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Posts tagged ‘author blogs’

Conversations

I’ve had a series of conversations I took part in this week, and in them answered, or helped answer, some questions that I thought applicable enough to repeat them here. Writing, publishing, cover art… it’s all fodder for the blog, right?

I had a conversation the other day with a friend who is also a writer (at some point I need to sit down and tot up how many of those I have) and we were talking about world building. He was telling me he was going to make me blush, because he’d been talking to his wife about my work and they concluded that I build my world around my characters while he writes a world and then peoples it. Both work, he pointed out. I sat back and pondered on this. He’s a long-time gamer, and furthermore, the DM for his group.

A DM, Sanford tells me, runs the game. He sets up the situation and determines whether the actions of the players are successful and what the reactions of the encounters are. I can certainly see how this would translate very well into storytelling. Probably with a lot more control over his characters than I can possibly have. I’m a pantser. I fly through my worlds by the seat of my pants, no IFR available. For the non-plane types in the audience, that means Instrument Flight Rules, opposed to Visual Flight Rules, and it applies rather well to my style of writing.

I can’t outline very much. I can do a little, rough out the framework of the terrain that lies ahead of my characters. But most of the time I am writing what I ‘see’ and hear in my head. This can be a challenge if I have a character who isn’t talking to me for some reason. And yes, my worlds do revolve around the perceptions of my characters. I have a tendency to not know more about the world my character lives in than they do – since I write largely SF and fantasy where I’m making up the worlds.

The question was posed in one of the groups I belong to on facebook, “Do authors here have author-blogs or websites? How essential do you think it is for a newbie to get their own site early (before publishing)? Also for those of you who have established sites, could I get a link to check them out?” I’ve written at length here on the Mad Genius Club about the way I blog, and my motivations behind it. Some of that is formed by a conversation I had with Peter Grant when we first met at LibertyCon 25. He was telling me that he’d blogged for a few years (I can’t recall the exact number, 3-4 years I think) before releasing his first book to build a large fanbase of people who wanted it. I think that’s an excellent idea, but it’s predicated on a couple of things. First, Peter was giving his readers good content. The blog he runs, Bayou Renaissance Man, is very interesting to follow as he dances from gun geeking to social commentary to just plain funny stuff. It is rarely on ‘writing and publishing’ and the few posts I can remember seeing on those, he admitted up-front that it was inside baseball and possibly not of interest to his readers. Because here’s the thing. We’re fascinated by all topics connected to writing and reading. We’re writers, after all, or working on it. That’s why we come to the MGC (that, and the sparkling wit and scintillating commentary). Ahem…)

However, unless you are marketing to writers, filling your blog up with posts about writing is not going to build a terribly big fanbase. I modeled my current blog schedule (and went to a daily post soon after talking to Peter, although it wasn’t consciously connected)  on this thought: building a broad base of people who come to my site to get interesting material. I give them value for their time, and in return, they have a trust relationship with me that means they are far more likely to lay some money down and take a chance on my writing. I blog on writing once a week, and vary it enough that I hope it’s not boring. I also blog on food, art, social stuff, and random bits that catch my attention as they flutter by (shiny! and if you doubt that, take a look at the list of topics on a day I do link round-up based on my open browser tabs! LOL) with the occasional book snippeting thrown in for good measure.

I’m a big fan of what I jokingly term the Jim Baen school of marketing: the first hit’s free. By snippeting the first quarter of the book, I should have hooked (or I need to hang up my author hat in disgrace) the reader well enough that on release day they are waving green folding stuff at me. But just snippets won’t bring the readers in, either. So, all the other stuff that I blog on does serve a purpose. The acronym WIBBOW, would I be better off writing? is yes. Blogging is writing. It’s just not paid writing, in a direct sense. Do you have to blog? No, you don’t. It will make building and maintaining a fanbase a little more challenging, but it can be done and blogging regularly isn’t for everyone.

Speaking of which, I have paying work to go do. So I’d better get my gear tidy and head out there… I will be back this afternoon to check on you all in the comments, so keep the sparkling and scintillating down, you hear? I don’t want to find this blog had burned down when I was out.

