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  1. #1
    LaerCarroll.com
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    What’s in YOUR blog?

    In another thread we discussed the size of blog posts. What about the contents of the posts and of the blog overall?

    The purpose of the blog should decide much of the answer. For the Red Cross one design might be best. For an author’s blog a different design might be best.

    In any case those who’ve studied what makes a successful blog have come up with a few general principles. START SIMPLE, STAY SIMPLE (that your purpose will allow). START SMALL and TAKE BABY STEPS when adding to it. Help visitors EASILY FIND what they want.
    ___________________________

    Author’s blogs (those which most of us in this forum likely want) share several other qualities. But each can be very different depending the kind of fiction we’ve written and plan to write. Steampunk-fiction blogs might have a sepia background and black-and-white paintings and photographs. Romance might have a lot of pink—or not (pink has been overdone lately). And so on.

    Our blog (or blogs if we write several kinds of fiction and non-fiction) should also reflect the specific “brand” we want to present to the world. Two different authors of space fiction (a fave of mine) might want different looks if (say) one deals with the far future and aliens, and the other deals with near future and military actions against only humans.
    ___________________________
    Here’s the content I suggest we put in our sites.

    An author’s page, but only as much as represents our brand. I’m a very experienced aerospace engineer but I don’t believe my hillbilly East Texas background matters to most of my likely readers. Nor does my nearly thirty years dancing the Argentine tango. And I put my BIO menu selection at the far right of the horizontal menu strip, after all the more important menu items.

    A HOME page, at the far left of the menu strip. On WordPress.com it can be a static (rarely changing) page or a blog (displaying the latest post). I like to keep my blog posts short and only about announcements or topics especially interesting to my readers. This includes new SF movies and TV shows and books, cutting-edge technology especially aerospace, the expansion of my Series Universe background page, and so on.

    Maybe (or maybe not) a fictional BACKGROUND page, about Hogwarts and Wizarding... Oops!

    And SAMPLES. Clicking this menu item shows a submenu of the selections. I consider this the most important part of my blogs and spent a lot of time making each story look much as it would appear in a magazine or book.

    (For WP.com bloggers: Once I had the page format set using CSS, though NOT Custom CSS, I made it a Private page and now use the “Copy a Page” action to begin each new addition. That done I do a copy-and-paste of the Word file holding the content of the sample into the new page. I’ll be happy to share my CSS code for anyone to use and change to suit your needs.)

    That’s about it. KISS.

    (Oh, and links to IndieBound, Amazon, and B&N for each book.)
    Last edited by Laer Carroll; March 21st, 2014 at 11:36 PM.

  2. #2
    Registered User CharlotteAshley's Avatar
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    In addition, blog posts are a good idea. Non-solipsistic original content is nice. That's what gets people to actually visit your blog.

  3. #3
    LaerCarroll.com
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    You can tailor your blog in WordPress several ways to establish your authorial “brand.” I chose a “theme” which let me do something like this.

    In this theme (Twenty Ten) you can tailor your posts or pages background and the blog background (the part that shows around the post/page). This can either be a solid color or a JPG image. I chose a starscape image from NASA for this blog’s background, and white for the posts and pages to avoid distracting from their content. (Some people choose an image and make it semi-transparent so it shows up ghostlike.)

    In this theme you can specify the featured image along the top of the page, either for all pages or specific pages. You can also insert smaller images inside each page, to the left, right, or center.
    _________________________________

    Where do you get your images? If you have skills in photography or painting you can create them. If not, there are literally billions of public domain images on the web.

    Many millions of them are in the (U. S.) government sites, such as nasa.gov or the USAF site af.mil (but not in airforce.com). More are in wikimedia.org, though some are Creative Commons Licenses which MAY require you to credit them, which you can do with small discreet text near the image. Or in a separate Credits page.

    Another way to add visual interest to your site is to insert YouTube videos. The first key image goes on your page. But if your readers click the image the video runs. If they click the YT icon it runs on YouTube. This brings your reader to YouTube, and this is why YT allows you to use their material on your site.



