Blogs & Websites

Developing Effective Web sites

Ruth Ann Nordin and I just returned from a Heart of America Christian Networking conference. We had a wonderful time. The conference revitalized our faith and our writing. There were many workshops, and one of those was on how to develop an effective Web site. That workshop was facilitated by Jim Watkins of Wesleyan Publishing.

As you develop your site, pay close attention to detail and keep it consistent, he said. He highlighted Billy Graham’s site as a good example of a well done Web site — simple, easy to read and not cluttered with material. Here is a link to that site for your examination:  http://billygraham.org/video/heaven/?utm_source=Google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_content=November%202014&utm_campaign=CTV&SOURCE=BT14BYGGS&gclid=CPWlsobI88ECFehAMgodSmkA4Q

Define the blog or Web site’s purpose, he said. Is it for people to get to know you better through an author biography (which, according to him, is a must), to sample your material and/or purchase your books or what? If your ultimate purpose is for visitors to buy your products then make sure no more than two clicks gets them there or anywhere on your site, Watkins said.

The home page should show what you are offering, he said. Also, give viewers a way to search your site and contact you.

In addition, keep the site simple, the best readability still is white background with black lettering, Watkins said. Use fonts, such as Helvetica, which are easy to read. Point sizes should be no smaller than 10 to 11 points and use one font throughout your site. However, you can vary that font by using bold and italics and no matter what do not use all capital letters, he advised.

In the United States, we read from left to right so place the most important item(s) there, he said. Size, in addition, denotes significance, thus your largest lettering is the most prominent with each degradation in point size portraying less relevance, Watkins continued.

Adding color to your Web site is fine but make sure the color is rememberable because it should be used across media spectrums, he said.To go along with his point, I would tell you not to use white lettering. Because when you print out white lettering on white paper, it will not show up.

Watkins cautioned you to not overload your site with images. This, as you know, also takes more time to load and could make people leave your site before it finishes loading. I went to a Web site a few years ago, and it took forever to load the fancy wallpaper. I have not gone back since because I do not have time for that. So think of these details when designing your site.

Watkins likes WordPress because it is easy to use. WordPress has Web sites and blogs (which you could use as a Web site). Yahoo small business also is good, he said. These have templates you can choose and are about $120 a year and also are pretty easy to use, said a person familiar with this method.

After you have a Web site, how do you promote it? Watkins suggested you use Facebook to ask questions, prompting people to interact and to visit your site. I have such a question. To those who have read Courtships and Carriages, what character would you like to see as my main character in Book Two of the Great Plains series? You can respond here. I will later post this question on Facebook.

Well, have a great day and I hope this post was informative. Many of the Lord’s blessings to you until we meet again.

Categories: Blogs & Websites, Book Promotion, Marketing & Promoting | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Writing Reviews

I enjoy writing reviews on my personal blog. Whether it be for a book, movie, or TV show, writing reviews allows me to give my own opinion on a particular work to a wider audience, as well as helping me to seem more like an authority on the subject when the work in question happens to be in my main genre (namely horror). And there’s an added benefit to writing reviews: by identifying what works or what doesn’t work in a movie/TV show/book, you can learn from these examples and incorporate them into your own fiction to make your stories better.

I’ve been writing reviews on my blog almost as long as I’ve been blogging (for examples, click here), and I think knowing how to do it and doing it as often as possible actually works in your favor as an author. Below I’ve written down some tips to writing reviews, based on my own experience and things I’ve picked up from reading the reviews of others (especially those in Entertainment Weekly):

Review both good and bad works. Sometimes it’s tempting to only review the good stuff. After wasting perhaps several hours on a work that proved to be well below the bar, the last thing you want is to spend any more time on it. However, writing a review on something you disliked not only does a lot of much-needed venting on how you wasted money getting that ticket or buying that paperback, but it may help someone decide whether or not to check out said work, and perhaps avoid several hours of trying to get through a book that fails to please.

Opening, summary, thoughts, final rating, closing. This is the structure I usually use for my reviews. I give a little opening that gives my impressions of the movie, positive or negative. Then I give a short, hopefully spoiler-free summary of what the film is about, followed by a paragraph or two about what worked and what didn’t work. Finally I give a final rating (more on that below), and I write a final piece, usually something relating to any possible sequels or how this book was one of the best I’d read in a long time or some other third thing (you guys get the idea).

Use a rating system. You don’t have to use a rating system, but I find them helpful. Something simple, such as on a scale of 1-10, 1-5, out of 5 stars, a grade between A+ and F (though I wonder, if you’re a schoolteacher during your day job, is using that rating system too much like work?). I prefer using 1-5 with decimals. The last review I gave was a 2.6 out of 5, if I remember correctly. It’s simple and easy to understand, which is what I hope everyone thinks my reviews are.

Make sure to name all relevant people. Include the names of the author, or the name of the writer, director, and actors if this is a TV show or movie. Also, if you feel themake-up artists producers, and composers or anyone else should have their names mentioned, do it. Just make sure you explain why these names are mentioned.

Unless your blog is dedicated to reviews, don’t do them too often. It’s that whole thing about staying true to the theme of your blog and not wanting to deviate too much from that. Sure, a review every now and then is good, but don’t do it too much that you forget why you’re writing your blog in the first place.

