The History Carnival Orac's advice to blog carnival hosts

The Seventh Edition of the History Carnival has been posted at Studi Galileiani. Once again, there are some fascinating posts on a variety of aspects of history. Hugo host did a fine job collecting history posts from the blogosphere.

However, one thing that Hugo mentioned near the end caught my attention.
I now want to close this Carnival by sounding a note of caution. I received nominations from only two people and had to find most of the entries myself. As I understand it, this is standard practice. I have no complaints against putting in the necessary work but it seems difficult to sustain the notion that the Carnival is a summary of the best blogging on historical subjects when it actually only represents a collection of posts that I happened to read and judge worthy of recognition. I could provide a fortnightly service like this myself (and many bloggers do, with “noteworthy” entries on a regular basis) but calling it a Carnival seems to be moving a long way from what was originally intended.

This may merely be an anomaly, of course, but perhaps readers are becoming overburdened with Carnivals? Whatever the reason, the principle at work seems to be that lots of people reading lots of blogs should provide the host with a range of work - beyond what he or she would discover unaided. Although inclusion inevitably retains an element of personal opinion, the result should in some sense reflect what the community of readers have found valuable in the world of history blogs. With few recommendations and no hint of why posts should be selected, however, I hesitate to call this a genuine Carnival. Nevertheless, I commend the content to your attention.
If I may be so bold as to comment here, I've successfully hosted three blog carnivals thus far (if I do say so myself), the Second Skeptics' Circle, Grand Rounds XXV, and Tangled Bank XXV. Consequently, I couldn't resist commenting further, as I've experienced many of the difficulties Hugo mentions. For example, the Second Skeptics' Circle was particularly difficult because it was a brand new carnival and I really wanted to build on the fine job St. Nate started. Not wanting to drop the ball after such a good start by Nate, I really hustled to get good quality submissions and publicity. I even tried to contact the Amazing Randi (whom Nate had contacted before) and Michael Shermer of the Skeptics' Society. Between Nate and my hectoring, it eventually paid off, but later. Randi has now twice plugged the Skeptics' Circle in his columns, and those of us involved in the Skeptics' Circle hope he will continue to do so periodically. However, even Tangled Bank was a bit difficult because of an initial paucity of submissions that had me rather worried the weekend before the deadline. (Fortunately, there was an avalanche of submissions between then and the deadline, but I was really sweating it for a couple of days--and searching all the science blogs I knew of for material.) The manner in which I made these blog carnivals successful started with absolutely relentless--even obnoxious--promotion, with multiple reminders on my blog, multiple solicitations to the bigger bloggers in the field for reminders for entries, and, as Hugo did so well, a liberal search on relevant blogs for good material that I could appropriate if the number of posts came up short in the end. I also used what I thought to be creative presentations of the posts (not everyone agreed; but most did), but that is not strictly necessary. It is merely a byproduct of my personality.

So, now that I'm a "seasoned" blog carnival host (after less than five months of blogging, no less!), I think I'm as qualified as anyone to offer advice to prospective hosts of any blog carnival. Hugo may be correct in that there could be some blog carnival "burnout," but that just means the hosts of these carnivals have to work harder if they want to be a success. One thing that I've observed is that some carnival hosts seem to just expect posts to roll in and therefore solicit entries only once--or even not at all. With the exception of long-established carnivals like Carnival of the Vanities (which, unfortunately, has grown so huge and unwieldy that I don't think I'll ever volunteer to host it), Tangled Bank, or Grand Rounds, that just won't work. It almost certainly won't guarantee an adequate number of good quality entries. Even in the case of long-established carnivals it's good to publicize to try to get new blood in, as blog carnivals tend to get a bit inbred over time. A host needs to start soliciting entries from the very moment the preceeding host posts his or her edition of the blog carnival and keep soliciting until he thinks he has enough high quality posts. It helps to e-mail other bloggers to see if they will post notices for submissions. These solicitations should be specific and include an e-mail address to send permalinks to, as well as a concrete deadline. Near the deadline, if I see posts that I want to include but that were not submitted I'll pick them and send the blogger who wrote them a courtesy e-mail telling him/her that I plan on linking to their work. Next, try to put the carnival together in an interesting or at least functional fashion. You don't have to go off the deep end with bizarre concepts, as some think I've done on occasion, but at least try to be entertaining and make the reader want to click on the links. (If you don't seem excited about the material, then why on earth should the reader get excited about it?) It helps to put your favorite or a highly topical post first, preferably a short one, and lead up to the longer posts. Featuring a "host's pick" is also a good idea. Finally, be sure to post the carnival on time. Few things are more annoying to regular readers of a blog carnival than its being posted late. The best time to do it is to post it right after midnight on the day it's supposed to appear (or post it a bit earlier and timestamp it after midnight). Either that, or post it very early in the morning, like 6 AM. (Of course, time zone considerations can come into play here.)

After you've put the carnival together, publicity is key. Remember, one of the purposes of these carnivals is to get more people to read good posts by bloggers whose posts might not normally get that wide a circulation. I routinely e-mail the permalink to the carnival to every contributor right after I post the carnival, with a plea for some publicity. It doesn't hurt to send the permalink to the big bloggers who might be interested in the carnival's topic, with humble requests to publicize your carnival. For example, one mention from Instapundit (who routinely plugs Grand Rounds and occasionally Tangled Bank) can result in hundreds of hits. (Unfortunately, no host of the Skeptics' Circle has yet managed to get him to plug it, but we'll keep trying.) None of this is rocket science, and a lot of it has been echoed by Hedwig, but it's essential.

Lastly, have fun. If you enjoy putting the carnival together, it will show in the results and in your enthusiasm in presenting the posts, whether they number 5 or 30. The people submitting articles will be happy, and there will be more readers. If you don't think you'll have fun hosting, then you shouldn't volunteer to do it.

In that vein, I conclude by noting that St. Nate will be hosting the Eighth History Carnival on May 15. So, any bloggers who've written about history, I urge you to send him your best stuff by May 14.

Hmmm. One of these days I have to remember to volunteer to host the History Carnival, as I said I would a while back. But I need a break from blog carnivals for a few months. To do them right is a lot of work!


  1. You're on the long list, but I promise not to hassle you for a few months...

    And thanks for posting this. I think I might add it to my standard advice for new hosts.

  2. If you don't hear from me by mid-summer, feel free to hassle me.

    Also, the History Carnival might to be just the sort of thing Instapundit would link to, given that he likes Grand Rounds and has linked to Tangled Bank in the past. It's worth sending him a link for every edition.

  3. I don't send a link to Instapundit, but I know a man who does... I don't know if every single one has been linked there (it's a blog I don't really visit), but several certainly have. It really does bring in readers; you should have seen the spike in my stats just after the original one that I hosted.

    How would you fancy either early July or early August for hosting duties? Take your pick and I'll slot you in.

  4. Good suggestions all. I sort of did the same thing, but not in as organized a fashion...


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