Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas Blogging Vacation

One of my main jobs - yes, I have several - is as a Music Director for a church. I direct 5 choirs and all the holidays are actually my biggest work days. This season has been crazy and the next few days will be even more so.

For that reason I am taking off from blogging until January 2nd.

Enjoy the holiday and I hope and pray you get to spend it with people you love. Thank you for being readers! I have truly been blessed to know you all :)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Blog Critique: Don't Forget the Samovar

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.

Don't Forget the Samovar. That's really the name of Kristen I-think-she-wants-to-remain-anonymous's blog. I went through her archives and read her first blog post just so I could get some insight to her blog title. Go ahead and check out her blog and read her first blog post because we will talk about it below.

Alright, Kristen, I have things I love about your blog and thing's I think you could improve upon. But first, let's not ignore the elephant in the room: your blog title. I've said in the past, your title should include your name. It's how you get people to remember you and find you easily. With your title, I don't remember you, I remember samovars. 

But here's the thing: if you're blog isn't about you making a name for yourself in the writing world, if it isn't about you trying to get an agent or published or about selling books, then you can name your blog whatever makes you happy. And I sense this title makes you happy. So if you haven't decided already, then that's what you need to do before considering any of the changes I suggest below because these suggestions are for the purpose of platform building blogs. 

Now that that's out of the way, here's some other things to consider:
  • I love the cool blue background color of your blog. It's easy to look at and calming.
  • The designers and I don't, however, like the way your sidebar hangs off the white background. I don't mind the posts hanging over the white - that almost looks cool - but the title and the sidebar look awkward.
  • The blue color of your text on top of the blue background in your posts is hard to read. Joe suggests you stick with the light blue color you sometimes use (and I agree).
  • Move your profile up top on your sidebar. You should be the first thing we see followed by your followers.
  • I love that you have your labels at the bottom of the blog. It keeps your blog from looking cluttered and it looks very natural.
  • Use more pics. A follower reading on a Google Reader won't see your blog design, but they will see your pictures.
  • Pictures should feel your blog post - don't leave negative space around them. Set them on a large setting. If they still don't fill the space, set your pics next to your words.
Overall, I really enjoy your blog. I like your spirit and your writing style. I really identified with your post about the kids having too many days off from school. Boy, is that not the truth! I think the only real issue with your blog is that I don't know what you intend it to be. Decide if you are blogging for your own enjoyment - a perfectly valid choice - or if you are blogging to market yourself. Make this one decision and the rest should really fall into place.

I'd love to hear what you all think about Kristen's fun title. Any other suggestions for this awesome blogger?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Blog Critique: Claire Hennessy

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.

We're back to a regular blog critique week, meaning two. Today's blog comes from Brit-turned-Californian, Claire Hennessy at Crazy California Claire. This is a baby blog, just started in August. Go take a look and we can gather back here for a run-down of my thoughts. 
Claire, you've got a lot of awesome going on. Also a few things that you could change to give you some more pizzazz. And couldn't we all use more pizzazz? Let's start with the awesome first:
  • Profile location is excellent.
  • Layout of blog is clear. I really like the one sidebar blog. It makes the layout really clean.
  • Very uncluttered. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I love the simple approach.
  • Your blog posts are clearly separated from your sidebar. The lighter color behind your posts really highlights this. It's a great effect.
  • We like the overall look - it goes with your character though I would call it more whimsical than crazy. (I'm not telling you to change your title, just sayin' my impression.)
  • You connect to samples of your work. This is excellent if you are pursuing publication.
  • You include a way to contact you. Essential. 
  • I know what you write and pretty much who you are.
  • You use pictures in your posts. Nice.
Now for a blog with more pizzazz, consider:
  • Fill up the space with your pictures. There's a lot of negative space around your pics. If you can't get your picture big enough, at least put it next to your words.
  • Ease up on the exclamations! If your words and design are strong enough, you won't need the exclamation points. Let your excellent writing work for you. Save your exclamation points for really, really special occasions.
  • Add a search box. As you get more posts readers will especially want to be able to search through past posts. Always make it easy.
  • Give us a subtitle/tagline under your title that tells us a little more about your "message".
  • Your posting is sporadic. Having a dedicated schedule is helpful when building a following. Along with that, posting your blogging schedule is useful to new followers.
  • You have labels on your posts, but no easy way to access them. Add a label cloud either on your sidebar or bottom of your blog.
One final thing: your blog reads like it's a random thoughts sort of place. Which is great, if that's what you're going for - you've got it down. But if that isn't what you're going for, well, first you need to decide what it is you are going for and work from there. That's often the biggest challenge for baby blogs like yours - it takes a minute to decide exactly who you are and what your message is. Make it a goal to discover what you want to say and you'll get there.

Great job, Claire! Thanks for submitting. Readers, any feedback for Claire?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday Savvy Sensation Day Off

After our incredibly packed week of blog critiques, I decided today deserved a day off and didn't schedule a savvy sensation.

I do, however, want to update about Julie Hedlund's MeeGenius Rankings. Before she implemented my suggestions, Julie had 181 votes and was ranked at #47. After a week of an impromptu blog tour and amazing contest promoting her story, Julie now has...
468 votes
and is ranked #17

Way to go, Julie!

Thanks to everyone who helped Julie out this week. You've all made her and her story a Savvy Sensation!

