Monday, October 31, 2011

Blog Critique: Nancy S. Thompson

It's critique time. In this series I give constructive feedback about the look and function of an author blog from a marketing perspective. As always, I rely on help from graphic designers Tom Barnes (my hubby) and Joe LaRue. To review the blog elements we look at or to submit your own blog for critique, go here.

Today's blog is from Nancy S. Thompson. Check it out.

Ok, Nancy, here's what we love:
  • Title: Yes! Use your name in your title. When agents or readers search your name, it's easier to find you. And you are branding yourself after all. I wish that more blogs had the author's name in the title (or subtitle).
  • Profile: Pic and blurb is right up top. Can't miss it. Right on.
  • Follow: It is easy to follow you by email and for readers to share your posts. 
  • Depth: You have pages (depth) and they have samples of your writing/WIP related stuff (query, pitch, etc.). This is awesome for the non-agented blogger. Hmm, I really need to put mine up...
  • Search: You have search! I love that. I want everyone to have search. (Move it up so it's easier to find though).
Now just a few suggestions:

  • Monotonous header: We don't always mind a solid color header, but yours is too similar to the background in the lower part of your blog. If the colors were complimentary instead of shades of the same (like yellow compliments purple) it would be better. You could also....
  • Move navigation: If you put your navigation across the top instead of at the side it will stand out better and help break up the monotony.
  • Post background color: When you have two side columns like you do, a different color behind your posts helps give them more attention. I prefer a one column, actually, but two columns can work if it's easy to distinguish from your posts.
  • Profile: Remove that you "recently discovered you like writing." It immediately makes you think you are a novice and I am more likely to make judgments about your writing even before I've read a word you've written.
  • Consistency:  Your blogging seems to be sporadic. Make a schedule and stick to it. It lets us know you're serious about your craft.
  • Photos or Link Within: I would suggest using more photos or add the Link Within app to add some color to your background.
  • Labels: I haven't mentioned this to anyone before, but I personally think labels are not used as well as they should be. I think they should be, as much as possible, streamlined. Pick label names that can encompass lots of similar posts such as "awards" for all your award posts. Your post titles are for being more specific.
  • Contact info: Where is it? I'm a firm believer in including it on its own page.
Great blog, Nancy! I turn it over to the readers now. Is there anything else you would like to suggest for Nancy? Anything you disagree/agree with that I mentioned?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Saturday Savvy Sensation: Janice Hardy

Have I ever mentioned to you that my all-time-favorite-never-miss-a-post blog is Janice Hardy's The Other Side of the Story?  Well, now you know. She's amazing because she's good at what she blogs about. She's an excellent teacher. If you aren't reading her EVERY DAY, you must start now (an easy task if you have "liked" our Facebook page, The Write Advice, hint, hint). And today she is on MY BLOG!! And she has a lot of really good advice for you bloggers so read on....

Who are you (what do you write, what are your personal stats)?
I write fantasy and science fiction for teens, (The Healing Wars Trilogy) and blog about writing for writers of all ages and stages (The Other Side of the Story). In my day job world, I’m a graphic designer. I’m also terribly clumsy, have a weakness for sweets, and a love of most things zombie.

Where can we find you online (blog, twitter, facebook, etc.)?
Twitter: @Janice_Hardy

When did you begin your online platform building?
I first started with forums like Absolute Write and Backspace in 2007. They were a good way to get my feet wet and start getting to know the online writing/blogging community. When I sold my first novel in 2008, I knew I needed to start doing something online, but had no clue what. I read a lot of blogs and enjoyed them, so I thought I’d try that. I started a writing blog February 2009. It was the only thing I felt I had to offer that anyone would be interested in reading on a regular basis.

What is your message, if any (is your blog about anything specific, for example)?
The blog is all about writing and improving your craft. When I was starting out I was often frustrated by advice that said I had to “do X” but didn’t really tell me how. Later, I was teaching writing for Writer’s Digest Online Workshops and discovered I had a knack for explaining all those things that once drove me crazy. On the blog, I offer a lot of examples and try to explain the how so someone can apply it directly to their work and see improvement.

If I have a message, it’s probably never say you’re not good enough to be a published author. Say you’re not good enough, yet. That “yet” leaves room to grow, and as long as you keep working and learning, you’ll get there.   

How have you built your followers: What have you done that has been the most successful? What have you done that has failed?
Lots of trial an error. Mostly I try to write things folks will want to read and share, and make it easy for them to do that. I guest blog on other sites, have a weekly guest author post on my site to help bring in new readers (and help promote my fellow author’s books), I do weekly critiques. It’s so hard to know what works and what doesn’t. I do know that getting picked up regularly on popular link sites has helped drive a lot of traffic.  The retweets and links on Twitter also bring in a lot of folks.

The most successful thing has to be the recent redesign. I had over 500 articles on writing on the blog and unless you dug through the archives you couldn’t easily find them. So I redesigned the blog in more of a website fashion with an index and easy to find links so folks could find the topics they needed. It went from being a blog to being a resource for writers. I’m at 800 articles now, and it’s time to update the site and tweak it further.

Things that failed…well, shortly after the redesign I started doing extra posts throughout the day to give folks a reason to check the site more than once. I had links to great posts I’d read, spotlights on festivals, conferences, contests etc. It’s a great tactic for most blogs (and has been proven to drive traffic) but for a writing blog, it was overwhelming. There was too much to read and the numbers started going down. I stopped that after a few months and the numbers went back up.

How much time do you spend blogging? Reading blogs? Commenting on blogs?
Time varies depending on the post, but anywhere from 5-15 hours a week writing them. Some I can knock out in under an hour, others take me half a day. It really depends on how complex the topic and what’s needed for the examples. I try to pick a day and get as many done as possible for the week, which helps a lot. I also keep a file of ideas so I don’t waste a lot of time trying to think up a topic. When things get busy, I pull articles from the archives and rerun them, though lately I’ve been doing one “Golden Oldie” a week even when it’s not busy. Readerships change so most folks haven’t seen some of those older posts and they’re still relevant. I also spend an hour or two a week responding to comments.