  4. #4
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Maybe we should move this into the Promoting thread? Or we can leave it for the moment.

    I am thinking of changing themes and Twenty Ten and Twenty Eleven are two I'm looking at. How do you like yours, Laer?

  5. #5
    LaerCarroll.com
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    I use 2010. Every few weeks I review the latest and greatest themes; I’m always eager to get a better one.

    But if I change themes it has to do some very specific things which work FOR ME. So far 2011 and similar themes (2012, 2013, and others) lack some essential feature or quality.

    An example is 2011. The featured image across the top of the page is larger than 2010. Good, right? But it also takes real estate away from the contents of the posts and pages. Since my story examples and excerpts are mostly text this is a bad thing FOR ME.

    Every artist is different. What works for one may not work for another. For you 2011 might be a better choice.

    I'm curious. What other themes have other posters found which work well for an author to showcase their work? Maybe I'll find a better one than 2010.
    Last edited by Laer Carroll; March 27th, 2014 at 12:22 AM.

  6. #6
    We Read for Light Window Bar's Avatar
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    A reminder: The search-engine clout of your blog (of your entire website, actually) is determined by many factors: keywords, number of links, number of visitors, number times our websites/blogs are cited on other websites... and many other "Search Engine Optimization" strategies of which I've not yet learned.

    We mustn't be shy about swapping links, sharing material (especially making it easy for blog visitors to do voluntary shares on FB, Twitter, etc), sharing mentions of one another's sites... in other words, becoming part of the world internet community. It's no different than being a writer/politician/businessperson/academic in the outside world. If no one can find us, our blogs will be little more than songs in an empty hall.

  7. #7
    LaerCarroll.com
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    Quote Originally Posted by Window Bar View Post
    ... songs in an empty hall.
    Awesome! I've GOT to write a story with that title! DIBS !!!

    Here are a few WordPress sites by SF/F authors. Notice how different they are, each presenting a unique picture of the author and their works.

    The fourth is not a WP site, but it’s so simple yet effective (“elegant” is the word I want) I had to include it.

    Steve Gould - http://eatourbrains.com/steve/
    Lynette Noni - http://lynettenoni.wordpress.com/
    John Scalzi - http://whatever.scalzi.com/
    Nora Roberts - http://www.noraroberts.com/
    Last edited by Laer Carroll; March 27th, 2014 at 05:58 PM.

  8. #8
    Registered User Motley's Avatar
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    This has been very useful. I have a website with attached blog but it doesn't have much on it that really makes sense yet. I have to dedicate myself to focusing it better.

  9. #9
    LaerCarroll.com
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    Quote Originally Posted by Motley View Post
    This has been very useful. I have a website with attached blog but it doesn't have much on it that really makes sense yet. I have to dedicate myself to focusing it better.
    Remember the advice START SMALL, STAY SMALL. And TAKE BABY STEPS. You can try different WordPress themes and slowly develop a site that expresses YOUR unique vision.
    __________________________________________________ _______________________

    Sample chapters and stories are the most important part of an author’s blog. They are what helps convince readers to buy our works.

    None of the blogging platforms are set up to do this well, even WordPress which has 250+ very different themes. But we can over-ride the default look-and-feel of their web pages. (If you like the default of the theme you chose, you can skip the following.)

    You over-ride defaults in WP using CSS, a companion web standard to HTML. There are two ways. One is to buy the Custom Design upgrade for $30 a year. But there’s another way for those of us on a small budget.

    That’s to put CSS into each page. This is a bit clumsy, but it works and costs nothing. The results look like this.


    We do this using CSS inside two HTML statements. One is the <p> for paragraph. The other is <div> for division, which lets you split your page into one or more parts, each with a different look.

    They would look like this for the example above.

    <p style="margin-top: 0; margin-bottom: 0;">Sentence 1. Sentence 2. Sentence 3. Sentence 4.</p>

    This over-rides the space above and below each paragraph in the theme you’ve picked for your blog. (The usual default is no space above and a line space after the paragraph.)

