Most Popular Posts of 2012 and Introducing Must-Read Mondays

Putting 2012 in our rearview mirror (kidlet does this with a cape)Happy New Year!

First, before I get to today's post, I want to say thank you to everyone who helped me celebrate FALL INTO YOU's release yesterday even when you were busy doing your own holiday thing. *hugs* I hope those of you who bought it, enjoy it, and those of you who didn't--come on, get to it. Don't let those book gift certificates waste away! ;)  But seriously, I'm always indebted to each and every one of you who read my books. You rock. Thank you.

Now, on to today's post..

It's that time of the year to look back and evaluate what has gone right and wrong so we can decide how we want to move forward in the bright, shiny new year. So I thought it'd be interesting to see which posts were the most popular here on the blog in 2012. And though I knew which one would be number 1, the rest were a bit surprising. So here's what the numbers look like and what I'm going to do about it. :)

 

Top Posts of 2012

 

1.  Bloggers Beware: You CAN Get Sued For Using Pics on Your Blog - My Story - Yeah, this wasn't a fun situation, but the post went viral and seemed to resonate with a lot of people. So, though I'd prefer not to have gone through it, I'm very glad it helped all of us learn how to do the right thing with regards to pics on our blogs.

2.  What to Read If You've Read 50 Shades of Grey and Want More BDSM Romance - Not too surprising considering the 50 phenomenon, but I was surprised that people found their way here considering the glut of info about 50 out there.

3.  BDSM Romance: What To Read If You've Never Tried It Before - This one is probably here for the same reason as number 2.

4.  Want Private Inspiration Boards? Alternatives to Pinterest - I did this post before Pinterest implemented access to 3 private boards. Clearly, it was something a lot of people were looking for (especially after my photo debacle.)

5.  What Will Make An Agent Gong Your Pages - We all want to know, don't we? :)

6.  Zang...Best American Idol Performances Ever #atozchallenge - This one surprised me. It was kind of a random post.

7.  Readers Face the Slush Pile: A Few Hard Truths - This one talked about how readers are now going to have to sift through the slush since it's hard to tell what is good and what isn't now that the indie movement is so big. (I wrote this last May and since then, have read many indie books. I've discovered that how I sift through the slush is simple--I wait for recs from friends and reviewers I trust before I buy a book. And I read samples on occasion.)

8.  Author Websites: Layering Yours With Sticky Extras - I think this one was popular because sometimes we focus so much on our blogs that we forget that readers (especially non-blog-readers) might want a little more on your author website.

9.  Kink & BDSM 101 - What It Is & Why It's So Popular In Books  - I probably have to credit 50 Shades on this one too.

10.  Because Good Smut Should Be Shared...Book Recommendations

11.  The New Adult Genre: Here To Stay This Time? - This genre is on fire right now, so I'm not surprised a lot of people stopped by.

12.  Finding Your Novel's Theme and Your Universal Theme 

 

So what was pretty interesting to me in this list is how it's changed so much from years before. Usually, my writing posts have been the big winners each year. This year, after an effort to balance my site a bit more so that I could provide content to readers and not just writers, it seems to have shifted. I was surprised at how popular the book recommendation posts were. 

Therefore, since I love doing the book rec posts, and y'all seem to appreciate them, I'm going to continue those this year in a more structured way. I'm making Mondays - Must-Read Mondays. Now, if I don't have something to recommend, I won't do a post. But generally, I'm reading enough that I always have a good book to share. And this will NOT be a place for other authors to solicit me for reviews/guest posts/etc. I'm happy to host people on occasion on other days, but I don't accept books for review. Anything I review, I picked up on my own. Plus, I want y'all to know that if I'm recommending a book, it's with no ties or strings or author-is-my-buddy bias--it's just me loving a book as a reader and wanting to pass along the word.

Now for the rest of the days on the blog, I'm still going to cover writing and social media topics when I come across something I haven't covered before. And I'll continue Fill-Me-In Fridays where I round up all the best links. However, those round up posts may be spaced out instead of every Friday because I've been too busy with writing lately to surf the web and have enough links to share each week. Also, I'm not sure if people are still loving the round up, so let me know if it's something you want me to keep around. 

I'm still working on some other features, but that's what I'm changing for now.

Now, go buy FALL INTO YOU, and enjoy your New Year's holiday! ;)

Are you making any changes to your blog this year? What posts are you most likely to stop by for here?

Fill-Me-In Friday: Best Writing Links of the Week

School bus

Kidlet goes back to school next week!

 So this week has continued to be crazy and my current WIP has changed a few times over again. Let's not even talk about deadlines. But I'm not going to complain because deadlines mean I have book contracts and that is always a good thing. :)

But can I say I'm SO happy kidlet goes back to school next week. He only goes for half a day in the afternoons so I'm not going to be getting much more time than I get now with him in daycare in the mornings, but afternoon time is so much more productive for me writing wise. AND a bus will pick up kidlet instead of me having to play taxi. So yay for that.

Oh, and for those of you who remember me asking about other programs to use to organize and save links like Delicious, I think I've found one that works for me. Zootool allows me to save a link with one click of a bookmark button and I can organize them into "packs" which is similar to when Delicious still had "stacks" (the feature I was missing in the new design). So then I can just make a pack for each week and save things throughout the week for this Friday post. :)

Now, on to the links...

On Writing/Publishing:

  

On Social Media/Promotion: 

 

Other Awesome Stuff:

  • Natalie Bahm: BIG News - My agency-mate Natalie is self-pubbing her first novel and ALL proceeds are going to help a family with a very sick child. How amazing is Natalie? She's going to stop by the blog next month to talk more about it, but go check out what she's doing and spread the word.
  • Dogshaming - This was making the rounds on Twitter this week, but in case you missed it, go check it out. HILARIOUS. 

 

What You May Have Missed Here:

  

That's all I've got this week. Hope everyone has a fabulous weekend! 

FAQ on the Blog Photo Debacle

Photo by Alexander Henning Drachmann (cc)So I'm still recovering from RWA this week. I have a fun combination of a sick child, a cold, and lingering jet lag. But I thought I'd pop in really quickly to answer a few questions. I've been getting a boat load of emails since my photography post. Most have been kind words--I appreciate that--but many have also had additional questions about the post and/or copyright.

I don't necessarily have definitive answers on some of these because I am NOT a lawyer and this is NOT legal advice. However, I can tell you what I've found in my own research during all of this.

 

FAQs from my inbox:

1. If I can't find out who owns the photo, can I use it?

No. Just because you don't know who owns it, doesn't mean it's not owned. Just find another photo that is creative commons or that you can pay or get permission for.

 

2. What about still shots from TV shows or movies?

This was one I really wanted to know. It *seems* like this is okay under Fair Use because you are only using a small part of a whole and not impacting the ability for the movie to sell. Jane at Dear Author spoke a little bit about this in a recent post.

 

3. What about YouTube videos?

If you are the one making the videos, then be careful. Don't use copyrighted material in your videos. However, if you want to say, embed someone else's YouTube video on your blog, is that okay? I haven't gotten a black and white answer on this. But here's what I've gathered. If it's a very short movie/TV clip, then it *probably* falls under Fair Use under the same logic as the movie still. If it's a music video/movie preview/clip hosted by that brand/artist/TV show/movie studio and there is an embed feature enabled, then it's *probably* fine. Like I said, don't take this as legal advice. But the nice thing about YouTube is that if you embed something on your blog and then You Tube finds out that the original person used copyrighted material, they take down the video and it will disappear anywhere it's embedded. So use with caution, but some particular uses are probably fine. (And obviously if a clip has the embed feature disabled, then don't use it at all.)

 

4. What about LOL Cats/Cheezburger photos or those funny e-cards?

For the e-cards, there are specific rules on how to use them. You can go to their terms of service and look, but it seems like the proper way to use them is via embed code NOT just cutting and pasting.

From SomeEcards TOS:

If you include or post any of the Content on another website, YOU MUST EITHER:

  1. use the sharing and embedding buttons on the Site for Tumblr, StumbleUpon, Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest; OR
  2. use the embed code or post the link of the Content ONLY.

Any other downloading of Content or dragging it to a third party site violates our rights to the Content.

As for the other, Jane at Dear Author contacted LOL Cats and it seems that they are okay if the embed code is present. Here's a quote from her site:

I emailed LOLCat about the embed codes and was told that some of the images don’t have embed codes for copyright images and that you needed to click through to the individual page of the LOLCat to see if there was an embed code but if there was one, it was there to be used.

