Thursday, September 27, 2018

10 Ways to Improve Blog Traffic (#2 is my least favorite)

By Cheryl Oreglia

I have this annoying habit of obsessively checking blog traffic stats for the first twenty-four hours after I post. If I don't reach certain self-imposed levels I spend the day fretting, tweeting the link, and overeating. It's what I do. 
There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. Benjamin Disraeli
Clearly I could be improving content, engaging with writing communities, making my blog SEO friendly (it makes me nauseous just thinking about search engine optimization), but I seem to prefer waisting my times on meaningless analytics. It's sort of ridiculous. 
He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts - for support rather than for illumination. Andrew Lang
Since I started blogging in 2015 my numbers have steadily increased, at an extremely slow rate mind you, but at least I can graph a gradual improvement. There are 150 million blogs out there and figuring out how to market your particular genre seems overwhelming. I feel as if I'm bobbing (blogging) around in a turbulant ocean, searching for a floatation devise, or anything that will keep me buoyant. Never mind the predators and mega cruise ships. 

I write about my life as I see it, warts and all, good times and bad, but the truth is I've only peeled a few layers of the onion. It's not easy to share publicly that which makes us most vulnerable, but I'm learning this is how to make authentic connections, form community, and serve one another.
I was having problems with depression and anxiety disorder, and it felt like not blogging about it was creating a false history. When I did finally share the problems I was having, I was shocked - not only by the support that was given to me, but also by the incredible amount of people who admitted they struggled with the same thing. Jenny Lawson
Everything I read stresses the importance of branding, targeting your audience, authentic content, establishing community, and engagement. Then I stumbled upon the idea of evergreen content, material that doesn't become irrelevant next week, or next month. Talking about the Oscars, the latest political scandal, or who screwed up the Country Music Awards has minimal longevity. I find the most enjoyable posts include well written, relatable content, with a touch of humor. 
We're understandably worried that staring at screens all day, and blogging about our breakfasts, is turning America into a nation of narcissists. But the opposite might be true. Pamela Druckerman
Against all odds I continue to write because it's actually the one thing I prefer to do above all else. I have a great job but I never lose track of time when I'm teaching. I like wandering around the corridors of my mind, discovering new patterns of thought, and then writing about these revelations. It's hard to explain but writing is how I process life, in my pjs, ungroomed, from the safety of my computer.
Habits like blogging often and regularly, writing down the way you think, being clear about what you think are effective tactics, ignoring the burbling crowd and not eating bacon. All of these are useful habits. Seth Godin
Recently Facebook (my primary source for traffic) has changed it algorithms and I've noticed a slight drop in my numbers. Has anyone else had this experience?

I could spend all day trying to unravel the mysteries of social media but I have a job and a life that likes to squeeze in between my writing and obsessing. So I say the hell with statistics. 

Here are ten tools I've discovered that improve not only Blog traffic, but your complexion, and attitude (you're welcome).

1. Kickass Headlines Generator there are a lot of these out there, I linked one that you can play with. I tried this a few times when I was searching for ideas to write about and I'll be damned if one of my most popular posts came from a headline generator? I'm going to use this generator for today's post.

2. SEO's. Shit. Here's a link but I'm not a fan. One thing you can do is link relevant content. Okay, that I can do. 

3. Building strong Brand Identity is essential to the success of your blog. This can be done is a variety of ways but it's imperative that you have an easily identifiable name or affiliation. 

4. Make your RSS feed pop! Avoid clutter, titles with bling, scannable content.

5. Hunt down a relevant audience. Network with bloggers in your niche, contribute, publish content your audience is interested in. I'm a midlife blogger so writing about composting techniques is good, best ointments for diaper rash not so helpful.

6. Newbie blogger mistakes include incorrectly identifying a niche, not taking action, or thinking small. Apparently this article is all about me. 

7. Collecting emails is absolute torture but extremely useful if you want to participate with #8. Here's a link that might help. 

8. Showcase your most popular posts in a swanky Newsletter. This is a tool I've yet to utilize but it is extremely efficacious if done well. 

