advice

Web Design and Blogging Advice for Writers

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Originally written in 2008, reblogged due to a recent social media discussion regarding websites/blogs for authors. I don’t think any of this is out of date, and if any of my readers have something to add, feel free to do so in the comments!

——-

Every so often I’m in a position to give advice to writers who are either newer to the game than myself or who simply don’t have as much web experience as I do. I gave an exhaustive crash course to a fellow Arctic Wolf author yesterday via instant messenger so I figured now is as good a time as any to put down what I know in an easily accessible format that I can link people to.

Disclaimer: This is what I do. It works for me. It might not be your Gospel truth, but take what you need and forget about the rest. I do know what I’m talking about, though; I’ve been an IT professional since 2000 and an amateur web designer since 1997. My site will never be the flashiest or most cutting-edge; I don’t have any use for that stuff. It is, however, an effective marketing tool. These lessons have been learned through trial and error; my writing site alone has undergone 4-5 revisions since 2006.

  • Get Thee a Domain Name and Webhost. Or if you’re really not tech-savvy, at least get the domain name and redirect it to that free website you have. What sounds better, looks better on your biography, etc.? http://lincolncrisler.freewebs.com or http://lincolncrisler.com? Your name is your brand. People could see my name somewhere online or in a bookstore and find my website by taking a guess. “I don’t have money for that,” you say. That’s ok; I’m the cheapest guy on the face of the earth. Just ask my wife. I pay $35 a YEAR for my domain name and webhost at TinyHosts.Com. That’s for the URL, webspace and email. If you can’t afford that, you should be reading this instead.
  • Consolidate Thy Site. My first author site had three pages; one each for biography, news and links to stories. My second had five; I added two pages of stuff I can’t I can’t remember but sounded good at the time. My latest page has one, for all intents and purposes; yeah, there’s links to excerpts from my books and a little note to readers of my blog, but you don’t need to read any of that to know about my work. Links to my books, interviews I’ve done, what I’m reading/watching now, biography… all of it’s available in the sidebar of my site. I used to have a webpage AND a blog. My blog got almost no hits, for reasons I’ll get into further in a minute, but the biggest reason is: Who the Hell wants to weed through five pages of website AND a blog belonging to a relatively unknown small-press author? Once I had that revelation, it was simple; my blog is now my site, and everything else anyone needs to know about me is right there on the side of the page.
  • Make Thy Website/Blog Interesting. The dude I was helping the other day had nothing on his blog but posts about reviews of his book and interviews he’s done. The links on his sidebar consisted almost solely of places to buy his book. All that stuff is important, yeah, but no one is going to find your site on a search engine if all your content is about YOU. Unless they already know you; but you’re trying to reach new readers, right? Blog about your life. Show thumbnails of funny webcomics you like. Review books and/or movies of interest to people who might read your work. Have links to stuff like that in your sidebar. The most-read ten posts on my site include reviews of work by Brian Keene and Cormac McCarthy, a political rant, a funny IM prank script and a recipe for some chicken. Also in that top ten are my Dear Reader note, the excerpts from both of my books and an essay I wrote on the virtues of paying markets vs. 4TheLuv markets. What does that mean? The additional content brings in readers, and they do stick around to learn more about your work.
  • Optimize Thy Site. Use categories on your blog. Use tags on your posts. They help search engines direct people to your site. Honestly. I had the opportunity to guest-blog at A Bunch of Wordz a few months back, and since it’s a more widely-read site than my own and it’s run on WordPress like my own, I took the opportunity to analyze their statistics to see how they get so many hits a day. I spent an hour a day for almost a week adding tags to my entire backlog of posts and now I make sure to add them to every new post I make. My statistics also look as filled-out as A Bunch of Wordz’ these days.
  • The Bottom Line. I revamped my site in April of this year. That is, I scrapped my five-page website, switched over to just using my blog, installed WordPress on my webhost (and WordPress’ll even do that for you for FREE if you’re not tech-savvy) and went wild. That month I netted 173 hits for the month, and I called that good. In May I had 323 hits, and 572 in June. It’s nine days into July and I already have 175 hits; that’s more than the whole month of April landed me. Do the math.

Hope this helps. Drop me a line in the comments section with any additional advice, hate mail, etc.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Links-n-Shit

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Because you can’t possibly come here every day wanting to hear moar about me:

Since enrolling in Select six months ago, my monthly sales have gone from around $50/per month, to surpassing my day job income in three of the last four months.  I’ve reached thousands of new readers by enrolling in this program (Kindle Select–ed.), and these readers have, in turn, bought my other works.

Depending on how quickly you work, I think it’s vital to come out with new material at LEAST every few months. Debuting new material allows you to promote it and simultaneously call attention to your other works. I’m aiming for new stuff every other month. I’m not necessarily talking a new novel every other month – it can be as small as a new short story.

