And on the Topic of Japanese People Reacting to a Pregnant Westerner…

A week or so ago, I wrote about my hospital midwife’s reaction to my being 1.5 kilos over the Japanese target weight for a pregnant woman at my stage. The encounter with the midwife happened a little more than a month ago, so now, my belly is even rounder.

I’ve actually been surprised to find that, once my nausea waned at about 19 weeks, I’ve really enjoyed having a pregnant stomach. There are two things I like about it:

  • One, I love not having to suck my stomach in after eating. I used to favor tight-ish tops before I got pregnant, and when I ate a big meal, I’d want to tuck my little belly roll in. Now I don’t even need to think about that.
  • Two, I kind of like being able to touch my own stomach in public! Is this weird of me? I realized yesterday, as I was coming home from a walk and rubbing my belly to see if I could feel the little one kick, that being pregnant is one of the only times we’re really allowed to touch our bodies in public without it seeming inappropriate. (I think this prohibition against interacting with our own bodies in public goes for both women and men, in both the West and Japan.) I didn’t realize being pregnant would provide a kind of unique bodily permission, and I really like it now, how it feels both secretive and special and public all at once.

My Japanese neighbors have seemed very sweet about my pregnancy, cooing over my belly, urging me to kiwo-tsukete, “be careful!” But they invariably seeming bowled over when I tell them that no, I am not about to give birth, I am due in about four months. (I don’t have enough Japanese skills to explain that, according to my American pregnancy books, size-wise I am right on target, so I just nod and smile and say Oki, ne? “Big, right?”) One neighbor, who has three incredibly polite kids of her own, is especially sweet, but every time she’s seen me for the past month or so, she points to my stomach and asks, in all seeming earnestness, if there are one or two babies in there.

I always smile and hold up one finger, but inside I’m always wondering, “Does she think, at 6 months, they are suddenly going to discover a hidden twin?”

The Draconian Midwife

Before I got pregnant, I’d heard from my Western friends in Osaka that Japanese midwives and doctors are very strict about weight-gain for expectant mothers. Pregnant women in America are told that “normal weight gain” falls between 25 – 35 pounds. In Japan, it tops out at 10kg, or 22 pounds.

At 5’5″ and 118lbs when I conceived, I figured weight-gain in pregnancy wouldn’t be a big concern for me. After-all, I’ll be 46 next month and had gotten pregnant naturally at 45 and 1/2, against all expectations. Weight gain, when I learned I was actually knocked up and not sick with the stomach flu, was the last thing on my mind.

Apparently, the midwife at my maternity hospital here would like to disabuse me of my laissez-faire attitude towards my growing belly.

At my last appointment, I was about 1.5 kg over target. In addition, the baby’s heart was still beating and the chromosomal screenings came back all-clear. I couldn’t have been happier. Until that draconian midwife beckoned my husband and me into her office.

In Japanese with my husband translating, she informed us that I was already entirely too fat. She admonished that Americans like juice, and I needed to stop drinking juice right away. Although I asked my husband to explain that I don’t drink juice, she remained unmoved. She encouraged me to weigh myself every night and every morning, so I could remember how fat I was getting. Then, despite it still being late summer, she brought up the holidays. December was around the corner, she warned, and then she switched into broken English, seemingly for emphasis: “So please don’t enjoy!”

In my own broken Japanese, I tried to explain that I didn’t celebrate the holidays. “Why not?” she wanted to know.

I couldn’t remember the Japanese word for Jewish, so I asked my husband to translate again. A brief conversation between the two of them ensued about what “Jewish” meant, and it seemed to distract her for a moment. Veering off course from my apparently egregiously ample belly, she inquired about what I celebrated in December, if not Christmas.  Next followed a rough explanation of Chanukah, although, I explained, adults don’t usually celebrate it, since it’s mostly a holiday for kids.

She mulled this information over for a few moments, uncharacteristically silent. “Well,” she finally told me in Japanese, “You’ll still probably be too fat in December!”

After my husband translated this last bit for me, we both couldn’t help but giggle. And I still can’t get worked up about her distress. If I end up becoming much more than 1.5 kilos over the Japanese target, if I develop high-blood pressure or gestational diabetes, if I stop being able to eat healthily and start scarfing down sweets, then I’ll start taking her diatribes more seriously. As I said, I’m still in shock over my luck that, if all continues to go well, I’ll turn 46 in about 3 weeks and be 24 weeks pregnant. I don’t have any room in my psyche for distress over 1.5 extra kilos. In fact, as I reach the 21-week mark now, I think I’ll celebrate with a fresh glass of juice.