And if you haven't voted, it's not too late to do so now!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Blog Critique: Emily Veinglory

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.

Have we run the gamut this week? Not yet. Not until we review today's blog from Emily Veinglory, Yup. We've gone from picture books to erotica. Take a peek - take your time. I'll be here when you return.

Emily, I think the blog looks really good. I like the header. The size of it is good and your title is good since it tells us exactly what you are about.  I'm not too fond of the background. The dark color of it is nice but the squares don't invoke romance or erotica. You want a swirling shape if you are going to use shapes in the background - curves and swirls bring to mind bodies and such.

Generally I say to move the followers up higher on your blog. However, it's not as important on a blog like yours because it is likely that many of your followers are anonymous. I think that especially because of the number of unique hits you told me you get compared to the number of your followers. Instead, you need to make it easiest to follow by reader or email. Put these up top so people can find them right away.

I really like the clean look of your lists. (Yay! I'm even on your blog list!) I wish they were just a bit bigger but I understand you need to have them small to fit in the two column format.  Instead, consider enlarging the font and moving to a one column sidebar instead. You have a lot of room lower in your sidebar so you can move the publisher list lower -especially since you have a publisher page as well.

The headers for your blog posts could be larger as well. Not much larger, just one or two font sizes. Your footers are a bit hard to read because they are so light. Can you use a dark gray instead of a light gray?

Really those are all minor. Besides your look and function though, you talked to me about trying to get more traffic to your site. I'm not sure what you are doing now but some suggestions for traffic increase are:

  • comment and follow lots of blogs that are in your genre
  • invite other bloggers in your genre to guest post
  • give prompts to your readers before the comments - this engages readers more and makes them want to share, return, follow. By prompts I mean ask them a specific question so they have one to answer in the comments.
  • create fun buzz - come on, you've got the perfect excuse to be sexy and suggestive - go for it! Get your readers talking about sex. I love Roni Loren's boyfriend of the week segment, for example. It drives us to her blog to fantasize. Drive us to your blog to fantasize, to dream, to live out our inhibitions. Maybe invite other bloggers to give us some steamy excerpts to post - well, minus the parts that make it real erotica, but enough to make people perk up, if you know what I mean. (When you're looking at Roni's site, also notice the softer feel of her background - that speaks more erotica to me than the squares). 
  • give us more pictures! Sexy pics. That will get you more traffic....
  • make sure you send out quarterly newsletters/emails to all your publishers and applicable authors to remind them to follow your blog for all the latest sales information. 
Okay, that's all I got. Except I must say again: more pictures! Because the romance fans like to see the yummy stuff.

Anyone else like seeing the yummy stuff? What else would you suggest to our wonderful blog victim, I mean, Emily? 

Blog Critique: Karen Kyle Ericson

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.

While I don't usually critique blogs that aren't writer blogs, today I've made an exception to review Karen Kyle Ericson's photography blog, Greetings from Monmouth County.  Take a look, enjoy her photos, and come on back.

Karen is a busy blogging bee. Besides her photography blog, Karen also blogs at Hope, Faith, and Life. Plus pretty much all the photography on both sites are taken by her.

Okay, girl, I'm admitting upfront I don't have a lot to say. Most of my critiques are generally about how to run a blog as a writer - both pre and post published - and it's tricky to transfer some of those tips. But here are the things I thought about when looking at your blog:
  1. Your profile should go at the top of your sidebar. We need to see who you are right upfront. Especially if you are trying to get freelance work from your blog.
  2. Your title should have something to do with what your blog is about. I understand you live in Monmouth and take pics there, but someone is more likely to find your blog in a Google search if you have relevant words in your title.
  3. I know who you are and what you do without researching. That's great!
  4. You're a photographer and your pics are the stars of your blogs. Give them the size they deserve! Adjust the widths on your blog so that you can always set your pics to the extra large setting.  You could really lose the sidebar so your photos give even more dramatic impact as Greg Kendall-Ball's photo blog does.
  5. I love that you tell the story behind your pics. That makes you different from other blogs.
  6. I want to see a picture you've taken or something more picturesque in your header. Less wording up there for sure. Don't tell us who you are - show us! Even a simple, abstract header like the one at Matt Bell's photography blog is enough to show who you are artistically.
  7. I like the really neutral background - it helps bring out your pictures. It's especially nice that it isn't just one color but a nice palette of blue, dark gray and that orange you use for some of your titles.
  8. Bring your links to purchase pics right to your blog. Don't make people go to your website to make purchases.  You can also sell them right on your blog like this blog, Tree in the Forest.
  9. Quotes are nice, but I'd rather see the quotes you have in your sidebar as links to purchase your work. If you spread your quotes among your posts that would show better. Maybe have one of those quotes as your tagline in your header and lose the rest of the words. You could lose the labels from the sidebar as well and put it as a footer so that the words distract less from the photos.
  10. Get us a real easy way to contact you. How can we hire you to freelance if we don't know how to find you?
I love your pictures. They are beautiful. Make them the spotlight and your sight will really shine. Good luck with all you do and thanks for letting me attempt to give some advice!

Any tips for Karen and her beautiful photography? 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Blog Critique: Random Thoughts

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.