 

5. What about recipes?

Recipes ARE copyrighted. You can copy a list of ingredients, but the directions on how to cook those ingredients are copyright protected. So no cutting and pasting someone else's recipes on your sites. (That obviously goes for the food pics that accompany them too.)

 

6. What about song lyrics or poetry?

Copyrighted. You can't use them in full. A small quote of a line or two would probably be fair use. The only exception would be things that have outlived their copyright term and are now in public domain.

 

7. If I post a link in Facebook and it adds that small pic from the original post to the link, is that breaking the rules?

Since that is a thumbnail sized pic and is a link to the original site, that appears to be fine. You didn't actually make a copy of the picture and paste it into Facebook.

 

8. Do these photo copyright laws apply across all the platforms: Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, blogs, etc.?

Yes.

 

9. What about celebrity photos?

Those are copyrighted just like anything else. Most of those big gossip sites probably pay a fee to certain companies to get a certain amount of access. They are not free to share. If you need to talk about a celebrity, a better option may be a screen shot from a movie with them in it.

 

10. If a site has a Pin It button, is it okay to pin?

Not necessarily. For instance, any blogger can put a Pin It button on their site, but if they are using other people's images (knowingly or unknowingly), you could be pinning copyrighted stuff. However, if a retail site has the Pin It button on their own product pages, you're *probably* okay. Never hurts to check their Terms.

 

11. What about book covers and movie posters?

Publishers get the rights to the book covers to use them for promotion, so bloggers using them to talk about the book is fine. However, you cannot take part of the image and use it for your own purposes (i.e. lifting off the text and using the photo on the cover for other purposes.) I'm assuming the same applies to movie posters since they are a promotional tool and when used in the context of commentary or review would probably fall under Fair Use. (Though like I said above, don't take my word as law. There are other ways you can't use movie posters and book covers. Here's a bit of an overview for movie posters.)

 

12. Can you release the name of the photographer or details of the case?

No. I wouldn't do that anyway, but there are confidentiality rules. So if you hear anything out there about what amount was paid or who was involved, it's probably not true because I haven't released any details and won't be doing so.

 

13. How do these apply internationally?

My research has been U.S. specific, but most countries have copyright laws. Things are going to be different from country to country so be sure to look up the rules that apply to you.

 

All right, I think those were the main ones. Hope that helps! 

 

Bloggers Beware: You CAN Get Sued For Using Pics on Your Blog - My Story

Photo is my ownSo today I'm forgoing the usual Fill-Me-In Friday post to talk about something that I've been wanting to blog about for a while but couldn't until the situation was wrapped up.

For those of you who are super observant, you may have noticed some changes on my blog over the last few months. Tumblr posts went away. Fiction Groupie disappeared. I deleted most of my Pinterest boards. The Boyfriend of the Week has changed format. And all my previous posts from the past three years--all 700 of them--now have new photos on them.

Why is that? What happened?

Well, you've probably figured it out from the title, but it's because I've been involved in a case regarding a photo I used on my blog. Like most of you, I'm a casual blogger and learned my way into blogging by watching others. And one of the things I learned early on was that a post with a photo always looked nicer than one with just text. So I looked at what other people were doing for pictures. And mostly it seemed that everyone was grabbing pics from Google Images and pasting them on their sites. Sometimes with attribution, most of the time without. And when I asked others (or looked at disclaimers on websites and Tumblrs), it seemed that everyone agreed using pics that way was okay under Fair Use standards. 

Here is an example of a disclaimer I found on a bigger site (name of blog removed):

THIS BLOG claims no credit for any images posted on this site unless otherwise noted. Images on this blog are copyright to its respectful owners. If there is an image appearing on this blog that belongs to you and do not wish for it appear on this site, please E-mail with a link to said image and it will be promptly removed.

And site after site had the same kind of thing. Just look on Tumblr, that same type of disclaimer is on a ton of them. And I'm thinking--well, that must mean it's okay because if that weren't true, sites like Tumblr and Pinterest couldn't even exist because reposting pics is the whole POINT of those sites. So off I went doing what everyone else does--using pics from Google Images, putting a disclaimer on my site, etc. 

Well on one random post, I grabbed one random picture off of google and then a few weeks later I got contacted by the photographer who owned that photo. He sent me a takedown notice, which I responded to immediately because I felt awful that I had unknowingly used a copyrighted pic. The pic was down within minutes. But that wasn't going to cut it. He wanted compensation for the pic. A significant chunk of money that I couldn't afford. I'm not going to go into the details but know that it was a lot of stress, lawyers had to get involved, and I had to pay money that I didn't have for a use of a photo I didn't need.

It wasn't fun. But the fact of the matter is, I was in the wrong. Unknowingly. But that doesn't matter. And my guess is that many, many of you are doing the same thing I was doing without realizing it's a copyright violation. So I wanted to share my experience so that you can learn from my mistake.

Here's what I learned about Fair Use:

It DOESN'T MATTER...

  • if you link back to the source and list the photographer's name
  • if the picture is not full-sized (only thumbnail size is okay)
  • if you did it innocently
  • if your site is non-commercial and you made no money from the use of the photo
  • if you didn't claim the photo was yours
  • if you've added commentary in addition to having the pic in the post
  • if the picture is embedded and not saved on your server
  • if you have a disclaimer on your site.
  • if you immediately take down a pic if someone sends you a DMCA notice (you do have to take it down, but it doesn't absolve you.)

NONE OF THAT releases you from liability. You are violating copyright if you have not gotten express PERMISSION from the copyright holder OR are using pics that are public domain, creative commons, etc. (more on that below.)

I didn't know better and I had to learn the hard way. So I want to let you all know now so that you don't have to be a cautionary tale as well.

Plus, beyond not wanting to be sued, most of you who are reading this are writers. Our livelihood depends on the rights to our work. I've already had to send my own DMCAs to sites that have pirated my books. So I definitely don't want to be someone who infringes on someone else's copyright. A photo is someone else's art and unless they tell me it's okay, I don't have the right to use it.

So what can you do?

1.If you've been using images without approval from the internet on your blogs, know that you are probably violating copyright and could be sued for it.

Is the chance high? Probably not. Is it possible? I'm proof that it is. So you may want to consider going through your posts and delete pics that aren't yours.

2. Search for photos that are approved for use.

3. Take your own photos and share the love.

Almost all of us have camera phones these days. Instead of just taking photos of our family, think of images you could use on posts. See a stop sign. Snap a picture and save it. Whatever. And if you want to give back and not just take--open up a Flickr account (here's mine) and list your own images as creative commons so that you can share the love. (You can set it up to where whatever pic you load from you camera is under that license.)

4. Use sites like Pinterest and Tumblr with caution.

I have read way too many terms of service over the last two months. And I'm not a lawyer, so the legalspeak can be confusing and I am NOT giving legal advice. BUT both Pinterest and Tumblr (and most other social sites) say that if you load something into their site (i.e. Pin It or Tumble it) YOU are claiming that YOU have a legal right to that picture. And if the owner of that photo comes after the company, you will be the responsible party. And Pinterest goes so far as to say if you REpin something, you're saying you have the right to that photo. Yes, if that's enforced, it would mean that 99% of people on Pinterest are doing something illegal. Will that ever come up? Maybe. Maybe not. But I'm leaning on the paranoid side now. I don't want to be the test case. And I don't want to pin something the owner of the photo wouldn't want pinned. 

So pin your own photos, pin things from sites that have a Pin It button (though the Pin It button is not always a safe bet either because if the site owner doesn't own the pic but has the Pin It option automatically pop up, it's still not okay .) I pin book covers and movie posters because I figure that it's advertisement for said movies or books. But other stuff? All those pretty photos? I'm going to look but not touch.

ADDED: Also see discussion in comments about posting and sharing pics on Facebook. Same rules apply. (*comments were lost in site transfer)

5. Assume that something is copyrighted until proven otherwise.

That's your safest bet. If you're not 100% sure it's okay to use, don't. This includes things like celebrity photos. Someone owns those. There are enough free pics out there that you don't need to risk violating someone's copyright.

6. Spread the word to your fellow bloggers.

It was KILLING me not to be able to go tell everyone about all of this because I didn't want anyone else to get into this kind of mess. So if you know someone who is using photos in the wrong way, let them know. I wish someone had told me.