    <div style="line-height: 120%; text-align: justify; text-indent: 5%; font-size: 14pt; font-family: Times New Roman, Times, serif; color: black; background-color: white; border: 2px solid blue; padding: 15px;">

    Looks complicated, right? But you can just copy this and use it. And change it to suit your tastes and needs. For instance, to change the page color you might make this change: background-color: cream or background-color: 'antique white'. (For more info on how to do this go to the W3schools site for CSS: http://www.w3schools.com/css/.)

    WP has a feature I use to make it easier to create new pages with the desired HTML format. I created a Private sample page (which readers cannot see) that has the above div HTML. Then for each new chapter excerpt I use the WP “Copy a Page” command to create a new page. I then paste my chapter text into the new page right after the div statement.

  10. #10
    LaerCarroll.com
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    Where do you start once you’ve created your infant blog? My suggestion is most everyone’s favorite topic: themselves. Surely you’ll have no trouble finding things to write about!

    I’d guess the problem is what NOT to write about. Even if you’re a super-celebrity, most readers don’t really care that much (or at all) about who wrote a book. So what do you cut?

    It will differ for each of us. That’s part of what creating a brand is all about: putting forth a clear vision of your past and future writing. The writing that will bring in more and more readers, to more and more of our books.

    So for me the one fact that I wanted people to know is that I’ve spent most of my 40+ plus years as a software and systems engineer in aerospace, at NASA and Boeing. There I worked on cutting-edge projects that once were SF. This includes the space station, deep-space probes, military jets, laser weapons, and much more.

    That said, I shut up.

  11. #11
    LaerCarroll.com
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    As you write more your blog will have more samples of your writing. Even full manuscripts. Should you post THOSE MSs?

    In John Scalzi’s blog he has a post called How I Sold My Books. He’s widely read now, even has a book optioned for a movie. But he broke into trade publication by posting his first two books in full on his web site. They were discovered, offers were made for them, and they saw publication as Old Man’s War and Agent to the Stars. Other authors have had similar success with full MSs. (Plenty have not, of course.)

    Once your book has been published (whether via trades or self-published) you have to take the MS down, of course. But Amazon and B&N don’t mind if you put the first few chapters on your site, up to 10% of the total in case of Amazon. Those samples are part of your advertising. They benefit from it.

    You might worry that someone will copy your MS and sell it as their own. We do hear about that, so it happens. But it’s much rarer than it might seem from the reports of such incidents.
    _____________________________________

    What about posting works in progress? Could that bring you enough interest to motivate you to complete the books? Could you get useful criticism?

    My policy is to always finish a book before I put any samples on the site. Or at least so much of it (90% with me) that I know I WILL finish it. But I’ve begun too many books which started well which I could not finish or finish before my interested readers became disinterested or disgusted with waiting. So I stick to this rule. (MY rule. You’re certainly free to develop a different policy.)

    I do get some useful criticism. Almost always I take their advice and fix the problem. Right away, so they know their advice is valued and will continue giving it to me. If I disagree, I say why as clearly and briefly as I can. So far the critics have accepted my logic, perhaps because so often I admit I agree with them on other issues.
    _____________________________________

    What about experiments, stories or scraps you intend never to publish outside your blog?

    I think this is a great idea—BUT only if you admit that is your intention up front. You don’t want to get potential fans annoyed with you. Especially when you’re beginning your career. It is fans (Kat tells us and I believe her) who do most of the selling of our works. The most expensive ad campaigns can get people to sample our works, but almost never do they convince people to buy them. Most of us are very ad-resistant nowadays; we’re bombarded with too many in too many ways to be puppets.
    Last edited by Laer Carroll; April 11th, 2014 at 07:16 PM.

  12. #12
    LaerCarroll.com
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    How do you make it easy for your readers to find what they want in your blog?

    One is to keep it as simple as possible. Not a single element should be superfluous to your purpose which, for authors, is to sell our stories. Be ruthless. Don’t be afraid to add stuff. But be ready to cut what does not work FOR YOU.

    Notice the emphasis: FOR YOU. Every writer is different, so every blog must be different, at least in small but essential ways.