OK, So I May Have Omitted Some Crucial Details

And What Do You Think of Ending a Memoir Mid-Story?

In my last post, about the very generous bloggers who nominated me for the Liebster award, I wrote that I haven’t been a very good blog-poster because I have been so busy working to meet my publisher’s deadline for the memoir. And that’s true. Sort of.

There is also a little detail I left out about the other reason I haven’t been a very good blogger: I unexpectedly got pregnant last May. Totally naturally. At the age of 45 and 1/2. After 4+ years of failed IVF treatments and 2 pregnancy losses. In the middle of my beloved father-in-law’s last months of his life, when we had just learned he had been diagnosed with acute pancreatic cancer. When I was spending 4-6 hours a day in the hospital with him to try to keep him company and as comfortable as possible. (Actually, we didn’t know I was even pregnant until I was 7 weeks, because we assumed I had either caught a stomach bug at the hospital or was sick from the sadness and stress of Otōsan’s* illness. So, on a side note, there goes the theory that women should just relax and avoid stress and then they will get pregnant.)

We had wanted Otōsan to name the baby, but sadly he passed away before he could tell us the names he had chosen. We miss him very much. And we are in awe that his little grandchild-to-be finally showed up (at least in the belly) and we got to tell him before he died.

Because of my past difficulty getting and staying pregnant and all years of medical treatments I went though in Japan (a part of the story covered in the last part of the memoir), because I was already 45, and because I was simultaneously morning the loss of my father-in law, I didn’t want to write or even talk much about my pregnancy at first. I was also so sick with morning sickness that I could barely get out of bed until I passed the 16-week mark; I even stopped working on the memoir for over 2 months.

Now the sickness is waning, I’ll be 20 weeks this Thursday, and my doctor expects me to deliver a healthy little one at the end of January.

So, the Memoir Was Supposed to End with Me, at 45, Coming to Terms with Not Having a Child…

When I sold the memoir to Putnam last winter based on the proposal and first 4 chapters, the story was supposed to end with me childless at 45, since my sweetie and I had decided against adoption (as I wrote about in the New York Times online). Well now, obviously, the pregnancy complicates things. In a great way, of course, but still. So I spoke to my editor last week about how to end the memoir now. Do I end it before I get pregnant? I can’t end it after I deliver, because the manuscript is due almost a month before my due date. It looks like the story will now come to a close with me mid-pregnancy, mourning my father-in-law while celebrating this incredible surprise of  the promise of a new life.

Sometimes I love this idea, because I’m not big on memoirs that tie up every loose end; life just isn’t like that. But sometimes the idea seems weird to me, to end so much in the middle of the action. Then again, if we are lucky enough that the baby is in fact born healthy, as is now expected, I guess that could be the makings of the second book: raising a child in a country where I still don’t speak the language (!), and where I’m a first-time mother at the crazy age of 46…

——-

*Otōsan is the Japanese word for “respected father,” what a daughter or daughter-in-law calls her father or father-in-law.

The Liebster Award, Spreading the Love, & Wimping Out on my Fellow Bloggers

In the past week, I have received incredibly kind messages from two fellow writers about being Western women in Asia in love with local men. Both Susan Blumberg-Kason, author of the forthcoming I-can’t-wait-for-it-memoir The Good Chinese Wife, and “R,” a savvy Austrian who lives in Shenzen, China, and writes the provocative blog China Elevator Stories, emailed to let me know they had nominated me for The Liebster Award.

I’d never heard of this award, but Susan and R told me it’s meant to celebrate new blogs, preferably those with less than 200 subscribers. (I’m eligible!) As R explains on her blog,

The Liebster Award is kind of a pay-it-forward blogger award.  The rules are:  If you receive one you must answer the 11 questions asked by the blogger who awarded it to you, list 11 random facts about yourself, and then come up with your own 11 questions for the 11 bloggers you choose to bestow the award upon.

So, my mea culpa: As those of you who are kind enough to follow me know, I’m not the world’s best blogger. I have until early January to hand my book manuscript, upon which this blog is supposed to be based, into my editor, and I’ve been unable to balance both the book and the blog very well. And, since the book came with an advance I have to give back if I fail to hand it in on time…

So while I’m wimping out on fulfilling all the steps to receive the award, I still want to show my gratitude to Susan and R, so I’m hoping this blog post will help in some small way return the favor they’ve given to me by driving any traffic I can back to their sites–especially since they are both much better than posting new content than I have been lately!

