Posts Tagged bloggers

How do we discover what to read? Post at Authors Electric

problogAESorry, you got two trailer posts from me today. It’s my turn at Authors Electric, where I’m wondering how relevant SEO is for fiction writers and readers.

It all started when I saw a link to a post on Problogger which advised bloggers to stop running guest posts with a lot of links because of new Google algorithms. Undercover Soundtrack host, please note. This led to a fun, fulminating conversation with Facebook friends Cyd Madsen, Vivienne Tuffnell and Beth Rudetsky about tails wagging dogs. But getting our work discovered is a real issue for writers, and at Authors Electric I’m wondering how that’s done. Come over and join the debate.

(Thanks for the pic Daveynin)

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Our friends electric – writing bloggers rock! My post at AE

Are you fed up with established, old-school-published writers complaining about self-publishing bloggers in the national press? I think it’s time we celebrated the well-informed, curious, generous, adventurous, innovative, pioneering, rule-busting community we’ve built with all our blogs, websites, podcasts, Facebook groups etc. If you think so too, come over to Authors Electric, where I’m posting today, and say ‘aye’.

(Or if that’s a click too far, say it here :) )

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Blogging – should authors go self-hosted or not? Part 1: two bloggers who don’t

You must self-host. You mustn’t use an off-the-peg theme. You mustn’t, on pain of ethernal damnation, have links in blue Times Roman.

There’s a lot of strident advice about blogging. Even that remark about blue Times Roman came from serious advice on a high-profile site trying to tell quivering newbies what they should do. Perhaps blue links matter in some quarters, but what matters to an author who wants to connect with readers? Should you be spending money on hosting, and on customised, SEO-friendly blog themes?

Today and tomorrow I’m going to examine both sides of the electric fence. Four bloggers, evenly split between self-hosted and not. On the ‘not’ side are me and Catherine Ryan Howard. On the self-hosting side are writer and author entrepreneur Joanna Penn and digital publishing guru Jane Friedman.

In a way I speak from both sides. I started with a self-hosted blog, when a friend insisted I camp out in a corner of his webspace (because he felt it was infra dig to be anything but self-hosted). And it didn’t go well. More about that in a moment.

You’ve lost me already. What does all this mean?

Quick tutorial – your blog is kept on a server so anyone in the world can read it and lots of people can access it at the same time. With self-hosting, you pay for disk space (also known as a domain) and you can put whatever you like on it – blog software of your choice, websites, pay buttons, video, anything. With platform-hosted, like WordPress.com and Blogger, your files are kept by WordPress and Blogger, you can’t customise the design or have pay buttons or video – although paid upgrades will allow some features. It’s like the difference between renting a house – with landlord’s furniture and rules – and owning the whole space outright.

Just to confuse you, there’s a version of WordPress for use on self-hosted blogs – WordPress.org.

With freedom comes responsibility

The biggest difference between the two is, obviously, freedom. This can go rather wrong. When I was self-hosted, I imported a cool plugin that broke my entire blog. I would never have got up again if not for (another) expert friend who was prepared to poke around the upper, scary database levels and unravel the damage. (Note to self: self-hosting is not for the insanely curious.)

The other problem is security. Most blogging systems are open source – which means the code is available for anyone to read, and hackers can find the loopholes easily. WordPress.com and Blogger don’t let you change anything that threatens security, but on self-hosted blogs there are no padlocks. My self-hosted blog got hacked – which might or might not have been because I was sharing with a friend of less secure habits. But after the stress of that I decided I was out of my depth and didn’t have time to sort out software and security headaches. I rebooted on WordPress.com, which has been able to do everything I need.

Get  customising

Obviously you don’t want your blog to look like everyone else’s, but there are only a limited number of visual templates (themes). However, there’s a lot you can do to customise. My blogs all use the same template, Fusion, which I’ve tweaked with my own headers and logos. You can buy upgrades to let you customise even more, but everything I’ve done is free.

Fusion tweaked for my main author site

…and for my novel’s blog

But themes aren’t just about the blog’s appearance. Themes also allow you to draw in new readers through the hocus-pocus of SEO – search engine optimisation.

SEO

Here, the paid-for themes have an advantage as they are designed to worm their way more effectively into search pathways. Tomorrow I’ll discuss this in more detail with Jane and Joanna, but there are ways you can optimise your free non-self-hosted blog:

  • use attention-grabbing headlines with key words
  • optimise post URLs – Google looks at post URLs, so I make sure mine show the headline, not the post date or number. Your blog will probably have an option for changing this
  • use plenty of tags – you’ll see my posts all have shoals of tags, including my name, my book titles, and general tags like ‘write a novel’. Those tags are not for you, reading this page – you already know every post is related to writing novels. Those tags are for Google. Make sure each post contains the keywords for the specific post and the keywords for your blog in general.