So I know many of you are probably thinking--she's being paranoid or that the likelihood of this ever happening to you is slim. Well, maybe. But it happened to me. And now that I know better, I'm going to do better (from the Maya Angelou quote Oprah always used.) And yes, it does kill me a little bit that I can't go on posting boyfriends of the week and mancandy, but instead I'll just post links to it so you can see it elsewhere. :)

So lesson learned: protect yourself and respect the rights of other artists. 

*This post is not intended as legal advice. God knows I have no background in law. This is just my experience and what I learned working these past few weeks with people who are experts at copyright.

 

5 Signs You're Having a Blog Identity Crisis & 8 Ways To Fix It

Hats, hats, hats...

Photo by Bob Mical

 


First of all, before I get into today's topic, I should probably let y'all know that I have a book coming out TOMORROW! Eek! MELT INTO YOU, Jace's story, will be out in print and ebook everywhere. I loved writing this story, and it has two of my most favorite heroes I've ever written in it. So, ya know, if you like this blog and want to help me keep up my iced tea fund, go buy it and stuff. :) 

CONTEST ALERT: And if you want to see an exclusive excerpt and enter for a chance to WIN one of my backlist books, stop by Lauren Dane's blog today.

BLOG TOUR ALERT: I'm also at Novel Reflections today with an interview, excerpt, and a separate contest. And there is an early review for MELT INTO YOU over there as well. :)


 

Alright so onto today's topic--my deep, dark admission that I may be in the middle of a blogging identity crisis. Feel free to insert a shocked gasp here. It's no secret that I love to blog. Even though I know I'm "supposed" to be doing this, that's not why I do it. I just like talking, apparently, because I can't seem to stop doing it here.

But after three years of blogging and shifting from pre-published to published, there's been a lot of evaluating and re-evaluating of what this blog should look like. How do I connect with readers? Who is my audience? Should I stop talking about writing and blogging (clearly, as you can tell from this post, the answer so far on that has been no.) Is it even possible to reach potential readers who are not writers? Am I interesting enough for people to continue to want to show up? Why are my hits going up but my comments going down?

And on and on the questions go.

I'm not going to tell you I know the answers. But I can tell you that blogging is a moving target and that you have to sometimes rearrange the furniture to keep things fresh for yourself and your readers.

So first, let's go over some signs of how I knew I was in a blogging identity crisis:

1. Your current theme days start to seem like prison bars. - Ugh, I don't want to be in this box today.

2. You start to develop blog envy. - Man, look how cool and interesting this person is. I'm not even cool enough to comment on this blog much less write one as full of awesome.

 3. You get all existential and "What does it all mean? Do my words even matter?" (Or maybe that's just me. I do err on the dramatic side when it comes to these things.)

4. You consume posts about blogging and platform like an addict going for their next hit. - What is the secret/magic bullet that is going to make my blog sparkly and special?

5. You start to feel like every new idea is lame, so you don't try anything new. (And some ideas probably are doomed, but you can't tell the difference anymore.)

Part of my own crisis is no doubt tied to the fact that I had/have two releases within a month of each other. There is a lot of extra stress and work that goes into preparing for a release, so when one thing becomes stressful, everything does.

But even so, I know there is probably more to it than that. So what am I going to do about it? Or more importantly...

What can you do about it if you find yourself in the same position?

1. Refresh and rearrange

Blogs can get stale, even if you're posting regularly. Consider shaking things up every now and then. I'm going to adhere less to theme days and maybe just having recurring features that I do when the inspiration strikes. (This, btw, does not mean only blogging when the inspiration strikes. All I mean is  that I won't be tied to a certain type of post on a given day.)

2. Take that blog envy and study the blogs/bloggers that you admire.

What are they doing that draws you in? What can you learn from them? This doesn't mean copy their ideas, but look for inspiration.

3. Evaluate what you can do better.

Sit back and see where you can push yourself more. When I looked at bloggers I liked, I realized that they were good at telling personal stories while still conveying a message that readers can relate to. I know that I can be better at opening up a bit more on here. A lot of times I've stuck to things like theme days and that inadvertently has meant I share less of myself. I rarely talk about my life or things outside of writing going on in it. Now, I have no intention for this to become some journal type thing, but an occasional personal story (with a point) could be good.

4. Venture out of your comfort zone.

Sometimes we paint ourselves into a niche corner. I know I did on my old writing blog Fiction Groupie. Teaching and sharing information are my comfort zones, so it was easy to let my blog become one-dimensional. You have to remind yourself that you are more than just *insert niche*. If your goal is to have a niche blog, that's one thing. But for the most part, authors (particularly fiction authors) need something a bit more well-rounded, especially once you're published.

5. Have enough structure to keep you on track but not so much that you lock down your creative wiggle room.

I love having a plan and a structure (despite the fact that I'm a panster when writing.) Having theme days was one way to lower the what-to-blog-about anxiety because there was a plan in place. But it also stifled me at times because maybe I wanted to write about A on Monday, but it was a B theme day. So if you are going to have themes, make them broad. Or, don't even tell your readers what the theme days are. You just use them as a loose guideline. Then if you veer off that path, no one even realizes you've taken a detour.

6. Write down a long list of (I think Kristen Lamb says 100) blog topics so that you have a go-to on days you just can't think of something.

I haven't done this yet, but it's own my agenda. If I'm not going to have as structured of a weekly plan, I need an emergency kit for back up. But beyond using this as a back up device, it also can help you hone in on what you want your blog to look like, what topics/themes recur and inspire you.

7. If some post/angle/theme flops, don't worry, just move on and try something else. 

We have to be willing to try some things and take some risks. If we're afraid of doing something different because it might not work, things will get stagnant. The beauty about a blog is that each day is a new day. If yesterday's post bombed and got no hits, you've got a brand new day the next day to try something else.

8. Rediscover your blogging confidence.

Only you have your voice. If you make sure you're being authentically you on your blog, then no one else can duplicate that. Figure out what makes you unique and special and mine that for your blog. If a reader can connect with your blogging voice, then they'll probably connect with your novels. So show them a piece of what they will get between the covers of your books. (For instance, no, I don't write R-rated stuff here on the blog even though I write erotic romance. But I guarantee you if you like my blog and pick up one of my books, you'll probably recognize a lot--my sarcasm, the way I put words together, my occasional shamelessness, my obsession with mancandy--you know, the important stuff.) My voice is my voice. 

So, I'm going to take my own advice and go through this process of blog revampization (<--spellcheck didn't immediately highlight that word and for a second, I got all excited that it was a word. Alas, it's not. But it should be.) So anyway, you'll see some changes coming up. Hopefully, you all will like them. If not, feel free to let me know. I'm open to feedback.

*And remember, the only salient point you need to pull from this entire post is: BUY MY BOOK TOMORROW or pre-order it today. ;)

Her first love has returned, and he's brought a friend...

You can buy MELT INTO YOU in print of ebook from any of these retailers: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | BAM | Indie Bound | Powell’s | Chapters

QUESTIONS FOR YOU: Alright, so am I the only one who has had a blog identity crisis? Do you feel stagnant sometimes on your blog? How did you find your blogging mojo? What do you wish you could be better at on your blog?

Investment vs. Payoff: Is Blogging Worth the Time?

 


First, a quick heads up, I'm being interviewed by Captain Jack Sparrow (how fun is that?) over at Romance Writers' Revenge today. Come say hi and check out how Captain Jack does at The Ranch. ;)

And congrats to...NOELLE PIERCE who won the STILL INTO YOU contest!!!! Thanks so much to everyone who bought the book and entered the contest. Love y'all! 


 

Is Blogging Worth the Time?

Photo Credit: Annie MoleIn a month, I'll hit my three year blogging anniversary. Three years of posting 3-5 times a week. That's a lot of blogs. And it's been a huge time investment. It still is. I love blogging, but I won't lie and say that it's always easy to keep it going.

In the beginning, blogging was the main way I was getting my writing out in the world. It was non-fiction, but it was still my writing. I was able to put a ton of time into each post because that book I was writing had no deadline. I wasn't even sure that book would see the light of day, so it was secondary to my journey to learn about writing craft, meet other writers, and connect in the blogosphere. I am so very glad I had that time because I've met some fabulous people, some of whom have now become close friends. 

