Give Your Blog a “Facelift”

Last week I cleaned up my Twitter account, and documented that process in a post called Twitter Litter. That experience prodded me to take a long hard look at my Welcome Page. I saw quite a few problems like empty space, links that didn’t stand out, a somewhat distanced and impersonal opening paragraph, and a ho-hum title.

After all, my blog is the center of my social media platform. Which also means that my (and your) welcome page become even more important.

The Title

Before, I had a one word title “Welcome!” Yawn. Then my wife and I (we’re big Mel Brooks fans, as evidenced by his presence on my fav movie lists*), thought about Madeline Kahn’s character Lili Von Shtupp in Blazing Saddles, remember how she responded to a knock on her door? We added an Italian greeting and felt like we had the job done. 🙂

*See how my list of favorite films from the ‘60s, ‘70s and, ‘80s compares to yours.

First Paragraph

Originally, my welcome message was incredibly mediocre. As I read through it, I realized that it wouldn’t inspire anyone to continue. Therefore, I doubled the size of my opening blurb, and added more personal information like some of my core beliefs that work their way into my writing. In a nutshell, I presented the ABC’s of me.

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Blog Ecosystem Diagram by I.A. Walsh used under CC License

Empty Space

My blog category list was down at the bottom of the page. It was a slender column with too much blank space. I put them in linear form with five spaces between each one. Now it looks like an abundant amount, mimicking a paragraph.

Link Color

Although the links were now more noticeable and moved toward the top, it may still be difficult for someone to notice them as links rather than underlined text. I customized a brick red color that wasn’t hard on the eyes.

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***Put Ragged Souls on your Kindle at Amazon U.S.***

A Personal Photo

I’m not an ego-maniac who needs to see his portrait prominently displayed everywhere. However, as an author’s welcome page, I thought it necessary. After all, you want people to see the front page; feel welcomed, and then are prompted to click, read, and hopefully comment. It’s all about creating a comfy zone. So, I posted my mugshot…um I mean thumbnail portrait and wrapped the text around it.

The Top Menu

We also changed the pages in the top menu bar. Now there’s a published page that lists everything with links to different sites, like Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble.

However, the most important change is the addition of a Free Short Stories page. I’ve uploaded one so far but have a few more “waiting in the wings” as they say.

***Notify me when the new Sci-Fi / Horror short story Night Flights is available***

Conclusion

It’s too early to assess the success of these changes as to the impact on blog traffic. But I’m keeping my fingers and eyes crossed. I guess my Facebook Author Page and my blog’s sidebar are next.

Twitter Litter

I’ll freely admit to all that I am no expert on social media platforms for indie authors. What I document within this blog category are the things that I am learning as I plod along. Perhaps after reading this, you may even have a few tips for me.

Easy Clean-Up

I tried to use a free unfollow service that would list all those Twitter accounts that I was following, but not getting followed back. However, when I checked some of them, I discovered that about 25% of those accounts were indeed following me. It was time to try a different method.

If you don’t have 10.5K followers on Twitter, you don’t need any fancy subscription to an unfollow service. Just click on “Follows” on your Twitter homepage. It will list everyone you’re following. Under their name and right next to their Twitter handle you’ll see the gray text “Follows You.” If you don’t see those words, it means that you’re following them but they are not reciprocating. Now just click the big blue button and you’ve unfollowed them back. I have about 1,350 followers and I was able to “clean house” in about 30 minutes.

The “Twitter Litter” has left the building!

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Photo by Luc Legay used under CC License

The Disturbing Part

I’ve always regarded other indie authors as Fellow Travelers or Kindred Spirits. Although our genres and styles may be completely different, we’re still cut from the same cloth. Therefore, I’ve always made it my business to seek out other indies, follow and post on their blogs, Facebook pages, offer reviews and beta reads, and yes offer them a #folloback on #Twitter.

My biggest surprise was the amount of Indie Authors who followed me, waited for me to follow them back, and then they would unfollow. I would say that about 60% of the accounts that I had to unfollow were other Indie Authors. Sad but true. 😦

Disappointing Results

A while ago, I wrote a post called The Blog, The Tweet, and The Facebook Page. That post was inspired by my WordPress stats. I discovered that other blogs created the most traffic into mine, followed by Facebook*, search engines, Google +, and way last was…Twitter.

*Facebook has now taken over the top slot

Most social media gurus say that Twitter is a necessary component of an indie author’s social media platform. But I have to face a dose of reality, Twitter has not been a major generator of sales and blog traffic. I believe it serves as a double exposure.

Most people have Facebook and Twitter accounts, therefore, they may see you there and then see your name pop up elsewhere. That second exposure is what may prompt a click, and that’s the only purpose that Twitter can serve. I track my links through Bitly, therefore I can see exactly how many clicks a link receives. To be honest, it’s not that great. I don’t spam or make an annoyance out of myself. I basically tweet about new blog posts, the occasional ad for Ragged Souls, or contribute to a discussion.