So once again, thanks, thanks, thanks, to both Susan Blumberg-Kason and R of China Elevator Stories!

In gratitude and admiration to both of you,

Tracy

Free MP3 of a Reading from The Good Shufu

Last month, I read at a literary event from a middle chapter of the manuscript-in-process of The Good Shufu: A Wife in Search of a Life Between East & West.

The reading covered a scene in the book that starts on the morning in Osaka that I’m set to tie the knot, when a small scheduling glitch leaves me suddenly contemplating backing out of the entire marriage.

Feel free to download the MP3 of my reading, or access the readings from the entire literary event, also featuring the highly-talented Japan-based Western writers Marc Kaufman, Amy Chavez, and Peter Mallet. (MP3s may take a little while to download.)

Thanks for listening!

9 Years Ago Today, I Met the Shogun

Nine years ago today, I met the Shogun. I kept trying to stand near him, and he kept moving away from me, afraid, he’d tell me later, that I was going to try to make him speak English.

Two weeks later, he said, “Lub you,” to which I responded “What?” He had to repeat it a few more times before I realized his “ub” was “ove.”

As I’ve written before, seven months ago, the Shogun and I gave up expecting I’d ever be able to sustain a pregnancy, after almost five years of trying: my body somehow too full of slip for those tiny sparks of life to take hold for long. “But you know,” he told me, as our deadline to stop trying neared, “if we can have baby, that would be like miracle. But it will still only be like dessert, because you will always be main course.”

So today, with nine years of days together and Mother’s Day approaching with the promise of a holiday we’ll both ignore, I won’t forget how lucky I am that, although he kept moving away from me that first day we met, I kept moving towards him, and eventually we both stood still, together.

I can’t help but add a postscript to this now, years after I first wrote and posted this. It was either on the day I wrote this post or around this time that I did end up conceiving our child, a healthy baby girl to whom I gave birth at 4 months past my 46th birthday. And it’s true that on the day I wrote this post, we had stopped expecting that I’d ever be able to carry a pregnancy to term. But we hadn’t stopped trying. The story of this, and of how I ended up getting pregnant naturally at 45 and giving birth at 46, is on this blog here, with a longer version in my book, from which the above post was excerpted.

What Does Home Mean When You Live Abroad?

ImageI’ve been thinking about the concept of home a lot lately. Partly from watching home so much on TV a few weeks ago as the Boston Marathon bombing unfolded, partly from missing home like I always do, no matter how happy I am at any given moment in my expat life in Japan, partly from seeing this wonderful poster advertising the arrival of the Boston MFA’s Japanese art collection in Osaka (I most love the “I’m home” part, written in Japanese on the left and English on the right), partly from having just finished Emily Raboteau’s very lovely, very smart new memoir Searching for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora, and partly from reading a New York Times review of the next book I want to read, André Aciman’s Harvard Square, containing the line that hooked me: “I had come here, an exile from Alexandria, doing what all exiles do on impulse, which is to look for their homeland abroad, to bridge the things here to things there, to rewrite the present so as not to write off the past.”

And of course, partly from working on my own forthcoming book and teasing out what it means to be at home in the world when you live as an expat.

How Do We Put Words onto the Feeling of Being at Home? How Do We Define It?

Raboteau’s concept of home in particular envelops the political, the spiritual, and the historical, and deals with a sense of displacement that I, as a middle-class, educated, free, white American woman will never suffer from, even while I live as a minority in a country a hemisphere away from the place that feels most like mine. (And my privilege at having a place that feels most like mine doesn’t escape me.)

But I’m intrigued by how to define home as an expat. And by Raboteau’s alignment of “home” with Zion, or the “Promised Land.” I know how easy it is, when we live overseas, to lose our gimlet eye about home: to romanticize it, to see it as a kind of lost Eden, a place where we wouldn’t suffer the same disappointments or lonelinesses or defeats that we suffer in our expat lives. (Sometimes it’s like we think the grass would always be greener if we were only back on our “real” sides.)

And if we do tend to romanticize home, especially as expats, then how do we really define it truly?

Here’s what I wrote about the struggle to define the strangely abstract concept of home, when I returned to Boston for the first time after moving to Japan:

Just walking down the sidewalk in Boston or Cambridge felt different than it had in Osaka.  My movements were the same.  My gait, my breath, my heartbeat.  But I felt different.