Reading time is about an hour per day, and I’ve had to cut back on that a lot this past year. I used to read a lot more, but I had too many obligations and I had to give up something or lose my mind. I actually don’t comment on other blogs that often unless I can add something to the conversation. I’m much more of a lurker. That’s something I’d like to change though. There are so many great discussions going on out there and I miss keeping up on the news.

What else should we know about you?
Let’s see…I’m a gamer geek. PC, consoles, you name it. I also have the cutest pink bicycle. I’m rather strange, with a dark sense of humor (which comes out in my writing). I love cheesy movies as long as it’s good cheese (which doesn’t necessarily mean a good movie). I love to talk to writers and readers.

Any additional advice for our readers?
If you’re a blogger: Blog for fun, not because you think you have to. It’s way too much work if you don’t enjoy it, and your readers will be able to tell your heart’s not in it.
If you’re a writer: When things get bad, remember that you’re not alone. Every writer goes through the same trials, and someone out there knows exactly what you’re frustrated over. Even better, there are plenty of writers who felt that way and made it to publication. Keep writing and you’ll get there one day.

What makes you unique?
I have a zombie in my yard. His name is Cadaver Dan and he even has his own Facebook page. He likes to dress up for the holidays. He’s trying to decide what to be for Halloween right now.

Thank you so much, Janice! You are so, super savvy. It is always an honor to interact with you and I'm ecstatic that I get to share you with others.

Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her books include THE SHIFTER, BLUE FIRE, and DARKFALL from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins.  You can visit her online at or chat with her about writing on her blog, The Other Side of the Story.

About Darkfall:

War has come.

Nya’s the one who brought it. And the people love her for it.

With Baseer in shambles and Geveg now an impenetrable military stronghold, Nya and the Underground have fled to a safer location—without Tali. Nya is guilt-ridden over leaving her sister behind and vows to find her, but with the rebellion in full swing and refugees flooding the Three Territories, she fears she never will.

The Duke, desperate to reclaim the throne as his own, has rallied his powerful army. And they are on the move, destroying anyone who gets in the way.

To save her sister, her family, and her people, Nya needs to stay ahead of the Duke’s army and find a way to build one of her own. Past hurts must be healed, past wrongs must be righted, and Nya must decide: Is she merely a pawn in the rebellion, a symbol of hope—or is she ready to be a hero?

Friday, October 28, 2011

NaNoWriMo = MeNoHereNow (AsMuch)

I am participating in NaNoWriMo for the first time ever. I should, after all, since I claim to be a writer, actually write something. Now, usually I don't post about such writerly stuff - I stick to the marketing - but I wanted to let you know that I am making that my priority for November. Usually this blog comes before my writing, but I am going to put this on the back burner.  I am not exactly going on hiatus. I have blog crits and Savvy Sensation interviews already lined up. I just might not be as active on the comment front. Who knows? This is my first time, remember?

I expect many of you are also doing NaNo and you might not be around as much either. Here are a few reminders for anyone planning to step back from blogging now or anytime:
  1. Numbers may go down: Whenever you post less, comment less, or are less interactive on your blog, expect that you may have less visits and comments from your readers. 
  2. It may take time to rebuild: When you return to your regular schedule, your readers may not automatically return. You may have to rebuild a bit, but it shouldn't take as long as it did the first time.
  3. Tell people what's up: Let people know you are taking a break from the blog world and, if possible, for how long so they know what's up with you.
  4. But not every day: One post saying where you are is all you need. Don't post several updates about sorry I'm not here, I'll return, I promise. All that does is clog up our Google Readers. We want to read content from you. Chances are with all the blogs we follow that we didn't really notice you were gone until you reminded us.
  5. Priorities show: If your blog is your priority, that's awesome. I bet we can tell. If your writing is your priority, that's more awesome. That's how you're going to get an agent or published or win you that book award. Take time for what you need. You can always change your priorities in the future.
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Good luck to all of you! I'll see you on the other side :)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Marketing Benefits of Guests

This may be obvious to some of you already, but I'm gonna say it anyway: Having guests on your blog is good for you.

When I say guests I mean guest bloggers, interviews, contests, book reviews, anything. Just guests in general. Here's why:

1. Guests drive traffic from their blog/Facebook/contact book to your blog. Well, duh. But the important part of that is that sometimes those readers will become your readers. Especially if you respond to any of their comments and go visit their blogs.

2. Guests make your blog more well-rounded. Readers get bored. Guests bring new ideas and freshness to your site. Not that you're boring, but really, who isn't after awhile.

3. Guests give you a break. Which can often help with writer's block or blog burnout.

4. Guests build community. I don't know about you, but I always feel more connected to another blogger after I've been on their blog. It creates a bond. And isn't community what it's about for many of us?

A word of caution: too many guests may drive some readers away, unless that's what your blog is about. If your readers love you more for your personality than your content then you may be risking losing your own followers.

And your guests should probably be over the age of 1, unlike the picture above.

What other benefits do you get from having guest bloggers? Do you like guest posts? Do they turn you away? Please share your thoughts!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Oh me, oh my, I reached 200! I'm really truly honored and ecstatic to have you all. You truly make this fun, fun, fun! (That's a lot of exclamation points. But I mean each one of them.)

In celebration I'd like to give away an e-book, but first, if you are following me and I am not following you back, leave me a comment and I'll get over there. But also, please look at your profile and make sure you are linked up to your own blog. Most of the time that little detail is what prevents me from returning a follow.