Buy a URL

I also bought my own general blog URL and pointed it to the free one. The rationale is that when someone hears about you they search for you.com or yourbook.com. (It’s usually .com they plump for first, even if you’re as English as Earl Grey tea). So the actual web address of this blog is nailyournovel.wordpress.com but for a few dollars I bought nailyournovel.com and through a very easy process, pointed it at this blog. I did it for My Memories of a Future Life too.

Over to Catherine

Anyway, I promised you a second opinion on platform-hosted blogs, so here’s Catherine Ryan Howard, of the indefatigable and unfatiguable Catherine, Caffeinated…

How did you start?

‘I started off with Blogger.com, but I always felt there was something about Blogger templates that said ‘amateur’. This was back in late 2009 so chances are they’ve improved since then but when I went to WordPress, it felt like a whole new level of professionalism and the choice of themes was just fantastic. I think it’s a credit to WordPress that I’ve had enquiries about who designed my blog – people think it’s been done professionally but it’s a free WordPress theme (Bueno) I love how easy WordPress.com blogs are to use, how easy it is to integrate them with the rest of your online activities (Twitter, Facebook, etc) And my all-time fave WP feature is their custom menu, which enables you to link to external sites (or wherever you like) from the menu at the top. For example, on top of my blog I have a ‘newsletter’ tab, and when you click it on it, you’re brought to the MailChimp sign up form.’

Is there anything you pay for?

‘The only thing I pay for is the domain upgrade, i.e. www.catherineryanhoward.com instead of www.catherineryanhoward.wordpress.com.’

What limitations are there on a WordPress-hosted blog?

‘Paypal buttons is the big thing – you can’t sell anything on your WP blog although you can have a donate button.’ (editor’s ahem!… it’s possible to fudge it – see the How To Write A Novel course in my sidebar…)

‘Also a lot of external widgets don’t work. BUT I think this is a tiny price to pay for such a great, easy service that lets me have a professional home online for very little cost.’

What about SEO?

‘I don’t worry about SEO at all. Not one tiny bit. Maybe I should, but I’m quite happy with the way things are for me and my blog at the moment. The only thing I want – and I have it – is for my blog to be the first result when people google my name. I think if your blog is the core of your business, you should worry about things like that. But for a writer, their books are the core – or should be, anyway.’

Roz again… I couldn’t agree more. So here are my tips for making the most of a non-self-hosted blog, if we can use such a horrible term…

  1.  Tag your posts with an eye on SEO
  2. Get your own URL
  3. Check your URLs show your post headline, not just a date or a post number
  4. Find a theme that you can shape to look distinctive (so people really feel it’s your online home)
  5. Remember your online presence isn’t just a blog – you reach much further if you use social media as well.

If you blog, what platform do you use and why? Do you have any thoughts on self-hosted versus platform hosted? Share in the comments…. and come back tomorrow when Jane Friedman and Joanna Penn give their reasons for self-hosting.

The first edition of my newsletter is out now, including useful links and snippets about the next Nail Your Novel book!  You can read it here and you can add your name to the mailing list here.

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Platform: ticket to creative freedom

What’s your view of this publishing necessity called platform? Do you resent having to cyberhobnob alongside writing? Do you wish it was just enough to write?

Let me phrase this another way. Look at the kind of novel you’re writing now. Look at the way it might be marketed – perhaps by a traditional publisher, perhaps by your own efforts as an indie. In five years’ time, will you be playing with the same ideas, treading the same themes? Writing the same genre, perhaps the same kind of characters?

If the answer is no, you definitely need a platform.

Genre rules

Traditionally in publishing, writers get tied to one genre. Careers are built in pigeonholes, set up by editors and marketers. That’s not surprising; it’s their job to decide where you fit in a bookshop, not to nurture your long-term art. After that, publishers want broadly similar works from you, a row of books like a matching set of table mats.

Actually, the readers want that too. A Big Six editor I know was telling me recently that [author of phenomenally big series] wanted to try a new direction. (Yes, those brackets are frightfully coy. Sorry.) She was disappointed to find her fans didn’t buy her ‘departure’ novel. It seems they wanted only [coyly bracketed phenomenally big series].

But look at the music industry. Musicians aren’t expected to stay the same. Their fans are far more forgiving when an artiste evolves. Writers, though, don’t get away with it. Why? Because we hide behind our disembodied words, or only emerge in targeted publicity campaigns built like DVD extras around our books. The books build the readership.

No room to hide

Of course, our books are what matters. But it seems there’s a danger in letting them do all the talking. It’s even worse if you leave platform-building to someone else, because they become the intermediary between your work and the world. Which might paint you into a very tiny corner.