But the blogging journey does transform a bit when you switch from being a blogger who writes to an author who blogs. Once you're published, writing books has to be number one on that list of priorities and blogging becomes secondary. If I don't put up a blog one day, y'all will forgive me. If I don't turn in a book by deadline, that's a bigger issue. So it becomes an exercise in learning to prioritize and balance.

I loved Nina Badzin's recent post on I’m Not an Aspiring Novelist (at least for now). She discovered in her blogging journey that the blogging format appealed to her more than writing a novel, so she's putting her focus where her current passions are. And I had to come to a similar conclusion (though in reverse) in January when I was still maintaining Fiction Groupie and this blog and trying to promo my debut on a blog tour and write the next book in my series. The house of popsicle sticks tumbled down around me. Maybe we can do it all, but doing it all well and keeping our sanity...not always possible. I knew I had to back off so much blogging because I'm a fiction writer first. That's where my deepest passion lies. So I downsized and streamlined.

But that begs the question, if your main goal is being an author, is blogging worth the time?

My thoughts...

1. If you're blogging because you thinks it's going to sell you a bazillion books, you're probably going to be disappointed.

A great blog can drive some word of mouth and some sales. I know that so many of my blogging and writing friends have bought my books, and I am so very thankful for that. *hugs you all* So yes, your community and friends will help support you and get the word out. BUT, even if you have a rocking following, it's still a drop in the bucket. I get 40k unique visitors to this blog a month currently. I assure you I haven't sold anywhere near 40k books, lol. Though that'd be lovely. So keep in mind that your blog can light a flame but it's not necessarily going to make you go viral.

2. Writing is a lonely business. Blogging and developing connections with the writing community can help save your sanity.

This is a priceless benefit. Twitter and the blogosphere are like my work watercooler. Without those friendships and connections, I'd feel like a hermit sitting here in my office pounding away at this keyboard. I'm an introvert, but I don't want to spend all day completely alone.

3. If you are blogging to connect with readers (who aren't other writers), you're going to have a a challenge on your hands.

I'm still working on this aspect of my blog. I had a writing blog for so long that most of my following was and still is other writers. I love my writer buddies and am so glad y'all are here, but I also want to have a place readers feel welcome. But the posts I've done that are non-writing focused tend to get the fewest comments and hits. (Well, boyfriend of the week does well, but I'm guessing lots of those hits are just image searches.) So it's a challenge. Most published author blogs that I know of attracted readers with their books first, not the other way around. (I talked about this more in  What Do READERS Want From an Author Blog?)

4. If you're going to write about the Random Ramblings of Randomness, then save yourself the trouble. (Unless you like talking to an empty room or are already famous.)

Having a blog just to have one is worse than not having one at all. If you're not somewhat focused in your content and you aren't giving the reader a takeaway, no one is going to stick around except your mom and a handful of others who are writing about Random Randomness. Caveat: If you're already famous, you can talk about whatever the heck you want. People already think you're fascinating.

So yes, I think blogging is still worth the time, but everyone should go in with realistic expectations and goals. Do it because you enjoy connecting with people, don't do it because you think it's going to vault you up the bestseller list. And if you're using your book writing time to blog instead, think about what you really want as an outcome. What is more important to you? It doesn't have to be a case of do one or the other, but it may mean reorganizing your time and priorities.

Also, Amber West gives some great tips about this process in her post: Do Writers Need to Blog?

So what are your thoughts? Why do you blog? What expectations do you have regarding your writing and blogging? Do you have trouble balancing your blogging with your writing time?

Follow At Your Own Risk: Why My Social Media Shouldn't Have To Be G-Rated

funny dog pictures - that was SO NOT G rated
see more dog and puppy pictures

Yesterday, the lovely Jody Hedlund--one of my favorite bloggers--did a post on her 10 Social Media Pet Peeves. Now, Jody and I almost always agree. We've seem to have followed a similar blogging journey along the same timeline and often I find myself nodding along with her posts. And this post was no exception...for nine of those ten points. But number 4 gave me pause and thusly, inspired this post.

Here's her number four:

Pet Peeve #4: When followers use graphic pictures. This applies mostly to Pinterest. Soon after I joined, I quickly realized I couldn’t auto follow back. I was getting some very steamy pictures in my nice “happy” homepage stream. My laptop sits on the kitchen table in plain view of my kids, and I don’t want to have to worry about what they happen to see as I browse my SM sites. Even if a writer’s brand is erotic, I still think it’s wise to be sensitive to the fact that many of us are Moms with kids running around us.

I was with her until the "even if a writer's brand is erotic" part. :)

See, here's the deal. Your "brand" as a writer should be closely aligned with your style of books. If you're writing children's books, then you're not going to be talking about politics and sex on your blog. If you're a Christian writer, you're not going to be blogging about how drunk you got last night.

I write erotic romances that have explicit sex scenes in them. Kink is part of my books. People who read them know that and like those kinds of stories (or else they wouldn't be reading them.) So my readers aren't going to get offended if I post Boyfriends of the Week or shirtless men on my Pinterest (or even sexier stuff on Tumblr). In fact, not only are they not offended, but those boyfriends are the posts that get the most hits by far. So obviously, a big portion of people who follow me are into it.

But I know I also have a portion of followers who are writers who started following me when I was running Fiction Groupie. They are here for the writing posts and aren't necessarily interested in reading my books. That's fine. I even have a separate RSS feed for those who want only writing posts and no mancandy in their inbox so that they don't have to worry about it.

But if you go follow me on Pinterest or Tumblr without looking at the types of things I post, then that is on you. If I have a board named MELT INTO YOU Inspiration, which is a book about a BDSM menage relationship, you can probably guess the photos aren't always going to be G-rated. Hell, my book covers aren't even G-rated. If you choose to follow, that is at your own risk.

I make no secrets about the kinds of books I write. Look at the tagline up at the top of the blog. I'm not going to apologize for posting things in line with my brand. In fact, next week I'm starting a series in prep for STILL INTO YOU's release that is going to be about fun ways to spice up your marriage or relationship. These posts are going to be tasteful, but they're not going to be G-rated. They shouldn't have to be.

Yes, I know people have kids around their computers. I have a four year old. I get it. But it is not MY responsibility to cater this blog (or any of my other social media sites) to keep things away from your child's eyes. That's like saying I shouldn't write erotic romances because a child might pick up their mom's book. My only responsibility is keeping it from my kid's view. I know which sites not to click on if he's sitting next to me. 

My brand is sexy romance. It shouldn't be a surprise if I sometimes post about sexy things. Just like if a Christian writer is posting about a bible passage or their religious journey. If I'm following them and not of that faith or whatever, I have no right to get offended. Their brand is clear. If I chose to follow the person, that was at my own risk.

And if someone is posting stuff you don't want to read or see, don't follow them. I've unfollowed a fellow erotic writer for being unnecessarily graphic and cursing nonstop (and believe me, I'm not easily offended.) But it was too much for me and I was getting nothing from their feed. I've also unfollowed people who spout off poitical stuff that ticks me off. I don't need that stress in my day. Was what those people were posting wrong? No. It just wasn't for me. They have the right to make their image and brand whatever they want them to be. I have the right not to buy into it.

For my own blog, I have lines. I don't post nude mancandy pics since I prefer photos that leave something to the imagination. I occasionally curse, but usually keep it at a PG-13 level or ** out the words. I try to keep everything tasteful and classy even when I am talking about a racy topic. Why? Because that's what I want my place on the web to be like. The way I discuss things on here is how I would discuss things in person.

Jody responded to my comment on her blog with, "Obviously, if we're trying to reach our target audience, then we'll try to brand our Pinterest boards to our books. That makes sense. Nevertheless, I do try to be sensitive to the fact that I have numerous followers from all spectrums of life."

I see where she's coming from (and of course I still heart Jody), but I also know that trying to please and cater to "everyone" is an impossible task. Try doing that with your novel and see how well that goes.

Different people want different things. A fellow writer is going to want something different from me than a pure reader will. A romance reader will want something different from me than a suspense reader. You can run the risk of becoming too generic or safe in your brand. That's what was happening with me at Fiction Groupie. I felt restricted because I only posted about writing. I was afraid to post romance-y stuff because some people would've been turned off. So it boxed me in to only talking about writing. That's something I love to do, but it was becoming a very one-dimensional version of me. And where does that leave the readers who could give a crap about how-to writing posts?

