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Websites and Blogs: Simpler Is Better

I just got off a website that had so many things going on with it that I could barely find the content I was looking for.  I’m getting increasingly frustrated with websites and blogs that seem like a maze.  I understand that people are adding flashy gimmicks to their sites because it looks awesome, but it’s gotten to the point where I am overwhelmed by almost half of the sites I ever go to anymore.  I am starting to unsubscribe now from these sites because I don’t have the patience to keep sorting through everything to get to what I want.

(And just to clarify, these aren’t just author sites I’m talking about.  These things are covered by a wide variety of consumer products like insurance, financial planning, and shoes.  My point is this: it seems to be everywhere.)

Just like in writing a story, I think simple is best.  When you complicate things, you make the reader (or potential reader) work harder to figure out what is going on.  Also, we’re in a global community now with a wide range of people checking out our content.  Some people may not be as “hip” to technology as we are.  Or English could be their second language, and it’s hard for them to sort through all the lingo we take for granted.   I like to think of a website or a blog is a place to say, “Welcome!  Thank you for stopping by.  Relax.  Take a look around.  Browse at your leisure.” The best way to do that, in my opinion, is by keeping things simple.

So here are my recommendations for keeping your site simple and easy to navigate:

1. Watch the text color and the background color.

White letters on a black background does look neat, but it’s hard on the eyes.  Also, keep in mind that someone might want to print out a post you write if this is on your blog.  I heard of a blog post that had red lettering on a green background.  This would be a nightmare to print out.  Sure, the person can select “black and white” print, but will they think to do it (or even know how?).

2. Font size and type.

You want something that’s both easy to read and neat.  Bigger font size is good for introducing a division in the topic on the post.  For example, “2. Font size and type” above can be larger.  It can also have a fancier kind of font if you want.  But for the regular text like what you’re reading here, I think it’s best to go with the default font size and type.

3. De-clutter the page.

On your website, your newest book should be the focal point, so this should be where the eyes first go to when someone stops by.  Past books should be on other pages.

You can point out other pages in your header (if it’s one that scrolls across like Joleene Naylor or Melanie Nilles does).

Or you can point to other pages in your site somewhere in a menu bar.  Stephannie Beman has her pages listed on a menu at the bottom of the header on her website, and Rami Ungar has his menu at the very top of his blog.

Any other things you want to point out (such as social media links) in your home page should be unobtrusive and to the side of the content that’s being featured.

On your blog, your main focal point is the text of your blog post.  If you want to add a picture, feel free.   I wouldn’t do too many in case it take someone with an older computer or slow internet longer to download the page, though.  Not everyone has the newest computer nor does everyone have the fastest internet available to them.  The more pictures you have, the longer it can take for them to access your post, and some may not be patient enough to stick around.

4. Make it easy to comment.

I’m guessing you want people to comment on your blog post.  If not, turn off comments.  If you do want people to comment, then make it as easy for them to comment as possible.  I have seen some blogs that require you to pretty much verify you’re an actual human being each and every time you want to leave a comment on the blog.  Some then proceed to make me manually subscribe to future comments via my inbox.  So not only do I click on the “notify me of future comments” box, but I then have to go to my inbox and verify that I want to be notified if there are future comments.   Another person had a pop-up menu asking me to sign-up for their newsletter before I could even leave a comment.

I don’t know if these techniques really work for the people using them, but I am not inclined to bother leaving comments anymore on those blogs.  (Unless the person is a friend.  I will only go through that kind of headache for a friend.  And this person has to be a really good friend.  If I was just a regular reader, I would not do it.)

5.  I’m on the fence about the pop-up box asking people to sign up for a newsletter.

It seems like almost every blog or website I go to lately has this pop-up box asking me to sign up for a newsletter.  This isn’t just authors.  It’s on a variety of products, and I think it’s the frequency of this method that has caused me to be annoyed with it.  I didn’t mind it so much when it happened once in a while, but now it seems to be all over the place.

Now, I almost didn’t add the “pop-up box” in this list because I know it’ll ruffle some feathers.  I know people who do this, and I understand why they do it.  I’ve even heard this method is effective.  But then I thought, “This is something that does annoy me as a potential consumer.  I have actually decided not to buy hats or software because of one of these pop-up boxes.

Personally,  I would rather find the sign-up form for a newsletter somewhere else on the site.  Like to the side of the main page or on a separate page entirely.  This way, it doesn’t interfere with what I’m trying to read.  I realize all I have to do it “click out” of the box, but that’s an extra step that I don’t always have the patience for, especially when I need something quick and the kids won’t leave me alone.

After conducting an informal survey of readers’ preferences on Facebook, I learned most of them don’t like the pop-up ads.  Some are okay as long as you can “X” out of the box.  But for those who browse blogs and websites on their mobile phones, they said they did not have the open to “X” out of the pop-up box.  I don’t surf the internet with my iPhone.  I use the computer for that.  I’m taking their word for it.