The Rules of Writing

  1. You MUST Write Quickly
  2. You MUST Write Slowly
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Archive: Hand-holding Ain’t Happening

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

I’ll be in Salt Lake City from the 29th to the 1st, attending the World Horror Convention. I’ll have something from the archives for you here on the site each day, though. The conversation behind this blog post happened about a year and a half ago (OCT ’10), but my reasoning is as sound and relevant now as it was then. I probably won’t be changing my mind any time soon, either. The “publisher of my upcoming novella” is publishing the sequel later this year, has just pu

This week’s *facepalm* moment is courtesy of an author I spoke to online tonight. The author, who’ll probably come across this blog post given the wide dissemination my website’s material has across a variety of social media, is the father of a bouncing baby book. Self-published, POD-all-the-way-baby. Now, this may not be the kiss o’ death that it was a couple years ago; the marketplace is evolving, as I (and alot of better people than I) have pointed out on multiple occasions. It does have bearing on the rest of the situation, so I wanted to bring it up. Newly self-published author. With me so far?

Author pops up wanting to make small talk, and asks me about my side business, which is a Virtual Assistant company run by my wife and I. Because we mention marketing and promotional services, he thought maybe I did these things for authors. I don’t at present, though I am talking with a company about doing just that, but anyhow, all this led up to a discussion of this author’s marketing efforts. Basically, this guy is doing nothing to promote his book, isn’t sending out review copies (he stopped after ‘a few PDFs’) and is just ‘going to wait until a publisher picks up the next one. Promotion is their job.’ I’m paraphrasing him, but you get the idea.

What makes you think the publisher will have a promotional budget, or that they’ll be willing to spend it on you? I ask him. They’re not going to spend much money on promoting your work unless you’re a bestseller. They want a guaranteed return on that investment.

‘My agent will convince the publisher that I’m a bestseller,’ he responds. ‘That’s his job.’ But the guy isn’t promoting his book, isn’t sending out review copies, AND… I almost forgot… took down his website. Doesn’t have a website. In the third decade of the Information Age, during a time when the entire industry is changing (possibly in his favor, even, if he plays his cards right), when he’s already at a disadvantage by being a plankton in an ocean of self-published work, not all of which is (or will ever be) consumer-ready to begin with. No website, no reviews, and probably no sales numbers, because people aren’t just going to wake up in the morning knowing you exist.

Imagine if I walked into a random biker bar and told all the guys in there that they were going to give me all their money, without a fight, because I’m the best fighter any man has ever seen and they don’t wanna test me.

If your book’s intended audience is more than just friends and family, you need to be ready to market and promote your own work. Even if you have a publisher. Damnation Books, the publisher of my upcoming novella, even wanted my marketing strategy in writing once they decided they wanted the manuscript. Black Bed Sheet, the publisher of my second book, has been a partner in promoting my book since prior to publication, but even then, I’ve had to take the lead. They put the blurb I acquired from a pro author on the cover, but I had to get it. They’ve used quotes from reviews in their marketing material, but I sent the book to the reviewer (and tens of others). They sent print copies to reviewers who insisted upon them, but I made the initial contact and obtained mailing addresses.

I’m not dicking them down for that, either; it’s just a simple fact across the board that small presses have no budget for marketing. Another simple fact is that no one could possibly know the book better or want it to succeed more than the author themselves. It’s also not just a small-press syndrome, either. I’ve had authors from major publishers tell me about the lack of promotional support given them by the publisher. If you’re not Steve King, you’re probably gonna do the lion’s share. Alot of the authors you love are probably great at it, too. They have blogs, message boards, newsletters.

The worst part about the whole deal, though? This author isn’t ignorant. Ignorant, I can understand. In an era where any random asshole can self-publish his own book, it’s a simple matter of statistics that most of them aren’t going to know how to lay a book out, edit a manuscript or design a cover, let alone plan a marketing strategy and implement it. When all was said and done, though, after explaining to him everything outlined in the preceding paragraphs, his response was ‘Yeah, I know where you’re coming from. I used to think like that, but now I don’t.’ I was ignorant once. I did jack-shit when my first book came out, and I got jack-shit in return. Learned my lesson, though.

Seriously? I wish him the best, but I think he’d be better off giving my biker-bar strategy a try. The end would come quicker.

For those who don’t want their hands held, but could use a little hand up, here are my essays on procuring blurbs and reviews and webpage design for writers.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Throwing in the Towel

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

About a week ago, I came across a thread on a private forum I frequent from an author I know in passing. He wrote a nice, long, heartfelt post about how he was quitting writing because he didn’t feel he was good enough at writing fiction. He compared it to a fighter who knows he isn’t good enough to make pro, so he gives that shit up, but might stay involved in training new talent or whatnot. He said he’d be staying involved in one way or another (he’s also an editor). There were the sort of reponses you might imagine:

  • “You’ll come back. You always come back.”
  • “I’ve thought about quitting before; Hell, just yesterday!”
  • “I’ll never quit, it’s in my blood, etc.”