Creating a Blog

Hello Everyone! Surprise… Amanda is busy, and I felt like being chatty, so let’s get started, class. Today is a hand’s-on exercise!

I just went through this in a class I’m taking on workplace writing. We had to evaluate bad websites, good ones, and then write a memo meant to convey to a business how they could improve theirs. As extra credit, the teacher asked the students to create a basic WordPress site, which is free, and pretty easy. I went a little further than that, because I have already created multiple sites. But it occurred to me that the step-by-step and some dos and don’t’s might be helpful for the author types we have on this blog.

There are various platforms for free blogs. Blogspot is one, and you can see an example at Peter Grant’s blog. WordPress is the one I prefer, because they are very versatile. They offer many free themes you can use to give your blog a different look from others, and pro themes that offer plugins to really get your website looking professional. According to Hoyt, Sarah’s blog, uses a Coraline theme. My personal blog is using the Sight theme right now, because I am showcasing both my words and art. The photography site I created for the class project uses the SKT Photo World theme. I highly recommend that you take a few minutes to look at sites you like (you can start with our blogroll on the sidebar), and make note of the theme they are using. For a WordPress site you can usually find this by scrolling all the way to the bottom of a page.

While you are looking at sites, make note of other things you find attractive – or repellent. You might know that you absolutely hate white text on a black background. You might realize that some colors look good, and others not so much. Lots of bright red? Hard on the eyes. Cool blues and beiges? Give off a professional look. White is nice, but too much and your site can look rather cold. The nice thing about using WordPress is that most of the aesthetic design has already been done. But I urge you not to use the ‘out of the box’ theme that comes when you initially set up.

Adding graphics to your site can be a challenge, you mustn’t just grab images off the web and use them. Well… sort of. In a blog post, most images are fair game. You’ll see us use memes, gifs, and sometimes just pictures of libraries that amaze us in a blog post. But for the design of your blog, say the header, use the same diligence you would when buying book cover art. And again, I urge you to customize your blog. Book cover art (full cover) is rarely the right size for a header image, but a row of covers might be. I also suggest that you do not simply snap a shot of your books, or yourself, for the blog unless you are comfortable with photography. Even if you aren’t using the blog/site for content marketing, readers will make a first impression based on the site’s appearance. For some truly horrible site examples, you might want to take a look at this site.

Now that you are ready to begin creating the site, let’s talk options. They range from free, to relatively inexpensive. Fortunately, websites no longer cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to create. If you want to go slow, and start with free, then a blogspot blog, or a something.wordpress.com blog is the way to go. If you want to keep it cheap ($18 a year) but have a custom name, you can do a WordPress-hosted blog and have something.com. The other alternative, for which prices vary wildly, is to do what I just did with my photography blog, and buy a domain name (somewhere from $5-$20 a year, usually) and hire a hosting company. I use Godaddy, but Dreamhost is good, and there are many others. I recommend that if you want to monetize your blog, this is the way to go. Even Amazon affiliate links are difficult with a WordPress-hosted blog, and WordPress will put ads up on your blog if you get enough traffic. I’d rather have control over that. But to begin with, a free blog means no commitments.

Once you are ready, I’m going to send you to the WordPress Get Started page.  They do a very nice walk-though for setting it all up. I do recommend that you add Statcounter to your blog, the WordPress stats are notoriously unreliable. I have been unable to figure out how to put a Google Analytics tracker on my WordPress-hosted site, but I use it for the other sites I run. I would recommend keeping the sidebars to a dull roar, I tried a theme with two sidebars recently and really didn’t like how much it constricted the text space. Something that’s important to me, as I write (hah!) a lot on my blog.

Speaking of writing a lot, I’m going to be around to check comments and answer questions today, and if you do set up a site, I’d love to see a link to it in the comments! Let us know if you want critique, if not, we’ll be gentle (well, I will, anyway). If you already have a site, and want critique, ask.

All right, class, let’s begin…

Public Face

This is Cedar, posting for Kate. Kate staggered into the Mad Genius Club yesterday evening, looked around and asked for help – she’d had a rough day at work and her brain was fried. I looked around, Sarah and Amanda were busy elsewhere, Dave is incommunicado… so I volunteered. You know what they say about volunteering. I don’t have Kate’s knack with snark, although I’m taking lessons. But I can try to be informative, if nothing else!

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Cedar Sanderson

Headshot: In this case, just a nice snapshot. It doesn’t have to be an expensive pro shot, but for heaven’s sakes don’t use a photo that is obviously very old, badly scanned, or a pet. Good, or not at all! 

As an author, you need to have a public face. Whether you are indie, self, or traditionally published, you are still the biggest promoter of your own work. So how do people find you? If you are out and about and someone wants to learn more about your book, what do you do? Finally, and perhaps most important, do you present a dirty face, or a clean one to the internet audience?

Most authors are aware, in this day and age, of the need for some sort of online presence. It might seem daunting at first, but there are a lot of options, and many of them cost nothing but some time. Websites, blogs, facebook pages, and other options like Amazon’s author pages, or Goodreads authors… there are so many things you can do. One of the first things to keep in mind is that whatever you create, it will be public. I know that seems obvious, but sometimes we forget that the internet sees all, and never forgets. If I search for myself, I can still find results from a now-defunct mommy blog I kept.

Blogs are a good way to interact with your readers, but unless you have the time and energy to spare on updating them regularly – say, one day a week – then don’t bother. I found that upping my blogging from weekly, to three times a week, and finally to a daily update, has had a huge impact on the number of readers who come to me on a daily basis, and by watching where they come from, and what searches bring them to me, I can know both what content works, and that I am indeed putting my blog in front of people who don’t know me otherwise. It’s a huge investment in time and energy, however, to commit to a daily blog. Most of you don’t want to get into that. What may be a better option for you is to set up a website, which can be updated periodically with interesting events and news, but not a commitment to regularity.

A website of some kind, whether static or blog, is essential for sending new readers to. If you are at, say, a con, or even just going through your daily life and you want to talk about your book, what are you going to do? Say, hey, google me? Or look me up on Amazon? A much better option is to be able to hand your new friend a bookmark or business card with your web address and other information on it. I use a business card, full color, front and back. I have them done along with my other business card, and they cost me three cents a peice. I can afford to hand them out like candy, and I do. One one side I have the front cover of Vulcan’s Kittens (I’ll do another batch soon with Pixie Noir), and on the other I have my name, web address, a qr code that can be scanned to send them immediately to my blog on their phone, and a tiny blurb about the book. I may have a bookmark made up at some point, as well.

On my blog, I have an “about me” page, a buy my books page, and the blog posts themselves. Because I’m an avid amateur photographer and an artist, I can create my own visual interest on the page. If you are setting up your own site, and you can’t do that yourself, be sure that the images you use are not copyrighted elsewhere, and if you use creative commons images, credit them properly. Don’t be like this, um, person (I have not yet confirmed what lies behind the stolen images… Like the man behind the curtain, I’m not sure I want to know).

In that case, an image search led to the discovery that far more was wrong with the public face than a simple desire to appear more attractive than reality. In any and all dealings online, consider yourself in public, and keep your face clean. When you search for your work, or even just your own name, on a regular basis (what, you don’t? But how will you know if someone pirates your work, whether that is text or for us artists, images?) take note of what you find. Blog comments, facebook conversations… it’s all out there, mined by google and turned up on the trash heaps of the world for anyone to see. You might think it’s a flippant remark, but someone else may not.

Above all, never make fun of  your readers. Look at the example of literary agents, who decided a couple of years ago to publicly mock their aspiring authors. In an appalling display of arrogance and cruelty, they laid bare the private failings that they perceived in their potential clients. Seriously, your readers are who give you money, just as authors are how agents make money, and if you make them unhappy with you, they will complain, and your public face will have mud all over it. Unless your readers are all masochists, treat them with respect in public, keep your dealings with them professional, and above all, don’t fling mud. It splashes back as you throw.