Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Guess where I am?

Well, physically I'm in Utah at my grandma's for the holiday. Yay! I haven't had Thanksgiving here in more than a decade.

But online, I'm over at Mindy McGinnis's blog, Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire, doing a guest interview. Isn't that the coolest? Head on over and check out my querying story.

And have a great Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Blog Critique: Praise, Prayers and Observations

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, go here.

We're diving in today because as soon as I finish I get to watch the latest Walking Dead. So head on over to Jessy Ferguson's Praise, Prayers and Observations and we'll talk below.

Jessy, first of all, thank you for the blog love! I appreciate the shout out.

I'm really impressed with your blog structure. It's very functional. Overall, there's not much we recommend. Of course, we're never without a few opinions.
  • We appreciate your simple neutral header in contrast with your very busy background. This is a good design choice.
  • However, we would like to see a few more colors pulled in from your background into your blog. Right now, you're using one color really - that rust red that turns more orange when hovered over. We'd like to see your date stamp and perhaps your links in different colors. On your latest post, you used blue for some of your links. You usually don't, and we say you should always be consistent, but that blue does add a nice color. You could use that blue all the time and pull another color in from your background as well.
  • Your template may not allow it, but I'd love it if your sidebar could be a shade different than your post area. Especially if your post area is lighter, it draws the eye to the most critical information.
  • If you added Link Within, I think people could get lost in your blog for hours. I recommend the addition. 
  • Make sure all your links open into new windows. You don't want to lose people when they click on a link.
  • You have great depth, I'm referring to your other pages. I enjoyed reading each of them. I'd only suggest adding a way for people to contact you to one of your pages, and also a Home button so people can easily get back home when they've clicked elsewhere.
  • Move your followers up under your Hearts, Hearths, & Holidays. I'm glad the link to purchase your book has place of pride, but after that, the follower button should be next so new followers can easily sign up.
  • Some of your sidebar could be cleaned up. Your A to Z Challenge badge could be put under achievements, for example. The more you have in your sidebar, the less people look at it. Put what you want seen up top, clean up as much as you can.
  • Some of your books deserve some explanation and links, if possible. I'm guessing that you have a piece in Chicken Soup for Chocolate Lovers and the Daily Devotions, but I don't know this for sure. If people can still purchase them, have them linkable to other places. If they aren't sold any longer, you may want to put those under your achievements instead of in your sidebar.
Overall, like I said above, I think your blog functions well. You're a great writer and I'm glad you've come back to it. Great work and good luck with your future endeavors! (I love the premise of A Bad Guy Forever - hope it works out!)

What other advice do you have for Jessy?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Blog Critique: Becky Povich Writer

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, go here.

How are you all doing post Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy? I live in Denver, far from the disaster, but I'm sad to hear about all the crap that friends and family have had to go through. I'm thinking of you all.

Okay, enough chit-chat. Let's get to our critique. Rush over to Becky Povich and meet below.
Becky, I love your header. It makes me smile. Coffee in general makes me smile, but even if they're only drinking hot chocolate, it still makes me smile.

We do recommend changing the wording on your header. Your name - the most important part of your entire header - is hard to read. If you put "Becky Povich" to the right with your subtitles (writer- humorist - bliss follwer) smaller underneath.

You have beautiful quotes. But as beautiful as they are, we need to see your profile up top. Give it the top spot on your sidebar. This blog is about you! Let us be able to find you easily.

Under your profile, put your follower button. You want your followers to be able to subscribe with ease.

Under your followers, put your publications. Those are mighty important.

You have lots of great colors in your header. We'd like to see you pull some of those colors into your blog to give yourself a nice color palette. Like that red would be a great color for your post titles. And that yellow couch color would be nice as your date stamp. If you're afraid of color, just pick one to use throughout your blog. You'll be surprised how much it uplifts your look.

I'm glad you have the Link Within widget, but I'd reinstall it and choose 5 stories instead of 3. It will look more balanced.

Another thing that needs to be moved up on your sidebar is your labels. People do use those to find past posts. But, first, it needs to be seriously cleaned up. I would go through and remove anything you only have one and maybe even two of. Right now, it's pretty difficult to make use of it.

We'd like to see your sidebar better separated from your posts. Can you put a color behind it? Make it a light neutral color. Just something to show some contrast.

The link to your newly created website is broken. When you fix it, I recommend your links open in a new window. That keeps people on your site even when they click to go elsewhere.

There are some things you could clean up from your sidebar, but it doesn't look too crowded to me. I wouldn't mind if you widened your post area a bit. I think most people have bigger screens than that.

Other than those few little things, I am enchanted with your blog. You have delightful posts and I enjoy visiting. Good job and thanks for being a victim.

Any other suggestions you have for Becky?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Blog Critique: Change the Topic

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.

Quick, go to Changethetopic.com. Stay awhile because it's a pretty awesome read. Like them on Facebook too if you want entertainment in your daily feed, because, Change The Topic is pretty dang entertaining. And then meet below for a critique.

Let's just get this out of the way: I love The Real Birdman and his entourage and would read Change the Topic every day just because. Funny, crass, original, and actually there's some social responsibility too even though The Birdman would like readers to think otherwise. This is one of those blogs that wins with personality. Personality blogs can fail everywhere else and still be awesome.

I'm not saying that Change the Topic fails everywhere else. I just want to be perfectly clear that anything I say by way of suggestion is a bit of take or leave it. Because, Birdman, you got it going on already.

But if you'd like to hear what I'd suggest, just for kicks, read on.

  • I like your header, but I wish it was wider. Right now there's more focus on the Royal Flush book. This would be totally fine if Royal Flush was your book, but it looks like it's not. 
  • If you do want to keep promoting Royal Flush, and by all means do, just make sure it doesn't get top billing on your blog. Also, I'd have that open in another window so that people don't get away from your blog when they go to look at it.
  • We'd like to see more color. Though your blog is really clean, it's really monotone. Adding some variety in your colors will really make you stand out. Three or four total colors would be awesome. Like, you could keep the red for your blog titles, then add a coordinating color for your authorship and date stamp and another color for your Read More. Your sidebar titles could be a different color. 
  • Another way to add some color to your blog would be to put a background color on your sidebar. This would also help separate it from your posts. Right now it sort of runs together.
  • Your navigation bar to your other pages is just a bit buried. It took me a few minutes to find your About page. 
  • Okay, I love your Cerebral Cortex picture, but having it repeat on all your posts bugs me because of it's size. It also makes me feel like I'm seeing a post I've already seen and I almost skipped some. I don't know the answer. Maybe shrink it down and put it in your sidebar. Or put it below your header. Something so the same photo doesn't show up when people are reading your posts in Google Reader.
  • I think you could lose the word "here" in your "Sweet Jesus!" line. I hate how it wraps to the next line and it still makes sense without the word. Actually, I'd suggest cleaning as many of those links as you can so that they don't wrap. You could use a "&" instead of "and" in the "it's super easy and fun". 
  • The blogroll next to your tags is muddy. I'd prefer to see them in their own column.
All right, that's all I got. If I missed anything it was because I was enjoying reading your posts too much. Hope this critique was helpful.

Anything else you'd like to add, readers?