And now, the book I am giving away is Kristen Lamb's Are You There Blog? It's Me, Author. I have to say upfront that while I don't back up everything Lamb has to say, she makes a lot of excellent points and at least she gets authors thinking like marketers. It's an essential read if you are a serious author blogger.

Okay, drumroll, the winner is....

Alex J.!  

Alex, I will be emailing you with your prize.  Thanks for following, all of you!! Let's celebrate with a whole bunch of exclamation points!!!!!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Blog Critique: Brooke R. Busse

Monday's here again and that brings a new blog critique. In this series I give constructive feedback about the look and function of an author blog from a marketing perspective. As always, I rely on help from graphic designers Tom Barnes (my hubby) and Joe LaRue. To review the blog elements we look at or to submit your own blog for critique, go here.

Today's blog is Brooke R. Busse's Paper Mountain. Take a moment and check out her blog. 

There is so much I love about your blog, Brooke. So much you have spot on. You have a straight forward title. I can see your name and pic clearly. You have a page for WIP info. You tell us when you're going to post. Truly an awesome job. Here are just a few tiny suggestions we have for you:
  • Overall look: Interestingly, Brooke, your blog brings our first disagreement from our designers. Joe says, "It's lovely. The color scheme is good, the design is clean." Joe does say that you could use a textured background like natural paper in the same color. He also likes your fonts (and he's a font priss). Tom, on the other hand thinks it's too plain. Though he says the fonts and colors are "fine", he says he's "bored".  As for me, I love that it is simple, straightforward and clean but I also think it's a little too plain. Texture would help a lot. So would...
  • Color: Most of your posts lack pictures or any color. Throw in some color now and then. Add one pic per post. This is a great way to attract a reader's attention. Remember many of your readers are using Google Reader and they won't see any of your design, but they will see the pic.
  • I'm not sure who you are: I know you are petite and bubbly and can get a sense of your writing from your prompts, but your readers should get more a sense of what your writing is about before even reading a post. I'd like to see your profile include a line about what you write or that you are a writer. On that note...
  • Title/Blog message: I want your profile blurb to tie in with your title or what your blog's message is. I see you use your blog to share writing posts, which is great, but I'd like to know that in your profile blurb. Just one sentence could say both that you are a writer of YA fiction and you exercise your writer's mind through prompts on daily posts. Or whatever. Not that what you have isn't cute and full of personality - it is and that's awesome. But it is a little jarring to arrive at your blog on a day you have a prompt post and not really understand what I've walked into. Just explain in a prominent place in your sidebar. 
  • Contact Info: Missing! Put up a contact page. I know we can find your email in your profile. Make it easier.
  • Fonts: You are inconsistent in your fonts. I am guessing that when you do your prompts you copy and paste them from another document. If you do, just switch it to the default font. (I am horrible at keeping my fonts matching so it's hard for me to even mention this to people :)
  • About Me page: I don't have one either, but it's a good idea to have a bio page. 
  • Followers: I'm glad it is easy to follow your blog. Move that up under your profile so it is even easier. I think it's more important than your blog archive.
  • Add a search bar: I think every blog should have one. That's just me.
Seriously, Brooke, this looks like a bunch of stuff, but it's minor. I really, really like your minimalism. Keep up the great work, and thanks for letting us dissect you!

Readers, do you agree with what we said? Any other suggestions? Please give us your opinion!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Saturday Savvy Sensation: Nicole Zoltak

One of the very first people I wanted to have in this spotlight was Nicole Zoltak. When I began blogging and reading blogs, I saw her everywhere! And I always loved what she had to say and the support she gave to other people I'm so glad to finally have her here today. So read on....

Who are you (what do you write, what are your personal stats)?
I’m Nicole Zoltack and I’m a writeaholic. There isn’t any genre that I’m not willing to try. I’ve written fantasy, paranormal, horror, romance, historical, and combinations thereof. I also write for all ages – from PBs through adults. And the length varies too, I’ll write flash pieces, short stories, and novels.

Where can we find you online (blog, twitter, facebook, etc.)?
So many places! My website is my twitter is
My personal facebook page is at the friend limit but I also have a fan page:
As a book lover, of course I’m on Goodreads:
I’m also on linked in:
And Klout: That’s all I can think of right now.

When did you begin your online platform building?
March 2009. I had a guest blog post on another blog to highlight myself and my first novel – Woman of Honor, the story of a young girl who wants to become a knight, and I realized I had no way to get the word out about it. I started my blog and it’s snowballed and evolved into what it is now.

What is your message, if any (is your blog about anything specific, for example)?
I blog about writing and books and anything that strikes my fancy. On Mondays, I usually post about some kind of fantasy creature – pictures and a little of its history. On Tuesdays, I post about my weekly progress writing-wise, and sometimes about my pregnancy as well. I just started a new feature on Wednesdays called Question of the Week. I sometimes blog on Thursdays and Fridays but not as regularly as I had in the past. I’ll post about contests for books or for writers and I’ll sometimes blog about writing and editing and tips about them that I’ve picked up over the years.

How have you built your followers: What have you done that has been the most successful? What have you done that has failed?
Although I started my blog in 2009, I didn’t seriously blog until mid to late 2010. That’s when I decided to blog M-F. Instead of blogging whenever I felt like it, the regular schedule definitely helped to increase my followers and to get them to come back. That’s also when I started to read other blogs and comment on them a lot more. That is definitely a way to get to know the wonderful blogging community and to build up followers by being a follower in the first place. (Kinda like you have to be a good friend to have friends. It’s the same philosophy.) Blog hops and giveaways are another hugely successful way to build up followers.

As for failing – I’ve noticed that if I take a break with blogging, it takes a little bit of time for my followers to start coming back. I try to say if I’ll be taking a break and for how long, although sometimes with two little ones (a 3 and a 1 year old and another one on the way) sometimes life gets in the way.