So this is me and this is my brand. If you only want writer me, you have the option to just follow those posts. If you want to follow me on Pinterest, cherry pick the boards that appeal to you. If you want to follow me on Tumblr, read the 18+ and NSFW warning at the top. If you want to follow G-Rated mom me, follow my group mommy blog Peanut Butter on the Keyboard. If you want to follow me on Twitter, you'll get a little bit of it all. But I'm not going to apologize for what I post. You've been warned. Follow at your own risk. (But I do hope you still follow.) ;)

So what are your thoughts? Do you think we should keep everything PG even if our books are not? Has anyone ever surprised with something you didn't want in your feed? Do the mancandy posts make you happy or make you nervous to view my blog?

Drowning in Blogs: How Do You Keep Track of Your Favorites?

 

Photo by Aimanness Photography (click pic for link)I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I've been writing a LOT this week. I've written about 11k words on my new novella in five days. However, that also meant I wasn't surfing the web and clicking twitter links all week, so my saved list of favorite links is too short for a Fill-Me-In Friday post. I'll save them and have an extra big one next week.

So instead of the links round up, I'm throwing out a question to you guys.

When I started blogging, I followed everyone who followed me and then some. My google reader ballooned to well over 300 blogs, which of course means it became a useless tool. Now I'm left keeping up with blogs mostly through seeing random Twitter links. But that's hit or miss of course.

I need a better way to organize myself if I want to read blogs. So I'm asking y'all...

How do you keep up with your favorite blogs? Email subscriptions? Google reader? Triberr? Some other brilliant method? Help!

Are You Hiding Behind a Wall on Your Blog?

Photo by Lance Neilson (click pic for link)So we hear lots and lots and LOTS of talk about being authentic on your blog and in your branding. Be yourself! Be genuine! Put yourself out there! And that's awesome. I agree. 

And I would say if asked, most of us would say--of course I'm being genuine! But lately there have been a number of blog posts that have got me to thinking more about this.

It seems that many of us, unknowingly, erect a nice, thick wall between us and our blog readers. I think a lot of us do this because we don't think we're all that interesting OR we're afraid that if we do show our personality, people aren't going to like us. It's not a conscious thought, but I think many of us still have that first-day-of-school, what-if-no-one-wants-to-hang-out-with-us phobia.

So we build up these lovely little shields, where people can sort of see us, but not really.

 

What kinds of things can create distance between you and your blog readers?


1. Blogging only about writing

I did this for a long time because it's what I liked to talk about (and what I still like to talk about), but also because it didn't require me to really put "me" out there. Sure, I used my personal style and voice to deliver the information, but I was still in teacher mode, hiding behind the advice-giver role. (Kind of like this post *cough*)

Solution: It's okay if you want to talk about writing. So what if everybody else is doing it too? But think about how you can shine through those types of posts. Don't just put up a list of rules and move on. Talk about how this affected your writing personally. Talk about a struggle you had with that particular issue. Inject the information with your voice and your personal experiences. Need an example? Check out Chuck Wendig's blog. No one would ever accuse him of holding back personality in his writing posts. :)

 

2. You hide behind a niche.

Once again, not necessarily a bad choice to have a niche blog. Niches attract niche audiences. People know what to expect and you can get a great following. But sometimes a niche can act like a security blanket. If you have a niche like Scary Mommy, where it has an over-arching theme of shining light on the reality of motherhood, but the posts are injected with personality, humor, and personal stories, well that's awesome. But if you have a mommy blog where you're just doing reviews of kid's products or a food blog where you just share recipes, you run the risk of not really letting people get to know you.

Solution: Look at your blog. Could someone else slip into your role and your readers wouldn't notice? Then you're probably hiding behind your niche. Look for ways you can put your stamp on the information you're sharing.

 

3. You're leaning too much on theme days or memes.

So this is one I'm guilty of too. Themes can be a great way to help you keep a schedule on your blog and streamline things. I'm not saying don't do theme days. But sometimes, we get so hung up on themes that the blog can start to suffer from generic-itis. Now, not every post has to give a piece of you. My Boyfriend of the Week posts and my Friday round-ups aren't chock full of personality. But they're fun (mancandy, yay!) or helpful (links!) and that works for me. However, if that were the ONLY type of blogs I was doing all week, then I think it'd be hard for readers to ever get to know me.

Solution: Use theme days if you enjoy that and it helps you keep your blog going, but schedule in some "free" days where you can talk about whatever and share your personality.

 

4. You shy away from giving your opinion or tackling a controversial topic.

Okay, so this does not mean you need to start talking about religion and politics (unless that's the kind of books/blog you write). But I think many of us--especially once we're published--back away from giving our opinions or touching controversial topics for fear of alienating readers or attracting trolls. I've chosen, for instance, not to do book reviews and I never talk negatively about any book or author. I don't plan on changing that policy. But that doesn't mean I can't give my opinion on other things. Giving opinions shows a part of who you are.

Solution: Give your opinion and do it with conviction. BUT still be aware that some topics are better left alone. Make sure what you're taking a stand on is worth it.

 

5. All you do is non-stop promo.

Yes, your blog should hopefully lead people to check out your books. But you're not going to get them there by beating them over the head with--hey, look at my book, let's talk about my book, here's an excerpt, here's a contest, here's a discount code, check out my blog tour. People will only get to know you as an annoying salesman, not the impression you want to leave people with.

Solution: Don't be an annoying douche-bag, firstly. :) Secondly, intersperse promo type posts amongst your normal blog content. People won't get upset if you post that stuff sometimes. Just make sure it's not all the time.

 

Okay, now a few warnings...

A) This does NOT mean you should just ramble about me, me, me. 

Yes, we want to get to know you and your personality. We do not, however, want to hear about your trip to the grocery store unless a spaceship landed in the parking lot or something. People are still most concerned about "what's in it for me" so make sure you are always providing something--a laugh, information, advice, inspiration--just provide those things with your own personal flavor.

B) This is still the internet, and you need to be careful about what you share and how personal you get.

You're never going to see me posting pictures of my son, giving my address, or discussing me and hubs' sex life. There are people who do and that's fine. Those are just my personal lines. No one needs to know THAT much about me. :)

 

And here are the blog posts that inspired this post:

Not Just Another Writer’s Writing Blog - Write it Sideways

Welcome to the Blog Home of Tabula Rasa, Indie Author « Me and My Shovel

Is A “Niche” Or “Non-Niche” Blog Right For You? - Write It Sideways

The Controversy Over Controversy - Amber West

 

So what do you think? Am I overthinking this (always a distinct possibility)? Or do you think you sometimes hide behind these walls? What do you do on your blog to show your personaity?

Fill Me In Friday - Best Writing Links of the Week

Did I miss the train?

Photo by Son of Groucho
  

Busy week? Need to catch up? It's that time of the week again. Hope everyone has had a great one (and survived spring break with your kids!) This week's links list is actually a compilation from two weeks because I skipped last week. Hope you enjoy!
On Writing, Blogging, and Social Networking:
On the 50 Shades of Grey hoopla:
What You May Have Missed Here:
All right, that's what's I have this week. What were some of your favorite posts of the week? Anyone else ready for spring break to be over?

Enough With the Quid Pro Quo Blogging Etiquette - Free Yourself

 

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures, and check out our Socially Awkward Penguin lolz!

First, a quick announcement--I'm blogging/ranting over at Nicole Basaraba's blog today: Oh, You Write THOSE Books – On Writing Romance  I'd love for y'all to stop by and say hi. :)

Alright, onto today's topic, which happens to be a bit of a rant as well, lol. Must be that kind of week for me...

Hang around the blogosphere long enough and you'll see the posts - How to Be a Good Bloggy Friend, Blogging Etiquette 101...hell, I even did one a few years ago. But I have to say, the posts and the concepts behind them are starting to grate on me a bit.

The main "rules" stem from the idea of bloggers supporting each other through reciprocity. You comment on my blog, I comment on yours. I follow you, you follow me. In theory, this is a nice thing to do. We all rally around and support each other.

And in the beginning, when you're first starting a blog, this is really the only way to get it rolling. You have to put yourself out there on other blogs so that people know you exist. No one wants to blog into the ether and have nobody hear it. So the reciprocity thing can be a great way to start making friends.

But where it starts to irritate me is when the other behaviors get labeled "bad" blogger behavior. For instance, you're a bad bloggy friend if you don't go and comment on everyone's posts who left you a comment that day. Or, you're not a "real" follower because you don't leave regular comments on a blog you follow or maybe you follow but don't stop by regularly.