Keep It Anyway

I don’t plan on cancelling my Twitter account, nor would I suggest that course of action to anyone. I recently read a great post by Kristin Lamb about the nature of books in the digital age. There are quite a few gems of wisdom within her words. My favorite eye-opener to indie authors within that particular blog post was, “Our greatest enemy is obscurity.”

Never were truer words spoken. Therefore, I’ll keep trying to tweak my tweets as best as I can, and hope for the best.

Ragged SoulsBlog

***Put Ragged Souls on your Kindle***

How About you?

If you’ve been successful with Twitter, please enlighten me (and some others). Do you see activity and clicks based upon your Tweets?

***I want to know when the new short story Night Flights is released***

When Bright Lights Burn Out

In the past month, I have heard two disturbing pieces of news of a personal nature. However, I think most of us have experienced this type of news as well and can relate. Perhaps this is rather fitting, especially when one considers that 2015 is about to fade away and a New Year starts tomorrow.

Leaving the wilderness of New York City for San Antonio, and then later to Idaho, has separated me from many friends, family, and acquaintances. A recent tour of Facebook brought me the news concerning the deaths of two friends, Monsignor Joseph Ansaldi and Marilyn Hudson Tucker.

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Monsignor Ansaldi was the principal of St. Joseph H.S. where I taught for a few years. He was more of a guiding light than a boss, and therefore, always considered him a friend. As a lifelong #Catholic, I must say that he was one of the greatest homilists I’ve ever heard. It has been over six years since I’ve heard him speak, yet I can still recall some of his homilies and retell them completely.

Marilyn Hudson Tucker was a tireless contributor to the San Antonio Writer’s Guild. She took me under her wing and instructed me to start a #blog. She was my first “like” on #Wordpress, and I was her one-thousandth. She was always ready and available for a beta read, and ran the Ask a Grammar Guru page on Facebook. Moving has caused me to miss Sunday evening critiques at her home, but now I miss the writing scene in San Antonio more than ever.

I’ve never seen her upset, annoyed, angry, or anything like that. There was always a welcoming smile, and a calm demeanor that the rest of us can hopefully learn to imitate.

For Monsignor Ansaldi, the best way to honor him would be to live a better spiritual life.

For Marilyn Tucker, the best way for me to honor her memory would be to write more and make those writings great.

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Click the Pic and go straight to AMAZON!

 

The Twilight Zone of Reviews (Part III)

 

I’ve discovered the danger of altering my basic writing style and subject matter. Normally, any short story of mine can be seen as a quirky tale laced with dark humor while delivering a very serious sub textual message concerning the downfall of Western Civilization.

I have one short story that deviates from my other works called Gematria². It’s not part of any collection because it is so different. However, that difference has turned around and bit me in the bum.

Like any other author, I have my favorites. Incredible wordsmiths who can make my jaw drop open and stun me. Two of those authors are Julio Cortázar and Jorge Luís Borges. For me, they are the unchallenged masters of the short story. Therefore it should come as no surprise that I had wanted to emulate them at least once. I couldn’t think of a better way to offer homage to a couple of my literary heroes. Thus, the short story Gematria² was conceived.

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When I presented Gematria² to my San Antonio critique group, I was quite proud of the results and feedback. The hairs on the back of my neck tingled, when one member announced to the group, “This is a work of pure literature.” I knew that I had accomplished a very difficult writing goal. I had written a piece that successfully played with the notions of time and space laced together with Jungian synchronicity. All of those ideas and themes were delivered in true Rioplata style in less than five pages. In hindsight, I should’ve put more emphasis on the fact that some members didn’t have an exact opinion. They neither liked it, nor disliked it. However, their non-reaction should not have surprised me. Most North Americans and Europeans are not familiar with the narrative style of magical realism, and would be taken aback by its stark differences from the norms that they’re accustomed to reading.

This short story by Julio Cortázar called The Continuity of Parks is only two long paragraphs and can give you a quick insight as to how the concept of reality and fiction are toyed with in the Rioplata style.

Well, Gematria² has received its first review on Amazon UK…a three-star review. Huh! To add insult to injury, the review was left by one of my biggest fans. Double huh! That’s right, someone who discovered me on Facebook, purchased my works, and has left several glowing reviews was disappointed by this one.

My guess is there were two forces were at work. The first was caused by the same effect that the piece had on some members of my critique group. Gematria² was just too different for him. Second was the expectation factor. He had read all of my other works and was probably expecting more of the same, and was therefore disappointed.

I’m glad that I can laugh, smile, and write happily about these quirky encounters with the reading public.

Gematria² is available for free on Wattpad (no download required) and Smashwords .

Have a quick read and let me know what you think?