How much time do you spend blogging? Reading blogs? Commenting on blogs?
I try to write my blog posts for the week on the weekend. That way I can have them scheduled to post and not worry about it (although Blogger doesn’t always post them like it’s supposed to… grr). I have a list of blogs that I visit every day and I try to read a lot more than that. I don’t always comment but I try to. I wish I could visit and comment more than I do. I know how much I love comments and I always respond to them through email. I also find blog post to read on Twitter. If the title of the post sounds interesting, I’ll click through and read it.

What else should we know about you?
Family is huge with me. I married my first kiss (my college sweetheart). (Maybe that’s why I love to write romances!) I love to go to the Pa Renaissance Fair – dressed in period garb, of course! I used to take horseback riding lessons and will again someday soon hopefully. My favorite TV show is The Vampire Diaries.

Any additional advice for our readers?
Blog from the heart and only if you love it. Be yourself. Readers will pick up on it if you’re fake.

What makes you unique?
Let’s see… I’ll do anything for my friends and I have a hard time saying no. I love to brainstorm with other writers and help them make their novels shine (which is one of the reasons why I became an editor in addition to being a writer.) I’m quiet until I get to know you, then you won’t be able to get me to shut up!

Nicole, thank you so much for being here. I love the advice you've given today and your passion for what you do is evident. Congratulations on all your success and on that third baby of yours (I have three girls, we can pair them all up!). Good luck with all that this next year brings you, you Savvy Sensation.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Comments, Comments, Comments

So because you guys are all so awesome with the comments you make on my blog critiques, I now am somewhat reevaluating the thoughts I have about comments. Responding to comments that is.  I first talked about this subject here. You don't have to go and read that post though because these are the basic rules I gave about responding to comments (in blue):

  • When you are building readership and have, say, two followers, you should always respond to their comments.
  • When you have hundreds of followers, you do not have to respond to each and every one - they are usually commenting on each other. 
  • Do respond if a comment contains a question or complaint directed at you.
  • Do respond if you said you were going to respond.
  • Don't respond when people are having a debate. Let them work it out themselves while you remain unbiased.
  • Don't respond when you can't remain calm in your comments. It's the old addage: If you can't say something nice, don't reply to a comment.
  • Do respond if you are genuinely moved to respond.

Now, like I said because of what I'm hearing from experienced bloggers, I have to say I stand by everything up there. But one important question has come up:

Is it silly to expect people to return to your blog to read your response to a comment?

Hmm. That's a good point. Many readers will not ever return to your blog to read your response. Some people do subscribe to responses, and I guess I've always thought that if someone really wanted a response they would do so. But you might have something to add to a comment and that person may NOT have subscribed.

Blogger Matt MacNish emails responses to his readers which, turns out, many people seem to really appreciate. This is a great tool for building relationships and I greatly admire this response tactic. Particularly because it really seems to fit with Matt's personality.

But here's the thing: when someone publicly asks a question or makes a comment they are leaving it for other people to see. Lots of times a reader will come a long and NOT comment because something similar has already been said or asked. But that second reader still wants to know what the blogger's response would be. I've been really frustrated, in fact, when I've read a blog, seen a question that I want to know the answer to and then never see a back up response. It's not fair to only respond to public comments in a private place. 

It also is somewhat about appearances. It looks better to readers when the blogger takes time to respond to readers.

Some bloggers like Michelle Fayard leave a comment on the blog but then email the person who left the comment to say, "I have left you a response to your comment on my blog".

This is a better tactic and I personally really appreciate it. But it could be argued that it creates more work for the person who commented. Maybe an even better idea is to both comment on the blog PLUS email a copy of the comment to the person who posted it.

There still is a problem with that last idea: the person who originally commented might have missed out on other things readers said related to that comment if you just email what you said.

The one last problem with emailing and commenting is that it takes time. Which takes you away from other things.

I guess in the end I would say this: What is your goal with your blog? If you are trying to build relationships, make every effort to make it easy for your readers. Email and comment on your blog. If your goal is to maintain a presence in the blogging world while you focus on your writing, then don't spend too much time responding to comments.

What do you think about the subject? Do you like to be emailed responses? Do you like it when authors respond on their blog?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I won!

I'm here out of the blue because I wanted to tell y'all about my recent win. Last week, Gail Shepherd posted this and I was the first to guess correctly!

So this week I received this shiny new copy of newly released Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Thanks so much, Gail! Can't wait to read!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Blog Critique: Matthew MacNish

No, it isn't Monday (the day these posts usually go up). I have had a great response to people desiring blog critiques, however, that I decided to include some on Wednesdays as well.  Don' let it confuse you to much. Again I employed the design eye of graphic designers Joe LaRue and Tom Barnes. So if I say "we", that's who I mean.

Today's critique is on Matthew MacNish's blog, The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment. Go ahead and check it out. As always, I'll wait.

Overall, Matthew's blog has very little I would change. He does many things right, and you can tell because he has a large following of readers that actually read his blog. How do I know? Look at any post and he has loads of great comments. One clue for any of you that your blog is working is not necessarily how many followers you have but how many page views and comments. I don't have a magic number to give you because there isn't one, but know that if your page views are going down and you aren't getting many comments, then you probably aren't giving readers what they want. And don't be obsessed with watching your stats. Just be aware.