Was I spontaneously, unconsciously, responding to the familiarity of the New England air around me, the specific calibration of its weight or humidity, that I’d always been accustomed to without ever knowing it?  Did hearing the flat sounds of American English all around me, combined with the consistent hum and flow of some never-before noticed Northeastern traffic pattern, send untraceable signals from my ear-drums to my brain, that I was where I belonged, where I was most used to being?  Was the force of gravity slightly different here in New England, rooting my feet just so to the native concrete—and could my heart sense that, even though my brain couldn’t fully define it?  Or was it some combination of all these things, or of my mind not constantly accounting for all the new, unexpected, yet minute details of everyday life on another side of the planet?

My sense of being at home felt distinctly different, more powerful, from my age-old certainty that Boston was where I wanted to settle because of the safety its familiarity afforded. My attachment to the place and its pulse felt deeper now, like a phantom limb sprouting inside me.  My home in Boston had become a part of me in a way I had never felt: not only was the city where I wanted to live, it was where I belonged, because I so clearly hadn’t belonged in Japan.

Ultimately, I realized, Japan had made home coalesce into a new, almost magical force, a vortex of comfort and belonging whose pull now called to me with remarkable might: a siren song reverberating off some land’s foreign cliffs, vertiginous rock-face that only sharpened each echo.

So how about it? What exactly is it to feel at home? I’m struggling with this question as I write my book, with how to put words onto how exactly to define the feeling of being at home. And wondering about the question, does living in a foreign land–even by choice–somehow make our own seem more sacred, or magical?

How We End Up Where We Are

This week, I passed the 50,000-word mark on The Good Shufu, meaning (phew!) I’m still on track to get it to my editor at Putnam by my deadline in Jan. One of my main themes in the book, and I think a central theme in so many people’s lives, is how the world can lead us to two opposite places at once: the place we never thought we’d be, and the place that was somehow our destination anyway, even though that destination looks completely different from how we thought it would. (More about this here.)

So recently, I was really excited to learn about a new memoir coming out from Sourcebooks, Good Chinese Wife, by the incomparable Susan Blumberg-Kason, who writes about her own unexpected journey. Here’s what Susan says about the ways her story describes ending up where we least expect to be and where we were always heading, and finding these to be, in some senses, one and the same:

A Journey of a Thousand Miles

I’ve heard it as a statement and asked as a question, out of earshot or spoken to me directly. It’s been happening for so long that I can’t recall when it started. And it doesn’t matter where it comes from—relatives or people I’ve just met—but the bottom line is the same. People can’t understand how someone who studied Mandarin and earned an advanced degree in Chinese politics isn’t working in either or both.

I was a serious student, albeit never at the top of my class. Yet I toiled in college, copying Chinese characters over and over seven nights a week, including a year abroad in Hong Kong. I continued studying Mandarin after graduation for a couple of years in Washington, DC.

Susan Blumberg-Kason
Susan in front of her dorm in China as a student in 1991

Back in the early to mid-1990s China was opening and foreigners were just beginning to flock there to find work. My first love was Hong Kong, so I returned there for graduate school when I was twenty-three. That’s where I studied Chinese politics. I pictured promising job prospects after graduation, and with any hope they would allow me to remain in Hong Kong.

But family got in the way. Or rather I should say I chose family over career. I just didn’t know it at the time. I had always viewed myself as fiercely independent and non-conformist. In 1991 at the age of twenty-one, I traveled alone to forbidden countries like Vietnam and dangerous ones like Cambodia. I was cut off from the world alone in a Moscow apartment, shivering and feverish from an unknown illness, just a month before the Soviet Union fell. And surely the very fact of moving back to Hong Kong as a single woman a few years later proved that I was my own person.

One month into my first graduate school semester I met and fell in love with a dashing PhD student from mainland China. I married him six months later. After receiving my master’s degree, I took any job I could find in Hong Kong just so we could stay together while he finished his post-doctoral fellowship. This was in 1996, a year before the Handover and during a massive localization program where all jobs were to go local Hong Kong Chinese. Expats were hired for their foreign ‘expertise’, and in my case that turned out to be something in which I had no formal training or educational background. I happily accepted my one job offer: an English editing position at another university in Hong Kong.

Susan Blumberg-Kason
And again, in front of the same dorm, in 2012

When my husband’s Hong Kong visa expired a couple years later, he wanted to try living in San Francisco. He had several friends from China who lived there. So I followed him to California and accepted an entry-level editing/administrative assistant position because it would give us immediate health insurance, which we needed badly because I was pregnant. By the time we divorced at the new millennium, I was no closer to working in a field where I could use Mandarin or my background in China and Hong Kong.