If you want to find out more about reviews and writing them, you can check out mine through the link above (though you’ll also find reviews of my own books among them and a few other things, so you might have to wade through all that). You can also check out blogs dedicated to reviewing different movies/books/music/TV shows (too numerous to list here, I’m sure), any pop culture or entertainment magazines (People and Entertainment Weekly) and review aggregator sites (IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, etc.).

And readers, we want to hear from you. Do you write reviews? What do you get out of it? Do you have any tips for the rest of us? Let us know in the comments section, we’d love to hear from you.

And if we get enough tips, I might post an article with your suggestions listed. So don’t hesitate to share your thoughts on reviews and reviewing. You might see them posted for all to see in a future article.

Categories: Blogs & Websites, Book Reviews, General Writing, The Writer & Author | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tips For Gaining New Followers on Your Blog

If bloggers all share one common conceit, it’s that we’re hungry for followers. We like the idea that people are reading what we post on the Internet, and we’re always looking for ways to make sure that plenty of people discover our work and that they keep coming back. And while there’s no correlation between the number of followers and book sales (I wish there was, though), having followers can lead to some book sales on occasion.

Here are some tips I’ve found useful at one time or another for gaining followers on my own personal blog. Now, there’s no guarantee that any of these tips will be helpful for your blog. At best, a combination of these might be helpful, but that’s for you to find out. Like any technique in this business we try to increase sales and readers, it’s all trial, error, and learning from the past so we can learn from the future.

DO NOT ask for people to follow you! I know some people really want followers, but asking for other bloggers to follow you, especially in a comment on a blog post, sounds a little desperate, which can be a major turn off to some bloggers. There’s a better solution to get a blogger to check out your blog, especially if it’s a blogger you really would like to follow you.

Converse. If you read a post by a blogger or really like their blog and you would like them to follow you as well, then talk to them. Have a lengthy comment conversation where you go over issues or points made in the blog post. Engage them, and let the comments you leave speak for themselves. I’ve been drawn to certain loggers just by a single conversation we’ve had over comments on their or my blogs, and vice versa (I think. Maybe once or twice). If your comments really resonate with a blogger, then they may be drawn to look over your blog (if they’re not already reading your blog at the moment) and maybe then they’ll click the Follow button.

Also…

Blog often. I think a lot of us at first only blog when we feel we have something important to say. But that only increases the pressure to have something relevant to say, and may contribute to us blogging less, which may lead to readers not finding us because we have a small body of work. So instead try blogging more often. It doesn’t have to be big or groundbreaking or important. It can be a small revelation you had about a character, or how a day with your kids inspired you to write a story, or even the frustrations you have with your old computer and how you can’t wait to get a new one. I have a couple of friends who blog once a day every day, and they have a lot of followers, blogging on things going on in their lives, sharing excerpts from their WIPs, and the latest in STEM accomplishments and science fiction, to name but a few. You don’t have to write a post every day if you don’t want to, but writing often, even on the little things, can help people find you.

Blogging often also makes us better bloggers. We get a feel for it, like how we get a feel for fiction writing by reading and writing a lot. We learn how to write a compelling blog post from blogging often and from reading other blogs. And that brings me to my next point.

Always be on the lookout for an interesting blog. I love Freshly Pressed on WordPress, because I’ve read really interesting articles and bloggers through it (I actually discovered this blog through Freshly Pressed, by the way). One should always be on the lookout for an interesting blog or blog post, not just on Freshly Pressed but anywhere else you may run into them. And if a post really catches your attention, don’t just Like it, comment on it. Likes are nice, but comments really engage.

Tags! Tags help readers find your blog articles just as much as keywords do. So make sure you have a tag for most or all of the points covered in your blog post and maybe it’ll help people find your blog, or even get Freshly Pressed (in which case, I might become jealous of you).

Stay consistent to the main theme of your blog. Most of our blogs revolve around our writing careers, so we should keep our posts revolving around writing, our respective genres, the latest updates of our books, etc. Sure, it’s okay to maybe talk about something interesting in your life or maybe a political issue you feel passionate about, but don’t do it so much that you deviate from the main theme of your blog more often than you actually write about it. Otherwise you might lose followers who signed up to hear about you and your writing, rather than twenty posts about your job or church and then maybe one about your book, over and over again.

Use pictures. A WordPress administrator actually wrote a post a few years back and published it on Freshly Pressed. One of the tips he or she (I can’t remember which) gave was that one should try to use pictures, as they can spice up some blog posts, especially ones where it might seem to the reader as just one long list of text without end and they might lose focus.

Maybe I should use a picture in this article…

Remember your grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Just like readers hate horrible grammatical errors, typos, and things of that nature in the books they read, they get really annoyed with that in blog posts. So try and keep grammatical rules in mind, make sure you’re spelling that word correctly, and don’t use a semi-colon when a period or comma would do just fine.

Have fun with it. The main thing with blogging is that you have to enjoy it somewhat. If you treat it as a chore, it’ll come off that way in your blog posts and people might not want to read your work. But if you like it and get into it, that feeling might reveal itself in your blog posts.

 

Like I said, these techniques don’t always work for everyone. These are just ones I’ve felt have helped me. But in our line of work, where we experiment as we write and publish and market, you never know. These tips, as well as those from other writers, could prove extremely helpful in building your audience.

What sort of tips can you give other authors on building audiences and gaining followers?

Categories: Blogs & Websites, General Writing, Grammar, Marketing & Promoting, Social Networking, The Writer & Author, Writing as a Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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