And don’t forget to get your copy of Ragged Souls

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Click the Pic and go straight to Amazon

 

Your Second Draft: Paragraphing

Now that #NaNoWriMo 2014 is over, many authors, including myself will be scratching our collective heads in the #editing phase of bringing our works to market.

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Journal Entry by Joel Montes De Oca used under CC License

What you should look for in your first glance at your manuscript is spelling, grammar, punctuation, and paragraphing. The first three, spelling, grammar, and punctuation are obvious enough, but you’re going to have brush up on their rules.

If I were to go into every rule for those three concerns, then this would be a book rather than a blog post. Try to obtain a copy of the Harbrace College Handbook, or if you’re in a pinch check out the Ask a Grammar Guru page on Facebook.

In the end, paragraphing seems to perplex quite a few #authors out there. After all, your paragraph can be spelled and punctuated properly and yet be considered wrong.

As far as the mechanics go, the general consensus out there for proper paragraphing is as follows…

When the speaker-tag changes, then a new paragraph is needed. If done right, then you can actually avoid the over-use of tags.

The action of one character causes a reaction from another character. The action-reaction dynamic needs to have its own separate paragraphs.

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A Crumpled Paper Ball by Turinboy used under CC License

A character can only think, say, or do something. Therefore, keep it all in the family in the same paragraph. However, this can lead to paragraphs that are just too long.

Keep the length of a paragraph to five or six lines. If your character says and does a lot, then keep any internal dialog separate in order to avoid a lengthy paragraph.

You can go as far as half a page in one paragraph, if your intention is to slow down the pace.

Did you find this helpful? Did I forget to address something?

Indie Authoring: Art or Business?

I’ve heard a few indie authors over the years claim they are artists. Be careful, because when an author makes a statement like that, the word “artist” may denote a few veiled meanings. For example:

I am an artist and therefore

 …I may break conventional rules.

Sometimes indie authors think poor editing and grammar make them an artist working outside of the box, thumbing their noses at the bleakness of conformity. Wrong! A lack of editing and grammar means that as a communicator, you’re only contributing to the dreaded “Indie Author Stigma” and nothing else.

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Photo by Megan used under CC License

The craftsmanship of the product that bears your name must be as good (if not better) than what the traditional publishing industry can produce. It’s a fine standard and it should be adhered to and strived for at all times.

I love it when authors excuse their lack of standards by comparing themselves to Picasso. Well, I hate to break the news, but Picasso paid attention to many standards. He used paint and applied it to a canvas. If he wanted green paint, he had to mix yellow and blue. He followed formulas concerning composition and color schemes. If I’m not mistaken, Da Vinci did all of that as well.

…I am unsullied by the pursuit of profit.

Now that’s a big fat lie! Like any other artist, we all seek an audience. And the only way to reach an audience is to sell your material. Many blogs discuss Author Branding and similar marketing concepts. Let’s face it, we’re all business competitors in this new vibrant field.

This leads to another potential problem: free downloads. An absolutely foolish thing to do that gets right under my skin. The only thing achieved by a free download is that the author has just told the whole world that the value of his creation is zero. Now there are legitimate reasons for putting free material out there – fan fiction for one, since you can’t legally profit from it. Or perhaps you want to do a promotion for a period, or put out a short story to get your name known.  But for the most part, making your work free is not the best idea.

…my work is an honest reflection of my world view and wasn’t generated by a marketing computer.

Ding! Ding! Ding! This is where the world of indie publishing and traditional publishing (thankfully) split apart. An indie author can explore themes and characterizations that traditional publishers shy away from.

The world of traditional publishing is a business. They will only invest the cogs of their machine into something based on a proven formula. They’re only hedging their bets for a payoff, and why shouldn’t they operate from that standpoint? They’re a business, making business decisions for the sole purpose of generating sales and profit.

This is the reason why most mass produced entertainment is nothing but a huge steaming pile of banal nonsense churned out for maximum appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Therefore, if you’ve got a great story about a teenage prostitute who gets addicted to drugs, and is then saved by a store front group of revivalist Christians, and from that group of Christians she finds a boyfriend, and they don’t have sex until after they’re married, you won’t be published traditionally.

However, if you make your Main Character a vampire, give her a zombie boyfriend love interest, who she met at an illegal vampire / zombie orgy, and of course set the story in a future post-apocalyptic dystopian society, you’ll have a better shot at a publishing contract.

So yes, indie writing can offer a freedom of expression and creativity that is unmatched anywhere.  However, to be successful, one must also follow the established rules of the trade.  So in my view, it’s really a mix of art and science.  What are your thoughts?

Synchronicity in Surreal Advertising

I just read a blog post by Kristen Lamb that calls for an end of spam advertising by Indie authors. I’m sure you’ve experienced this phenomenon on #Facebook and #Twitter. She says that we should start partaking in a new form of marketing and promotion called “Padvertising.” Since most readers are women, it should come as no surprise that Padvertising means to promote your book on panty liners.