Fast forward a decade. I remarried and now live in a small, Chicago suburb. I stay home with my three kids while my husband works a seventy-hour week. He’s in a career that requires a local license, so there’s no chance we’ll ever move from this area. But after all this time, I’m finally using my background in Hong Kong and China.  And it’s in the most intimate way I can think of. For the last five years I’ve been working on a memoir of my first marriage and my years in Asia. GOOD CHINESE WIFE will be published by Sourcebooks next summer. [Note from Tracy: YAY!]

The road to publication—learning to write memoir, finding an agent, going on submission to land a publisher—has been the most challenging and difficult job I’ve ever had. But it’s also by far been the most rewarding. It just goes to show that things often work out better than one could ever expect.

What Passes for Au Naturel in Japan

After four plus years of failed fertility treatments, more than a year taking care of Shogun Sr after he was confined to a wheelchair and then months preparing to move him into a care house, and over six years trying to be a good Japanese wife (without a dishwasher: oh, the horror, the horror), my hands were in disrepair. Nails weak and chipped from where I’d bitten them, waiting and anguishing, throughout countless hours at the fertility clinic, cuticles ragged from all the hand-washing and sanitizing you need to do to care for a beloved failing elder, and no chance of getting a good gel manicure while you’re fretting over how to cut out the inorganic products in your life, lest they compromise your dismal chances at fertility as a 40-something with a poor hormone profile.

So since the Shogun and I have given up trying to make a baby, and his father Shogun Sr is now in the care house full-time, I’ve started treating myself to manicures again. I found a salon right near out apaato (that’s “apartment” as the Japanese pronounce it) where the guy will give me a gel manicure for well less than the around $80 it usually costs in Japan.

For my first manicure there a few weeks ago, I asked for “something that looks natural.” Naturar-u, onegashimas! I asked in my broken Japanese; “Please make it look natural.” So we chose a pale pink–or I chose a pale pink after refusing the shocking pink he first suggested for a natural look.

Today I went back for another manicure, and this time I asked for a French manicure, with white tips and clear polish so your nails look clean: like the real, natural you, only better. Moi kai, naturar-u onegaishimas! I asked; “Again, please make it look natural.”

To-rashee-san wa naturar-u suki desu-ne! The manicurist nodded. “Tracy-san likes natural, isn’t that so!”

I noticed as he was painting the white stripe at the top of my nail that he was making it a little thick, but I decided not to protest. At least it will look clean and hopefully help my nails grow longer, I thought. Plus, I don’t know how to say the word “thick” in Japanese.

Then he whipped out the sparkle.

Spaka-ru! I protested, shaking my head. I couldn’t wave my hand for emphasis because my nails were drying under the UV lamp.

Hai, spaka-ru! “Yes, sparkles!” he confirmed. Kono mani-cua wa spaka-ru irimasu, he decreed: This type of manicure requires sparkles. Brooking no delay, he dipped a tiny brush into the pot of sparkles and began painting. Iie, ne! he’d exclaim periodically: “It’s great, isn’t it!”

Before he was finished, he tried convince me to add some additional beads and sequins to my nails, then offered to add a decal with a lacy stripe to each tip (at no extra cost, he assured me), but I demurred.

In the end, he was so pleased with his work that he asked me to pose my hands on a black bolster with little puffy hearts stitched into it. So here’s my “natural-looking” manicure, Japan-style: Like the real, natural me, only, I suppose, more sparkly:

Image

A Chinese Wife Advises a Japanese One on Building a Better Blog Following

Know what happens when you get your first book deal before you’ve written your first book? You need to write the thing and build up your following at the same time. I was at the AWP 2013 conference in Boston a few weeks ago, and everyone was talking about the importance of having a social media following, even before the book comes out. In fact, ideally a year or so before it comes out! (Actually, everyone was talking about the importance of having a “platform,” but that word bugs me: the only platforms I like are tastefully-designed platform shoes.)

So in addition to freaking out over whether I’ll get the book written in time, and written well, now I’m freaking out about my sadly non-satorial “platform.”

But I’ve turned to the wonderful, kind, lovely, and very smart Jocelyn Eikenburg, whose blog Speaking of China has this really big following. Jocelyn has been so generous with her support and enthusiasm since we met over social media a few months ago. And, as usual, she was really generous in response to my question about how she manages to be such a social media diva.