9. Create Incredible Content that meets the needs of your target audience. I always try to keep in mind the interests and concerns of my audience (old people) when I'm crafting a post but I've been known to wander off topic on occasion

10. Utilize a variety of social media sites to promote your blog. Some of the obvious ones are Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, but there are many others that might work for you. I've been sticking with the trite and true but trying one new site could be a rewarding challenge. 

Like most bloggers - I'm trying to make sense of all the new technologies and how to use them most effectively - I'm looking forward to learning from you also. Drop a few suggestions in the comments. 

When I'm not writing for Across the Board, I'm Living in the Gap, drop by anytime. 

Friday, September 21, 2018

Novel Beginnings - a Google Search

I finished writing my first book of 2019 yesterday (which is why I'm late with this post, and I apologize profusely)!! By "finished" I mean I got through second-round edits, filled in the blanks I left on the first pass and started obsessing about my opening pages for real. I know that I have a finite amount of time to "hook" a reader and the first pages can make or break a novel. Hell, the first sentence is sometimes enough for a reader to decide to dive in or jump ship.

So, I took to Google, as you do, for some inspiration on "best novel beginnings." My exact search:

The search results for best novel beginnings start with a list from Bored Panda. On it are books like Anna Karenina, The Martian, 1984 and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. 

The second entry on the page is from The American Book Review. No Douglas Adams or Andy Weir in sight, although lots of Toni Morrison. But the ABR is a list of 100. Bored Panda is only 10.

So, let's compromise at 30, compliments of The Telegraph. George Orwell, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Vladimir Nabokov are the only authors who made all three lists for 1984, The Great Gatsby and Lolita, respectively. 

"Best novel beginnings ever" brought up a similar list of search results, so I dove further in and took at look at Entertainment Weekly's list. Lots of repeats from the above lists, but some unexpected additions like Life of Pi by Yann Martel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, and (my personal favorite) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling. 

This list on Buzzfeed has the most currently published books of all of the lists, including Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, White Teeth by Zadie Smith, and A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. 

The thing that all of these lists have in common? The first lines are attention-grabbing. Alone on the page, they're even more so and it made me want to go back and re-read some old favorites and add others to my TBR. As a writer looking for answers, though...the thing it proved to me is that what makes a first line resonate with a reader is totally subjective. I vividly remember picking up The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, reading the first page and putting it down again. Only to pick it up a couple of weeks later and devour it, sobbing, in one sitting. The first time I picked it up, it was as simple as not being in the mood for the story, nothing else. The second time, it was exactly what I was looking for. Does that make the beginning any more/less powerful? I don't think so.

But don't take my word for it. These are some famous first lines from the above lists (sans titles to make it fairer, but I'll post the answers in the comments). Which ones appeal to you? Which ones would you pass over completely?

  1. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
  2. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."
  3. “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” 
  4. “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.” 
  5. “It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.”

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Small Change, Big Freaking Difference

Hellllloooooo, ATB readers!

It's a gloomy September day in the Poconos. Perfect weather to write a murder mystery set during gloomy weather in the Poconos. Oh, I need a better outdoor description? Why don't I just crane my neck, look out my living room window, and write what I see? Perfect. Easy and done.

I'm drafting a new book. And in typical KGG fashion, I was 53K words into the story before I recognized that it needed to be fixed. Normally this would be depress me but I took a class (Write Better Faster) last summer that enlightened me to my strengths. It turns out that this is part of my process and I should just go with it--so I am. And I feel loads better for it. Not all is wasted. Most of my material can be used in the new draft. So everything's truly fine.

This class also taught me to focus on forming one new habit to help my efficiency, and that is what I'm here to talk to you about today. Everyone has a different stumbling block. For some, it's finding time to work but for me, it's making efficient use of the time I have. I'm a stay-at-home mom but during the summer my kids are home. They're running around outside, throwing on swimsuits to play in the neighbor's pool, asking for snacks a bazillion times a day. It's constant interruption. And the minute I get out of my mental zone, I check Facebook and Reddit and Twitter.  

I've lost my train of thought. What's on AVClub?

So what's the change I made? Did I swap out my kids for noise-canceling headphones? Did I barricade myself in a soundproof room? No. I did this:

I woke up earlier than them.

5:15 am to be exact.

Blech. It's so early. It really is. And I don't like getting up early. But there are so many pros to being up before everyone else.

