Bloggery: 2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog. This probably won’t interest anyone but me, although the fact my most successful post this year was about hyphens isn’t lost on me.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Advertisements

Top Ten Tuesday: Blogging (and bookish) confessions

toptentuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is ten blogging confessions. But the example post they gave is for bookish confessions. Because I doubt I can manage ten blogging confessions. Although maybe I can. Let’s see…

Sometimes I draft blog posts at work, although I don’t post them from there, because my employer’s firewall has a JUST SAY NO policy about social media, even blocking helpful blogs like Grammar Girl. Probably the most notable work-drafted post is this one: What not to say to your editor. Because I was very angry. (For the record, the writer I blogged about there is getting a tiny bit better … although this week he defended a word choice because he was using it in a “commonly understood way that any English speaker would understand”. Except me, apparently. But at least he says thank you now.)

If I buy an ebook and love it beyond all reason, I order the paperback afterwards. I just can’t help myself. I’ve got six full-size bookshelves that are getting very cluttered. And I love to look at my pretties. The only catch is that if it’s a POD release (via small press or indie publication), I usually wait till it’s available on The Book Depository. Amazon’s paperbacks might be cheap, but the shipping to Australia can double the price of a book from them.

I don’t blog about things I really want to share. Like most writers who are querying manuscripts, I’ve found there are various highs and lows on that journey, and sometimes I really want to do a virtual happy dance or cry into my WordPress pillow. That’s one of the reasons that writers who post saying they have an agent or a contract are so giddy about it. Because finally they can TELL PEOPLE. (See here. And here.) Even now, there are things I could blog. But I cannot blog the things. Perhaps one day.

Why can’t I blog the things? Because querying agents and publishers is like Fight Club. You don’t talk about it. If you’re not sure why, read The Art of Oversharing by Summer Heacock. It’s both educational and horrifying.

c49b2-yabounktourbuttonI signed up to a blog tour company’s promo emails to get extra content. The one I chose was YA Bound, as I’m sure regular followers of my blog will have already figured out, on account of their logo being splattered all over certain blog posts. That’s where most of my book blitz posts with excerpts and giveaways come from. But on the bright side, I’ve discovered some awesome-sounding books that way. Now to just find the time to read them all… (Note: they also regularly have slots available for reviews as part of book tours, so if you’re a baby book blogger looking to get your hands on more books to read, check them out!)

I almost never review books in exchange for free copies. I can only think of two instances where I have. One was Twelve Steps, by one of last year’s successful Pitcharama entrants, and one was Silver Tides, over at Aussie Owned and Read before we got our two book reviewers on board. The reason is that I have *counts* fifty-nine paperbacks or hardcovers sitting here waiting to be read, plus two I’ve ordered that haven’t arrived yet and a preorder that hasn’t been released yet, PLUS at least another twenty ebooks on my Kindle. At the speed I read that’s enough to get me through till at least Christmas 2015.

Assuming I don’t buy any more books before then.

Which I will.

As an aside, I have over 80 books on my to-be-read pile. And that doesn’t count the pendng releases I haven’t preordered. Holy crapbiscuits! That’s more than I was expecting.

I used to rarely review books at all, anywhere. But then a bunch of awesome writers I know and love from Twitter and Aussie Owned had their books come out and I know how valuable reviews can be for new writers trying to break through and make a name for themselves. (This doesn’t mean I lie in my reviews, mind you; I do mention any things I don’t like alongside the stuff I do.) Since then I’ve expanded it to include most books that I read.

Except for the children’s books. Because you probably don’t care much about my struggles to read The BFG aloud to my son. That dialogue was haaaaaaaaard, you guys.

I read a lot of blogs, but rarely comment. I know I’m not alone in this, given how many hits my blog gets a day relative to the number of comments. In my case, it’s because I use email subscriptions to keep track of my favourite blogs; I read most of them in my email client on my smart phone, which doesn’t make it very easy to write something in reply. I’m more likely to pin a post I love or tweet a link to it than I am to comment.

I try really, really hard to only use open source, free graphics. Occasionally I buy stock, such as that fireworks graphic I used on Saturday. But sometimes the desire for an animated Pixar or Doctor Who gif overwhelms me. I just hope that, if Disney and the BBC come after me, they decide it was more of a homage than theft. It’s not like I’m hosting entire shows here, after all. HOWEVER, I feel very strongly about stealing art for use on blogs. Don’t do it, kids. (Or if you do, at least link back to the artist’s page so it’s more like a free advertisement. They may forgive you, then. Of course, they may not — it’s always better to get permission. Be squeaky clean.)

I schedule almost all my blog posts. I expect most people do, so this may not be a shock. But the best time for me to post is in the morning, Australian time, because then that also catches the US evening crowd. And since by then I’m usually either on my way to or at work (with its unfriendly social media firewall), that means I have to schedule stuff.