Here’s all her advice!

Let me tell you a secret — for a long time, I sucked at blogging and building a following. Back in 2007 and 2008, years when I labored at writing about business and China, and engaging with people on these issues, I couldn’t seem to get more than a handful of people to notice me. I felt lucky if I got even one comment or pingback in a month and didn’t know Twitter from Facebook.

After all that, sometimes I can’t believe how I’ve built up a following with Speaking of China.

Of course, it didn’t happen right away and it took persistence and time. But with dedication — and some direction — you just might generate a following of your own. To jumpstart your efforts, here are the ideas that have helped guide me along the way.

Be Unique

Whenever people ask me about building a following, one of the first things I tell them is, “Be unique.”

It’s a lot harder to get noticed when what you’re offering is not that special. For example, in the China expat community, it seems like every single day a new “English teacher writes about China” blog pops up. Since this has been done seemingly thousands (if not millions) of times, these bloggers will have a tough time convincing more than just their friends and family to follow them. In marketing terms, their blogs lack a “Unique Selling Point” (or “USP”).

On the other hand, if you choose a unique focus for your blog — and thus give it a USP — you’ll stand out. And a blog that stands out gets noticed and creates buzz.

I did this primarily through my focus (love, family and relationships in China) and my perspective (a Western woman married to a Chinese guy).

You could also give your blog a USP if you have an extraordinary voice or perspective — like a David Sedaris or Sarah Vowell.

Before you start out, read through the blogs in your potential subject area — or related areas. Know the competition, so you can figure out what you can do that’s different or even better. How do you find the blogs? Try these suggestions for old-school directories, new applications and search tools.

Blog With Focus

I’ll bet you know at least one person that turned her blog into a sort of random “personal diary”. One day, she’s sharing a photo of her cat in some compromising position. The next she’s ranting about annoying neighbors or giving you a blow-by-blow of her entire vacation to Disney World.

The whole “I’ll post whatever floats my boat” approach won’t cut it if you want to build a following. When you move randomly from topic to topic, people don’t know what to expect from you. That means it’s a lot harder for them to decide whether you’re offering something of value to them. And if they’re not sure, they’ll move on to a better blog.

This is the reason why I gave my blog an unequivocal tagline — One Western woman with a Chinese husband writes about love, family and relationships in China — which I’ve carried over to my social media presence as well.

The best part about focusing? You can build yourself up as an expert and become the go-to person on that subject, which can even land you in the media (which happened to me).

Be Passionate

Remember that business/China blog I mentioned in the introduction? One of the biggest reasons I failed was something so simple, but so important — I didn’t really enjoy writing about business in China! And because I disliked it, I didn’t blog very often and even struggled to promote my work, knowing deep down it didn’t reflect my best efforts.

With Speaking of China, though, I had the passion to do it from the beginning. And it grew as I focused my blog and refined my approach. It’s that passion that still keeps me posting after nearly four years.

So whatever you choose to focus on, make sure your passion is there. Passion will help you create irresistible content. And with passion, you’ll continue blogging for the long haul.

Be Reliable

Readers love knowing what to expect. If you’ve defined your subject area and you’ve made it unique, you’re more than halfway there. But there’s another part of that equation — showing up on a regular basis. Yes, I’m talking about posting on a schedule that your readers will come to know and expect.

Think of it from another perspective. A lot of us subscribe to magazines and we count on that content arriving at our doorstep or in our e-reader on schedule. Just imagine if the magazines just decided to only deliver their content when they felt inspired. Or worse, what if the magazines just forgot to deliver it once or twice?

That’s why I think of my blog like a magazine — that my readers deserve to know when new content will come and that I should deliver on that promise.

The great thing is, most blogs today allow you to schedule your content ahead of time — handy for when you’re on vacation!

I post Mondays and Fridays every single week, same time and place. And when I’m on trips or just unable to post (which occasionally happens when an emergency comes up), I even run simple posts with archived content — because I always get new readers and chances are it’s new to someone out there.

Know Your Audience

Every blog and social media butterfly an audience. The better you know them, the better you can tailor your content to your readers.

But how to know them?

Site analytics are a great place to start — which give you some information about where your visitors found your blog, how they entered your site (referral from another website? search engines?) and even popular search queries that bring traffic to you. For a wordpress.com blog like Tracy, you can study your Site Stats — built into your site. If you have a self-hosted site like mine, you can use Google Analytics.