Day 3 of Blog Critique Awesomeness. It's unbelievable how fast this week is going! And let me just give you a heads up that the rest of the week is going to bring some unexpected blogs. But today is less unexpected and more random. Random Thoughts, that is, a blog by Cynthia (I don't know if she wants to share her last name - she leaves it off her blog). Go ahead and peek over there and pop on back.

Cynthia, I have to tell you how I love that red. When we moved in our current home, I immediately painted the walls in my living room that color. But then we thought we were going to sell and we painted the walls this really neutral beige. We ended up not selling, and at first I was really bummed that I had painted over the red. Since we've been living with the beige, however, I've discovered that the thing about neutral is that it makes the rest of the stuff in the room sparkle and shine more than the red did. Before, the red was the attraction. Now, the room is.

My point is - though I'm not sure this story illustrates this - is that the red color that I love in your blog, would have more impact if it didn't consume so much of your blog. Joe says this in design terms with, "you need to get a palette".  (He says this often enough to me that I think it can just be a Joe catch-phrase.) What this means is picking several colors that go well together and using them consistently. You aren't completely one color - we do see that - your header is darker than your post and so is the footer. You have a nice yellowish color for your title color. But the white on the red is hard on the eyes. And the red you sometimes use in your query critiques is hard to read. Even switching the white to the headline color and using that yellow would help more. I would prefer to see your post area to be another shade of red or pink. It would broaden your palette plus separate your center section from your sidebars. Use this website to help get some good coordinating colors.

Other than that, you've got some real good stuff going on. Here's five things I love about your blog:
  1. It's not cluttered, even with two sidebars.
  2. You have your schedule posted. Love this.
  3. Your profile is up top.
  4. You have a search box.
  5. You help people write their synopses.
Here's a few things that could really polish your blog up to the next level:
  • Use pictures in every post. People who read on Google Reader will not see your colors, but they will see a picture. It's a nice touch.
  • I know you don't like to share a lot about yourself, and that's fine. But a little more info in your profile would be good. Even just a line about what you write would be helpful. You could also tell us you're a mother or that you love dogs.
  • Move your followers up under your profile. Let them know they are important plus it makes it easy for new followers to follow.
  • Your tagline is true, but it doesn't really say anything about your blog. Tweaking your tag so it has purpose would be a better choice. Let us know you are a writer. Let us know you help other writers. Tell us what you mean for your blog to accomplish.
  • I'm not so sure about the Daily Puppy. It's kind of cute, and gives a little of your personality. Perhaps just don't put it in such a prominent position. 
Great job blogging, Cynthia. I'm impressed when anyone makes it over a year and you offer a great service to your readers. Keep up the great work and I'm certainly going to ask for your help when I have to write my next synopsis. Ew, I hate those!!

What are your thoughts, readers? Do you like the Daily Puppy?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Blog Critique: Susan Roebuck

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.

Day 2 of Blog Critiquing Awesomeness: I really enjoy critiquing published author's blogs like Susan Roebuck's because after publication, platform and blogging becomes critical. Why don't you take a peek over there and come on back.

Susan, first of all, you are one of the sweetest bloggers out there. I love to read your blog and see your personality pop through. Just lovely.  Your blog is set up and organized very well and the layout is clean and clear. There is a great separation from your sidebar and main area. The background is a nice touch. You should be very happy with it. There are just a few minor graphic notes, mainly from Joe:
  • Header: The black box around your text is sloppy compared to the rest of your blog. The tagline should be indented to match the indent on your "Home" button. Even better, center your tagline. Also, it would be nice if your headline color matched a color from the graphic. I'm also not sure who you are from your header image. I don't get published author from it.
  • Title: I love the title because is the origin of my name, the beautiful lauracea plant (laurel plants). However, it doesn't say your name or what your blog is about either and that's really preferred. It's hard to remember what lauracea has to do with Susan the writer. Know what I mean?
  • Navigation: Your navigation text is a little on the small side. Also, the green color that shows up when you are on that page needs to be lighter so it can be seen better.
  • Sidebar order: For a published author I recommend that your book(s) should be first, then your profile (which you don't have at all), then followers. You want it to be easy to follow you so make that accessible. Even though you have an about me page, a small profile is good so people don't have to look for you. And awards are not as important as being able to make a book purchase. Also, if you declutter your awards and such your reviews will stand out more.
  • Some pictures go over the posting area. Adjusting your blog widths will fix this. See my Sunday post if you need help with this. You can also change your Facebook graphic that goes over in your sidebar by adjusting the width in the HTML text.
  • Formatting: When you copy and paste text into your blog, make sure to erase the format and so that it looks uniform.
Sincerely, those are really small corrections and as I went through my blog checklist, I found very little for you to change. Great job!

There is one overall question I have, though, and I think addressing the answer could really bump your blog to the next level: what do you want your blog to say? Right now I don't know. You told me that you mostly blog as an author helping other authors, but I don't really get that sense at first impression. I also don't have a real sense of what you write from your blog. Romance, right? Or LGBT? Let us have a little more sense of that in your blog colors and your header. I really feel your blog is more scrapbook at this point - which is not a bad thing if that's what you intend it to be. I'd be happy to talk with you more about possible ideas to get across your message once I know what it is. Just let me know!

