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!
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