Anyway, back to Matt. Remember you can find a full list of all the things I look at on my critiques here. In this post I will just touch on a few components:

  • Title: We love your title; it speaks to what your blog is about. But...I would like to see your name in the subtitle because...
  • Where's your name?: I had to hunt for it. A reader should never have to search for the name of he blog writer. I would like to see your profile where you have your followers listed. Also a page link that is "About Me" could solve this (I would both add a page and move your profile.)
  • Profile picture: Ok, Yoda's cool and all, and so is the pic of you with your daughter. But I'd like to see a real headshot of you somewhere. If you had an About Me page, that would be a good place to add it.
  • Background: Your background for your blog and posts are great. It's easy to read, not too colorful to distract, easy on the eyes. The one thing the designers and I are wondering, though, is why that background image? It doesn't seem to fit your blog. Joe thinks your blog needs something clever to go with your clever title. And I agree.
  • Message: Your message/topic is clear. You tell me what and why and I like that.
  • Consistency: You blog consistently and always on topic. This is a major plus. When I come to your blog I know exactly what I'm going to get and that is a good step to obtaining readers. 
  • Schedule: I would like to know when you're going to blog. I can see by going through your blogs that you are a M-F type of guy, and when you don't blog you are awesome about telling us you are going to be away. But a little "I blog M-F" in your profile would be helpful.
  • Cluttered?: Nope. Your blog is nice and clean. But your side panel could be cleaner. All the sections of lists with the same blog color becomes a little muddy. I suggest you put your query-helpful blog list as a page. This should be easy to find since this is what your blog is about, after all. Then I'd lose your top commentator cloud, or, if you really want to keep it, move it below your networked blogs section because that will break up the muddled lists.
  • Query Critiques: Do you accept people's queries for critique on your blog? That isn't clear to me. If you do, make that prominent. Give it its own page to tell people exactly how to submit.
  • Contact Info: I like to see contact info prominently displayed. You have writing samples - what if an agent or editor or anyone wants to contact you about your wonderful writing to give you an opportunity but gives up because its too hard to find? 
  • Comment Response: I only mention this for my other readers, I have said in the past that you should respond to as many of your comments as possible to create a good conversation. The exception is when your readers are conducting a conversation without you. If they don't need you, there's no need to butt in (unless you actually have something you want to say). Matt handles his comments exactly in this way. Great job!
  • Search: I like search functions. I like it when it's easy for readers to find what they are looking for. 
One last thing I'd like to say about Matt: He knows how to network and build readers. He might not always do it, as he says, but he can. If you notice, he just threw a blogfest where he built up like 170 readers. Look to him as an example for building a following.

And you folks? What do you think about Matt's blog? What do you like? What should he do differently? And if you'd like to have your blog critiqued, click here for instructions on how to submit.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Blog Critique: Susanna Leonard Hill

Only one week in, I am going to change the format of today's blog critique.  Published author Susanna Leonard Hill has a beautiful website and blog. Go ahead and check it out.

By beautiful, I'm talking from a marketing perspective. She's doing nearly everything on my critique list 100% right.What Susanna would like, however, is for her blog to bring in more of her readers: librarians, parents, and teachers. So instead of speaking to her individual blog elements, I will post some suggestions to marketing to her desired readership.

First, Susanna, a couple of little technical suggestions:

  1. I would make the link from your blog to your website more visible right away. Make it a page link on your blog navigation bar. Your website has invaluable information and people need to see it.
  2. Even more important than your website, your blog doesn't have an easy link to your teacher/parent resources. I don't even know you have them without looking. It's even hard to find them on your website. If you really want to draw these people as readers then make your resources to them more evident.
Now on to the real meaty suggestions. (Really it's just one suggestion, but hopefully you can find something worthwhile in it and adapt it to you.)
  • Create a weekly post series for teachers/parents/librarians. If you really want to, you could create a whole new blog, but I have to say here that I don't think it's necessary.
  • In your series, you could choose a different picture book each week and focus on ways to use it in an educational setting. A rough example follows in blue (your choice if you include the printable resources or not):
Book: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See by Eric Carle
Good for: One-on-one
Skills focus: Matching, interacting, attention building, animal identification
Activity: Print clip art pictures of each of the animals in the story. Pictures do not have to exactly match the look of the pictures in the story. In fact it's better if they don't to enforce that animals of the same species do not always look the same. Place all the pictures in front of the child. As you read the story, have the child hold up the picture that matches the animal on the page.
Small group adaptations: Hand out one or two pictures to each child. When the story gets to their animal, have them stand up and show the animal to everyone. 

Ok, sort of blah, but you get the picture. You have more experience with this than me :) The point is to create a series that will be informative and interesting to the people who are buying your books so they will come back over and over. But creating the series is only the first step. Now comes the hard part: Getting the readers to your blog in the first place. I'm not going to lie; it's going to be work. Some ideas:
  • Get on the computer and google libraries and teachers. Search across the nation. Pick a city a week and just tackle that one. This will be an on-going project, obviously. Most school and library sites have emails these days. Draft a form letter and send it to all the emails you find telling them who you are and that you feature FREE resources on your blog each week. 
  • In your email, on your blog, and/or at your school and library visits, invite librarians/teachers/parents to share their own activities and resources on your blog via guest posts. This is great because it gives them a vested interest in your blog and makes them more likely to return.
  • Search for blogs and websites that have teacher resources. Here's Scholastic's list of the Top 20 Blogs to start. Wherever you can, leave comments stating that your blog features a weekly resource series and invite them to visit.
  • Search for mom blogs (there's millions), friend the bloggers and invite them to follow you. We do this with other writers, do it with moms!
  • Invite other authors to guest on your series with their own educational ideas. Though they may not bring more of the readers you want to your blog, it will create more awareness about your series in general.
Don't forget to:
  • Be sure to occasionally include your books in your series rotation.
  • Include in each post title the title of the book and use the word "activity" or "resources" in your post so that it is easily searchable for people looking on Google. Ex. Title: "Stories in Action: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See by Eric Carle." Then have your first line be something like: "Educational resources for Eric Carle's classic book." You want people to be able to find your post when they search for resources relating to specific books.
  • Advertise your series in a prominent place on your blog and website so people can find it.
  • When you email the people near you, make sure you offer personal visits. And always include links for people to buy your books!
Ok, that's what I got. Is any of this helpful, Susanna? How about the rest of you - any suggestions for her regarding drawing different readers or her blog in general? I can't wait to hear your ideas!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Saturday Savvy Sensation: Jen Daiker

Jen Daiker is da bomb. The first sentence of her blogger profile, "I love to lie," immediately demonstrates her charm and personality. She's addicted to the internet which is why it's not surprising to find her EVERYWHERE. She has not one, but two blogs, and guess what: she's good at it. Her blog is clean, informative, and filled with character, which is probably why she has over 1600 followers. I can't say how happy I am to share her with you here. And now, today's Savvy Sensation, Jen Daiker:

Who are you (what do you write, what are your personal stats)?
I write chick lit... you know, those stories with cocktails, cupcakes, and romance. Yes, substance is also included. As far as personal stats if you count telling myself I rock every day in the mirror, that'd be about it.