First, it's so damn quiet. Just me and the dog. I pour a cup of coffee, grab my laptop, and head downstairs into the basement where my desk is. I don't browse Facebook nor do I check my email (who's sending me anything important at 5 o'clock in the morning?). I simply open up my manuscript and work.

Second, it's a hyper-focused 90 minutes. Sometimes I get a little done--half a scene written. Sometimes I'm on a roll. Sometimes I finish up in the afternoon. Sometimes I don't. But all the time, I'm making progress. There have been one or two days where I couldn't wake up. I was sooo damn tired, and that's fine. Better to recharge than burn out.

Lastly, I'm not a night owl. After a long day, and a hectic evening trying to do homework, make dinner, attend soccer practice, I don't want to write. My brain doesn't work. It can't form words right, let alone sentences. For some reason, I am my best self in the morning. Tired, but best.

While I don't looove my early alarm, I do love getting words on the page before breakfast. I love feeling productive. I love feeling like I'm moving toward the finish line even if it's by inches and not miles. I wrote 2K words yesterday, half of them before sunrise. Go me!

So...have you recently made a small change that has a made a big difference in your life? Sound off below.

Monday, September 10, 2018

An Old Dog in a Social World

After about four years of this writing gig, I seem to be socially stuck. Yep, I can finally admit that my social game is in a pit of quicksand that exists right smack in the middle of:


I’m no stranger to stepping out of my comfort zone. If I never stepped out then I never would have published a book, let alone three. I have an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering, a Masters in Business, and I spent 17 years climbing the corporate ladder before publishing my first book. Writing and publishing that first book was so outside my comfort zone that in my first post here on Across the Board I talked about how it was scarier than jumping out of a plane.

But when it comes to social media, I’m an old dog. If you don’t believe me, I was in college when email was an ‘innovative’ thing. It was so exciting to get an email address and connect with people through the computer! Mind. Blown. Of course, most common people didn’t have personal computers at that time so you couldn’t check your electronic inbox until your scheduled time at the computer lab. But that just made it as exciting as waiting for those yellow slips to show up in your mailbox letting you know you had a package to collect.

Now we live in a time where my 12-year-old has more Instagram followers than me (and she’s only had access to it for less than a year) and email is so old school.

I’ve read the articles that tell you how to do good social media marketing. I’ve read about the best ways to connect to build your platform—and I can easily recognize when others do it to me. For simplicity, I bucket them into three categories:

The Soft Connection:
This is when I get random comments of “Great pic! Thanks for sharing!” or some similar sentiment. I know they are leaving a nice comment on my post in the simple hope that I will click on their profile and follow them.

The Medium Connection:
This is when someone leaves the random comment from the Soft Connection AND they follow you first. It’s as though they’re saying “I’m being nice and I’m going to stick around, so how about you give back?”

The Hard Connection:
This is when someone straight out asks me to follow them because we’re all in this together and need to support each other.

I don’t really have any issues with any of these approaches, although I’ll admit to being a bit more drawn to those who fall in the Medium Connection category.

But here’s the thing: I haven’t been able to look at my social media venues as straight up book marketing tools. I know some of you might be thinking that statement means I’m looking at it wrong. That doing it right means showing my personal life as well as my book life. And I totally agree. I can keep posting about my books and my life, however, if I start randomly following and commenting on twenty random posts/accounts a day in the hopes that I’d get five in return, then I’m still only doing it for the business.

I know that being ‘old’ is not an excuse for being able to adapt successfully to the social media trend. I’ve seen several people older than me do an amazing job of building a robust social media platform. So this is where the comfort zone part comes in. I’m just not comfortable doing it any other way than what feels genuine to who I am—and I’m not someone who randomly follows people just because I want to pull the attention back to myself.  I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with it if that’s what you’re doing. Many times I’m super jealous that I can’t do it that way. It’s just not me, and I have a very hard time sounding sincere when I’m doing something that isn’t genuine to who I am as a person. And I’m old enough to know that going that route will certainly backfire in my face.