Monday, October 22, 2012

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.

Later, I have to tell you about my fabulous last week when I got to celebrate my CP and good friend Gennifer Albin's debut of Crewel with her in Kansas City. What a blast! And I feel a contest might have to accompany that post.

But now, it's critique time. Head on over to Stephen Tremp's website. And meet below to discuss. Cool? 

There's much I admire about your blog, Stephen. Particularly I admire that, according to what you've told me, you have gone through several looks trying to find the right one. I appreciate your courage to experiment.

I also like the clean separation of your sidebars from the main area. It's easy to read and pretty organized. Most importantly I want to give you kudos for having easy to find links to your books. RIGHT ON! (I'd like it even more if your links opened into new windows so that people didn't have to leave your site to purchase.)

But there are also several things we'd like to see you change:

  • We'd love to see your blog have a title not a "Welcome to". In other words, make it simply: Author Stephen Tremp's Website.
  • Your title also uses a color and font that is not used anywhere else in your blog. Make it uniform.
  • The picture choice is also unclear. You write sci-fi, but I don't feel like your writing or blog posts exhibit enough sci-fi to warrant the picture. If you still want your blog to say sci-fi, add more to make it clearer.
  • I'd like your blog header to line up with your navigation bar. Right now the header extends past it. Also have your sidebars line up under the navigation bar.
  • I'd like to see your post section widened. I do have a big screen but there's an awful lot of dead space. 
  • I don't like the gray bar that extends all the way across your top. I think that's part of the template. This template is one of my least favorite because of its restrictions like that. Play around with it some more and you may be able to make it work.
  • That blue that you use as your main title color confuses me because that's the traditional color for links. So I want those to be clickable, and they aren't. We recommend changing that color.
  • While you're at it, pick a more distinct palette. Right now it's sort of blue and red and white and pink and gray. It's a little dull. Instead pick maybe the blue or the red as your main color and build around that. Use www.colorschemedesigner.com if you need help.
  • I'd like to see your Followers higher on your blog so that it's easy for people to follow.
  • I'd also like to see your Welcome to my Website box with your pic with Dean Koontz go to a story about the event. Or else changed all together. Right now it feels like it's going to link somewhere and it doesn't.
  • Since your post section is so small, five posts makes the page go on forever. You could limit to three. Especially when you have your blog archive at the bottom too.
  • I'd like to see you use the Link Within widget. I think people would enjoy clicking through your past posts with it. 
Okay, Stephen, I think I'm finished with you. Did you survive? Thanks for your willingness for the torture.

Anyone else have any tips for Stephen?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Blog Critique: From the Desk of Laura Stephenson

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.

How can you go wrong with a blog that has Laura in the title? Well, that's what Laura Stephenson wants to know and I am delighted as always to tell her. (That makes me sound a little bit mean and evil, and frankly I'm in a snarky mood so I'll embrace it. Don't worry, Laura, I won't be too harsh.) Go check out her blog and meet below, please!

I'm only going to give a few quick cosmetic/functional suggestions today because Laura has specifically asked me for help with another issue. 

Ready, Laura? Here's some suggestions:
  • We recommend a more broad color palette. Right now you've basically got two shades of blue. Find at least two other colors and work them in places such as your date stamp and your titles.
  • When you work on your palette, pick your correction color (the red you use in your critiques) to fit in with your other colors. Right now the red makes me a little uncomfortable because I don't like how it goes with your blues.
  • Move your profile up to the top of your sidebar. Thank you for having your writing schedule! But I still want your profile first.
  • Under your profile put your Follow Me box. Make it easy for people to click it. The rest is good as is under those two things.
  • Yay! You have depth! I love that you have your critiques and samples on your navigation bar. Since there is so much space on your navigation bar, I think it would look better to increase the font here. Also, go ahead and get us a contact info page and an about page. We'd love to know more about you.
  • You could add some nice color and variety by using the LinkWithin widget. Just a personal preference. :)
That's all I'm giving for function and cosmetic since Laura wants to know how to drive more traffic to her blog. Gees, don't we all want to know that? All right, I've given most of this before, but bear with me as I repeat. It's been a while. 
  • Participate in blogfests.
  • Run contests for followers. To enter they must tweet, facebook, or blog about your blog.
  • Search your peeps out. Find the blogs that have the people you want to draw in - people who are interested in the things you post about. On those blogs, leave comments and always make it easy for people to link back to you.
  • Respond to your comments. This is a great way to build relationships and get people to return.
  • Have guests. Guest bloggers can really build your numbers. Invite people from those blogs you found that your peeps frequent to post. 
  • Steal followers. It's not really stealing, but what I mean is go to those blogs that have the people you know would love your blog and get them to follow you. Like if I were going to "steal" your followers, I'd start clicking on pics in your follower box and first, follow their blogs, and second, comment on their blogs with your website address.
Now here's the addendum to all those suggestions - it takes time to build this kind of following. Lots of time. You have to decide you want the following to get it and then devote yourself to it.

When I began blogging, I was mostly a stay-at-home mom and had more time to devote to it. Now, my husband is the stay-at-home parent and I work several jobs with only one day off a week - sometimes no days off. With those time constraints, something was bound to fall apart, and I didn't want it to be my writing, so it's been my blogging. I do not get to visit other blogs like I once did. I don't post often anymore. And I don't respond to comments as often as I like. My readership has gone down, and I have to live with that. In other words, if you want followers, you can get them. But you may have to prioritize your life differently to get there.

Okay, I'm done. Any other suggestions for Laura? I love the things you guys add. You always have at least one brilliant thing I hadn't thought of.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Blog Critique: A to Z Challenge Blog

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.

I am super excited to do today's critique for two reasons: 1) I love the A to Z Blogging Challenge and am thrilled to contribute in return for all the team does for everyone else. 2) I have been informed that the A to Z blog is getting revamped! That means (I hope) that they are up for addressing issues that may involve big commitments to change. Without any further introduction, go check out the A to Z Blogging Challenge site and let's discuss below.