Where can we find you online (blog, twitter, facebook, etc.)?
The potential for new stalkers? *giggles* This is so exciting! Let's see, I'm just about everywhere these days, you can find me at UneditedThe Beginner HousewifeTwitter, Facebook (can't access darn thing at work -- you can find link easily though I'd think), Pinterest (my new obsession), StumbleuponLinkedIn, and Klout. (Too many, probably, but I'm an addict).
When did you begin your online platform building?
January 2010. I'd just watched Julie & Julia and was inspired to blog & begin writing. Yes, it really happened like that, while eating cupcakes.

What is your message, if any (is your blog about anything specific, for example)?
At Unedited it's all about Writing, reading, and how to blog. I spend my days spinning tales of weird conversations me and the hubs have, how to do things, so on and so forth. At The Beginner Housewife (only a few weeks old) I write about cooking, recipe ideas, relationship advice, house decorating. It's all for a book I'm writing and I've always been fascinated with interior design.

How have you built your followers -What have you done that has been the most successful? What have you done that has failed?
I just visit people. I'm most successful when I leave thought out comments, say hello to friends, stick around for blogfests and such. I fail when I don't have time to visit all whom I love. Though I wouldn't consider that failing, you can normally still find me active on twitter, but when I'm missing it's because I'm writing.
How much time do you spend blogging? Reading blogs? Commenting on blogs?
I blog anywhere from two weeks to a month in advance. When the ideas flow I roll with it to avoid blogger block. Reading happens in evenings, about an hour for each blog. I realize that's not a lot with over a thousand followers, but I do my best. Commenting and reading go hand in hand for me.
What else should we know about you?
I almost always wear neon striped colored socks. Life saver sours REDS are my addiction, along with my favorite blog (just for fun) The Bloggess. I have a shoe designed for every book I finish. I have been known to walk around the house talking in an english accent. Ummm... and I have blonde hair. Ta-da!
What makes you unique?
I'm not sure if that's a question that should be asked of me, but more of my readers I'd think. I'll say it's my upbeat, quirky personality. I'm random when it counts (which is all the time) and I can always be found to chat! I like to think my personal, quirky personality is well received.

Thank you so much, Jen for being here! Enjoy your Savvy Sensation Award.  Good luck in your writing, and please come back anytime! Everyone, make sure you visit her blog. Lots. She's a great example of "how it's done."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Author Blogs - Wrong Audience? No Way

Did you read Wednesday's post? If not, you may want to read it now because I'm not in the mood to recap.

Oh, okay, here's the post in a nutshell: Author social media guru, Kristen Lamb, reaffirmed in a recent post her long-held belief that author blogs that are about writing do not target the people who will read your books (unless you also write about writing). She maintains authors should blog on topics related to their books to pull the right audience. Wednesday I posted why I strongly agreed with her.

Today I'm posting why I strongly disagree. (Yeah, I'd be a bad politician - too waffley). Here's my thoughts:

Writers Are Readers Too.  Would you believe it? I'm a writer AND a reader. Weird, huh? I read a lot of YA and MG - I have kids and I like those books - and I pick a lot of my books by reading blogs. Blogs on writing. I buy books based on writing blogs. If someone who purchases books is the "wrong audience" then I don't understand what the right audience is. A purchase is a purchase

There's Strength in Numbers.  So maybe the writing community is small compared to the whole slew of readers that are out there. But we are a community. A very giving and supportive community. And most of us who blog also Facebook and Twitter. And most of us feed our posts on to these other social media vehicles where we all have non-writer friends. Lots of non-writer friends. Lots of blogging writers with non-writing friends. That's a lot of people who we are connected to through blogging. And...

People Buy Books They Recognize.  Perhaps the non-writers we connect with on FB don't actually read our blog posts but they see the picture and the title of the books that we are reviewing or the guest author we are showcasing on our FB page and it makes a connection for them. So the next time they are standing at the bookstore trying to decide between Book A and Book B, they choose B because they saw something about it somewhere even if they don't remember what it was. In marketing we call this creating/maintaining a presence. Coca-Cola and Pepsi do it with ads: TV ads don't sell Coke and Pepsi, the taste does. But the ads remind us of them so when we go to get a pop we say, "Can I have a Coke or Pepsi?" rather than "Can I have whatever cola you have on tap?" We buy what we recognize. Having a community that is so willing to promote you increases your chances for recognition.

You Can Have More Than One Blog.  It is a lot of work, and we should make sure our real writing comes first, but we can have more than one blog.  One for each book, one for our writing. And the "On Topic" notion can really work well here.

You Don't Have To Blog To Sell Books.  There are many social media mediums, and one size does not fit all. You don't have to use your blog to sell books. Personally (do you want to hear my personal opinion?) I like websites for books or published authors - interactive websites. Perhaps they can include a conversational area for interaction, but a blog isn't absolutely necessary.  