Calling that "bad" behavior, my friends, is bulldookie. That behavior is real life. I would hope most of us have actual lives and obligations outside of the internet. We should not have to suffer a guilt trip because instead of visiting all of our blogroll that day, we turned off the computer and took our kid to the park. We shouldn't have to "catch up" at midnight and hit all those posts we missed out of some sense of obligation.

When did we become so self-centered? If you find yourself thinking, "Wow, I've left three comments on so and so's blog this week and she hasn't even retweeted mine. Well, fine, I'll show her, see if I visit her blog next week" then you're getting sucked into the me-me-me abyss. (We've all been there.) But do you really want a comment or a visit out of obligation? Because someone is "supposed" to stop by because you scratched their back? Are you only stopping by their blog so that you get a comment back?

Reciprocity is a nice thing, it should not be a requirement. When you make it a requirement in your head, it becomes self-serving. You're only commenting other places because you want people to come to your blog. Blogging relationships should not be quid pro quo.

If you want people to follow you, be followable. Write interesting, entertaining posts that people enjoy.

If you want people to comment, write posts that encourage discussion. And do try to participate in the discussion even if you can't answer every comment.

If you want to be a good bloggy friend, be genuine and don't do things with the ulterior motive of getting something in return.

This is why when I joined Triberr, I refused to join tribes that required you retweet every members posts every day. No way. I only retweet things that I find interesting or that I think my followers would like. Even my very favorite bloggers don't have a post relevant to me EVERY time. And I know that not everything I blog about is going to appeal to everyone every day. And that's perfectly okay.

So free yourself from that "obligation".

Comment on posts you find interesting or want to discuss.

Follow blogs that provide consistently good content.

And visit posts that catch your eye.

The making friends part will happen organically as you meet people who share similar interests.

In the end, this will make us all better bloggers because instead of counting on the quid pro quo follows/visits, we'll find out what content really connects with readers and which doesn't.

So what do you think? How do you feel about the quid pro quo thing? Do you ever feel blogger guilt because you haven't kept up with your friend "obligations"? Do you find yourself feeling resentment when someone doesn't return the favor?

Author Websites: Layering Yours With Sticky Extras

Photo by Raymond Salvatore Harmond (cc)We all know we're supposed to have a rocking website and blog, right? You hear that advice at every turn. And I agree. But one of the problems with most websites is that they lack the stickiness factor. Meaning, a reader might stop by to get some quick info--when's the next book coming out, where is the author doing signings, etc. But it's a quick in and out visit. Like running into Walgreens to get cough medicine at midnight. Nothing compels the person to stick around for awhile to see what else may be there.

And though it's nice that those people are stopping by in the first place, we'd really like for them to hang out for a bit. So what are some things you can do to compel a visitor not to move on so quickly?

The first is the most obvious--an interesting blog. If you've got interesting posts on your site about topics that may interest a reader, that's a great start. But what else might you do?

My favorite sites are the ones where I go in for one thing, then keep seeing interesting little tidbits to click on. Like, ooh, she has a deleted chapter for that book I loved. Or wow, she's got inside info about who that guy was on the cover of that book. Or hey, she's got a soundtrack for this story. An hour goes by and I'm still poking around their site and now I really want to read more of their books.

These little tidbits are like the "easter eggs" authors bury in books. Those eggs are little inside jokes or nuggets for the reader. (See here for an example of the easter eggs Stephen King buried in It.) Authors have been doing this forever, so why not translate that concept to your site? What little eggs can you bury on your website that readers will want to crack open?

Obviously, if you're a bestselling author with forty books under your belt, you have a lot of content to play with. Easter eggs abound. But if you're a newer author or unpublished, you may have to dig a little deeper to come up with those things the entice people to hang around on your site.

You can click on my Extras tab to see the few things I have on here. I'm still working on mine.

 

Quality Extras Provide Things That...

 

1) Give deeper insight into your books

 A few Ideas: 

  • Inspiration photos for your characters, setting, scenes, time period, etc.
  • Character Interviews
  • Soundtracks 
  • Deleted chapters
  • Bonus epilogues, prologues, or short stories
  • Tell where you got your story idea from
  • Genealogy charts for your characters or series
  • Photos of the pets of your characters
  • Fun facts about the writing of the book
  • Quizzes or contests
  • Recipes
  • Book lists with books listed in order and by series
  • Book trailers

 

2) Give deeper insight into you, the author

This is not about navel-gazing and me, me, me all the time, but share yourself with your readers in an interesting and engaging way. A few ideas:

  • A non-boring FAQ
  • The story of how you got published
  • A blog where you show your voice and personality
  • Picture of your pets (would advise you not to put your kids pics up)
  • A widget that shows what you're reading or what you've read
  • Your recommendations for authors you enjoy or a list of your favorite books
  • Interview your spouse for a post (I've done that a few times on here.)
  • Vlog so we can actually see and hear you
  • Info for aspiring writers
  • Photos (not avatars) of yourself - at minimum a nice author photo, but also could be you with readers at signings, or doing something fun, that kind of thing.
  • Share your hobby - What else do you enjoy besides writing? Into scrapbooking or sailing or cooking? Talk about it. For instance, I have a concert obsession so I blogged about that Monday, but also made a Pinterest board listing all the concerts I've been to
  • Have any big goals or challenges? - Maybe you're trying to run a marathon by June or maybe you want to read 100 books this year or you want to learn how to bake bread. Talk about it and get readers involved. They might be trying to do the same kinds of things.

 

3) Encourage the reader to not just stick around but come back again.

You have to keep content fresh. If someone stops by and has their way with your website and clicks on everything, what is going to compel them to come back? Some ideas:

  • A fresh, interesting blog that is updated on a regular schedule (minimum once a week if you want some traction).
  • Contests that encourage interaction.
  • A newsletter that readers can sign up for. Helps if you offer an incentive for signing up--a free chapter or something.
  • An easy way to follow your blog or follow you on facebook, twitter, etc.
  • Reader forums where fans can interact with each other. (This only applies once you're a "big deal", but it seems these are pretty popular with the well-established authors.) 

I'm sure there are hundreds of ideas out there, so I'm interested to hear some that you've thought of or you've seen on other sites.

I polled Twitter and these are some of the sites people recommended for their stickiness factor:

Eloisa James - She's taken it to another level. She has a whole website just for readers that you can only access if you register. She even has "easter egg" hunts for her book. Dig through her site (the one you don't have to register for) and you'll find extra chapters, family trees, and Design-a-Duchess paper dolls.) Cool stuff.

Sherrilyn Kenyon - Beyond listing fan sites for readers and having lots of information, she also has a great photo gallery with photos of fans, signings, and things like "Babies named after characters", "Pets named after characters", and Fan Tattoos. How fun is that? 

Elizabeth Hoyt - She has tons of research articles, a few free ebooks, and (love this) photos of the fictional dogs in her books.

Jeaniene Frost - She has a list of supernatural creatures that inhabit her world, free wallpaper, podcasts, deleted scenes, and t-shirts.

Now, yes, those listed as examples are bestselling authors with fancy websites. However, you don't have to have that to implement some of these ideas. Use them as inpsiration and it will spark some ideas of your own.

So which author sites make you stick around? What kind of extras do you love as a reader? What layers do you bury on your site? What do you do to encourage readers to hang out on your website?

Blog Commenting - Is It Going Extinct?

Photo by tetradtx (click pic for link)Yesterday, I did a post on the 3 Core Components of a Blockbuster Blogs and talked about how one of the key things great blogs do is connect people. That connection may be between blog author and blog reader, but it also can be between readers via conversation in the comments.

 

But one of the things I mentioned was how I've noticed that over my last three years of blogging, commenting has declined even though hits and numbers of visitors have gone up. I used to get more comments when I had 2k hits a month than when I had 12k. Strange, right?

 

So of course, this made me wonder if a) I was doing something wrong or b) something broader was happening. In the comments on my post yesterday, a few people mentioned that they've noticed a similar drop in comments despite traffic being good on their blogs as well.

 

So what's the deal? Is anyone out there? *taps screen*

 

Here are some of my theories:

 

Keep in mind, this is just conjecture. I'd love to hear from you (IN THE COMMENTS, lol) on what you think could be the reason. 