Though the A to Z site has never particularly bothered me, when I look at it with a purposefully critical eye and with the help of graphic designers, Tom and Joe, I see a lot of areas for improvement. The good thing is that these tips should be helpful for anyone starting or revamping a blog. Let's get started, shall we?
  • Unify your header style. Whatever you choose for next year's logo could have the potential to change your entire blog look. And that's fine if you are changing it from year to year - maybe you'll want to do that. If not, then it's important to create a header that will last from year to year and tie into your color scheme (more about that in a moment). Either way, make whatever is in your header uniform in style. Right now, your awesome logo for 2012 goes well with the font, but then you have an equally awesome looking design thing-a-ma-bob that doesn't go with your logo. The logo is more urban in look while the design thingy is more classic. This type of coordination isn't necessarily a skill of everyone - some people will not notice or be bothered by the difference in style - so ask around if you are unsure when mixing styles/logos/pics. Whatever you decide for your header, make sure it doesn't take up too much of your page. Along with the navigation bar (more later) we don't get to any posts without scrolling. Your header and navigation should end well before the fold (above the point where you have to scroll to go lower).
  • Clearly define your color scheme. We love the bold orange and green, but that's about all you got and you don't carry it further than your header. Whether you use those colors or pick new ones, choose at least three distinct colors and use them in your header and also in your posts. Change your title links to be a color within your scheme. Make your time stamp another. Put your links in your scheme as well. For help on getting exact colors to coordinate, visit www.colorschemedesigner.com
  • Make solid font usage decisions. Using a variety of fonts may seem like it adds personality to your blog, but it actually makes it feel chaotic and messy. It can be tricky to unify when you have several people writing posts, but luckily the clear formatting button in blogger can clear out all the formatting (imagine that!) and you'll be left with your default font. Now, you don't have to only use one font in your blog, but don't use too many (2 or 3 at most) and use them for distinct purposes. One font for your blog titles, perhaps, another for your main posts, and maybe a third for something like introductions such as the recurring one I have for my blog critiques (I use the same font but italicize). 
  • Declutter. Get your navigation to one line - two at the very most. You will need to shorten your menu items, but that's fine. People don't expect sentences for links. In a minute, I'll give you suggestions of what you could abbreviate to, but first, you could also consolidate. You could put all your Sign Ups on one page, for example, and just call that menu "Sign-ups". Or not if you're worried people will mix them up. Be very thoughtful and experiment with your menu so that it looks even across the line. The blanks at the end of the lines right now are not clean.
    • Home
    • What are we?
    • Participants
    • Video Rules
    • Video Sign Up
    • Videos
    • FAQ
    • Contact
    • Badges & Banners
    • Reflections Sign up
  • A bit of my usual comments:
    • Differentiate your sidebar from your posts with a different color or at least a line.
    • Order your sidebar items so the important stuff is at top. I suggest your top items be:
      • Followers list
      • Subscribe Buttons
      • Blog Archive
      • A to Z Navigation Buttons
    • Eliminate duplicate content. You don't need badges in your sidebar when you have a menu item leading readers to badges, for example. Get rid of anything you don't need in your sidebar to give your blog a clean look.
    • Advertisements are always a turn off. If you feel you really need/want the money, just realize you may potentially be turning away followers.
Okay, I think we totally tore you apart, but only because I know you are already revamping. Now's your chance to make the look of your site equal the amount of attention you get. Revamping with these items in mind will only increase your following. 

Any other suggestions for the A to Z team?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Blog Critique: Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire

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.

I have to give a big sigh before jumping into today's critique. My life has been a whirlwind, as you probably know by now. My other sigh comes from the pressure of critiquing a blog of someone who's a writer friend. You know, you don't want to say anything harsh. I'm glad to be done with it. So go check out Mindy McGinnis's Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire and see if I had any need to panic.

I already admitted that Mindy is a writer friend. But even before she was a friend, I loved her blog. I mean, it's called Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire. How can that not be amazing? Her sense of humor is, well, brilliant. And a little crass sometimes. I like that. She has a recurring feature called "Submission Hell, It's True" aka "S.H.I.T." Yes, she's that kinda girl. If you need to see more of the awesomeness that is Mindy, check out this v-log. It's my absolute favorite of hers:

My point of all that prelude is that when you enjoy a blog like I enjoy Mindy's, it's sometimes tricky to sit back and look at it in a critical way. But I did, and overall, Mindy has captured a very concise picture of who she is and what she delivers. You sense her style and flavor immediately.

Though there was very little by way of suggestions, I did find a few things that she could tweak.

So Mindy. Welcome to the spotlight. Let's dive in:
  • You have the best author pictures ever. Hands down.
  • You have a great color palette. I know it's important to you to have a look and brand, and I see that in your choices. That being said, our graphic designers feel the yellow you use in your query critiques is, well, I'll paraphrase and say "hard on the eyes". They understand the need to differentiate your additions from the original query, but suggest the color you use for your blog titles is a better choice.
  • Speaking of your blog titles, they're great. Can you use that color for the titles on your other pages (i.e., Contact, etc.)? That will make it more uniform.
  • You have a bit of a dilemma in your footers of your posts. I'm not sure how much Blogger will let you change in your template, but the blue/gray is not readable. Could you lighten the color of the background here to make that color stand out? It's a great color - I just can't see it.
  • All right, here's the biggie: your sidebar overwhelms me. It always has. Maybe it's because it's a frequent reminder of how completely busy/involved/insane you are. Also, it's a lot to take in. Here's specifically what strikes me about it:
    • You use the two column technique, but your sidebar runs out way before your posts. Either trim how many posts you have on your page (I say have no more than 5 anyway) or make your sidebar one column. 
    • Having the two columns makes your label cloud look HUGE. Too huge for me to feel like I would use it often. I'd go through your labels every so often and remove all the ones that you only have 1 of unless they're uber important. That just cleans it up. It's supposed to be an easy to use tool. Just sayin'.
    • Actually, if you lose the number's in parentheses on your label cloud, it will help clean it up.
    • There's a crap load of stuff going on visually. I like that you use pics, but it's tricky to navigate quickly with the eye. Maybe if you went to smaller FB and Twitter pics that would help. Mostly I think I'm saying I'd prefer you to have one column. Yeah, that's what I'm saying.
    • Another option - you could get rid of your Book Pregnant and Thirteeners icons, etc. because you already have a page for them. It's not quite the same, but it's an option.
  • I'd love to see your post background a lighter shade to differentiate it more from your sidebar. This might not be possible in this template. And it might really screw up your colors. You do have the bar between the sidebar and the posts, but again, it just gives us a lot to look at and a new reader has a hard time figuring out where to go first.
  • You'll have a picture of your cover on the sidebar when it's revealed, right? And a link to purchase as soon as you can pre-order?
  • I love that you have depth (pages) on your blog. I wouldn't mind seeing an About page though. I'd love to read your bio. It would be awesome, I just know it.
  • One last thing, we want to know the black cat story. Can you tell us? Maybe on your About page. :)
I'm done. And I survived. Actually, it wasn't that bad. I liked looking at Mindy's blog with a different eye.

But I might still be too close to it. Did I miss anything? It's the readers' turn to weigh in.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Yep, This is THAT Story

I've got news! And you may have seen it elsewhere because I've posted on Facebook and QT, but I've been in a whirlwind and haven't gotten to my blog.

But here it is: My "I Got an Agent Story".

Yep, it happened. And when it finally happened, it happened fast.

Let's go back. I started querying my first MG book in April of 2011. I received many requests and lots of great feedback, but ultimately, it wasn't the right time for that book.

I began my second MG book in June 2011 and started querying it in January 2012. This book was "the one" - I was sure of it. I had a ton of instant interest including an offer at a small pub and a revisions request from an AMAZING agent. I turned down the small pub and set my sights on the agent. Guess what. The agent rejected me. I was devastated.

But I kept on querying it.

In the meantime, I wrote a contemporary adult romance for fun. It was a breeze. I wrote it in less than three months and enjoyed every minute of it. My goal with this book was to go straight to small publishers. In August, I entered several pitch contests at Savvy Authors and won a bunch of them! So off I sent my book with fingers crossed.

Then it occurred to me: Maybe I should try to query some agents with my romance, just to see. So I picked a handful and sent them out. One of my queries went to Bob Diforio of D4EO Literary Agency. He states that he really only likes queries from referrals, but I've had great responses from Kristin Miller on my two MGs and have DREAMED of working with this agency, so I sent a query anyway.