And most of us didn't start blogging because we wanted to build readers, did we? Most of us wanted to build community. We wanted support groups. Places to turn for advice. A place to practice writing. A place to voice all the words in our head! A place to say, "I'm writing a book" and not be laughed at and feel more committed to actually doing it because we said it out loud on blog.  And if we are lucky, we carry that support group from first draft to post-published.  And maybe our followers become readers. But even if they don't, I don't actually believe that writing blogs gain the "wrong audience".  No, it's exactly the right audience, I think.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Both? Why did you start blogging? 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Author Blogs - Wrong Audience?

Is Your Blog Capturing Your Audience?
Last week I read this post,Author Blogs-Solid Platform,Wrong Audience by Author Social Media Maven Kristen Lamb (yes, I'm behind on blog reading). For those of you who don't want to click over, let me summarize: Kristen reiterates what she says in her books and has always maintained on her blog that authors should blog about things related to their book, not about writing.

I think I heard a big collective gasp from many of you.

Well, immediately after reading it I knew I had to compose my own post about why I agree - and disagree - with Kristen Lamb's idea of blogging on topic.

First, why I agree: Kristen Lamb is totally spot on right. She says she doesn't do marketing besides what she does for authors. My background is in marketing and it is exactly what I have thought from the very beginning of my endeavor to get published. If you want people to buy your book, draw them with a blog on a related topic.

Think about it. Do regular, reader people care about the craft? Not really. They pick books based on subjects they like. When they go searching online for the author, they usually want to either find personal author info or more stuff like in the book. The reverse is true. If a reader is interested in fiction and 17th century art and you blog about artists of the 17th century, the reader may find you, like your blog, then want to read your book.

Roni Loren who was on my site this last Saturday said it about her own pathway. She wished she had started a blog for her readers from the beginning. Her author blog is now geared for readers. It is all about romance and flirtation and sexiness. A few years ago I went through a real romance reading phase. (If you do the math you might find it was when I conceived my youngest, but I'm not saying anymore than that.) I searched online for leads to new books I thought I might like to read. A blog like Roni's would totally have drawn me in. And then I'd see that amazing cover and want to read her book.

Now I write children's books. So most of my thoughts on this subject are related to children and preteens. That means my main readers are children. It is hard to imagine children following blogs, but it's not impossible. My first book that I am currently querying is about a 12-year-old super spy. So imagine I started a blog with weekly "spy tips and tricks".  If I included some cool interactive things or secrets, it's exactly the type of website my 9-year-old would visit. And if she visited it, believe me she'd tell me she wanted whatever book that blog was advertising.

And you don't have to be exactly so literal with your "on topic" blog. The trick is to think about who your reader is, what they like, what they search for online. Here's some examples I came up with from well-known children's books:

  • Harry Potter - a blog about magic tricks
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid - a blog about real life stories of sibling rivalry
  • Lemony Snicket - a blog where Snicket answers reader's questions about the book/life in general (in Lemony's voice, of course!)
  • Judy Moody - a blog about potentially awesome summer activities 
These aren't great, but you get my drift, right? This works for adult books too.

Now before you completely dump your writer blog or think that I'm telling you to dump your writer blog just stop. I'm not dumping this writing blog, after all. Because although I strongly agree with Kristen's "On Topic" philosophy, I also kinda strongly disagree.

But you'll have to come back Friday to find out about that. 

Speaking of Friday - I have come to the point where I don't feel like Facebook Friday should be an every week event. Yes, I will still include Facebook Friday as an occasional series, but I have other things to talk about and I think other things you might want to read. So come back Friday for the conclusion to this.

Meanwhile, what are your thoughts on blogging on topic? Can you think of some books and blog ideas to go with them? I'd love to hear what you come up with!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Blog Critique: Gail Shepherd's Paradoxy

Wow, it's here! My very first blog critique. Forgive me as I get used to the best format to present in. I think this should prove very fun and informative, though.

First, let me state that this critique is not solely my opinion. I also relied on the help of my husband, Tom Barnes, a graphic designer and Joe LaRue, also a graphic designer.

Alright, our first victim  volunteer to have her blog critiqued is Gail Shepherd with her blog Paradoxy. Feel free to take a moment, click over and look it over before continuing. I'll wait.

Now I have posted a full list of all the things I look at in a blog on my Blog Critique page. Here I will just touch on a few rather than all of the components:
  • Overall look: We love the steampunk Alice in Wonderland feel of your blog. It's a template, but not overdone. Very interesting to look at and it draws me in. It does create a couple of problems, however. It takes up a lot of room; on most computer screens you have to scroll a little to see any words which is not ideal when you are an author. Unless you are an artist or this art is related to your writing, it might not grab the readers you want. That leads to the second problem with this look...
  • I don't know who you are: The header doesn't connect with your posts. I'm also not sure if it connects to your writing - do you write steampunk? Having pages to your books or sample writing would help this. It seems from your content that you are giving writer tips and reviews. This header and your blog title doesn't really show this (though it is a paradox!). You could tell us simply in a one-liner underneath your header. Look at mine above for a sample.
  • The template is a bit cluttered: I would suggest going to only one side column if you can and lose some of the irrelevant items, put them on the bottom or make pages for them. You could lose your label cloud and put your blog roll on another page.
  • Color: We love your use of color, but our graphic designers would like to see your post headers darker and bigger to draw them out. The light blue font color on the sides is too light. Can you change it in your template?
  • Profile is too low: Get your profile up higher on your page so I can see your beautiful face. You say you're published - get me some of your samples! You never know what connections you could make. I would like the side column to be - Profile, Follow, Join this Site, then Twitter.
  • Writing Consistency: Overall, it looks like your consistency is really good, but then this last week you didn't post much so I'm not sure if that's your pattern. Let us know when you will post. 
  • Post lengths and content: You are very consistent on the lengths of your posts and content. Good job! I'd still like to know what kind of posts I'm going to be reading without having to search through your past posts. 
  • Easy to follow: It is easy to follow you and subscribe by email, but you have two sections for this which is confusing. Limit to one. 
  • Like to see: We'd like to see a search box so we can find things on your blog and links to your top posts or a link within widget so people can easily find older posts.
Gail, you have a great blog with great, consistent material. These suggestions are merely suggestions, of course. You alone know what is best for you and your readers. Great job with what you've done so far and keep up the good work!