So here I am, an old dog trying to find a way to at least nudge a toe outside my social comfort zone because I do know that its important to the long-term success of my writing life. I will say that I do like when people leave comments showing they actually read and connected to my post. It means they were at least paying attention enough to give a thoughtful comment rather than a ‘one comment fits all’ approach. Maybe I’ll create a new category—The Genuine Medium Connection—and shoot for that. Compromise is the spice of life after all, right?

How about you—is there any place where you feel stuck?

~ Carrie

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Why is mythology still relevant?
When I first started writing, I didn’t realize I was such a fan of mythology. Of course I studied the Greek myths in high school and college, but they never really inspired me. But then I researched some Norse myths for another project years ago, and I was hooked. That obsession turned into my Urban Fantasy series, The Norse Chronicles (on sale now for $0.99!). Since then, more and more mythology has seeped into my writing. My short story “Handful of Seeds” (appearing in Wicked South: Secrets and Lies coming October 31, 2018) relies heavily on the story of Hades and Persephone, and my upcoming paranormal romance Touch of Smoke draws from middle-eastern and Islamic lore about djinns (a.k.a. genies).

I could make long lists of popular writers who have written about or included mythological elements in their books, but I bet most readers could make their own lists. Mythology is pervasive in both classic and modern literature as well as pop culture, and it doesn’t appear to be losing favor. The ancient myths derived from mankind’s need to explain how the world worked. Thousands of years later, science has unraveled many of the big mysteries (we know a horse drawn chariot isn’t pulling the sun across the sky) but we crave an understanding of the world on a personal level, and mythology still exists to serve that purpose. It makes the complexities of life relatable.

I believe that’s because, in its roots, mythology addresses basic human philosophies using highly identifiable archetypes. By that I mean the characters of any mythology (Greek, Norse, Hindu, Christian, Islamic, Native American, etc.) are embodiments of core human characteristics and emotions like courage and fear, strength and weakness, love and hate, generosity and greed, peace and violence, wisdom and foolishness, ambition and apathy. In any time period, in any setting, and in any culture those themes remain significant and relatable.

I think that’s the same reason super heroes continue to survive in pop culture year after year. Super Man is today’s Hercules, Thor, Prometheus, Achilles, Samson, and Moses. Batman is Hades. The Joker is a trickster god like Loki, Anansi, or Sinbad. Wonder Woman is Athena, Freya, the Amazonian. Superheroes are somewhat literal interpretations of the ancient archetypes, but those epitomic characters exist everywhere. The strong warrior, the seductive beauty, the betraying sneak, the mother, the wise teacher, the father—we see bits of ourselves—or the people we wish we could be—in these characters, and the proof is in the fact that they show up over and over in our favorite books, movies, and TV shows.

Here’s a few specific examples that illustrate my meaning:

Neo from The Matrix series: Christ, Baldur, Dumuzid, Osiris, Adonis,
Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean series: Loki, Anansi, Coyote
Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City: Aphrodite, Venus, Inanna, Bastet

Harry Potter from the Harry Potter series: Jason (of the Argonauts) or Perseus
Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Athena, Frigga, Neith, Saraswati

Humans are hardwired for stories—it’s how we’ve exchanged information since the dawn of time. In, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories make us Human, Jonathan Gottshall says: “We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.” This, to me, is the ultimate explanation for why Mythology is still alive today.

Mythology is the fountain of life from which all stories spring. It might evolve, or be reinterpreted for the times, but myths and legends will continue exist as long as humans continue to crave a connection to and an understanding of the world in which we live.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Vital Websites for Authors

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey everybody! Hope you're having a lovely Labor Day, or, if you're one of our UK fans, "Labour Day," or, more accurately, if you're actually one of our UK fans, "Monday."

As I'm scrabbling on this holiday morning to just barely get my social media in order for the week (I have a book signing on Saturday) it occurs to me that I'm really scrabbling just to get my social media ready for the day.  (Later addition: you may note that this post did not, in fact, go up in the morning.)

So it occurs to me in doing so that social media for authors is a little askew from what your average internet user might use.  There are some author-specific websites which I use on a daily basis, which beginning authors may not be familiar with.  So let's run down a list of some absolutely essential websites for authors and their social media presence.

I remain absolutely shocked at how many times I go to look up an author and they haven't set up their Amazon Profile.  If someone buys a single book of yours through an Amazon link, they are going to want to buy other books of yours in the future (assuming they like it.)  And if you don't have all of those in one place, you're doing yourself a disservice.