    Second, organize it well. Which means what?

    Put more important stuff higher on each page your readers see. Put the more important stuff to the left, less important to the right.

    For me that means the HOME menu item (the blog part of my sites) goes in the top left of the page. This is where I put announcements of news important to my readers. The BIO goes in the top right, the least important menu item.

    Menus of most WordPress themes can have several levels. Keep the number of levels to no more than three (except for rare exceptions). So for instance on one site I have a top-level menu item STORIES. Under that is several book titles. Under each book title is the first few chapters of each book. Three levels, you’ll notice.

    Most free-hosted sites allow themes with several columns. Keep the number of columns to three. Two is better, one wide and one narrow. Which goes to the left or right depends on your purpose. I put my narrow one to the right, for the important stuff goes to the left.

    For my story excerpts I use one column. I want my readers to spend all their time reading the story, not looking at the right side of the page where I’ve placed “widgets” showing various items.

    I could mention other pointers for organizing your site (such as how to use color). But these are the essentials. Using them will improve your site(s) a lot.

  13. #13
    LaerCarroll.com
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    What kind of numbers of views and of regular followers can you expect for your blog?

    The numbers vary depending on how popular your books and shorter stories are, how long your blog has been up, how interesting your content is, and how regularly you post.

    The most popular blog in the world as of last month according to the Alexa web site is Huffington Post, with 110 million monthly visits. The next most popular is TMZ, with 22 million. But classifying them as blogs is questionable. I would call them online newspapers.

    At the high end of popular author’s blogs is that of Nora Roberts. Her books are enormously popular, so her site gets a lot of traffic from readers who want to know about her upcoming books, or earlier books for readers who’ve only recently discovered her. Her personal blog is separate, a key click from her writing site. (Interestingly, it’s a WordPress.com site.)

    One of the more popular SF/F author’s blogs is that of John Scalzi. His blog has been around in several incarnations since 1998, and has been visited several million times. He posts daily, sometimes several times a day, and has frequent posts by guests. He has many hundreds of followers (people signed up to get email messages about recent posts).
    __________________________________

    But what about you, who are just starting out as a writer and a blogger?

    My experience may be closer to what you can expect. I have precise & detailed info on it because WordPress.com has statistics-gathering & -display facilities.

    I post at least once a week and sometimes as often as three. This is the balance I like between too few and too many. I began this policy about a year and a half ago. Here are the numbers of visitors for the last month. Notice the big drop for the long Easter weekend.


    Each peak of 30+ visitors are the numbers following the day I post a popular item. Not all of my posts are this popular, only about one in four. A more usual number is half that though the average is slowly creeping upward.

    Also increasing is the number of fans I have, which stands at 106 today. Each of them is automatically sent an email announcement by WordPress.com each time I add a post to my Home (or blog) page. This number goes up in 3-up and 2-or-3-down fashion each week.

    WP.com also gives you other statistics. Thus I know which pages (the static parts of my site) continue to get hits long after I’ve added them and announced their addition with a post on the blog part of my site. About the only firm lesson I’ve learned from this, however, is that pages with scantily or tightly clad women continue to remain popular long after I’ve added them!

    One interesting statistic is the origin of those who view your web site. Here are the numbers looking at my site during the past 365 days.


    There were several surprises on this for me. Apparently after the U.S. I’m most popular in the Philippines! I am also read in Nigeria, but this is less surprising. It’s the most populous of the African countries and its official language is English, since it was a UK colony until 1960.
    __________________________________

    My suggestion to you? Start a blog now while you are still building your literary skills and inventory. Start small, take baby steps, and experiment with your site. Try out different designs and contents. This way when you begin marketing your stories and books you’ll be ready to use it as part of your marketing.

    What about content? We’ve already discussed that above. But basically whatever fascinates you. This is what will show up in your books and what will draw your fans to you. Beyond that, trawl YouTube for videos, especially those of upcoming movies or TV shows which you and your fans might enjoy. Also, keep posts in the blog part of your site short. Longer entries should go in pages (the static part of your site) with a post pointing to them.