On the same night of my query, Bob asked for the full. The next morning he offered.

I'm not kidding. It was that fast.

He offered by email. I just happened to read the email before I left to work. Yeah, I was late. I seriously was shocked. I was expecting a phone call and nervousness and the whole feeling each other out, but he OFFERED by email, complete with a contract attached. He said I could call him that afternoon, if I wanted. I did want. I called and got his voicemail so I left a message.

He called me back within fifteen minutes. I had a list of questions and only managed to get through a few of them - I was so nervous. I had one other full out for my romance and a handful for my MG book and I knew the polite thing was to give them notice. But I realized that if any of those agents offered me representation, I would turn them down because D4EO was already the agency I wanted.

Bob sealed it for me when he said he and his team would rep my MG books as well. I said yes and have been on Cloud 9 ever since.

And I'm already on submission! (That means Bob's already submitted my book to several publishing houses - places so amazing I've never even dreamed of having a book with them.)

Shortly after Bob offered, I received an offer from one of the pubs I'd pitched to. I can't explain how great it felt to be able to send the offer on to MY AGENT.

Do you want to hear the funniest/most embarrassing part of my agent story?  When Bob sent me the email saying he was offering, I immediately forwarded it to one of my Critique Partners saying, "Do you know Bob Diforio? Of D4EO Literary Agency? He offered!"

Problem is, I didn't actually hit forward. I hit reply.

Yep. Bob got that email. He responded with, "Yes, I know Bob Diforio. I am him." He told me it was the funniest thing he'd seen in a very long time. I was a dork and he still wanted to sign me. How could he not be the perfect agent?

Anyway, that's the scoop. Hopefully I can get my head back into the blogging world now that I'm not consumed with querying. I've been lackadaisical and I've missed you!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Blog Critique: The Six-Fingered Monkey

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.

There's no time to chat. You must go check out today's blog NOW. Because we're going to need a long time to talk about The Six-Fingered Monkey. (Yes, it's a shouty caps type of day. By the way, I recommend using bold instead of shouty caps. It's cleaner and more professional, but I don't always do as I say because I'm LAZY.)

Here's the major thing that Tom, Joe, and I have to say about Six's website: NOTHING.

Here's actual quotes from my g-chat with Joe about Six's site: "He's awesome, I have almost no comments."

It really doesn't get better than that. 

That doesn't mean I'm speechless. I'm still going to tell you some minor things we suggest and also what we love about The Six-Fingered Monkey, for those of you who are wondering.

First, the suggestions:
  • Graphically, the kid's arms show the edge of the header. It's not ideal because other than those cut-off arms, we can't see where that header ends. To fix this, Joe has three possible solutions -
    • Make a shadow around your header to match the shadow around the boxes on your blog so that it seems purposeful.
    • Move the arms to descend from the top or the bottom of the header instead of the side because we already know those are the borders.
    • (the coolest fix, but hardest) Figure out how to edit the code so that the arms will always protrude from the edge of the reader's monitor, no matter what the width. The downside of this option is that it may look off because it won't be lined up with the lower section, but we'd love to see it.
  • Get a link to buy your damn book on your actual page. You want people to buy your book. MAKE IT EASY. This goes for everyone of you published authors out there. NUMBER ONE PRIORITY.
  • I wouldn't mind seeing a couple of other colors in your palette. Keep the orange and find a complimentary color for your date stamp and/or your link colors. 
  • I generally hate ads on blogs. But yours don't bother me. Why? Because you are humorous and upfront about being a money-grubbing slut and the ads just sort of fit in. Plus, they are very tastefully placed and don't bother anyone. Here's the one issue I have though: the front page ad boxes aren't showing the ads (for me, anyway) so they just look empty and that's annoying.
  • Your name is hidden. Seriously. Are you trying to be anonymous? Because you have your name in your email and contact info. Either get a completely anonymous persona or tell us who you are. 
  • I wish you had a search box so I could look for a post that maybe explains why your name.
Now what we love and why:
  • Let me talk to the readers here for a sec. Here is a lesson for you all: Nothing beats personality. Truthfully, Damon's blog is pretty clean and professional looking without reading a single post. But once you read his posts, you know that even if he made huge mistakes, you'd forgive him. Because he's got personality. He's consistently funny - raunchy, even - but also extremely sensitive and beautiful. (Read I Really Missed You Today). 
  • Back to talking to you, Damon. There's distinction between your post section and sidebars.
  • It's easy to look at.
  • There aren't a bunch of pictures, but there is color in your posts because of your share links.
  • Your social media links are very clean and coordinated. Nice.
  • You have your Accolades on a separate page. And anyone who ever says "YourMom" is my hero. It's a standard out of my mouth, though it tends to confuse my kids when they ask me something like, "Who's making dinner?" and I answer "YourMom."
  • It's easy to follow you.
  • Your labels crack me up.
  • Hell, everything you say cracks me up.
That's my Six-Fingered Monkey critique. Please, go over there, follow him and LOVE him. Every day. I mean it. That is all.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Blog Critique: Of Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax of Cabbages and Kings

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.

How was your Labor Day? I labored all weekend on my romance novel. I'm on my final read through which, those of you who have written books know, is an exhilarating and (for me) obsessive time of a book's birth. In other words, I neglected EVERYTHING including sleep and my children and my Monday blog critique to work on it. 

I'm still not done. I need another few hours. Sigh.

So here is our Monday critique a day late. And it's PACKED with information which means I shouldn't have gone on so much about myself.(And seriously, I don't know why I'm all shouty capitals today. It's the book high I suppose.) First stop, of course, is our blog: Of Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax and Cabagges and Kings. 

Our blogger, loverofwords, had some specific questions for us I'm going to run through my routine stuff quickly. 
  • I love your header picture. I know it's your own and it's just gorgeous and I think it fits the title.
  • I would probably suggest a more interesting background, but I love your picture so much that I'd be afraid a different background would pull away from that. Can you make your whole post area a little wider? Then the blue background won't be so dominant. Of course, I'm looking at your blog on a large screen. Maybe those of you who have smaller screens aren't so bothered.
  • A common suggestion I give applies to your blog: Give more separation between your post area and your sidebar. A darker color for the sidebar is the way I'd go. Especially because you're lacking a true color palette. 
  • Speaking of a color palette. Pick three or four colors and use them consistently. For example, pick one color for your sidebar, another for your time stamp. Another for your titles. And then always keep those colors the same.
  • You aren't trying to promote your blog as a writer so I'm not going to suggest the usual depth of pages. But it would be nice to know more about what you want your blog to be about. You can include this info in your About Me section. Is your main goal to share things you've written? Tell us that. We want to know!
  • You are inconsistent with your fonts. Pick the same one or two fonts and use them consistently in the same places.
  • I prefer five posts on a page. Otherwise it's just too far to scroll down.
  • Another way to add some color and interest is to add the LinkWithin gadget. 
Okay, there may be more we could talk about in terms of form and function, but I'd like to get to loverofwords question for me. I've actually received this question from others and I'm sure many of you have thoughts and opinions. The question is, can you use pictures and YouTube videos cavalierly on your blog.