Anyone else have any feedback for Gail on her blog? Do you agree or disagree with our suggestions? We value your thoughts and opinions whatever they may be.

Comments Update

I have had a lot of problems with comments with IntenseDebates on the last few posts so I am uninstalling it from my blog. I just wanted to inform all of you that your comments may be missing from previous posts until I can enter them manually. I am now going to try installing Disqus. Thanks for bearing with me through this!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Saturday Savvy Sensation: Roni Loren

I discovered today's Savvy Sensation from, hmm, I can't quite remember what first took me to Roni's blog, but when I arrived there, I immediately liked what I saw. I had heard of her via other bloggers and when I saw how passionate and successful she was with blogging, I knew that she needed to be on my blog. So with no further ado, here's Roni Lauren:

Who are you (what do you write, what are your personal stats)?
I’m a romance author and blogger. My debut novel, CRASH INTO YOU, will release from Berkley Heat/Penguin in January 2012.

Where can we find you online (blog, twitter, facebook, etc.)?
Where can you not find me? Lol. I’m a bit of a social media tramp.
Fiction Groupie (my blog on writing):
Tumblr (where I post inspiration photos, 18+ only, I do write erotic romance after all.: ) )

When did you begin your online platform building?
I began my online platform a little over two years ago—a year before I landed an agent and got my book deal. I had just finished my first novel—a YA believe it or not. I started blogging because I thought I was “supposed” to and then I ended up falling in love with it. I never ever thought I’d stick to it. I’m the girl with a stack of diaries that only have two entries in them. But once I started meeting other writers and networking with them, I was hooked.

What is your message, if any (is your blog about anything specific, for example)?
I guess my message would be to go into any kind of social networking with future success in mind. I started out not truly believing that I would be published, so I didn’t set things up the way I would’ve had I’d known that I’d be in this position two years later. So there are a few mistakes I made that I’m paying for now. Number one: I set up a blog for writers. I’m glad I did that. It’s been a great success for me and I know I wouldn’t have the following I do if I hadn’t done that. But I kept it so strictly about writing that once I wanted to start blogging about broader things or topics that would appeal not just to writers but to readers, it didn’t really “fit” with the  brand of the blog. So I had to start a separate author blog that gave me a bit more freedom. The second mistake I made was that I built my blog on the free blogger site, which means I’m not in control of the hosting. If Blogger goes down or they decide for some reason they want to shut down my blog, they can. And I’ll have no say so. And I can’t easily move it because there is no way to bring over my 1500 followers to my author site. And I refuse to lose two years of work and building followers. So plan for the future!

How have you built your followers -
What have you done that has been the most successful?
I don’t know if it was any one thing. But I would say that I always approach my blog as—“what will the reader walk away with after they read this?”. Though I talk about my personal journey, I make sure I’m not just talking about me. It’s not my diary. No one really cares if I didn’t meet my word count for the day. But they may like to hear what things I’m doing to get back on track. So I try to take my experiences or whatever I’m learning about and break it down into digestible bites that people can take with them. I want readers to come to my blog because they know they will consistently get a little something—whether it be tips on writing or a laugh at my expense or a forum to say “I’ve been through that to.”
What have you done that has failed?
I did critiques online for a while and that killed comments on those days. People didn’t want to share their opinions of others’ work. So I stopped after a while. I also find that when I have guest authors who do giveaways, the comments and hits drop off. It’s the weirdest thing, but it’s a trend that pretty consistent.

How much time do you spend blogging? Reading blogs? Commenting on blogs?
It takes me about an hour to blog each morning. And reading and commenting on blogs has changed dramatically as I’ve gone on this journey. I used to be one of those people who visited everyone who left me a comment, and I went through my Google reader daily. But now I just don’t have the time to do that and keep up with everything else. Basically the way I read and comment on blogs is via the “bright, shiny object” method. I’m on Twitter (via Tweedeck) anytime I’m on the computer, so as I see interesting links pop up—I go “ooh, lemme go look at that” and often I leave a comment. So that’s how my blog reading goes—very hit or miss. It makes me sad to know I’m missing so many great posts from my writer friends, but I only get 4 kid-free hours a day to write, including writing my own blog, so I have to drop a few balls.

What else should we know about you?
Hmm. That I got my agent Sara Megibow by way of my blog. A client of hers was a blog follower and she liked the writing I had posted on my blog, so she offered to give me a referral to Sara. : ) So I’m very, very thankful to her and to blogging.

Any additional advice for our readers?
Only do the social networking stuff that you enjoy. If you hate blogging, don’t do it because people will be able to tell you’re phoning it in. I spend most of my effort on blogging and Twitter because those are the two I enjoy the most. Then I just feed everything out to places like Facebook and Google +.

What makes you unique?
Lol, that’s always a tough question. I guess that I’m the nice, quiet girl who you would never suspect writes dark, BDSM romance. : )

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Roni! I adore your blog and the words you've shared with our readers. I really identify a lot with what you say. Particularly, believe it or not, the part about blogging for writers being a little bit of a mistake, and the comments about blogger. Man, you really hit on things I have mixed feelings about! In fact, next Wednesday I'll be addressing the blogging for writers. So if any of you are interested in what I have to say, please come back.

I am having a strange problem with comments lately. They seem to have disappeared from this post, but if you go to the actual link for this page, you will see comments there and can leave one yourself if you like. Sorry for the trouble!
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