Still, if your site doesn’t generate a lot of traffic yet, you might not gain much from analytics alone.

Try keyword tools like the free Google Keywords. While it’s not comprehensive, it does help you learn what people are searching on for a specific topic — which could then generate some potential ideas for future posts and keywords you could add to your content (see my paragraph below on incorporating keywords into posts for more details).

Figure out where your audience hangs out — such as other blogs, forums or even groups on social media sites — and see what they’re talking about and what fires them up.

Check the social media as well. For example, you can search through Twitter and Google Plus with keywords to see what people are saying on your topic.

And remember, the more you blog and share over time, the more you’ll come to know your audience through comments, e-mails, and even people you interact with on social media.

Write Great Content With Readers in Mind

Okay, so your blog is something unique. You have a theme. You have passion. You’ve set a schedule. You even know your audience.

But when it comes to attracting readers, you have to write for them.

Let’s return to that “personal diary” blogger I mentioned above. She’s definitely not thinking about her readers when she publishes a blow-by-blow account of her vacation or complaining about neighbors. Sure, she’s random and that’s a problem. But there’s a bigger problem — no one really cares about her life when it’s presented as some navel-gazing journal.

Now that doesn’t mean your own experiences can’t become great content — I blog about my experiences all the time. But the difference is, I mine my experiences for questions or truths or insights or something entertaining that might resonate with my readers.

There are many ways to write for your readers. Here are some examples of how I do it:

1. Short memoir-like essays that, as I said above, end with something more universal that readers can connect with

2. Advice columns where I answer questions from readers

3. Lists of movies or books or blogs my readers might want to know about

4. Commentary on news that’s relevant to my readership

5. Highlighting celebrities in our community

6. Interviews of bloggers my readers might want to know more about

7. Sharing stories of love found — and love lost — submitted by readers

8. Introducing love-related Chinese idioms, since many of my readers are interested in the language

9. Reviewing books of interest to readers

10. Creating lists of “reasons why” on a certain topic that might enlighten readers or spur conversations

11. Confronting issues — such as stereotypes — that my readers care about

But that’s not the last word in content. See number 10 on this post on growing traffic and also Seth Godin’s post for more ideas.

Incorporate Keywords and Keyphrases into Titles, Posts and Tags

A lot of my traffic comes from the search engines — which means any blogger should never forget the power of search engine optimization (aka SEO).

One of the most important things you can do is incorporate popular keywords and keyphrases (from your audience research) into your post titles, body content and tags. Even better, if a keyword or keyphrase lends itself to a great post, then use that as the title and pepper it into the post itself. See here for more ideas on using keywords in your posts.

If you have a self-hosted blog and you use WordPress like I do, you can tap into even more SEO possibilities with plugins like my favorite, Yoast’s WordPress SEO.

Make It Easy To Subscribe To/Share Your Content

Everyone has a favorite method for receiving content. For me, it’s e-mail. So imagine how I feel when I discover a new blog, only to find that the author offers no option for subscribing to posts by e-mail.

That’s why it’s so important to offer your content in a variety of formats — something that definitely boosts your readership. When you offer only one option — such as RSS or even just e-mail — you’re missing out on readers that prefer a different format entirely.

If you have a self-hosted blog like mine, you need to know Feedburner — it’s free and when someone clicks on my RSS feed, my readers see a wealth of subscription options (including e-mail — something you must activate, but is easy to add).

But you’ll also need to add in links to your social media sites in a prominent place somewhere in your blog’s header or — like me — the top of the sidebar. Additionally, I go one step further and add a subscribe/follow call to action at the end of my posts:

Liked this? Get FREE updates to new posts by RSS or E-mail. You can also follow this blog on Facebook, Twitter, and Sina Weibo/新浪微博. Thanks for reading!

For wordpress.com users, you have built-in options to easily display in your sidebar — there’s e-mail, RSS and even social media widgets you can add there, inviting readers to subscribe in multiple ways.

Encourage people to share your content by adding social media buttons to your posts. Some people start posts with them, others end posts with them — but I like to start and end posts with these social media buttons so readers have the option to share something they see right away or just after they’ve read it.

And think about new and emerging ways for people to view your content. Nowadays, almost everyone and their cousin has a smartphone. That’s why I’m thinking about optimizing my site for those visitors. If you use wordpress.com, check to see if your theme is mobile-ready.

Follow and Support Other Blogs

Your fellow bloggers can actually help boost your readership just by following and interacting with them.