A recent incident with romance author and Saturday Savvy Sensation Roni Loren  has brought this issue to light. Roni was sued for using pictures without permission on her blog. I have personally worked with a client who was sued for using pictures without permission on their website. Twice. IT HAPPENS. BEWARE.

There are many places you can find free pictures on the internet. Do a search for free images and you can find them. There are also places you can get pictures for free or at a very small cost. 

Now here's the big "but" I'm going to share with you. In this "but" I am not giving you permission to steal other people's pictures and I am not suggesting that you ignore that you can be sued for using pictures. BUT I am going to tell you what I've learned from my experiences in internet marketing:
  • People who get sued for wrongfully using pics are 99 times out of 100 people who make money from the use of the picture or in a related fashion. Roni Loren is a published author. Her books earn her money. I'm not saying she's wealthy by any means, but she is a prime example of who gets sued. Bloggers who are not advertising on their blog and who are not earning money from book sales or who are under the radar (not a lot of traffic) don't get sued. They may - and that's a very big may - get asked to cease and desist use of the picture.
  • If you are sued, you can negotiate any fines. If you are not making money with your blog or related to your blog, most lawyers will just require you to cease and desist use.
  • In general, YouTube videos are okay to share. Why? Because embedding or linking to YouTube is not the same as actually having the video on your site. If the video has a copyright, it is YouTube who will be in trouble. Generally, YouTube will remove these types of vids as they discover them from their site and your embed or link won't work anymore anyway.
  • If you are under the radar, and by under the radar I mean not published, not a lot of traffic, under 1000 followers, you're probably safe to use whatever images you want. Again, THIS IS NOT PERMISSION, this is just the facts. It's like speeding. It's against the law, but do you do it sometimes? Yeah, I know you do. The truth is, there are so many blogs and so many websites - there isn't any way to monitor all uses of image property to make sure it's legal. So the people who get sued are big guns - people who have the cash to pay or people who will make a good example for others. Only you can make the decision for yourself about using images.  
  • Now here's the big disclaimer: You are still liable for any picture you use. Even if you used the picture innocently. Even if you don't make money. Even if you say you read my blog and I said go ahead and do it (which I didn't!). 
Okay, did that sort anything out? I am officially not under the radar now that I posted this, by the way. 

Even with this information out there, I'm not excusing anyone from using pictures in their blogs. Pictures are too important. If you can't find a free picture, use some free clip art. It's better than nothing. (This totally should have been a separate blog post. Sorry to go so long!)

Loverofwords also asked how to drive traffic to her blog. Networking is the only real key. I've talked about it off and on throughout these critiques, but here's one source you can go to. 

That was a lot of info. Do you all have anything to add? Will any of you sue me for using pictures of your blogs in my blog critiques? Hope you had a great Labor Day!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Blog Critique: Kid Lit Reviews

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 we look at the other side of book blogs - the reviewer blog. Sue Morris of Kid Lit Reviews has been kind enough to offer up her blog for this week's critique. Check it out, spend some time, and meet below.

Overall, I really admire your site's extensive depth. You have a lot of reviews and information available and your navigation makes it easy to access. I think this is a much better option than a word cloud for this type of site. 

There are a few picky things I have in regards to your menu. The Contests/Giveaways button has a drop down to exactly the same thing. It should be like your Contact button - no drop down. 

Also, the navigation needs to use a bigger. bolder font. It's a little hard to read some of the info.

Your header is absolutely beautiful. It's a whimsical design that fits your site's topic without being literal. I like the bottom graphic as well. Problem is we can't see it very well. Additionally, that beautiful header needs to extend into your site more. Right now we see beautiful header, then we scroll down and it's kind of  "meh". 

A great place to add more of that whimsical design would be in your sidebar. Currently your sidebar has no separation from the main part of your blog, a common error we see in blogs. To really highlight your posts, make your post area a lighter color. Then carry some of your design elements down through your sidebar.

The use of fonts and styles is really inconsistent. This is a little off-putting when the rest of your site is so organized in terms of structure and review policy. Making it uniform will give you a more professional presence. 

Giving each book title a different color, for example, makes the page too busy. I see they match the books you are reviewing, but a lot of the colors are just hard to read against the background and making it uniform will really class you up. Try pulling some of the colors from your header as your colors in your posts. Keep them consistent and you'll look really sharp.

One of the biggest font issues we have is withe the Times Courier font you use for your star ratings. This font is really outdated and not bold enough for such an important part of your posts. Choose a prominent, heavy font and a bold color to show your star reviews. This should be the item people see right away (after the title of the book) when looking at your posts.

Your sidebar could use some clean up. You have a great deal of items and that makes me want to ignore the whole thing. I love that you have the search box right on top - this is essential in a site like yours. Under that I'd like to have a way to subscribe and follow you. You want me to come back, right? Make it easy for me to do so. Your RSS feed is in a good spot, but it's tiny. It needs to stand out. 

Awards and past events you've been involved in are fun and entertaining, but I'd lose those. Weed out anything that isn't essential to keep the blog clean and easy to read. You could always make a page for "fun stuff" and put them all there.

What I really like about your blog is the organization related to the reviews themselves.You make it easy for people to ask for a review and you are really consistent and detailed in the information you provide in your reviews. Since this is what your site is all about, this is great. 

I know you mentioned increasing traffic to your blog in your email to me. The first step is to really make your site unified and up to the next level of professionalism. Then I'd suggest doing some blog tours to get the word out about your site. Do you let authors know when you've reviewed their books? Do you invite them to share your reviews? These might be some areas you could buff up. Great reviews should earn you some shares if you properly get the word out. Hope that's helpful. Shoot me an email if you have more questions regarding this.

Anything from you folks? How do you suggest driving traffic to Kid Lit Reviews?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Forged By Greed Cover Reveal

I'm very pleased to be part of a Cover Reveal today for Angela Orlowski-Peart's Forged by Greed. You YA fantasy lovers are going to adore this one. Here is the exciting cover:

The cover art was designed by Jeannie Ruesch  
And here's more about Forged by Greed:

Their choice had been taken away long before they were born. 

Two Seattle 16-year-old Shape Shifters, Jatred and Jasmira, are torn between following their hearts and protecting the order of the world.

The ancient Shape Shifter Races—the Winter wolves and the Summer leopards—exist on Earth, living among humans and perfectly fitting into modern life. Their secret societies are organized, each united by their own laws and traditions.

Two Goddesses, Crystal and Amber command their respective Races. One is on a quest to tilt the scale of power to her side. The other will never let it happen, even if it means sacrificing Jatred and Jasmira’s love.

The Amulet commissioned to bring stability into the world remains hidden and concealed with the help of advanced technology. Jatred is the guardian of the Amulet and key to the Goddesses’ conflict.

The forces of nature are disrupted. Earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions rake the world. The Goddesses go to war and summon all their Shifters to join in the conflict. Jatred and Jasmira fight not only for their star-crossed love but to protect the future of both Races and humankind.

Angela Orlowski-Peart was born and raised in Poland. She describes herself as European born, American by choice. She was just seven-years-old when she decided to learn English to translate her favorite Polish fairytales.