Again, I understand why authors do this, and I won’t stop coming to your blog or website because of it.  When an author is looking to build their list, this is one of the methods open for them to do.  But there are other ways to gain subscribers to your email list.  You can leave an option for people to sign up for your newsletter at the end of your books (which has worked for me).  You can run a giveaway or a free book in return for people signing up for your newsletter (which I heard is also effective, though there seems to be a high unsubscribe rate afterwards).  Or, as I mentioned above, you can have it to the side of the main page or on a separate page on your site.

But like I said, I’m not going to avoid your site because of it.

6.  Automatic videos or audio.

I’m not a fan.  It can be slow in loading if you don’t have fast internet.  It can also be distracting.  Sometimes I’m already listening to something while I’m browsing the internet.  To have something auto-play during that time is jarring.  Also, there have been a couple of times when I have the volume on my computer turned all the way up because of a low quality video on You Tube, and if there is something that auto-plays (the news is really bad for this), it’s jarring to have something loud suddenly play at you without expecting it.

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I think when it doubt, keep things simple.  What tips do you have for keeping things simple on a blog or website?

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Stress: How To Cope When the Mountain of Work Only Increases

An author’s life is an incredibly busy one.  The easy part is writing your book.  It’s what happens after you hit publish that can have you running around doing a million things at once.  Whether it’s family, friends, the household budget, chores, appointments with the dentist/doctor/etc, and things like car repairs, we are already busy.

Now, add to this the job we have of promoting our work.  We must juggle social media.  We must answer emails.  We must update our website and/or blog.  We must line up things with editors/cover artists/formatters (or do these things ourselves), though I would advise to never do the edit yourself because it’s hard to catch everything when you’re reading what “should” be there instead of what is actually there.  On top of all of that, we have to keep track of our expenses and our income for tax purposes.

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There is so much we do.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but it seems that for every one thing I accomplish, two more things pile up on my “To Do” list.  So how are we to cope in a world that is constantly demanding our attention?

Keep Writing or Write More

Sadly, this is the one thing we do that is easiest to push back because the other things require us to do something for other people.  All of our promotional efforts focus in on others, and we often put others before ourselves.  (I’m not saying this is always a bad thing, but if you don’t take care of yourself, then you won’t have the emotional reserve to take care of others.)

For most of us, we need to write.  It is the only thing that keeps us sane in the middle of our stressful lives.  So if we were to “not write”, then we would only get stressed out even more.  Writing has a calming effect on us.  It clears our minds and helps us focus.  So I believe writing needs to be at the top of our priority list in order to help us do everything else.

How much writing should you do?  That will depend on your particular situation.  A good rule of thumb is to figure out how much time you need to write in order to feel calm and relaxed.  For me, it’s two hours minimum.  Once I hit the two hour mark, I feel at peace with the world around me.  I don’t have to do this every day, but I can’t go for longer than two consecutive days without getting irritable and restless.  Your own threshold will be unique to you.

It’s Okay If You Don’t Answer Emails, Blog Comments, or Facebook/Twitter/Google Plus/Etc Comment Today

Unless there is an emergency to tend to, it’s okay to push all of these aside for when you have more room in your calendar for them.  One thing I have found helpful is to write 250-300 words, answer 1-2 emails or comment from a social media site, then go back to writing another 250-300 words.

This way  the social end of my writing business doesn’t take away from the actual writing.  Of course, it requires some discipline.  It’s easy to get distracted by a funny picture or video.  So if you need to be offline while writing, then wait until you’re done writing in order to get to the social stuff.  On days I don’t write, I’ll carve out 1-3 hours to catch up on the social side of writing.

Whatever way works best for you is the one to go with.  Just because the tips above helps me, it doesn’t mean they’ll work for everyone.

Say No To Things You Can’t Handle

We all have our limits, and knowing where yours is can be a huge life saver.   It is hard to say no when someone wants something from us.  (This something is often our time.)

Carefully weigh the pros and cons before saying yes.  Can you still get everything on your list done if you say yes?  Will you have the energy you need later on in the day to do your work?  Will the creative flow still be there?  Do you feel like everything is in order, so when you come back, you’re not going to feel stressed out?  If you say can yes to those things, then you can say yes to the person’s request.  If you say no to any of them, see if you can do the thing for that person at a more convenient time.  (Unless you don’t want to do it.  Then, by all means, just say you can’t do it.)

Prioritize Your Tasks

I like to have a calendar next to me where I can keep notes on what I need to do and on what day they need to be done.  I plan out this calendar a week in advance unless there’s an appointment I scheduled six months in advance (like a trip to the dentist).  You may be able to plot out your writing and social media tasks for a longer time span.  My attention span is pretty short, so I need to keep my timeline short.