What do you think, dear readers? Do you have suggestions for Sue? Do you know who she is from her blog? I know she'd love to hear your comments!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Blog Critique: Julie Hedlund

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 begins 5 days of blog critiquing awesomeness. Are you ready for it? We're starting off with a bang with the amazing pre-published author Julie Hedlund. Check out her blog real quick and come back to see what we're gonna chat about today.
Okay, Julie's blog is pretty much perfect.  She has a great title, it's beautifully laid out, easy to read, easy on the eyes, organized very well, and so on and so on. Take special note on how she handles her blog roll -even though she has a lot of names, they are very cleanly listed and don't seem cluttered at all. (My only grievance is that I didn't find my name listed among them... :) 

Anyway, I'm breezing through this part because this isn't what we're going to talk about in regards to Julie's blog. What we are going to talk about is that little box that says "Vote For My Story!" See, last week when I stopped by her blog, I noticed Julie was in the middle of a MeeGenius Author challenge. She entered a contest with MeeGenius that required her to do some of her own promoting and getting people to vote for her picture book. Problem was, she wasn't promoting her story very much. That vote for my story box wasn't there. I'm not saying she was doing nothing - she was tweeting and encouraging people to vote through a few mentions on her blog - but I sensed she needed a bit more of a push. So with only a week left for gathering votes, I decided to give Julie some ideas to get the word out about her book. Hopefully the tips I gave her are also helpful to all of you whether promoting for a contest or a newly released published book. Here's the highlights of what I told Julie last week:
  1. Run a contest on your blog. The winner will get something cool.  To enter to win, readers must tweet, facebook or blog about your book entry at MeeGenius. They must include a link to your entry to be counted as an entry. They get one chance to win with each that they do. Have them put in the comments links to where they facebooked, blogged, or tweeted about your book. 
  2. Set up a mini-blog tour. Yes, it's short notice, but you could tweet or blog out a call for anyone who might want to help.  Be sure to post a schedule of your blog tour. .
  3. If you don't get enough bites on the blog tour, you could offer to do joint promotion with one of the other entry winners. Now this sounds devious, but pick someone who doesn't have a lot of votes. You don't want to help out someone who is already winning! Anyway, contact the author and ask if they would like to write a post on your blog about their book in exchange for you writing a post on their blog about your book. It seems like you are shooting yourself in the foot, but it actually is a great way to reach out to your fellow authors and show support. I believe in author karma and this will get you a ton of it. 
  4. Make sure you get optimum traffic to your blog this next week, whatever methods of promoting you decide to do there, by commenting on lots of other blogs. Look at all your followers and try to leave meaningful comments on all of their blogs. A lot of bloggers will visit you because you have recently visited them. The more comments you leave on other blogs, the more likely it is they will visit you. 
  5. You need a button/badge in your sidebar near the top directing people to your entry. Don't make them read your posts to find out about your book

As you may have noticed, Julie's already implemented many of those ideas. Consider sharing her link and entering her contest. And then, I urge you to check out her story at MeeGenius, not only to vote, but also to keep track of her votes. This is sort of like an experiment for all of us. I'm very excited to see how it works out for her. As I type this, she has 206 votes and is ranked at 45. The first round voting ends Dec. 18th. The first round finalists are chosen by an unknown combination of votes and MeeGenius staff. If Julie makes the first round, her story will be professionally edited, illustrated and animated and reposted for the finals in March. LET'S GET JULIE TO THE FINALS AND DISCOVER THE POWER OF ONLINE MARKETING.

What do you say? Do you have any ideas to help Julie? Please share!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Adjusting Blog Template Width

Surprise, surprise, I'm here on a Sunday. I'm just doing a quick pop in and out though. I had a request to show how I adjusted the width of my blog posts so I'm gonna give you all a quick run through. It's easy peasy lemon squeezy.

First, click Design in the top right corner of your blog. That brings you to this page (or one similar) if you are using the newest version of Blogger:

If you aren't using the newest version of Blogger and want to do this, just click that line at the top that says something like "Try Blogger's new look". Afterward, if you don't like it, you can always "switch back" just by clicking those words (found by my profile pic in the upper right). I switch back and forth a lot since you can't do everything in either format.

Now see that orange button that says "Customize"? It's right below the picture of my blog. Next you click that. Now you see something like this:

Not all templates have all the same options, but this is where you can make all the tweaks to your design. I particularly like to go to "Advanced". You can mess with tons of your design there. So much fun!

Anyway, to adjust your widths, click on (duh) "Adjust widths".  Now you get:

Here you can move the slider or type in numbers until you get the look you want. Previously I adjusted my sidebar here as well so that some of the things I had over there would fit better. This last time I just moved the slider until pictures fit how I wanted.

When you get the look you want, don't forget to hit that orange button in the top right that says "Apply to blog".

Simple, right? Any questions? Let me know in comments and I'll try to help you out :)

Saturday Savvy Sensation: Matt MacNish

It only makes sense to preface next week's blog critique week featuring one of the most popular bloggers to have been critiqued on this blog. (Did that make sense?) This time, though, Matt MacNish is here being spotlighted as a Savvy Sensation. And I'm so excited for this because MATT ROCKS! 
I can't have Yoda as your profile pic, Matt.
So this is what you get to live with.

Now that I've gotten that out, let's hear from the bad ass himself:

Who are you (what do you write, what are your personal stats)? 
I've only got one novel finished, which is actually not really done, because it's still in revision, but the working title is WARRIOR-MONKS, and I call it a YA Rural Fantasy. I'm not sure what you mean by stats but I have two Flash Fiction pieces published in the anthology Literary Foray, from Static Movement Press.