Angela is a Young Adult and Adult fiction writer. She completed her first YA paranormal romance novel, Forged by Greed, which is scheduled for publication on September 20, 2012. This is the first book in The Forged Series. Angela writes in multiple genres, including paranormal, fantasy, urban fiction, sci-fi, and short stories. She is a member of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Western Washington Chapter (http://www.scbwi.org), and several authors’ and readers’ networking groups on Linkedin and Goodreads.

Angela loves reading good books almost as much as writing them. She can’t decide which is her favorite season—summer or fall. She speaks with Polish accent, but loves listening to the Southern drawl. 

She is passionate about watercolor painting, fashion—especially stilettos, rock climbing, environment, and organic food and gardening. She lives in the Seattle area with her husband, two children, and a very independent and chronically curious cat.

Angela can be found around the web:
her website

The wolf stood under the trees, several yards from the fence. His eyes were fixed on the stone statues. He growled and took a few slow steps back. Then he sprang forward and ran full speed toward the gate. His upper lip drew back, showing sharp, long canines. He jumped over the spikes of the fence, his belly inches away from the pointed iron finials. The wolf landed on the other side and left large paw prints on the freshly mowed grass. He lost his balance but regained it momentarily.

He heard her footsteps even before he heard her voice.

“Jatred!” From the house Jasmira ran toward him. Her long curly hair billowed behind her. “J, you made it. You made it.”

The wolf whimpered and trotted forward to meet her. Without slowing down, she threw herself onto him. Her hands grabbed his thick fur. His body was massive, and Jasmira looked like a child hugging an uncommonly large dog. The air around them pulsed and shivered. Jatred shifted into his human form and fell onto his back. Jasmira sprawled on top of him. Holding his face in her hands, she kissed him. His face broke into a broad smile.

Forged by Greed will be released on September 20, 2012. The second book in the series (untitled) is scheduled for publication in summer 2013.

Visit Angela on her website (www.angelapeart.com) and on her Author Goodreads page (http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6469948.Angela_Orlowski_Peart) to read more excerpts from Forged by Greed and to learn about upcoming giveaways and other events. Add Forged by Greed to your To-Be-Read list on Goodreads. Check back on September 20th for the buy links and the book blog tours information.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Blog Critique: Celestial Prescriptions

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.

I'm posting late today so let's just jump right in. Today's blog comes from Celeste Vaughn at Celestial Prescriptions. Not a writer blog today, but there's lots we can learn from her. Head over and return below.

Celeste, you have done a really great job at creating a total package product. The name of your blog ties in to your name plus your job plus what you do on your blog plus the Christian aspect. Awesome. And your blog header is unique and has a distinct color palette. All good.

As for suggestions to improve, let me first start with Joe, our graphic designer. He (and I) feel that your body font is a little too big. You also need sidebar separation - a different color on the sidebar or a line separation would be good. 

Now, I'm not all about fonts like the designers, but Joe suggests not using the Zaph Chancery font in all caps for your date and other headers. It's meant to be a font that is only used for the first letter of a page because all the letters run into each other. You might like the look, but it's not really clean and can be hard to read.

You have a nice palette, as I said before. But you can go further.There are two different blues in your header - did you know you used two different? They are only slightly different. Joe suggests increasing the difference and playing with that more. You could also add another color to the palette and play with that through your blog.

I love the layout of your navigation tabs across the top. And the topics themselves are great. For the sidebar, though, I would place your profile at the top so people can see who you are first thing.  The twitter bird by himself is cute, but you already have a twitter link smaller with facebook and email and all that. I'd stick with that to clean things up. I think you should move your "Follow this blog" up higher. People have to search too long before finding it. I also prefer having less in your sidebar. I think it's too long, but so are your posts. I say 5 posts on a page at most and your sidebar should not be longer than that. Are there things you feel you could cut or put on another page?

Overall, I think you do an excellent job of having your blog speak your message. I'm glad to read that your health is better and your sharing of your story is very inspiring. Thanks for being a victim and God bless!

Any other thoughts to add, readers?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Blog Critique: Mina Lobo

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.

Two critiques this week. Because I love you. Not at all because I slacked off last week. Nope. Nosiree.

And the critique today? You're gonna love it. I mean, seriously, because Mina Lobo is pretty entertaining. Visit her and meet below.

Mina, I adore you. Very much. Your posts are awesome, your personality exudes. You got greatness. And, for as few followers as you have, you get a lot of comments, which is a sign that you are good at engaging your readers. That's awesome. 

There are many elements you have that work for your blog: I like that you have pages for your important stuff, your name is in your header, your profile is nice and high, we know who you are, you're easy to follow, you use labels, you tell us when you blog, you use colors consistently.Yeah, lots of awesome.

But now I'm going to get all critiquey on you and tell you what I'd do differently:
  • Colors - You think I'm going to get all grouchy about your color scheme, but I'm not. It fits what you're about. But Joe suggests that you pull some of that really light purple from your background and add it to your posts to round out your palette. Use it to replace the white - it will be easier on the eyes.
  • Your font needs some variation. Especially in your posts. It's awfully big and, again, hard on the eyes.
  • I love that you have pages, but it drives me crazy that one of the page links sits on the next line of your navigation bar. Can you shorten one of the titles so they fit on one line?
  • I wish you had Link Within. I want to read through lots of your posts and it would be a great way to do it. Also, it would add some nice color without having to change your palette.
  • I like that you only have a few posts on a page, otherwise it can take forever to load. But I don't like that your sidebar goes on a long time past your posts. I'd cut some of the unessential stuff off the side.
  • Hmm, I totally thought I had more, but I guess I don't. 
Do you all have advice for Mina? Or kudos for her? Read some of her posts. She's truly entertaining.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Blog Critique: Tasha Seegmiller

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.

Well, I'm about two days from finishing my current WIP's first draft and I plan to take a break before revising. Also, the kids will be back in school (SCORE!). All this means that I will be back to blogging more seriously. Finally. Hopefully. Yes, let's leave it at that.

On to our blog critique. We have Tasha Seegmiller. Please note, it's pronounced T + ashes - s. That's important info, in my book. Take a peek and meet below.
Tasha, there's a lot I really like about your blog and, for the most part, you have a very functional site. Some of the things I like the best:
  • Your name is prominent and is part of your title.
  • You have great, informative posts that are interesting to read.
  • Your profile is nice and high on your sidebar.
  • It's easy to follow your blog and subscribe by email.
  • You have an About Me page.
  • You use pictures in your posts.
  • You watch the Olympics. Yay!
Lots of good. But I like to spend most of my time in these critiques mentioning the things I suggest changing. Because not only is that more fun, but these make better lessons for us all. So here goes:
  • Your header is simply your name and that's okay, but not very catchy. I'd like to see something more substantial. This is where I say do as I say, not as I do because I also have a simple header. A subtitle or just something that sets it off.
  • I would like more distinction between your sidebar and post area. Does your template allow you to make the sidebar a different color? I'd make it darker than your post area.
  • Tell us what you write. Do you write poetry? Adult fiction? Children's books? I'd like to know in your profile or About Me.
  • Speaking of your About Me section - it's very well written, but I'm distracted by the text format. You obviously copied and pasted from somewhere else. That's fine, but after you do that, use the "Remove formatting" button to remove all the other formatting. It's the button that looks like a Tx.
  • When you have a link going to another page, mark the box that says "Open in New Window". Otherwise, when we click on your link, we leave your page and may not return.
My biggest suggestion relies on advice from the graphic designers. The colors you use in your blog, while not awful, do not pop the way they could. The turquoise and red that you use are fine, but they don't relate to your background as well as they could. We suggest picking some of the colors in your background and pulling them into your blog. That orange and green and purplish-grey colors should be in your headers and tabs. Choose at least three different colors or shades of colors. Two isn't quite enough. Maybe something from this set of colors: http://www.colorschemedesigner.com/#5p41Tw0w0w0w0

Alright, that's all I got. Thanks for being a victim, Tasha. I enjoy your blog and am glad to be a follower!

