Monday, April 18, 2016

Revit Add-ons Lessons Learned – A Reference for Bloggers

Rules of the Road

I often take inspiration from Luke Johnson, he of What Revit Wants, because I like folks who are smarter than me. Sometime ago he published a short piece about rules industry bloggers should follow. It's stuck with me, though I can't find the article now. I do remember a couple of the rules:
  • Always give credit
  • Offer unique content

The first one's a biggie. The Revit blogosphere is co-dependent in that information is often shared, recycled and repurposed. My experience is that folks don't mind this, as long as you properly source your content.

There was a Revit-related magazine published a while back, "Revit World". Because of my interest in the topic, the first thing I looked for in the table of contents was Revit add-ins. Sure enough, there was a two page spread featuring them. I flipped over to it, and was surprised to see that the content was lifted whole cloth from my site, without any credit whatsoever. I'm sure it was an oversight. The editor apologized and assured me he would print proper credit in the next issue. He even agreed to allow me to author future like articles, which I was keen to do, so all was good. But alas, the second issue was never to be. All was not lost though as I repurposed my idea for the articles as the What's Hot in Revit Add-ons series of posts (and there's another one coming soon, I promise!).

Luke's second rule is a good one too, though, if you think about it, while Revit Add-ons has some original content, I repurpose and repackage much, much more than I create. For this kind of site, I think that's appropriate. So I would add:
  • Or offer consolidated and convenient access to information

To these I would add a few more:
  • Get permission before quoting sources by name
  • Spelling and grammar matter
  • Design matters
    • Make your blog as presentable as possible
    • Outsource aspects of the design if needed
  • If you want to monetize your blog:
    • First build a substantial reader base
    • Schedule your posts so they drop at intervals, rather than "binge posting". This will help to drive up pageviews, which are very important to advertisers
    • Develop a brand identity
    • In marketing your offerings, be gently persistent
    • Relationships matter, foster them above all else*
    • Create your own ad widgets**

* ... some prospects take years to become clients, and that's okay. For example, while I was with LMN Architects from 2007-2011, every year at Christmastime Brian P. of the PPI Group would take me out for coffee, or for lunch, only for me to tell him that we at LMN had absolutely no plans to become an Autodesk "shop" (the royal we, I now realize, meaning "me"). When we finally did, I selected The PPI Group for our reseller, in no small part because of the work Brian had put in the preceding 4 years, during which he seemed to genuinely care about LMN and me, even when there was seemingly no sale to be made.

** ... in addition to services like AdSense, because your own will pay better. Drop me a line if you want to know how I make my ad widgets for this site.

Brand Identity

If you want to know what brand identity really means, ask a marketing professional. To me, it's establishing yourself or your service in a way that is easily recognizable. I have a bit of an advantage: my name, Tim Grimm.

Growing up, I hated it. In fact, "hated" isn't a strong enough word. I was teased mercilessly. However, when I began working in professional services in 1998, I quickly began to like it; it was easy for customers to remember, even months or years after the fact.

When I sat down to create Revit Add-ons, I already had a color scheme in mind, orange and blue, because these were two of my sons', who were only 1-year old at the time, favorite colors. A lot of things flowed from that, including the logo.

Nowadays when I want to create artwork for the site, I simply stick with that color scheme.

When I extended my brand into the now-fallow Civil 3D Add-ons and AutoCAD Add-ons, it was easy to do – I simply played off the secondary colors in the logo.

So yeah, brand identity – it's not so hard, just take a consistent approach.

On Writing

I enjoy writing, though I don't know that I'm especially good at it. For example, I couldn't explain the first thing about sentence structure to my now 6-year old sons. But I'm well read, and I know what's pleasing to the eye, and what isn't.

When it comes to writing, my top 5 tips are:
  1. Proofread!
  2. Then proofread again
  3. Then proofread some more
  4. When you think you're done, proofread again
  5. Then, after a good night's sleep, proofread one. More. TIME!

Oh, and be sure to proofread the final published version, not just the in-editor version. Final formatting can sometimes help you identify mistakes, or cause you to rework things for aesthetic reasons.

And, after all that, after the seemingly endless proofreading and revising that I do indeed practice, I STILL screw up. Ugh, that's frustrating...

I'm not one for self-help books, I mean, who has the time? But I did read On Writing by Stephen King, but only because he's one of my favorite authors, and I was younger when it was published and so had more juice. I thought it was brilliant. He offered practical tips in an engaging and entertaining way. He has a way with that, dontcha know. Little nuggets like:

  • If you want to be a good writer, the most important thing is to read
  • The second most important thing is to write
  • The most important part of a sentence should come at the end
  • Avoid descriptive terms when describing dialog, such as "pointedly she said", because once you start, you'll have to do it throughout
  • The same rule applies to emphasis

But, of course, some rules are meant to be broken.

Thinking about it now, it's high time for a re-read...

I guess you could say I'm a tinkerer. I take a good, solid first whack, and then I refine. I reread and revise my work until I have something I enjoy reading. That's what works for me. It's slow work though, and I don't think it would cut it if this was my day job.

I already mentioned Stephen King. Another of my favorite authors is the great fantasist Harlan Ellison. When it comes to revising their published works, he and King are polar opposites. Once published, King almost never makes revisions. Infact, I can only think of one time when he did, when he made a major rewrite to The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger.

And, ugh, did we learn nothing from George Lucas' lame digital revisionism of the cantina scene in Star Wars?!? Sometimes the good guy shoots first – or, maybe, he's not such a good guy, and that's okay too!  I think they even have a name for that type of character, "anti-hero". Anti-hero – yeah yeah, that's the ticket!

And no, not "Episode IV", STAR WARS!

But I digress...

In stark contrast, with every publication, and there have been many, Ellison revises his text, sometimes significantly.

Now, I'm not comparing myself to Harlan Ellison, but you could say I'm more like him than I am like Steve King, and I'm okay with that.

That Harlan Ellison dude sure does have good taste in names!

The point is, find what works for you and stick with it.

There are some applications to assist with grammar and helping you to be a better writer. I've not used them, maybe I should. Grammarly is probably the most well known, and it's free. The Hemingway Editor is another inexpensive option that I've heard good things about.

So, I hope you've enjoyed this piece. I'm certainly glad I've made it this far, far enough to write it.

Thanks for coming along for the ride!

Tim Grimm
Seattle, WA, USA
April 18, 2016

"Not bad for a reformed Bentley guy."

"When writing about the past, we all write fiction." -Stephen King, Joyland

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