With Author Central, you can create a home base on Amazon to claim all of your books at a minimum.  You should also put up an author bio and a headshot.  And if you want to do more with it, you can link your blog, Twitter feed, videos, and the like.  There are all sorts of bells and whistles on Author Central.

But perhaps even more important, if you're not a self-published author Author Central is where you can view your sales statistics.  It's not crystal clear, but Amazon will provide you with a line chart for each of your titles, so you can note spikes in sales, drops, and plateaus.  You can also more-or-less gauge how many copies you're selling a day.  And guess what, if your Amazon sales differ significantly from what your publisher is paying you, you may be dealing with a shark.  So you should at least be periodically monitoring your sales statistics.  Author Central also gives you quick access to your reviews, although this feature for some reason is always delayed by a few days.

In short, this is essential, and if you're not using it, don't say I didn't warn you.

2.)  Goodreads

Goodreads is the social media platform of choice for readers.  (Some readers swear by Library Thing, Shelfari, and the like, but that's a bit like preferring RC Cola to Coke.  I mean, that's fine if you're a reader to go where you prefer the functionality, but as authors, the fish are swimming in the Goodreads lake.) 

As with Author Central, you should be maintaining a presence here.  At a minimum you should be collating your works and have a bio and author photo.  And, as with Author Central, there are also various bells and whistles like connecting to your blog.

Where Goodreads shines, though, is the interactions you can have with readers.  The groups there are par excellence, and if you can establish a good working relationship with the moderators of a few good ones, you can really get you name out there.  You can also hold giveaways, and even answer questions from readers.  Also of great note: Goodreads lets you organize events, a la Facebook.  So for your book launches you can invite some of your GR friends who will, in fact, be readers, rather than Grandma Smith like you would on FB.

A word of caution though: unless you're very familiar with the etiquette there, try to limit your direct fan interactions on GR.  Flamewars are pretty common there and some readers are of the opinion that authors have no place there.  Others are less myopic, but the point remains: if you don't know how you're supposed to act, don't risk acting poorly.  At a minimum, never respond to negative reviews.  (GR even has a cute and hilarious warning when you try to.)  Responding to good reviews is less frowned upon, but not strictly necessary.  So just plan to be a lurker here unless you're already a GR maven or plan to learn to become one.

Off of social media slightly, forewarned is forearmed.  There are a lot of sharks out there that will try to scam you by stealing your work, not paying you, or worse.  Realistically, you're never going to be able to avoid ever schmagent or schmublisher, because some of them never reveal their true colors until it's just in time to screw you.  But you can at least avoid the obvious ones.

Preditors and Editors used to be the sine qua non of identifying bad actors.  It's a shame, but the site went dormant recently and seems to be being retooled.  So hopefully they can reclaim their mantle at the top of this list, but I'm reserving judgment.

In the meanwhile, Author Beware is a stellar site for rooting out bad apples.  You can even reach out to them with specific questions and, time allowing, they will respond.  It's a work of kindness on the part of good authors who are running this site for the newbies, so please take advantage of it now and pass on the good vibes later.  That's what we do here in the writing field.

Absolute Write is another option, but it's a bit much for me.  Whereas P&E was like a water pick, Absolute Write is a firehose.  You'll find a lot of opinions about every publisher and agent imaginable, but unless you particularly enjoying sifting through snotty message board posts (hey, I'm not going to front, I do sometimes) it may be a bit too much.

Closer to social media but more like a news source, "Publisher's Weekly" is akin to the literary world of what "Variety" is to Hollywood.  (Or, anyway, what "Variety" was to Hollywood in the 1950s...I don't know what it's like there now.)

Every major book deal is going to be listed on here.  And while they won't call out bad actors the way P&E and Writer Beware will, you can go on PW and see which agents are landing which deals and see for yourself.

Now, this one is a paid service, so you will want to consider how seriously you're taking this whole writing business thing, but it can certainly be worth plunking down a small chunk of change to be in the know.


And there you have it!  A brief rundown and just barely still posted on Monday.  How about you?  What websites do you consider essential to this beautiful business of ours?  Let me know in the comments below.
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