What are your thoughts, folks?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Blog Critique: Lifestyle on Jamaica's South Coast

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.

I meet so many interesting people through these blog critiques. Generally, writers, but sometimes I have the opportunity to step outside my small world and meet bloggers from different genres. Today's blog comes from June who blogs about Lifestyle on Jamaica's South Coast. You know the drill.

June, when you are blogging just for the pure joy of keeping a blog, I'm not going to be quite so picky about certain elements that your blog is lacking. However, I'm certain there are things you could do to increase your readership - something I'm sure even the most "for-fun" blogger is interested in. Also, I suspect you might have a motive since you are involved in real estate - is this true? Do you want to draw readers to purchasing real estate from you in Jamaica? That will make a difference in what I have to say.

If you are blogging just for fun then there isn't much to say. You have a straight forward message with cool, island blue. It's easy to read. You use pictures to attract readers. That's all good. 

I would suggest putting more contrast in your sidebar and your post area. Having it all stark white makes everything blur together. I'd also suggest you get a color palette - something more than just blue and white. That's too dull. Even if you are really set on just blue and white, you could get a few blues like this. Maybe use one of the lighter blues as a background for your sidebar. Choose another for your header background. Change your dates and footer info to one of the blues. Even better would be to add some orange like this.

After that, if you're blogging for fun, then I say you're done. Enjoy it. Blog often and passionately.

But, as I suspect you may be doing, if you are blogging to interest people in real estate, then I would suggest a lot more.
  • First, definitely fix up the color palette. It will make your information pop and help you appear more professional.
  • Second, get your personal info up near the top. Who are you? Let us know in a profile at the top of your sidebar.
  • Then, add pages for depth. Include contact info on one of the pages. Another page should include links to real estate available currently. You may even want to include some of your more popular posts about cost of living on the island or reasons to move to Jamaica as individual pages. Things to get people interested in your island.
  • I'd also make your background an island picture. You want your blog to make people desire being in Jamaica, right? It doesn't do that right now. Include as many enticing pictures as you can. In fact, include a page with just a photo gallery. My husband worked on this website. It's a website, not a blog, but it's a good example of drawing people in with pics. Don't you want to book La Villa Bella now?
  • I also would include the Link Within app. It draws people to look further through your blog.
  • I would work on getting links from other sites, places that talk about Jamaica or real estate in Jamaica, to lead to you. If you do that, you should also have a "Resources" page that includes links back to those sites. That would increase your traffic and your search rankings.
  • Be consistent with the font you use. Make sure it's the same size and font throughout all your posts. 
  • I love that you have the Google Translate option. That's ideal when you might have people from other countries visiting your site.
I love the things you write about. It's a great subject and you seem to enjoy what you write about. You stick to your "message" well too, which is sometimes tricky for people. 

The biggest issue, I think, is that when I look at your blog I can't tell for sure if you are blogging for fun or for purpose. This needs to be cleared up. It would help if you included that in your profile. Well, and include a profile. 

I hope this was a helpful critique. Again, I didn't know for sure what your intentions were, so I tried to give you the best advice I could with the information there.

Any advice from the readers?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Blog Critique: What Type of Character Are You Hanging Out With

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.

Someday when I'm rich and famous I'm going to buy Betty Alark, I don't know, something. Something nice. See, I'm having an abnormally crazy summer. My three kids, out of school, of course, have somehow discovered how to all be equally needy and obnoxious. My husband's job has been demanding 60 hour weeks. And I've taken on an extra load of marketing work to pay for the vacation that we already took. Long story short, there's just not as much time for writing and blogging as I'd like (hence the reason everything has been on hiatus). 

Anyway, today's blog critique was supposed to come Monday. Last Monday. Ah, you knew it felt like you were missing something. Poor Betty had to endure my constant emails: "Can I push you back again?" And that is how we arrived at this special Sunday Blog Critique. Without any more delay, let's jump in. Here's Betty's blog. Let's discuss below.
Betty, thank you again for your patience with me. You've been a good sport. 

As for your blog, right away I'm just a little confused about what you intend your blog to be. You haven't posted in awhile, and your header is the same as your book so I'm not sure if you are wanting your blog to be a blog or a sort of faux website.

I have spoken many times about blogging, but not very much about people who use their blogs as static websites so I'm going to go with that angle today - not much difference, but a few key distinctions.

Before we begin, some terminology - When I say "static" I mean unchanging. You know, a website that doesn't have regular post updates. The two key things I expect to see in a website that I don't look for in a blog are brevity and design.

First, brevity: A website is not meant to be something you "read" like a blog. It should have key information that can be spotted in a relatively short time and the reader shouldn't have to scroll very far to get to the bottom of your page. I'd like to see, if you are indeed going the route of a website, a shorter home page. Spotlight your book in the center of the page. Give readers a link to purchase. Anything else, including reviews of your book, testimonials, or info you'd like to expound upon should be maintained on separate pages. Remember this is if you aren't planning to update your blog on a regular basis and are planning on treating it as a website only.

As for design, this is much like all the key design points I give for blogs but even more crucial. Without your words to captivate people and draw them in (because of the brevity thing) you must have a stellar design that  does this for you. This is where you really need to focus. The design you have doesn't speak to me as much as it could about your book. The mountains seem to match your wolf, but it's so generic that it means nothing to me about you when I see it. 

This layout also leaves little options in the way of color palette. The change of colors throughout your posts are fun to create, I'm sure, but lack the professional edge I'd like to see from someone who wants me to buy something from them. Some of them are hard to read on the transparent background. I would choose a more relevant template that you can tie into your book.

Some other elements I'd like to see whether you are a blog or a website are your contact info, a prominent link to order your book, and other ways to find you (Facebook, Twitter - if you're on there, that is). 

For other tips I recommend going to my page that says FAMP (From a Marketing Perspective) and reading past critiques. Hope what I have her is helpful and thanks again for your patience.

Anything to add, my dear readers?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Blog Critique: Word by Word

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.

I really enjoy doing blog critiques because I learn so much about so many new people and ideas. Our blog today comes from Stephanie Pace who provides wonderful insight on self-publishing and  Go check out her blog Word by Word and we'll talk.

Stephanie, you have the elements of a great blog - all the things I always harp on - which is great. Your name is in your header, your profile is up nice and high where we can see it. You have pages with essential information which provides depth. Readers can follow your blog easily. You have a search box (love that). It's clean and uncluttered. Really, your elements are pretty much all spot on.