Building a platform is an extra job. It doesn’t come easily to everyone. Ironically, it’s the genre authors who find it simplest – mainly because there are well defined templates to follow, established groups to hang out with. But if you’re not easily pigeonholed, you need it even more. You need to show people who you are under the books, where you go exploring for ideas. That relationship will keep readers with you when you venture to new places.

Writers now have a fantastic tool to own our creative identity. We can now be like the musicians who aren’t damned for developing or for reinventing ourselves – and indeed are respected for it.

If you know you will always be adding new tools to your repertoire, be stirred by new influences, will change the ways you seek escape and enlightenment – hell, if you might just get older and wiser, you need to build a platform.

It is your ticket to creative freedom.

Thanks for the pic Thuany Gabriela

Tiny bit of news. My Memories of a Future Life was nominated for an award at Underground Book Reviews last month – and I’ve just discovered it won a Reader’s Choice award. If you helped by giving it a vote, thank you very much

Do you think platform is just for one kind of writer and not another? Do you resent having to do it? Do you embrace it? And what are you doing to build it (assuming you are not about to leave a comment screaming ‘NOOOOOOO’)

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The accidental blogger – post at Do Authors Dream of Electric Books?

A couple of years ago I hadn’t heard of blogging, in fact my main thoughts about it was how ugly it was as a word. Then I started writing on a WordPress thingy and rather liked it. Now I blog like a woman with three arms, I’ve launched books because of blogs – and all in all I couldn’t do without them. It looks like a grand plan, especially in these days of platform-building and online presence, but really it’s all been haphazard happenstance … more at Do Authors Dream of Electric Books.

If you blog, how did you start? Why did you start? Do you find it easy, hard? How does it fit into your writing life?

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Self-publish first book, seek an agent for the second? Good, bad, risky?

As publishing becomes increasingly like the music industry, should you self-pub to kick-start your career?

I’ve had an interesting question from Stacy Green‘An online writing friend is going to self-publish a novel to build an audience, and then submit a second book to agents. What do you think’

The writing industry has become like the music industry. Writers are starting their careers not by  genuflecting at the desk of an agent or a publisher, but by getting out on blogs and websites, gathering like-minded folks on Twitter and Facebook. Effectively we’re gigging.

With Kindle books so cheap and so instantly available, it makes sense to have a book to prove ourselves with as well.

But should you self-publish a novel while you’re building your audience?

Is it spoiling your chances of a proper deal?

Six months ago I’d have said it was. But a few trailblazers have changed the world. Crucially, they have proved to the sceptics that self-publishing isn’t for slushpile losers. Traditionally published authors who retained their e-rights are putting their backlists on Kindle, showing that ‘proper’ authors self-publish too. Some agents are thinking of doing it for them.  Some authors are ditching their publishers and going it alone, or bringing out their more off-piste work themselves. And there’s that Kindle millionaire Ms Hocking. Yes, she’s in a minority but a lot of people took notice.

If you self-publish a novel, is it written off?

Agents warn that if you self-publish a book you won’t get a deal on it, ever. However, a few self-published authors have had offers for foreign rights. Again, they are in the minority, but it does happen.

For the vast majority, though, no publisher will touch the novel that’s been self-published.

That might not matter. Traditional publishing deals hardly pay very much these days so your earnings might not be much different if you keep all the rights for yourself. If you secure a deal for your second book, that will expose you to a wider spread of readers. If they like you, they will probably seek out your first book and won’t care where it came from. And so your first novel will not be sacrificed into a void.

But why shouldn’t Stacy’s friend approach traditional publishers?

Last night I was talking to a former agent and publisher who told me about the soul-destroying business of acquisitions meetings. He and his fellow editors would be passionately championing a book but just one veto from the marketing department could reject it.

The major publishers, he said, will only take potential best-sellers. Market is what speaks to publishers now, even more than merit.

Of course, new smaller publishers are stepping in to take their place, but they only publish a handful of titles a year. You might wait for ever. All the more reason to get out and gig your book.

Before you do…

Here comes the nagging. As everyone says ad nauseum (including me), make sure your book does you credit. Don’t toss a novel off so you’ve got something to get started with. Don’t put a book out because you don’t dare query with it, or you suspect an editor would tell you there were flaws. Edit and polish as slowly and carefully as you would for a formal query. Get a professional opinion and treat it like a job.

Authors who have blazed a trail this year have demonstrated that self-published writers are capable of policing themselves. Because of this we all have a better chance than ever before of building a career this way. But only if we all set our standards high.

Thank you, Hoong Wei Long for the photo.

To Stacy’s friend I say: good plan. If you have a book ready to gig, go for it.

What would you say?

 

 

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