 

1. Commenting is cumbersome and with our social media time stretched between so many platforms now--blogs, twitter, facebook, tumblr, pinterest, google +, etc., we just don't have the time.

 

This is one of the reasons I barely comment on blogs anymore. I'm much more likely to retweet a post I like or put it in my Fill-Me-In Friday round up to show my appreciation instead of commenting. A post has to really stir me or be about something I have a strong opinion on to get me to comment. It's not for lack of wanting to comment, it's simply just a lack of time.

 

2. When reciprocation slows down, commenting goes with it.

 

When you first start blogging, you're gung ho. (And often you're not yet a paid writer, so don't have deadline pressures and such starting at you.) So, you make bloggy friends. You go comment on all your friends' blogs every day. They in turn comment on yours. It's a happy thriving little community. But it takes a LOT of time to keep up. (See my post on  The Life Cycle of a Blogger  if you want to see what happens when you hit your limit.) So, when you start slacking off on being the ultimate bloggy friend, people stop reciprocating.

 

3. Blog Oversaturation

 

SO many people are blogging these days. And writers are no exception. Links to posts fly by on Twitter at the speed of a CNN ticker. It's hard to stand out. Do I really need to read ANOTHER post about sagging middles? That post may be perfect for someone brand new to the writing blogosphere, but after you've been online a while, you start to see the rerun of topics. Hell, I've found myself blogging about those things more than once too. So it's hard to come up with a comment about something that you're tired of hearing about. And even if you come up with some fun new stuff to blog about, unless the post provides something for the reader, it's going to be hard to compel people to stop by. "Come talk about your favorite movie" is not going to inspire me to click. As much fun as that conversation could be, it doesn't provide me with anything and sounds like something that will just waste more time.

 

4. When a blog seems like a BIG DEAL or the person appears uber important, followers can feel distant from the blogger.

 

Sometimes I find myself reluctant to leave a comment because the person seems like a BIG DEAL. Whether it's because they have a super successful blog or they are an established authors. They have that celebrity vibe, and it becomes a bit intimidating to leave a comment OR you feel like they don't "need" the comment or won't really be reading it anyway, so why bother.

 

5. It always could be that the posts are lame, uninspiring, unrelatable, navel gazing, or boring as hell. Always a possibility :) 

 

I'm hoping this isn't the case for most of us, but it's always something to keep in mind. Sometimes we may have simply veered off our path and let the quality of our posts suffer. There are obviously still blogs out there getting 50-100 comments a day, so it is possible we are doing something wrong. >.<

 

I don't know the answers. It could be any of these, none of them, or some combination, but those are my thoughts. I'd love to hear yours.

 

What do you think? Have you noticed a trend in your own comments--either on your blog or your own commenting behavior? Do you have any of your own theories? 

3 Core Components of a Blockbuster Blog

Photo by Katie Killary (click photo for link)Since I recently left my well-established Blogger writing blog to come over here and try to build something more well-rounded on my website, I've been doing a lot of thinking about what my goals are over here. (Okay, actually kidlet woke up at 3am last night and I was up for 2 hours lying in the dark, which led me to thinking about such things.) And this led me to look at some of the most successful blogs out there to determine what makes them so awesome.

Now I could sit here and list at least a hundred things about having a clean web design, about a consistent schedule, about promotion, etc. But I really wanted to look the core components of those blockbuster blogs. And what I discovered was that it had everything to do with what the blog provided to the reader. Duh, right? But here's what I mean...

People Read Blogs for Three Main Reasons

1. To be informed or inspired

We want information and can't seem to get enough of it. If a blog can teach us how to do something, help us fix a problem, or enlighten us on a topic, we will be there. 

 

2. To be entertained

All that information can be exhausting, so another reason we seek out blogs is because we want to enjoy ourselves and be entertained. If a blog can make us laugh or make us forget about work for a while, it's going to keep us coming back.

 

3. To connect

All this social networking we do is, at its root, about connecting. And blogs can often provide that as well. This can either be someone trying to connect with the author of the blog (readers wanting to connect with a favorite author, writers wanting to connect with a blogging literary agent, etc.) or it can be readers of the blog connecting with each other in the comments.

 

Now some blogs focus only on one of these. For instance, there are thousands of blogs giving writing how-to information. Ones that do it in a strict teaching style are focused primarily on INFORMING.  Other sites may only be there to get a laugh. 

And if a site does that one thing REALLY well, they don't need to focus on the other two. You can be a big deal with just one done well. Think Copyblogger for informing and things like Damn You, Autocorrect for entertaining.

 

But for most of us, building that kind of site and following are a little unrealistic. We're writers. Our goal is to write and publish books, not to be professional bloggers. We can build a nice, healthy following. I managed to do it with Fiction Groupie even though I was an unpublished writer with no platform to speak of when I started it.

 

(Though, one can argue that if my goal was to reach beyond my peer group of writers, then I probably was unsuccessful. It was a writing blog for writers. I don't regret that. The people I've met and the network I'm now a part of are the best rewards. However, I am making an effort to expand my range of topics these days so that non-writing readers can also find something worthwhile here.)

 

But if you're trying to build a blog that will have an active and engaged following, then perhaps look at ways that you can tap into all three components above. Think of the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books site. She INFORMS by providing honest book reviews, she ENTERTAINS because she's damn funny, and she helps readers CONNECT with each other via the comments and their shared interests of romance novels.  It's a winning recipe.
 

 

So I'm taking a hard look at this new bloggy home and wondering where I can improve in these three areas. I'm always most comfortable with the informing thing. That's my comfort zone. And I hopefully manage to be entertaining at times, though I can always improve on that.

 

And connecting...well, that has dropped off a bit, unfortunately. I used to have a thriving comments section at Fiction Groupie, but when things got busier and I wasn't able to respond to all comments every day and wasn't able to visit other blogs and comment regularly, that community aspect dropped off a bit. Now I find myself doing the community thing more on Twitter. I'm not sure how to fix that here as I think commenting is a dying art across the blogosphere. But we'll see.

 

I have no notions of becoming a blockbuster blogger, but a healthy blog is a happy blog. : )

 

So think of the blogs that you return to consistently--what are things that keep you coming back? Which of the three areas are those blogs focusing on? And what do you think you do best on your own blog? What do you think you can improve?

Big Changes Coming

 

Change Allley sign

Photo by Matt Brown

This blog has almost hit its one year anniversary, and I think it's finally time to make this my true home. For almost three years, I've been blogging 3-5 times a week at my writer's blog, Fiction Groupie. I've documented everything--finishing my first book, my first attempt at querying, my first experiences with rejection. I've shared my journey from "aspiring" author to agented writer to published author. I've tried to share what I've learned along the way as well.  (If you want to see the culmination of 3 years of writing blogs, check out my For Writers tab above where I have a new Writer Resource Page with all of Fiction Groupie's most popular articles divided by topic.)

And I plan to continue to talk about writing. But splitting my time between two blogs has become cumbersome. I've neglected this blog because there simply isn't enough time for both. But here is the place I want to be long term, on my own site not on a blogger blog. So I'm going to wrap up Fiction Groupie next week and then start blogging full time here--4-5 days a week.

Boyfriend of the Week will stay, but now there will be a lot more content each week.

Here is my tentative schedule:

  • Monday: Made of Win Monday - where I share simple things to brighten dark Mondays
  • Tuesday: Boyfriend of the Week
  • Wednesday: Writer Wednesday
  • Thursday: Books/Film/Flex Day - No theme so it may be an update on my 50/50 challenge, it may be a guest post, it could be anything.
  • Friday: Fill Me In Friday - This is the regular Fiction Groupie links round up of the best posts I've run across that week.

I hope you'll stick around for the new format. And if you're not already a subscriber or you're a Fiction Groupie follower, I'd love for you to hang out, too. You can sign up for the RSS feed here or you can get posts delivered to your inbox (just enter you email address in the box to the right that says "Or Via Email".

Have a great day!

What Do READERS Want From an Author Blog?

Photo by Terence S. Jones (creative commons) - Click pic for link
 Writers know they are supposed to have a social media presence. Writers know that ideally they should blog so they can connect with people (and eventually their readers). But there seems to be a big mysterious question floating out there in the writer blogiverse: what exactly do readers WANT when they go to an author's blog?

Yes, connection. I get that. That's what we're all looking for. But how exactly do they want to connect? Most of us have figured out how to blog for other writers. This isn't something that should be underestimated because the enriching experience of meeting other writers and finding people who become great friends is priceless. However, connecting with other writers and connecting with readers are not the same thing.