Where can we find you online (blog, twitter, facebook, etc.)? 
I blog at The QQQE, and you can also find me on Facebook, and Twitter.

When did you begin your online platform building?
I started the blog on March 3, 2010. Everything else has come from that.

What is your message, if any (is your blog about anything specific, for example)? 
Well my blog has always been about queries. It's evolved from posting my own bad queries, to sharing the successful queries of other writers, to most recently, critiquing the queries of other writers, now that I know what I'm talking about.

How have you built your followers? What have you done that has been the most successful? 
I think the most important things when it comes to building followers are these: read a lot of blogs, comment, and make your comments thoughtful. Be genuine, a lot of people talk about not covering certain topics, and I don't do politics or religion, but otherwise I try to be myself, because after all it's me that people are connecting with. Help others. By paying it forward, I can promote my blog without making it all about me. I get so tired sometimes of seeing nothing but promotion, but when I do it, people see I'm actually promoting helping someone else.

What have you done that has failed? 
I used to put links to my own posts at the end of the comments I left on other blogs. It was too selfish, too pretentious, and too annoying. I actually got emails from a few different blogs asking me not to do that.

How much time do you spend blogging? Reading blogs? Commenting on blogs? 
It used to be 2-3 hours a day. But I've started to cut back recently. I love blogging, but it's really been getting in the way of writing.

What else should we know about you? 
Not much. I'm a dad, I work in IT, but it's a dreadfully boring, soul-sucking day job. I used to be a DJ and own a record label, but I gave up on it, and now have about 2500 vinyl records in boxes in the garage. Other than that, and writing, I'm pretty boring.

Any additional advice for our readers? 
Read everything you can get your hands on, and write like your life depends on it. But, there's no need to force it when the inspiration isn't there.

What makes you unique? 
What doesn't?

Did I mention Matt's savvy? And sensational? And so super awesomely rockin'? Yeah, you already know it.  He looks like he was a DJ, doesn't he? He probably rocked that job as well. Thanks for being here, Matt! Come by anytime :)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Face Myself Friday: Another win!

I suppose Face Myself Friday may be a recurring series because here it is again.

First, as always, housekeeping: I had an overwhelming amount of requests for blog critiques early in the series. Truthfully, I think most of them came from Matt McNish followers who followed on over when I critiqued his awesome blog (Love you all!). Speaking of whom, come back tomorrow to see some more Matt. Oh, now I'm off topic. Let me try again:

Next week, in order to kick out a bunch of those critiques, I will be featuring a critique everyday. That's right: FIVE DAYS of BLOG CRITIQUING AWESOMENESS! So get your blog critique thinking caps on a be ready for Monday. You won't want to miss some of the awesome blogs on the chopping block  line up.

Next little bit of housekeeping: You may have noticed (or not) that my blog is a little wider than it was previously. I added 80 pixels of width because every time I tried to make a picture extra large, it wandered over into my sidebar. After Wednesday's blog critique when Joe suggested to Gillian to make her pictures fill as much of the space as possible, I realized I needed to take that advice as well. I added the 80 pixels, and now the extra large pics fill the space without going over.

This is how winning makes me feel. (Even second place.)
And now, I have another win to share! I had completely forgotten that I entered Rachel McClellan's awesome Oktoberfest blog contest. Mostly I entered because I loved the idea of sharing my favorite scene from the novel that I am currently querying. After I sent Rachel my entry, I put the whole thing out of my mind because, duh, NaNo was upon me. In November, I completely abandoned blog visiting. I didn't even stop by Rachel's blog and leave comments on the other entries! Such a no no....

Anyway, Rachel emailed me this week to tell me I tied for second in a three way tie!!  Thank you so much, Rachel for the AMAZING OPPORTUNITY. The best part? Cedar Forts Acquisitions Editor, Angie Workman has requested a full manuscript from me!

I have dedicated myself to pursuing publication through an agent so an acquisitions editor requesting my book comes as a total surprise. How exciting to try another road. (And scary. I've been staring at the submissions form for over an hour now. I'm such a pussy...) Anyhoo, wish me luck!

Has your writing/querying taken an unexpected turn? Tell us about it in the comments.Le

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Blog Critique: Gillian Hefer

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.

Let me tell you all a little about my blog critique process. If I am not currently a follower of your blog and you ask me to critique you, I will generally not go look at your blog until a week or so before I review you. Why? I want the first impression to be new in my mind. 

Well, let me tell you I was slightly surprised when I first visited today's blog: Gillian Hefer's A Daft Scots Lass. First, I generally only critique author blogs, and Gillian's is not striving for authorship as far as I can tell. (I will have some slightly different advice for her because of this.) Second, she's got a mouth on her, so please be prepared for that when you check out her page. Then hurry on back so we can discuss.

Oh, oh, Gillian. I love you. The first post I read was your 5 gigs of porn addition to the 12 days of Christmas. I had to show my husband because I was LMAO. So awesome, you have personality.

But even personality needs a filter.