On that note, it’s dinnertime and I’m hungry. 😉


Website design: creating an attractive author image

Today’s guest post is by Amber A. Bardan, contemporary and paranormal romance writer and winner of North Texas Romance Writers of America‘s 2013 Great Expectations. 

I’m so excited to be guest blogging for Cassandra today! I thought I’d blog about something I know a little be about. My day job (as in the job that actually pays me money so I can spend the rest of the time writing) is as a Web and Graphic Designer. Let’s face it the reason you get an author website is so publishers and agents can look you up and see that you appear professional. Obviously you want your website or blog to look pretty, and thereby enhance your professional image.

It’s also the foundation of your one day ‘published author’ platform. I want to stop here a moment and say something; at the end of the day your writing is what is going to sell you – everything else is secondary so don’t stress too much if you have no domain, few blog followers, and only a couple of Twitter followers. These things are only a complement to good writing.

However, the advantage of setting yourself up professionally is that other writers, prospective readers or whomever our blog/website is targeting are far more likely to take you seriously if you look the part. So here are my tips on creating a good looking author website.

Creating Strong Visual Appeal

·         Keep it simple

Look at the majority of successful bloggers and aspiring writers; their blogs and websites are usually simple. If not, they usually have professionally designed themes.

Either way they are not generally loaded with photos, images, clip art, hundreds of colors or varying text sizes—it’s simple and consistent.

·         Quality graphics

If you are going to use graphics to enrich your website or blog make sure they are good quality, royalty-free images. Nothing looks worse than tacky clipart on a website. Sites like Shutterstock, iStock and Dreamstime have millions of beautiful, professional images available to purchase for a very small fee. You only need one great image to create a website background or blog banner.

·         Color Choice

This is the biggest problem with DIY websites and blogs! We all know ‘those’ websites with black background and yellow or magenta text… Apart from not being visually appealing, color choice effects visibility and your website’s or blog’s accessibility.

Chose two colors—with big contrast. You might introduce a third color for enhancement, but only use it with a light hand.

De-saturated colors work well. But always use web-safe colors (no neon yellow or magenta)

When using a color for a background or text I suggest always pairing it with white. For example, with a dusky blue background, use white text. With a white background, use dusky blue text. You can use more than one color against white, such as a white background with a dusky blue text and pale blue embellishments, but never put a colored text on a colored background. 

·         Templates and Professionals

Another option is to purchase professional services in the form of professional web design or web/blog templates. This option can give you a very professional and individual result—if you choose your source wisely. Of course, custom is the most expensive option but there are more affordable templates available from template stores for a small cost (some are even free). If you do choose this option ensure you do your research; look at portfolios and get a good understanding of what is included, what you need to do yourself, and total costs.

You can find Amber on Twitter or at her blog.

Amber A Bardan


Call for guest posts!

Blogging old school. (Image from Wiki Commons.)

Blogging, old school. (Image from Wiki Commons.)

As some of you may be aware, I’m in the middle of getting my house ready to sell. My days lately have been filled with cleaning, boxing and rearranging—and today I plan on gardening. At night I tend to feed and wash the child, then put him to bed and collapse unconscious myself.

But because I want to keep up with the content so you don’t all abandon me (sniff), I put a call out on Twitter seeking people to write guest posts on writing and publishing. I’ve got a few awesome folks already working on posts for me, but I thought I’d put the call out here as well.

If you’ve got something to say in around 500 words about writing—the process, grammar, editing, seeking a publisher, self-publishing or anything else that springs to mind—send me an email (cassandrapage01_at_gmail.com) and we can talk! 🙂


The problem with timezones, aka “I’m in a competition”…

The problem with being on the opposite side of the planet from the majority of the English-speaking world is that sometimes competitions go live at, say, 4am. I’ve started taking major advantage of scheduling. I use TweetDeck (a free program) to schedule some of my Twitter posts for while I’m asleep and hopefully dreaming of David Tennant in leather pants (hello, Fright Night!), or while I’m at work. WordPress lets you schedule blog posts too, which is awesome.

The gorgeous Stacey and I were chatting about the awesomeness that is the Miss Snark agent blog (which I’ve raved about here before – you can find a link to Her Royal Snarkiness on my Links page). Stacey asked me if I’d heard of Miss Snark’s First Victim, a blog started by the first writer Miss Snark ever critiqued. In the spirit of helping other writers the way she was helped, MSFV runs regular competitons, including the annual Baker’s Dozen and the Secret Agent contents.

So I looked it up and decided I wanted to try my new opening paragraphs in the Secret Agent contest. (I’d try Baker’s Dozen but it’s not till the end of the year!) And of course the window for entries to be received was something like 3am to 7am. On a Tuesday morning.