Yes, I know, writers are also readers. That's obviously true. But here's the thing--one we have a book out there, we don't want to be excluding non-writing readers by constantly jabbering about writing and publishing. Sure, some of that may be interested to a reader in doses, but not all the time.

So okay--channeling Kristen Lamb a bit here--we know blogging about writing indefinitely isn't really a practical long-term career goal (unless of course you're writing books about writing.) So once you've got your blog footing, have built your writer support group, how to you expand upon that to put up the "welcome" sign for readers?

Jody Hedlund has covered this topic before on her blog as well because, like me, she also has a blog about writing. Her conclusion was that most (non-writing) fiction readers aren't reading author blogs. From her observation, most readers go to author websites just to get info about the author's books. And frankly, that applies to me as well. I don't read my fave authors blogs regularly because most of the time it's just book updates and such. Not something worth reading daily/weekly.

But does this mean readers wouldn't be interested in an author's blog if it were um, interesting and engaging? Obviously people like Neil Gaiman, Meg Cabot, and Jennifer Cruisie have figured it out (of course, they've also written wildly successful books that attracted a lot of readers FIRST). But really, there aren't a lot of stand outs that I can think of off the top of my head.

So what's an author to do?

Kristen Lamb would suggest not doing a writing-only blog, to find other interests that you like to write about. In her workshop I went to she gave examples like an author who focuses on wine and books on her blog, so she's tapped into the wine people (and who may become people who want to buy her fiction.) And the lovely Tiffany A. White has a fabulous blog called the Ooo Factor where she reviews TV shows and keeps us up to date on what's new in TV world. 

But here's the thing--those examples are still niche-oriented. Just like a writing blog is. Niches are what work if you want to build a blog audience. People know what to expect from you and go there because they are interested in whatever that niche is. That's why I was able to build Fiction Groupie (my writing blog) to almost 1k followers before I even had an agent or book deal.

Niches WORK. But they also alienate those not in the niche. For instance, I'm not going to go to a wine blog because I'm not that interested in wine. I go to Tiffany's because I love TV and she does the work for me so I know which shows I should check out or not. But if someone else isn't a big TV person, they'll probably not stop by and visit her.

So where does this leave an author strategy wise? Build a niche blog so you can get a big following relatively quickly, but then be restricted by that niche when you do get a book published? Or be too random trying to appeal to everyone and have your blog will float off into the unread ether?

I have given this A LOT of thought, probably way too much. But here's the conclusion I've come to: Blogging for the unpublished author and blogging for the published author are DIFFERENT things.

Before you have a book out there, your main goal is to build a network and presence online and to meet other people like you. This is where a good solid niche blog comes in. You don't have to be so restrictive that you only talk about writing or whatever, but make sure people know what kind of content they are going to get when they go to your blog. 

However, once you are published, you have to realize that people who read your books or hear about your books from someone are going to get online and look you up.

And readers are looking for certain things from an author blog (as May talks about here at Smexy Books and Author Tech Tips talks about here.)

1. Easy to find book info including buttons to buy, the blurb, its placement in the series, if applicable.

2. Excerpts and teasers. 

3. News - Where you're going to be, what books are coming soon, etc.

4. Book recommendations from the author

5. To get to know the author and "see behind the curtain" but that does not mean boring posts about what you ate for lunch yesterday.

So here's what smacked me over the head when reasearching for this post--readers are a niche. Their niche is BOOKS. They come to you to learn more about the books they love and to get to know you a little bit.

Therefore, I think the published author's challenge is to write engaging post that show off you and your voice and entice the reader to come back. You don't necessarily need a big blog theme like you did pre-publication. The theme is YOU and your books. (As my friend Steena Holmes suggested on Twitter the other night, it's a shift from blogger/author to author/blogger.)

So all of us need to write posts that:

1. Are fun and entertaining.

2. Show off your voice.

3. Offer readers some insight into your personality.

4. Engage the reader in conversation.

5. Relate to your "brand." --KNOW what would appeal to your readers.--You write funny? Probably should have humor in your posts. I write romance so things like Boyfriend of the Week relate back to who I am as a writer.

And don't forget about why readers came to you in the first place--books! Don't be afraid to talk about what you're reading or what books you love or what books you can't wait for. My author friend Suzanne Johnson does a fabulous job on her blog Preternatura connecting with readers over books in her genre.

So all of this still makes my head hurt because I maintain two blogs and don't plan on getting rid of my writing blog anytime soon because I heart my writing community peeps (and I can't merge the two without losing all my blogger followers so that's not an option either). But I also don't want to have my book come out in January and not have a reader-friendly blog for people to come to if they want to stop by. It's a lot to figure out.

 

Alright, I know this was a LONG post. But I'm curious to hear what you think of this whole reader/writer blogging thing? Take off your writer hat for a moment and tell me, as a reader, what do you want on an author's blog? How do you feel about niche blogs?

 

It's YOUR Blog (and You Can Pimp If You Want To)

Photo by Raffi Asdourian I'm annoyed. Not specifically at one person but more a nebulous cloud of annoyance aimed in the general direction of certain kinds of people on the internet.

We all know about blog trolls--those I-have-no-real-life-so-I-live-to-bitch-at-and-insult-perfect-strangers (usually via cop-out anonymous comments.) For the most part, the best way to handle these foul creatures is to ignore them completely. Don't poke them with a stick because they only get more unintelligent and vile when acknowledged.

We all understand those people are just another part of the internet. But what is fueling my annoyance lately is that I've noticed more and more writers acting decidely troll-like. And nowhere was this more evident than on former-agent-turned-author Nathan Bransford's blog last week.

Nathan did a tongue-and-cheek post about having a pledge drive and asked people that if they enjoyed his blog to consider buying his book. The post was polite and light-hearted. No biggie, right? Well, apparently it was to some people. A few of his blog readers jumped his shit like Nathan had asked them to sacrifice the blood of their first born child to him. It was ridiculous.

Newsflash from Captain Obvious: Authors are expected to promote their books. And, hello, it's HIS blog.

He didn't come to your house and hand you a flyer, he didn't clutter your inbox with an email pimping his book, he didn't spam you on Twitter. He talked about HIS book on HIS blog. Being insulted that he did that is like being insulted someone walked around their own house naked. His blog is his place to talk about whatever he wants. It's your decision whether you stop by to read it or not.

Newsflash from Captain Obvious' Sidekick--Mr. Well Duh - Most of the people online who are blogging regularly are doing it as a form of self-promotion.

Yes, connecting with others and sharing ideas are the bigger pieces of it. But I can tell you (as someone who has blogged 5 days/week for two years) that blogging that consistently is HARD work and a time suck. I enjoy doing it and am so grateful for all the people I've met through it, but at the end of the day, I'm not going to lie--I also hope it helps sell my books.

And as someone who has spent all this time blogging and making an effort to provide hopefully helpful (fiction groupie) or fun (this blog) content, I don't want to feel guilty about asking readers to consider buying my book when it comes out. I'm not going to beat anyone over the head with it, but I'm also not going to apologize for bringing it up.

And I certainly don't feel offended if a writer I follow and enjoy does the same. If I like your blog and have gotten to know you online, I WANT to buy your book and show my support. In fact, I did it yesterday for Tawna Fenske. It's a nice thing to do. And an effective way to find good books since chances are if you like their voice on their blog, you'll probably enjoy their writing as well.

So you writers out there, stop apologizing when you do a little self-promotion. It's okay. It's part of your job. Asking people to consider your book does not mean you've become one of those annoying people on Twitter or Goodreads whose first message to a new follower is "Check out my book at wesuck dot com!" 

If you are taking time to genuinely connect with other people and, as Kristen Lamb says in her books on social media, being service-minded--meaning go into social networking with the mentality of what can I do to be of service to others?--you're going to be fine. It's the "me, me, me" people that give self-promotion a bad name and an icky feeling. You are not that person. Nathan Bransford is not that person. That person is busy setting up auto-post "buy my book" tweets on Twitter.

So be friendly, be genuine, and be comfortable promoting something you've worked hard on.

Now, enough about that, who wants to pre-order CRASH INTO YOU? ;)

How do you feel about self-promotion? What annoys you about it? Do you mind when a blogger/writer you like talks about their book? What completely turns you off when it comes to self-promotion?