After I watched your "Because I'm a Red Head" youtube video, I completely got the red upon red in your blog design. You are funny, crass, and abrasive (in an entertaining way). The look of your blog is also very crass and abrasive.  I get that this is your thing.  But you can get your personality across in ways that are a little more pleasing to the eye. Ways that will keep your readers on your blog just a wee bit longer. Here's some suggestions (mostly from our graphic designer, Joe):
  • Vary that font. It's fine for your post headers but it's hard to read for an entire post. Choose something like gill sans - it actually appears quite elegant and at first glance may not feel the way you want it to, but it is the classic comedy font, according to Joe. You will see it on most comedy movie posters. It portrays the comedy feeling without making your readers cringe.  
  • Lose the white space in your posts. Once you clean up your font that white space will stand out even more. Right now it is almost necessary to have it because the font is too hard to read for a long period of time but you're really just fixing a sin with another sin. 
  • You need to get a palette. Right now you are mostly red and white and that's not a color palette, that's just one color. Yes, you throw in some blue here and there but it really doesn't go - it's just another bright color. Visit here for some ideas on how to expand that palette. Then use these new additional colors in your header, post titles, date title, etc. And keep them consistent. 
  • Separate your sidebar. It's on white just like your main posts with nothing to indicate where one ends and one begins. Give it another background color, if you can. Speaking of your sidebar...
  • Clean it up. You got tons of junk there. Pick five things you just have to keep and lose the rest. That's my suggestion.
  • Make your pics feel the entire width of your blog post. If they don't or you can't change the width to make them do so, put them on the side of text. All that white space, as I said before, is just awkward.  
To finish this review off, I'd like to share five very lovely things about your outrageous blog:
  1. I know who you are.
  2. Your profile pic and About Me is very appropriately positioned.
  3. Your profile pic is gorgeous.
  4. You make me laugh (read her 100 things about me)
  5. You talk about your boobs and camel toe.
Love you, Gillian. Hope these suggestions help. You're uniquely awesome. Thanks for making my day!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Blog Critique: Theresa Milstein

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.

Oo, this is awkward...see, I love Theresa Milstein. I've been a fan of her's for awhile. She was even one of my first Saturday Savvy Sensations when her blog was still called "Substitute Teacher's Saga".  So now I'm supposed to critique her???

Well, if it's helpful....but just remember, Theresa, that it all comes out of love :) If you haven't already, take a look at Theresa's blog here.

First, a few things that I LOVE about Theresa's blog:
  • I know who she is 
  • I know what she writes
  • I know what her blog is about
  • She links to where you can purchase her writing 
  • She has contact information posted
  • She tells us what is upcoming on her blog (nice touch)
  • Her posts are relevant
  • Her posts are interactive
  • Her sidebar is clearly separated from her main post area
  • Her background is simple and doesn't distract
  • Oh, and I love alliteration (have you noticed?) so your title makes me smile
Now for the tough love. Most of these suggestions actually have to do with visual appeal, except for the first one. Read on:
  • Get your profile up higher in your sidebar, girl! I actually don't mind you putting Fangtales up first because it is your priority - selling that book, I mean - but right under that we should have your profile pic and About Me. Don't make us go looking. Speaking of your sidebar...
  • Make sure all your graphics fit in the sidebar space. If they are too big, you can make them smaller. I'm talking about your Fan Box and your Map Loco. You have to do a little more advance editing (go into the html and change the "width" number; experiment until it's the right size). It will really clean your blog up.
  • Don't use so much blank space in your posts. Tighten up your paragraphs. Think of people who are reading you on their phones - dead space SUCKS! (and not in a good way:)
  • Make your pictures bigger. This will help with some of your dead white space. Joe recommends putting your pics left justified with your words next to them to help with this as well.vAnother of Joe's suggestions...
  • Use color, bold, and italics to liven up your helvetica font. Using a contrasting color like yellow/gold in your posts will really look good with your blue/purple background. Visit this site for some fun help.
  • Watch the consistency of your font - don't change it up randomly.
  • Enlarge your post headings. Joe recommends post headings be at least 20% larger than the body of your posts. Set this once in your settings and you won't have to think about it again.
Ok, I'm done. Was that so bad? No, I suppose not. But I have to say that really none of this stuff matters that much because Theresa has mastered the number one most important thing about blogging: Building Relationships. Theresa is maybe the sweetest blogger out there. She responds to every comment and is so in tune with her followers. This is really the true artistry of blogging, isn't it?

Thanks for being here again, Theresa! You're always welcome.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Saturday Savvy Sensation: Lynda Young

You know how I love the bloggers on The Write Advice Facebook page (look there on the side and like us if you haven't :). So today's Savvy Sensation is another of those wonderful bloggers: Lynda R. Young. Yes, she's cool. Yes, she's awesome - just look at the name of her blog, "W.I.P. It" - cool, right? And she lives Down Under. Ultra awesome. Well, read on and find out for yourself:

Who are you (what do you write, what are your personal stats)?
This is a question I often ask myself. I'm not sure I have the answer yet. While I'm trying to figure it out, I write young adult novels and speculative short stories. I live in Sydney, Australia, with an adorable supportive husband and a cat who thinks she rules the world.

Where can we find you online (blog, twitter, facebook, etc.)?
I'm all over the place, though some places I'm more active than others. In descending order of activity:
Twitter: @LyndaRYoung

When did you begin your online platform building?
I started a devotional blog in February last year. At the time I thought I wanted to pursue a career in Christian non-fiction. That soon changed when I reacquainted myself with the joys of fiction. I began my writing blog in May of last year.