Google to the rescue! I found a neat little Firefox/Chrome plugin called Boomerang. I like to imagine it was designed by an timezone-challenged Aussie much like myself, given the name, but it also has a feature to resend emails so maybe not. Boomerang works with Gmail and lets you schedule your emails. I searched for the timezone of the contest, figured out the local time to send the email, and kapow! (Also, send!)

Even more excitingly, I’ve been chosen at random by the random number generator gods to be one of the January Secret Agent contest entrants. Take that, timezone differences!

(Let’s take a quick moment out while I hyperventalate at the idea that my words are going to be more widely available than a few beta readers or Pitchwars mentors. It’s only 250 words, but still!)

jack sparrow freaking out

Aaaah!

(Ok, I’m done.)

… The only thing is that the entries go live on Wednesday morning. Or Wednesday LATE-o’clock, local time. I don’t think scheduling can help me with this one.

Final score:

Me: 1,
Timezone differences: 1.


To tweet or not to tweet! *chirps*

A noob twitter hatchling, uh, hatches.

A noob twitter hatchling, uh, hatches.

The days of authors being able to isolate themselves from their readers and concentrate on their craft are well and truly gone. There may be some fabulously rich bestsellers that don’t need to bother with social media, but they are few and far between. Even successful authors have a Facebook page, or Twitter, or a blog—or all of the above. (I know, because I follow some of them.) Apparently “word of mouth” is the newest craze in book marketing. That’s code for “the author maintains a social media presence”. It has the benefit of being cheaper than paid advertisements.

And it works too. I only discovered about Jacqueline Carey’s new urban fantasy, Dark Currents, via her Facebook page. I then went on to buy it—in hardcover, no less—and loved it. (And now I’m blogging about it. I should be on retainer!)

And if it’s important for them—the ones that have made it past the gauntlet of interns, agents, acquiring editors and whatever other publishing industry professionals exist (hey, I don’t know; I’ve never dealt with them!)—how much more important is it for self-published indie authors? And wannabes like me? Many agents say that if they are interested in a writer’s work, they will look them up on social media. I expect it’s mostly to determine whether the writer is crazy, arrogant or otherwise likely to be hard to work with, but part of it is also to see whether the author has a significant platform, like thousands of followers on Twitter or a crazy-popular blog.

All of these are reasons to engage with social media, whether you want to or not. But there are others.

I’ve been a Facebook person for years now: a personal profile only accessible to family and friends. I mostly post photos and cute updates about my son (as I was drafting this he asked me if I was king of our house; damn straight!). I haven’t actually created a public profile for my writing … mostly because it feels strange to create a regular Facebook account for it (one where I become Facebook friends with people), and to create a “fan” page when I have nothing for anyone to be a “fan” of feels like tempting fate.

But in November I decided to join Twitter. I’m sending my first book out to agents, and thought it was time I gave the social-media-as-writer thing a whirl. I had no idea what I was doing, but it’s easy to get the hang of. I’ve had non-Twitter friends ask me what I tweet about, and I tell them the truth: mostly I just chat to people. It’s not about posting the cleverest or most insightful thing (at least, not for me—I’m not that clever and am definitely not insightful!). It’s just about being friendly. Sometimes I’m funny but it’s usually by accident.

I got lucky, too—within a few weeks one of the people I was following tweeted about a contest called Pitchwars. Even better, I heard about it in time to actually enter. I chose three mentors to submit my query letter and the first few pages of my manuscript to, and sat back to wait. I also befriended other entrants and a few of the mentors; the competition had a super-supportive atmosphere that I found surprising, but also a huge relief. I don’t deal well with overly hostile alpha types.

I didn’t win, or even get picked for the final three by my mentors—although apparently I made some shortlists. It turned out that my query letter—which I’d already sent to a dozen or so agents by then—blew chunks. Several kinds, in new and interesting colours. Disheartening, much? I did get some lovely compliments back on my writing, though, as well as some specific and constructive feedback on the query and opening pages. The query in particular is, oh, a thousand times better now. If I ever meet the agents who got the original version, I plan to studiously avoid eye contact.

I also got invited to collaborate on a new blog (more on that next month)—which consequently encouraged me to start my own, personal blog (hi!). And I found myself a new beta reader for my book (the aforementioned Chynna-Blue). AND I’ve started following the tweets of a bunch of agents and agent interns, which is educational and occasionally alarming.

All this in less than two months.

So what’s my point?

I got onto Twitter with the misguided notion that it might be a good idea to build up some sort of following so that when I published my book (either traditionally or as an indie author) more people would know about it than my boyfriend and my mother. But I’ve found a brilliant, supportive community of writers who share opportunities, provide feedback and are a willing cheer squad. And many of them comment about the fact they’re writing, which I for one find an excellent motivator.

If you’re a writer trying to decide whether to bother with Twitter—if you can’t imagine what worth there could be in 140 characters—then DO IT! Be friendly and polite, and see how far it gets you.

Also, you never know. Maybe when that agent googles you they’ll like what they see.