    Finally, this is likely the last post I'll make in this thread. I hope it has been and will continue to be helpful to everyone thinking about creating an author's blog.

  14. #14
    LaerCarroll.com
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    There is a lot more interest in this subject than I guessed when I started it. So let's try this. If you're trying to create a WordPress.com author's site & are having a problem, PM me through SFFWorld & I'll try to help. I can't spend a lot of time on this effort, but let's see how it goes.

  15. #15
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    What works changes with genre, with the individual writer, and with the individual work...different audiences like different elements of a website or blog (or combination thereof.) I've noticed the following points in many discussions of websites and blogs from various sources.

    A website or blog that is strictly about your work--all promotional--attracts only people who are already your fans or who got there via a link and who may or may not be interested in your work. If they're not immediately interested in your work, and all you offer is a "Buy my books!" message, they go away and don't come back. Samples can turn off interest as well as arouse it.

    A website or blog that offers value beyond your writing work attracts those interested in that value (it might be pretty pictures of flowers, or information about birdwatching in central Missouri, or themed recipes, or amusing anecdotes from your own life, or mini-lessons on the craft of writing...anything that someone who is not your fan might enjoy reading.) Some of these people will not have heard of you and may--through their other interests that intersect yours--find your writing about birds or cooking or photography interesting enough to try out one of your books. People want to connect with writers, get to know them, and though you can give too much information, you can also give too little, offering them nothing to latch onto. Even if you have a project specific blog (as I do for the Paksworld books) you can gradually share more about yourself, your reasons for writing that kind of book, how you go about it, etc. You can run contests, ask your readership questions about what they like and don't like in the genre, in cover art, etc.

    Thus if you have a blog, people will want to comment and engage you in conversation. This takes time, and it's OK to be open about not having time to answer when you're busy. If you make it too hard for people to comment, you'll lose visitors. On the other hand, it's your space, and thus if it turns into a toxic dump, it's your name associated with said toxic dump. Every blog attracts some negative and even toxic comments. It's important to police your space and keep it attractive to newcomers. If you don't moderate, you or someone else will say something that someone objects to, and then brings 8500 of their buddies and buddies' buddies to swarm onto and create a ruckus. A noisy crowd draws traffic, all right, but it's not the traffic you want. Have some way of screening comments from strangers, and make it clear you have both the right and the intention to keep your comment space civil and sane.

    On a project specific blog, most (90%) of the blog posts should have something to do with the project, but it's not all selling, selling, selling. It should be like the Easter Eggs in those extended movie DVDs...something more than is in the book itself, that people can get only by coming to the blog. How you came up with a character's name, or why a particular trait, or when you first realized that a character in a short story needed to have a novel to grow into. Things from your own life that can be woven into the book discussions--a form of proof that you know what you're talking about. When we had to do work on our septic tank last winter, I used that and the pictures we took as a starting point for discussions of wastewater management in the world of the books. I've done blog posts on the concept of an elvenhome, on horse gaits (because someone asked me what a hand gallop was), on counterfeiting in period, on weapons, on knitting, on gardens and cooking. I use photographs, and links to other sites and videos when that's appropriate. (For instance, the horse gaits question...found a YouTube video of canter, hand-gallop, and full gallop.) So a person who arrives via someone else's link has something other than book-pushing to look at and read.

    The static website in which the blog is embedded has all the formal information on the books and stories--ISBN, cover art, brief description, where to buy, etc. and then a lot of background material for the books--maps, description of history, places, peoples, etc. and some commissioned character images (there will be more.) The design--for website or blog--should itself suggest something about what you write in the choice of colors, images, etc., while keeping your core readership in mind. Some writers have a distinctly gendered readership, and others have a more even balance of both male and female readers. What you don't want is a design that makes your most likely readers uncomfortable.

    Having more than one website/blog allows you to cater to different readerships if you write in genres that don't mix well...highly erotic romance and hard-boiled crime fiction, for example. Even if you don't use a pseudonym in a situation like that, you can design websites/blogs that clearly signal what the casual surfer has gotten into.

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