What is your message, if any (is your blog about anything specific, for example)?
My blog offers writing and social media tips, but my main message is positivity and encouragement.

How have you built your followers? What have you done that has been the most successful?
When I first started blogging last year I flailed around with little idea of what I was doing. I soon learnt that blogging is more than writing interesting posts. It's about engaging in the community, being generous and active. So, the most successful thing I did was not to wait for people to find my blog. I went out and actively sought online friendships with other bloggers.

What have you done that has failed?
In an attempt to build my following, I made a few small mistakes in the beginning:
  • Not linking my blog to my Google profile so when I used the Google Friends Connect to follow someone's blog, they couldn't follow me back.
  • Only following blogs and not commenting.
  • Only commenting and not following.
  • Not making it easy for anyone visiting my blog to contact me.
How much time do you spend blogging? Reading blogs? Commenting on blogs?
I will admit I probably spend too much time blogging, posting, and commenting. While we only get out of it what we are willing to put in, we have to ask ourselves what exactly we want out of it. Ultimately I have to put my writing first so I try to keep my blogging down to an hour a day, with breaks on the weekend. I will occasionally spend longer, of course.

What else should we know about you?
An important fact: I love dark chocolate.

Any additional advice for our readers?
Whatever you choose to do in your life, whatever challenges you have to face, don't give up. Work at it with all you've got, find the support you need, and learn all you can. If you do this, then there can be no fail.

What makes you unique?
My stubby thumb.

Thank you so much, Laura, for this great opportunity to share on your blog.

My mother has a stubby thumb and she loves to tell me how it was the first thing she checked on my little hands when I was born. I did not inherit her uniqueness, I must confess. You've given some great tips based on your failures. Sorry you had to fail for us to learn! Thanks for being savvy and sensational!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Face Myself Friday

I'm telling you right off the bat that if you only visit me to read marketing tips, I don't have them today. Instead I'm doing a Face Myself Friday, or aka, What I've Learned From NaNo.

First, though, I have to share that last week I was given an award from the awesome, wonderful Kelly Louise, the Gene Pool Diva of Diminishing Gene Pool.  The rules of the award are to thank the person who gave it to you and link back to them (Hi, Kelly!), then list some of your favorite blogs.

I told Kelly I would post this last Sunday and I didn't because I can't seem to list my favorite blogs. I mean, I've told you before who they are, I ask many of them to be Savvy Sensations. And the others that I read - oh, it's so many. Hundreds. I'm mostly a lurker and comment very little - which goes totally against marketing advice - but it's me. Now to narrow down those blogs to a handful to pass this award on to? I'm having trouble. And I hate it when people say, "Just take the award if you want it." So here are simply the first ten in my Google Reader. They are lovely and deserve an award (as do all of you!) Check them out:

Now Face Myself Friday - Here's what I learned from NaNo:

  • I'm not a fast writer.
  • That's ok.
  • I like to write in spurts - a week of focus, then a week or so off.
  • That's ok, it's just my style.
  • I edit while I write.
  • That's ok, too. Isn't it?
  • My first draft takes a while, but when it's done, it is closer to a second or third draft because I'm such an editor.
  • I think that's better than ok.
  • So, obviously, I failed NaNo. 
  • But that's ok because I realized things about myself as a writer and I am happy with those things.
How about you? Did you finish? What did you learn about yourself through NaNo?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Blog Critique: Joanna Marple

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.

You'll find Miss Marple's Musings, the subject of today's critique, at  Be quick, we'll meet below.

Oh, my fabulous Miss Marple: Your site is wonderful! I really have nothing to nitpick about. I tried to get my husband to say that you needed another color in the background to make it pop, but he said it was fine the way it is (except for a couple of weird lines in the top left of the black section - what is that?) With nothing to complain about, I'll highlight a few of the things you do right:
  • I know your name: It's in your title and prominently displayed in the profile.
  • I know what you write: You tell me in your About Me and you post about similar works.
  • I know how to follow you/subscribe: It's just under your profile - good job.
  • Your posts are easily distinguishable from your sidebar.
  • You have a search box and it's easy to find.
  • Your fonts are consistent.
  • It's easy to comment.
  • It's easy to share your posts.
  • It's easy to find you on Twitter and Facebook.
  • Your header is tied into your blog with your tagline (natural and cultural diversity of the world - I feel the natural world with the picture).
  • You use just enough pictures and color to make your posts stand out, but not crowd.
Let's face it: You're cool. That's all I got, Joanna. Anyone else?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Blog Critique: Diane Estrella

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.

The subject of today's crit comes from the very lovely Diane Estrella at Go ahead take a peek.

Wow, Diane. The designers and myself love the look of your blog. It's clean and organized. The header is simple and doesn't take too much room. You use big, beautiful pictures that stand out and make your posts interesting. Your posts are separated from your sidebar and it is easy to distinguish one section from the other. Visually, this site is stunning. Great job!

