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Web Design and Blogging Advice for Writers

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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 I don’t think any of this is out of date, and if any of my readers have something to add, feel free to do so in the comments!

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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.

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The Only Three Books to Seriously Mess Me Up

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Author’s Note: I came across this guest blog while answering a friend’s question about Stephen King books on Facebook, and realized I’d never brought it over here for safekeeping. So, you get it now. It originally appeared on the Undead Rat’s website, preceded the previous day by a review of WILD, the book I was touring (virtually) for in March 2011.

Let’s face it; when you write the scary stuff like I do and review horror books on a regular basis, it’s easy to… take the chills for granted, so to speak, or to become jaded. Kinda like how you can eat your dinner while watching the evening news because you see the same murders and genocide night after night.

Now, there have been quite a few novels that made me cringe; I made the mistake of reading Brian Keene’s Urban Gothic and J.F. Gonzalez’ Survivor while eating meals, for instance. Grossing me out isn’t the same as really sticking with me, though, and while I don’t want to take anything away from the authors I enjoy reading every week, I read horror for entertainment and only three books come to mind as having actually horrified me.

I first encountered Pet Sematary by Stephen King while in high school, though the novel was released the year after I was born. I’d been reading horror for a couple of years by this point, was a freshman at a local Catholic high school and routinely broke the religion teacher (a priest)’s balls by ignoring his lessons in favor of Stephen King but still maintaining an ‘A’ average. Even at that age I didn’t lay awake for hours after reading a horror novel or get creeped out by reading about the various bad guys.

However, I almost didn’t finish Pet Sematary, the story of a family’s dealings with an ancient Native American burial ground. I put it down about 2/3 of the way in and couldn’t pick it back up for two months, as I recall. Imagine how gratified I was when I discovered that King almost didn’t publish the book and considers it the most horrifying of his works.

Last year I had the pleasure of personally telling Jack Ketchum how affected I was by his novel The Girl Next Door. In return, he shared with me how affected he was by the real-life story that inspired the book, of a girl in 1965 Indianapolis tortured to death by a family friend and her children. My autographed mass-market paperback of the book is probably my favorite signed book of all because of the impact the story had on me, but I have to admit it’s the book I’m least likely to ever read in public again.

The first time I read the book I didn’t know what to expect; I’d heard good (bad?) things about it, but I read horror daily, you know? There were certain points in the story that I reached while sitting in a large group of people, praying that no one would look over my shoulder and see what a sick freak I was, while at the same time unable to put the damn thing down.

Finally, Succulent Prey by Wrath James White really did me in, to such an extent that I still found myself thinking about it weeks later. It starts out intriguingly enough, with an unorthodox theory about the propagation of serial killers, but quickly degenerates into a horrifying string of brutal cannibal episodes interwoven with the protagonist’s quest to discover whether serial killers create other serial killers.

Wrath’s a good writer, but so are a lot of the other authors I read for fun, too. There’s something about cannibals that really screws with me, though; I guess everyone has their thing, right? For some people, it’s clowns. Succulent Prey not only has the gore-factor going for it, but the emotional impact of the story, especially the end, was the icing on the cake.

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Links-n-Shit

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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
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Editing Techniques

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Author’s Note: Here’s another taste from the archives, a guest post I did earlier this year for Ms. Janice Gable Bashman during my blog tour in support of WILD. In case you’re wondering, this “archive thing” is something I’m doing, purposely, for the holidays. The next two weeks of writing output will be almost exclusively dedicated to finishing a novella. Also, I have an anthology to wrap up, doncha know. I hope you like it.

Hi! I’m Lincoln Crisler. I play G.I. Joe for a living and write scary stuff in my spare time. Janice has been good enough to let me climb aboard and share a bit of my magic with you and suggested my editing techniques as a possible topic of interest. This is what I do; if you’re looking to try something different, it might be worth your time. If you’re a reader looking for a peek behind the curtain, this would be that. As wiser men than I have said, your mileage may vary. Just for fun, I’ll name the segments after songs from the best rock band ever, RUSH.

Leave That Thing Alone. [VIDOnce I’m done writing that bad boy, whether it’s a short story, a comic script, flash fiction or a novella, it goes to sleep for awhile. If I’m still lucky to have blocks of writing time in the days that follow the completion of a story, I’ll usually move onto something else. I’m always working on more than one project at a time; I’m ADD like that. Sometimes I’ll take a break from writing altogether, either because I can’t find time to write for a few days or because I need to do something else. The most important reason for putting a finished work in a drawer for a while (I recommend two weeks, but sometimes my impatience wins out and it’s only one) is so that the next time I look at the work I have a fresh perspective and will catch things that I’d miss if I edited right away.

The Main Monkey Business. [VIDSo, with a couple of weeks between me and the story (and hopefully with another completed story to shove into the drawer, ideally), it’s time to pull that puppy out. I read every single sentence, as you might expect, and if something doesn’t seem quite right, I read it out loud. If it sounds awkward when spoken, it needs a rewrite. I also look for signs of slop like excessive adverbs (words ending in -ly) or one of the biggest indicators of passive voice, words ending in -ing. Sometimes I’ll get a jump on that two week break by critiquing with some fellow authors whose opinion I value. I can usually implement their advice right away, since it’s not tainted by lack of objectivity. There’s been one or two times when I’ve been up against a deadline and needed to forgo the break. I depended solely on the advice of my critique group and didn’t go wrong. It’s very important to have some good people around you, for a variety of reasons. I also pay particular attention to the dialogue portions of my work. I’ve been complemented on numerous occasions on how natural my characters’ dialogue seems, and by and large it comes naturally, but that praise makes me paranoid. Now I have something to live up to. Every so often somethng won’t roll off my tongue as well as it did off my pen, and I err on the side of caution in those instances.

Working Man. [VIDBasically it’s business as usual at this point; find some decent markets, write a good cover letter and push that bad boy out of the nest! I’ve had editors come back at me two or three times requesting further editing; a couple didn’t like my curse words (and honestly, the stories weren’t harmed by their removal, either!) and another noted a slight difference in writing style at a certain point (coincidentally, the same point where I set the story aside for a year and a half!). All that’s essential at this point is deciding whether you want to make the changes, and then getting word back to the editor in a timely manner. Other than that, the only thing I should point out is that asking for revisions usually isn’t a guarantee of acceptance. That’s okay, though; I have a list of ten things you’d be better off doing than worrying!

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