Despite the humorous and Monty Python-esque nature of the idea, reading it brought back a memory.

You can’t see me typing away on my keyboard, but I have placed a hand on the Bible and promise to tell the whole truth.

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Photo by Andre Chinn Used under CC License

One day in January 2001 I was waiting for my girlfriend to arrive at Penn Station in NYC. She was a total nympho and I was eagerly anticipating a week of debauchery with her (see, I promised to tell the truth). While waiting for her train to arrive, and after two or three cups of coffee, I needed to relieve the old bladder.

I went into the men’s room and approached the urinal, and boy was I surprised at what I saw. On the plastic screen inside the urinal was an advertisement. I do not remember the name of the investment firm or the phone number, but I do remember the rest of the ad.

“Stop pissing your money away! Call Johnson Investments (212) 555-1234”

There I was, chuckling and snorting while standing at a urinal in a public men’s room. Luckily nobody punched me. Thanks, Kristen, for helping me to dredge up this memory.

So what’s the most oddball / comical form of advertising that you’ve ever seen?

Absences

I have a decent amount of followers and readers, and I feel like I’ve let some people down recently. Why? Because I haven’t been very active in the social media* world lately. Why? Because the move to Idaho and getting the house ready for tenants has been sucking up all of my time.

*I don’t just mean my blog,  I mean all social media like Twitter, Facebook,  Google+, and so on.

The photo below is not my office, but an accurate depiction anyway. A lonely desktop pc lovingly waits for an #author to sit down and write something. The empty chair begs for an occupant. Don’t worry. I’ll be back and in full force soon. I have about four posts waiting for the editor-Queen. Therefore the forthcoming weeks should witness a surge of activity again.

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Multimedia Desk by Grant Laird Jr. Used via CC License

Most of the large projects are done. The things that need my attention are smaller jobs that require an hour or two of attention. I’ll save those tasks for the early morning or late afternoon. In the meantime, get ready for a wave of new posts in the coming weeks.

What drags you away from your precious #writing?

WordPress Stats: Seeing is Believing

In a previous post called “The Blog, the Tweet, and the Facebook Page,” I mentioned that creating a relationship with other bloggers is a must. I came to that conclusion based upon the behavior of those who followed me on various social media outlets. I also mentioned that I really didn’t push or spend a lot of time on #Facebook. Also, when it comes to blog stats, I usually only checked the “out-clicks” to see how many people were exiting my #blog by going to my Amazon, Nook, or Smashwords.

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My Social Network by Luc Legay used under CC License

But I had a jaw-dropping revelation when I looked into my WordPress stats the other day. Facebook was the source for the most referrers, i.e. where someone was when they decided to click into my blog. The second was Search Engines, then Google+ and Twitter. Why are these stats surprising? Because I usually spend the most time promoting my blog on Google+ and Twitter. When I thought about it, it didn’t take long to figure out why this happened. I use Facebook in the same way that I blog, taking the time to visit other pages and leave commentary rather than promoting my own stuff.

Let me be clear for a second, I am not a spammer (and never have been), on Google+ and Twitter. However, when I look back at all of my tweets and Google+ posts, most of them were promotional. I think it’s time to switch gears and use the rest of social media in the same way as I’ve been using Facebook and blogging.

You may experience the same if you go into your WordPress bar graph (site stats for last 48 hours), then look at the referrer’s box and click summaries. You can view your referrers for different time periods as well.

O.K. now that you’ve looked, what did you find out about your stats?

The Blog, the Tweet, and the Facebook Page

Building an author platform can be a difficult and painstaking undertaking. Chances are your writing time will be greatly sacrificed. However, blogging, tweeting, and updating your Facebook page does constitute writing, and does generate readers. Therefore, it is time well spent. I’ve noticed certain patterns emerging as I’ve began building my own platform.

Blog reciprocation has the highest ranking. When I hit the Like and Subscribe buttons or drop a comment on someone else’s blog, they generally reciprocate by doing the same on mine. Of course that only happens when the initial contact is done through blogging. If the initial contact happens through Twitter, full reciprocation doesn’t usually occur.

When someone follows me on Twitter, I make it my business to follow back, drop a tweet, visit their Facebook page and their blog. But the Twitter reciprocation rate is pretty low. I’d say about 1 out of every 35 who I make contact with visit my blog or Facebook page.

Twitter returns don’t seem that bad when compared to Facebook. I must say that my Facebook page is pretty much dead space most of the time. Although I really haven’t been “pushing” over there either.

In the same order up to now, The Blog, The Tweet, and The Facebook Page have become my own version of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

How are you doing with your platform experience?  Any tips you’d like to share?