many more in the years to come.
If you are hosting a blog carnival and have any questions or need clarification any points, please let me know in the comments.