You get the idea. Of course, I had to chime in. And what kinda pal would I be if I just rehashed what had already been said? So, here’s (most of) my post from the forum:

If you CAN quit–and I believe this applies to anything–YOU SHOULD. Life is too short to spend time doing things you don’t feel like you can’t live without.

End of 2010, I realized that I was juggling a family, a military career, a side-business with my wife, a writing career and drum or bass guitar (sometimes both) practice at church for over three years. It was getting to be too much. Something was gonna have to go.

I gave up the music. I’m a much better author and editor than musician–I was good enough to play bars, but that was about it, and with the military moving me around so much, the only steady playing I could do was in church. Do I miss it? Absolutely. But I can encourage my son to play. His grandfather bought him a drum set for Christmas, so I still get my jam time in. Who knows what’ll happen when I retire from the Army? But…like I said, the very fact that I COULD walk away was a pretty good indicator that I SHOULD. And so far, I haven’t had any regrets.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Today’s douchebaggery is brought to you by the letter “L.” Now, a word from our sponsors… But hear me out. Aspiring to be a pro author is a shitload of hard work. First, you have to write. Then you have to make sure your writing is technically sound. You have to find a publisher. Sometimes, you have to find an agent. You might have to find another publisher or agent if the first one rejects you. You have to do all this with multiple projects at one time, while looking for your next project. You have to promote your work. Maintain a website. Interact with readers. Contact reviewers. Attend conventions. Network with colleagues.

Conventional wisdom has it that something like one percent of authors are pros making their whole living from writing. One percent. A recent college study showed 1.37% of women would say yes if a stranger offered sex. The average person has a better chance of finding sex in the street . If there’s anything you like to do that would fill the void left by quitting writing, it makes logical sense to do that other thing.

For me, there’s no substitute for telling stories. Everything I’ve done for the past six years has been worth it. Many other writers feel the same way. But not everyone is wired the same way. Just something to keep in mind. If you realize you can’t live without it after all, you can always come back.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

On Mentoring

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

 “In every art beginners must start with models of those who have practiced the same art before them.” — Ruth Whitman

This entry might be a little more personal than you’re used to seeing from me–and believe me, I’ve considered whether to write it on and off for a couple months before finally getting down to business–but if it saves even one person’s ass from ending up either in my situation or that of the other party involved, it’s worth it, as far as I’m concerned.

So…mentoring; specifically, one speculative fiction author mentoring another. It can be a beautiful thing. I’m on my sixth year of actually being able to call myself an author and editor, and I’ve benefitted from the experience of quite a few mentors. You’d know at least a couple of them if you read the sort of things I write; they win awards and shit. I’m not writing today about how fortunate I’ve been, though.

I’ve also had the privilege of providing the benefit of my experience to several authors newer to the path than myself. You can read books by a couple of them here and here. For about a year myself and six or so other authors workshopped and critiqued together. It was a good time. The previously mentioned books came out of that workshop group. Those folks were the first to read my zombie western novella, complete with all the rough edges.

I still have workshopping relationships with several authors; some writers toil in solitude, but I doubt I’ll ever be the sort for that. A couple are  more experienced than I, or folks I consider peers. A couple are newer, unpublished, authors, and those are excellent, mutually beneficial relationships as well. As with all things, though, you sometimes get the good with the bad. With that in mind, here is a brief, with details obfuscated in the interest of others’ privacy, overview of something you really want to avoid if you are a potential mentor, or mentee.

I met a newly-minted, never published female author at a convention last year. We hit it off well and continued communicating after the convention for several months. Everything stayed professional to start; I looked at her work, helped write synopses, etc. After awhile, though, discussions drifted away from writing and into areas that…well, we shouldn’t have gone there. Eventually, this interaction bled over into another personal area of my life that was already taking a hit for other reasons.

After a metric shitload of discussion with friends, I severed ties with the mentee and moved on with my life, but I had to do some serious damage control. Said damage control consisted, in part, of cancelling attendance at a convention that the mentee was attending. Incidentally, the mentee’s behavior at the convention, which won’t be detailed here, was all the proof I needed that I had Just Dodged a Serious Fucking Bullet. Looking back, I’m reasonably certain that I inadvertently nurtured someone’s emotional and/or mental issues. For sure, I’m as responsible for what happened as the mentee. I’m just damned glad it all took place on teh Interwebz, and not in person.

So…lessons to take away: keep things professional, be especially watchful if in a mentoring relationship with a member of the opposite sex (or the same sex, if that’s what you like), and remember that, as the mentor, you’re in control of what happens unless you give that control away.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail