HOW TO LAUNCH A BLOG: THE J FOR JETPACK EXPERIENCE
Paul Wiseall may be known to some of you as part of the fabulous Fantasy Faction team, a review site choc full of exciting genre information and commentary. However, as Paul's recently set up a new blog, we thought it would be interesting to get his views on how blogging might have changed since he started out, what J for Jetpack stands for - apart from J referencing Jetpack of course ;) - and other burning questions. Paul is brimful of positive feelings about the new project and find out more below!
1. You were features editor for and helped develop Marc Aplin’s fantastic Fantasy Faction site for several years and you’ve recently launched the fresh new J for Jetpack site. Can you tell us a bit about why you created J For Jetpack and what approach you're taking with it?
I don't see the point in negative reviews. I never have. I don't mean that I would write a good review of a bad book, not at all! I just figure, why waste your time grumbling about a book or film when you could be writing about something you love. I'm pretty sure it was Einstein who once said, 'Enthusiasm is ALWAYS more infectious than grumbling'.
As a reader I don't want to waste my time being told why I shouldn't read something. I'd rather spend it reading about something new and fantastic that I simply must check out because this reviewer (who probably reads a lot of books and is likely to know their stuff) is gushing over it which means it might be worth taking a look. If something's no good I'd rather just never hear about it.
Reviewing is just opinion. Just because I don't like something doesn’t make it bad but if three thousand people read that review and don't buy that book because of it, I could potentially do major damage to that debut author's career. Yes, I appreciate how lah-di-dah that sounds but you get what I mean.
So anyway, I found myself reading a miserable book review online and decided enough was enough with this negative malarkey! Let's start a website that is just tries to enjoy the ride.
That night my flatmate and I made a plan and J For Jetpack was born.
2. How important is it to come up with a catchy name like J For Jetpack? Did you spend a long time thinking up something that would be catchy or did it just come to you?
My one rule with picking a name was not to use the word Geek or Nerd. If you're a fan of this genre stuff then you're undermining yourself with a name that suggests you only appeal to the guys in The Big Bang Theory.
You need to remember that EVERYONE loves genre. You friend's mum might say that she can't stand all this dragon stuff you enjoy but she bloody loves a bit of that Game Of Thrones what's on the telly, 'have you seen that by the way?' she asks. 'It's rather good'
We wanted something that didn't ostracize anyone, so we thought robots! Everyone loves robots. Except a quick Google search shows an awful lot of genre websites with the word robot in the title. So then we thought of cultural references like 'A Bigger Boat' (boring), random titles like 'Tick Tick Boom' (taken) and favourite one-liners - 'He's Dead Jim' (too expensive). Don't forget a good name's nothing without the website URL and decent URLS can get rather pricey.
One day I was sat with a friend who was teaching her kid the ABC. “A for...” And the kid would shout “Apple!” “B for...” “Bongos!”
When my friend got to J, I knew what the answer was before the kid. “J for...”
“Jetpack!” I exclaimed, jumping to my feet excitedly. I ran out of the house waving my arms like Kermit the frog, eager to tell James we had a name and left behind me a confused friend and a kid who had his thunder well and truly stolen.
If I lived in a comic, that kid will grow up to become my arch-nemesis or something.
3. J for Jetpack has a small core team and a few selected contributors. What do you see as the advantages of having a team, over say running your one-person blog or review site?
I get incredibly bored on my own and when I get bored I do dumb stuff! I once got so bored that I decorated my lounge like a jungle, dressed up my flatmate's dog like a cardboard dinosaur and watched Jurassic Park. I officially created the worlds first 5-D experience! But my flatmate was on holiday and doing the things you love just aren't as fun without someone to share them with.
Having a team not only surrounds you by like minded people but it also helps keep the enthusiasm up as blogging can be hard work.
Remember, readers like websites that are updated well and often but when you're blogging alone, you're working a full time job, managing a social life, perhaps with a girlfriend etc. The idea of getting home and blogging into the night can occasionally be soul-crushingly daunting and it's hard to keep a steady stream of content going. Having a team not only takes the pressure off, but it helps elevate you to legitimate website status much quicker.
My best piece of advice is to make sure your small team are competent writers, enthusiastic fans and all round good people. This way you don't have to worry so much about massive edits on their articles, you don't have to worry about them getting bored and not turning things in when promised and most importantly you can trust them to represent your website well when they go to events and approach authors.
4. You helped Fantasy Faction move from a new blog to a mature site. This must have taught you a great deal, in terms of how to turn your enthusiasm into posts that strike a real chord with your readers. What are the main lessons you learned from working on Fantasy Faction that you’ve brought to the new site?
Argh, I can't give away trademark Fantasy-Faction secrets! Have you seen Marc Aplin the FF founder? He's built like a machine, he'll tear me in to pieces!
There are two key things I'll share that I think are paramount to a site (or anything for that matter) becoming successful. Marc taught me the first one and that is that you won't get anywhere without hard work and the second thing is pure enthusiasm. If you get excited about something and enjoy writing about it then you can be sure that your excitement will translate to paper and people will love reading it and come back for more.
5. Do genre fans tend to respond to and enjoy certain types of post more than others in your experience?
Personally I'm a sucker for those posts that are titled something like TEN THINGS YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE ABOUT THE CAT IN ALIEN! You know the ones, they sit in the side bars of your favourite sites and no one knows where they come from or who creates them but at the bottom you're linked to another such article called something like, 'YOU WON'T BELIEVE WHAT BANE'S FACE LOOKS LIKE BEHIND THE MASK!' Click.
In my experience though, fans love everything. Some want to read about the history and fictional language of some fairy species from a book in the '60s while others want to read about the Top 5 space ships. You really can't call it. Last week for example, we suddenly got 300 hits on a small article about some super hero suitcases James and I found while walking around Camden Market. No idea why, perhaps David Beckham has just been seen on holiday in a Batman mask.
Actually, interviews do really well though. I think it's because they show a glimpse in to the head of an author and seeing as authors are notoriously solitary creatures, fans tend to crave reading about them. I know I do.
6. Has blogging changed since you started out do you think?
It has and it hasn't. I mean, in terms of genre blogging it's still people putting down word after word about the things they enjoy and hoping to pass on their excitement but now there are IMPOSTERS infiltrating the blogosphere. I love that absolutely anyone can become a blogger. But, with some people finding fame through sometimes sensationalist blogging, the internet seems to be filling up with wannabes. Some people seem to see it as a cheap fast track to fame in much the same vein as appearing on Big Brother.
Last year I was working with a guy who told me he was going to become a fashion blogger 'coz like, that's how you get famous and get all the free stuff innit? He was convinced that blogging was easy and you become a Youtube sensation over night. This just ain't the case. Blogging is passion. It's staying up late despite having work the next day because you're loving what you're writing about.
Unfortunately, blogging has also become a buzz word with big companies. These companies have budgets with which to woo the bloggers into promoting things they might not normally, so it can all become a little bit contrived and corporate. In turn this makes it more and more difficult to find the decent, trustworthy blogs.
7. Has the J for Jetpack team or you personally been surprised by anything while developing the new site? For example, was finding content perhaps easier than planned as you now really know the market? Was anything harder than expected, or has it all been a planned, structured, seamless process?!
Planned, structured and seamless process... If only.
In terms of content that's fairly straight forward and really just depends on how much time you have to write. The biggest headache is setting up the site. Okay, you can pick up a free Wordpress site but if you want to do it properly it's going to mean hours and hours with your head buried in code or articles about optimization.
Another thing to be aware of is the amount of other genre sites already out there so making a name for yourself and stealing a piece of the pie takes a bit more thought than it did a couple of years ago.
8. From chatting to you about your plans, it sounds like J for Jetpack wants to eventually deliver a wide multi-platform experience, ranging from **REDACTED** to any other ideas that keep things fresh! How do you keep the ideas coming and stay inspired?
I once read that David Bowie used to write down a whole bunch of words and sentences that fit together and then chop them up, mess them all around on a table and then sing whatever lyrics came out. I'm not sure if this is true or not but it's certainly an attitude I take to life in general.
So while our plans for a Camel Toaster won't be coming to fruition any time soon, we have got some cool things rolling none of which I can chat about in case they don't work.
In terms of article ideas though, you need to get yourself a Craig and a Celeste (Both Jetpack contributors) because what they don't know about SF/F isn't worth knowing. The other day James and I asked Craig what he knew about Kaiju (as we'd just watched Pacific Rim) and his reply sparked fifty excited tangents, all of which are potential new articles.
9. What’s the coolest or most exciting thing about running your own blog?
Thanks to running blogs I've found myself in the most wonderfully bizarre situations and this for me is the most exciting thing because I am still and always will be a fanboy at heart.
Last year I found myself drinking whisky with the late, great Iain Banks in a pub in Bath. I promise you life doesn't get much more cool than that.
Oh and business cards. I get to have business cards with my name on 'em. That's pretty cool too.