I don’t keep a detailed list.  I know some people who do, but I would go crazy if I did that.  I take 2-4 main things I want to do that week.  I don’t write down the every day things I do.  I just write the things I do once in a while, such as “make blog post for newsletter blog,” “write up letter for email list recipients,” or “update website.”  Then I make those the main focus for the next coupe of days, and I do these in addition to my writing.

However you want to handle your list is up to you.  There is no right or wrong way to do it as long as it helps you keep focused on the main things you want to get done.

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Well, those are my tips on managing stress.  I know there are the proper sleep and taking care of our health components involved, but I wanted to stick mainly with the writing part of our stressful lives.

What do you do to help cope with stress as a writer?  Got anything you can add to the things I mentioned?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Your Top 2-3 Writing Goals For The Year

Since it’s the beginning of a new year, this is the perfect time to start off with a clean slate (or as much of one as you can). 🙂

I was thinking this morning that it’s a good time to think about the main things we want to accomplish this year.  I originally going to suggest making five goals, but then I thought 2-3 is a lot more doable than five.   By keeping this short and simple, I’m hoping we’ll see success with them.

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What Should The Goals Deal With?

These should be goals related directly to writing.  Yes, I know there are health goals and other non-writing related goals this time of year, but we’re not going to go into that. This is a blog dedicated to the writing business, and that being the case, we’ll focus on writing related goals.

It can be books you want to get done, an LLC you want to set up, a course you want to take to become a better writer or market your books, a new website design, a strategy to get a blog going, a new marketing idea…  As long as it relates to the world of writing, it fits.

So with that in mind, let’s take a look at what we most want to get done.   I suggest writing these down or recording them if you use dictation software.  You don’t have to do this in one sitting.  I think taking a day or two to mull this over is a good idea.  Often, something will come to mind when you’re doing a chore or taking a shower.  (Funny how that works, isn’t it?)  So as you come up with these goals, mark them down.  The list can be as long as you want in this stage since all you’re doing right now is brainstorming.

Narrow It Down to 2-3 Main Things

Next, set the list aside for a week.  This should help your subconscious mind work through everything you put on it.   Then take the list out and mark the top 2-3 things you want to do.  These are the high priority items.  If you get nothing else done this year, those 2-3 things should be accomplished by the end of the year.

1. Keep it simple.

I advise keeping these things simple enough so you don’t get overwhelmed later in the year when you’re working on them.  So instead of making a goal  something like, “Write a four-book series,” have the goal be, “Write Book 1.” That gives you one goal that is a lot more doable.

You know the expression that says, “You can’t see the forest through the trees?”  Guess what?  You can’t have a forest unless you have trees to begin with.   The purpose of this exercise is to set up strong trees that will make for a healthy forest in the long run.  If you try to do too much, then your trees will be weak.  Do what you can handle with everything else you have going on in your life.

2. Make your goal something you can control.

Having a goal like, “I’m going to make more money this year,” isn’t something you can control.  As much as I would love it if we could control this part of the business, it’s not possible.  All we can do is take steps toward making more money.  So instead of, “I’m going to increase my income,” try something like, “I’m going to create a group on Facebook where I can engage with my readers” or “I’m going to create an email list” or “I’m going to make a blog post twice a month”.  Something like that is directly under your control, and it’s a way to promote your work.

(Below I went off tangent.  Feel free to skip.)

I have been criticized for speaking out on losing income in the past, but I write posts on this blog because I believe in being straightforward and honest about things.  If I don’t do that, then I’m only wasting my time and yours.  I am not going to promise anyone that if they plug in a certain formula or do something specific, they’ll magically find their income go up.  I can share things that have helped me earn more money, but that’s all I can do.  And just because that one thing (such as pre-orders) helped me earn more money, it doesn’t mean I made more money than I did the year before.  What it did was help take some of the buffer off the losses I was experiencing.

Personally, I’m tired of hearing how we are supposed to expect income to go up all the time.  The truth is, it doesn’t always work that way.  You can do everything right and still not have more money coming in.  I have had private conversations with other authors who make a living with their writing.  Last year, some of them (including me) lost income.  Some were losing income in 2015, too.  This is despite doing all the things marketing experts tell us to do and selling in a popular genre.  So if you find that you’re not able to make the income you want even though you’re following all the advice out there, I hope you’ll take comfort in knowing you are not alone.  (Sometimes the worst feeling in the world is thinking you’re the only person this is happening to.  And it certainly doesn’t help when people criticize you for being honest.)

(Now back to the topic.)

If You Finish The Goals Ahead Of Schedule, Make More

Congratulations if you get things done before you think you will!  That’s wonderful.  It’s better if you end up having to add more goals than to not complete the ones you set out to do.

What Are Your Goals?

I’d love to hear what you guys are planning to do this year, so please share!

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