Where I think you need some work is your aesthetics. Specifically:
  • It really bugs me that your header doesn't go across your whole blog. That empty space makes the whole blog uneven.
  • I feel the same way about the space after your pages. You could even that out by adding a contact page, which is a good idea anyway.
  • Your colors don't quite go together. I like that you are attempting to have a palette, but take a careful look at your colors. Try using www.colorschemedesigner.com to get your colors right. Pull some of those background colors to make your footer background, your title colors, and your header background.
  • I'd like to see some pictures in your posts. Pics really help make a blog more attractive and interesting to readers. 
With a few color tweaks, I think your blog can go from great to fantastic. I can't wait to see where you and your blog go next!

Readers, do you have any suggestions for Stephanie?

Friday, June 22, 2012

From Contract to Launch: Cover Reveal

I'm back from vacation! And I'm back big with an update on Kimberly Ann Miller. It's time for her cover reveal.

As is the case with most books, a lot of energy has been put into the cover reveal by Kimmy and Spencer Hill Press. This is a classic way to create buzz about a forthcoming book. I'm going to talk a little about the whole process rather than just the cover reveal since we are following Kim and her marketing strategies as she promotes her book.

Kim and her editor emailed bloggers to participate in the reveal. They asked to include the cover and the blurb about the book. This is also the place that her editor let bloggers know they could request an ARC. This is for reviewer blogs. The idea is to get people reviewing your book (hopefully with a thumbs up!) before the release so that readers are interested in reading. Below is the exact letter we received from Spencer Hill Press rather than just the blurb to show an example of how you ask bloggers to participate.

Hi folks,

Spencer Hill Press is lucky enough to work with Vic Caswell of Sketcher Girl Studios. Her latest cover design is for Triangles, Kimberly Ann Miller's amazing story of a girl who wakes up in alternate realities each day she spends in the Bermuda Triangle. It's sort of like a teen romance version of Groundhog Day, and it will make you both cry and laugh out loud. 

I'm writing to invite you to take part in the cover reveal. If you're interested, please post any time after 12:01am on Friday, June 22nd.


A cruise ship. A beautiful island. Two sexy guys. What could possibly go wrong? 

In the Bermuda Triangle--a lot. 

Hoping to leave behind the reminders of her crappy life--her father's death years ago, her mother's medical problems, and the loser who's practically stalking her--seventeen-year-old Autumn Taylor hops on a ship with her sister for a little distraction. When she wakes up in the Bermuda Triangle, she fears she's gone nuts for more than one reason: that loser's suddenly claiming they're a happy couple... a hot guy is wrapping his arms around her and saying "Happy Anniversary"... and suddenly, she's full of bruises, losing her hair, and getting IV medication. Autumn visits the ship's doctor, hoping for a pill or a shot to make the craziness go away. Instead, she's warned that one of these "alternate realities" could become permanent. 

She just has to ask herself one question--how the hell is she going to get out of this mess?

Title: Triangles
Author: Kimberly Ann Miller
Publisher: Spencer Hill Press (www.spencerhillpress.com
ISBN: 978-1-937053-36-9
Release Date: June 18, 2013
Formats: Paper, e-book

If you'd like to request an ARC, please use the reviewer form on our website. ARCs should ship in early 2013. 

Take care!

 - Kate

The only thing I would do additionally in this letter (and mind you, I am not experienced in book promotion as the people at Spencer Hill are, just in marketing itself) is include a Goodreads link so that people can go add this book directly to their to-be-read list the minute they see the cover. The cover reveal is so far before the actual release, after all, so it is good to help readers find a way to remember that they want to read it!

And now for the cover...isn't it beautiful?!

What do you think about cover reveals? Do they make you want to read a book?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Vacation Rocks!

I really need a vacation from my family, but I'll take what I can get. We're off to sunny So Cal. I hope to have fabulous stories when I return late next week. Have fun and see you when I return!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Launch Lowdown: Alex J. Cavanaugh CassaFire

During A to Z, I introduced an occasional series spotlighting recaps of book launches. I am proud to bring this series back today with the Launch Lowdown from Alex J. Cavanaugh. I love having Alex on my blog. He's a fabulous guest. And he's got wonderful information to share having completed not one but two book launches. So let's jump right in:

We probably already know, but tell us who are you? What have you written?
I’m Alex J. Cavanaugh (also known as the Ninja Captain) and I’ve written two science fiction books, CassaStar and CassaFire.

Tell us about the book you launched.
My latest book is CassaFire, a sequel requested by my fans:

Byron’s days of piloting Cosbolt fighters are over. Keeping a promise to his fallen mentor, he now serves on an exploration vessel. The detection of alien ruins sends them to the distant planet of Tgren. Are the ruins a key to the Tgren’s civilization or a weapon of unimaginable power? Tensions mount as their new allies are suspicious of the Cassans. To complicate matters, the Tgrens are showing signs of mental powers. Forced to train Athee and further develop her flying aptitude, Byron’s patience is strained. Add a reluctant friendship with a young scientist, and he feels invaded on every level. All Byron wanted was his privacy…

Who published your book?
Dancing Lemur Press LLC

Did you have a marketing budget?
Most of my efforts were low or no cost and focused on a lot of blog appearances.
When did you launch?
February 28, 2012
What did you do pre-launch?
A whole lot! Oh wait, you want details, don’t you?

Once my publisher had sent me the cover art and book trailer, I posted those on my site. Around October I started contacting potential blog tour hosts and set dates. Not long after I announced the Catch Fire! Blog Party – those who signed up to post about my book on release day were entered to win free books. I also sent my publisher a few more reviewers and they created a prize package for my tour. Yeah, it was a lot!

Tell us a bit about the launch events.
The day CassaFire was released, I had a guest post at Edi’s Book Lighthouse and close to three hundred bloggers posting information about my book. It was wild! I’m glad I took the day off, because it took me eleven hours to visit all of those blogs.

What surprised you about the whole process?
I think what surprised me was the amount of people who posted about my book that day. It was both overwhelming and humbling.

What worked? What would you do differently?
I don’t think I’ll do another single day event like that again, as it was SO overwhelming. My first tour had nineteen stops, and I was glad I limited it to just ten this time. The prize package was a great idea, and since I was posting news and trivia every day on my blog (in addition to visiting a host) my blog comments never dropped. Both books have gone on to be Amazon Best Sellers, so something worked.

For my third and final book, I’m going to have to think of something Ninja epic!

Wait, final book? In this series or ever? You'll have to tell us more about that sometime...

What words of advice can you give us?
Plan ahead! Select good hosts and make sure you are both in agreement on the guest post/interview. Visit the host sites during your appearance and continue to check on them days later. And bring your Ninja Army!

Thanks again, Laura!

No, thank you, Alex! You got a Ninja Army because you built it. You're a wonderful example to us writers. Be proud! 

Alex's info:

Alex J. Cavanaugh has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design and graphics. He is experienced in technical editing and worked with an adult literacy program for several years. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Known online as the Ninja Captain, he’s the founder of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. He lives in the Carolinas with his wife.
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