Now some things to think about:
  • About page:  I don't mind that you don't have a profile description on your first page because you have a clear link to your "About" page. However your about page doesn't tell us too much. It's cute and I get you have personality, but I don't know what you write, if you write, what your blog is supposed to be for, what you do or who you are. Give us some bio or tell us in a few sentences what you mean to be about. On that subject....
  • Tagline in header: "That's what I'm here for" is cutesy, but again it doesn't tell me much. Even a line before could help clarify; something like "Books. Fashion. Just Plain Life. That's what I'm here for." Or whatever is appropriate. I don't even know what your tagline would say because I'm not sure what your blog is about.
  • Advertising: I'm not a fan of ads on writer blogs, but I don't think your blog quite fits the mold of who my usual critique subjects are. If a blog is going to have ads, then I very much like the way you handle them. They are beautifully integrated and seem to fit your post subjects.
  • Subscribers/Followers: What's more important? Your followers and allowing people to subscribe or your advertising? I would move your followers higher or remove them all together. Having them below your advertisements makes them seem like an after thought while removing them makes it seem purposeful.
  • Reviews: It seems you post lots of reviews. Consider adding the word "Review" to your blog titles when you do. This allows search engines to pick you up more often when people search for reviews on certain topics and makes it easier for first time visitors to know what they're reading.
  • First impressions: Just a little FYI, Joe and I were immediately confused by the powdered detergent giveaway. I can't say you did anything wrong in the way you have it positioned and displayed, it's just one of the first things I saw. Perhaps if you put above it "Tropical Traditions Giveaway" then had the picture of the detergent. I don't know. Any thoughts, readers?
Beautiful blog, Diane. It would take very little to bump it up to the next level. Just add a bit of clarification and you're there. Great work and thanks for participating today!

Your turn, readers. Any feedback for Diane?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Saturday Savvy Sensation: Lydia Kang

It's Saturday. And that means I have a Savvy Sensation to share with you: Lydia Kang. And let me tell you, she's super sensational.  She's a mom, wife, part-time doctor, and a writer. She's also hilarious and beautiful, just take a look at her pic. Her debut novel, THE FOUNTAIN, is out in 2013. But you don't have to wait until then to find out more about her. Read on...

Who are you (what do you write, what are your personal stats)?
I'm a mom of three kids, a part-time primary care internist, and my passion is writing. I eat way too much salt, have a love of young adult fiction, and am geektastic at heart. I'm represented by Eric Myers of the Spieler Agency and my YA sci-fi novel, The Fountain, is coming out in 2013 (Dial/Penguin).

Where can we find you online (blog, twitter, facebook, etc.)?

My blog is called The Word Is My Oyster. On Mondays I answer fictional medical questions and track down bizarre illnesses to fan the flames of inspiration for other writers. Wednesdays are usually random writing-related stuff. Fridays I host authors. I have been known to blog about zombie ants and stinky medical conditions.

When did you begin your online platform building?
In March of 2010. My second blog post ever declared how I was going to quit blogging. Luckily, I ignored that sentiment and just kept going. 

What is your message, if any (is your blog about anything specific, for example)?
Don't eat as much salt as I do. Pretzels are not a food group, unless you want to wake up with sausage fingers and puffy eyes on a daily basis. I'll leave it at that. 

How have you built your followers? What have you done that has been the most successful?
I used to seek out new blogs and new civilizations, boldly going where no one--oh crap, that's the wrong line.

Take two. I used to seek out new blogs, and most of the time, people would follow back. Those who liked my content kept coming back. I participate in a few blogfests every once in a while, because I can find new blogs (and bloggers can find me) and it doesn't feel like I'm smarmily stalking strangers. 

The bottom line to my success, I believe, has ultimately been content and being myself. I think that Medical Mondays, which I was very embarrassed by at first, ended up being a big draw. It's really unique. I've embraced it completely. And I am truly myself on the blog. A little kooky, at times serious, but generally there to hang out with people I like and talk about what I'm passionate about--writing. :)

What have you done that has failed?
I have been unable to make cold fusion work. I also can't bring Elvis back from the dead. Oh I'm sorry--were we still talking about blogs? 

I don't proactively check blog posts as often as I should. I simply can't--I have over 1000 followers at this point, and my first priority is always visiting the blogs of my commenters. Until I can figure out how to alter the space-time continuum, that will be my biggest failure.

How much time do you spend blogging? Reading blogs? Commenting on blogs?
I probably spend three hours each Sunday writing a week's worth of posts. I spend anywhere from 1-4 hours on M,W, and F checking blogs and visiting commenter's blogs.  I feel horrible if I don't visit my commenter's blogs within 2 days.

What else should we know about you?
I can cuss in sign language. I'll never show you though, it's too dirty. 

Any additional advice for our readers?
Learning how to write fiction has included a series of mini-nirvanas for me. Show vs tell. Make every sentence count. Tension. Character arcs.  Writing crappy stuff and having people tell you it's crappy is part of the process. The trick is to find people who will tell you it's crappy in a nice way. 

What makes you unique?
My eleventh toe. Just kidding. People always praise me for doing so much--working, writing, momming (yes, I just made up that verb), making up verbs. But I'm far from perfect and I'm always late. Always. 

Okay, but seriously? Here's a secret to my inner neuroses. I always had this fear that I was smart but not smart enough. So I worked my a** off in school to get where I am. I think that when I tackle some new project, I put in 120% effort for fear that 100% of me is never good enough. That recipe has always worked for me so far. But at the end of the day, I'm always worried that I'm not good enough.

Okay, should I charge you for this session, or what? 

Thanks Laura for having me!

Um, wait, were we playing the psychiatrist in the end there, cuz then I should be charging you! So glad to have you Lydia. Congrats on everything you have accomplished and have yet to accomplish. You're savvy, sensational, and something else.

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