Subscribe to blogs related to your topic — and be sure to read them and comment. Everyone loves to get comments on their site, so it definitely generates goodwill. Plus if you include your website’s link, you’re announcing your virtual presence to the blogger, who might just link back to you.

Share their content on social media like Twitter and Facebook (making sure to @mention the author, where possible, and anyone else who might be interested).

And don’t forget to link back to the blogs you follow, which bloggers always love! You might even go one step further like I did and divide your blogs into topics/subjects. I’ve maintained a list of every single blog written by Western women or Chinese men who are part of our community, which has positioned my site as a the place to go to find the newest blogs in neighborhood.

Do Guest Posts

I’m doing a guest post right now — and it’s one of the best ways to build up your following! Identify large and popular blogs relevant to your audience and approach them about doing a guest post. As Ms. Career Girl writes,

Make a focused effort of reaching out to a few bloggers per week when they were new on the scene.  If you’re emailing a more established/high traffic blog, I suggest having your post already written.  Make it as easy for the blogger as possible!  Put a link to your blog in your bio at the end of each guest post so people can visit your site.  A lot of bloggers are happy to publish guest writers because it diversifies their content and perspective.  In many cases, they’re just happy not to have to write a post themselves for a day!

Use Social Media

I’ll be honest — I am a reluctant social media user. I was late to Facebook, and late to Twitter. But one thing is certain: they have value, and the proof came in my referrals. Facebook remains my number one source for referrals from another site.

For Twitter, one of the best things you can do is follow Alexis Grant’s advice:

[Create] a Twitter list of people you want to notice you, people who can help you get where you want to be. And this is important: it’s a private list, so only you can see it….

Now what should you do with this list? You should pull it into Hootsuite (or your preferred Twitter app or simply check it via Twitter) and use it to subtly help these people notice you….

To accomplish this, RT a few of their tweets, and add a thoughtful comment so they know you’re a smart cookie. @reply to one or two of their tweets. Or offer a valuable resource that will help them in some way, and CC them on the tweet. You might even introduce them to someone you know who could help them. The key is to interact with them in a valuable and interesting way.

Alexis also adds in another post that it’s important to use the @mention in your Tweets at least 90 percent of the time.

For Facebook, start out by creating a page — such as a page for your blog or book or an author page. But since Likes mean everything on Facebook, how do you get people to notice and Like your site? Authormedia.com offers 10 great tips including provide value to your followers, invite friends, create shareable images, and promote offline.

One thing that I’ve started to find valuable — and am trying to use more of — is tagging other influential people who you know will share the content and also influential/popular Facebook pages related to it. While I wouldn’t overuse or abuse it (such as tagging the same people/pages all the time, regardless of the content), when it makes sense to tag, be bold and go for it. For even more inspiration on Facebook, check out this post.

Pinterest is also a new and emerging platform, but one that’s a lot of fun to use. You can basically post images from any site or blog to “boards” you create on Pinterest, which people can then follow. Instead of using the template boards Pinterest suggests for you, I created my own boards related to my site — including a board dedicated to showcasing photos of couples of Chinese men/Western women. But as I read this post with more tips on using Pinterest, I realize I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible with this platform.

Become The News Source For Your Topic/Theme

Sure, I have a unique and focused blog and I use social media. But I take it one step further by sharing content on social media sites with relevance to my own blog.

What kind of content? Relevant blog posts from other websites, news articles, photos of couples, new books my readers might be interested in, and more.

When you focus on sharing a certain type of content, people will see you as the go-to expert for this information and be more likely to follow you on social media (and even subscribe to your content).

Besides subscribing to relevant blogs, I also receive Google Alerts on specific areas of interest on a daily basis. For example, when I find great news stories or blog posts or even photos embedded in blogs/articles, I share them on social media platforms.

Find Your “Promotional Groove”

Almost every day, I stumble across yet another post with tips on building a following or a platform — and more often than not, they read like a one-size-fits-all proposition. That you MUST do what they say or else.

But guess what? Not everyone can become, say, a Twitter Power User. We all have different strengths and personalities. And that means that some methods will work better for you than others.

So as you work on your connections and following, don’t fret if something doesn’t feel right to you. Be honest with yourself and be willing to go in different direction, even if it means ignoring some advice (including my own). But as long as you keep trying and experimenting, believe me — you’ll find your own promotional groove, just like I did.

Jocelyn Eikenburg writes about love, family and relationships in China at Speaking of China, and was published recently in the China anthology Unsavory Elements.