Sunday, February 22, 2009

Blog Versus Website (or Blogsite?)

The more I learn the less I know. Especially regarding technology. But I keep trying.

My new plan is to combine my website and blog into a single online presence. It makes sense to me to send readers to one place instead of two. Yet I realize not many authors do this. Is it because website design software typically doesn’t include blogging capabilities? And/or because the free blogging sites (Blogger, Typepad) don’t accommodate web pages?

Wordpress.com says you can do it all. Add web pages to your blog or make your blog a sub-page of your website. This is exactly what I want to do—create a blogsite. But so far, I find the setup on Wordpress to be less than user friendly. At least in comparison to Blogger. So this could be a long and painful process. Especially the transferring of posted blogs from here to there.

So I’m conducting a survey. Authors: Do you maintain a separate blog and website? If so, why? Do you have more than one blog? And if you combine the two, what software or blogging platform do you use?

Readers: Do you like it when an author’s blog is part of his/her website? Or do you visit author websites looking mostly for book information?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Simplify Your Life

I started a part-time job recently (in addition to my freelance business) and am feeling a little scattered as I try to keep up with everything I have going on. And financially, we’re still struggling. So I’m on a crusade to simply everything—our finances, my promotion efforts, my online presence, my reading materials, even the amount of mail that pours into my house everyday. Most of these efforts are still in progress, but I feel relieved and less stressed already, so I decided to share what I’m doing in hopes that it helps someone else.

Online Presence:
My plan is to combine my blog and website. It makes no sense to send readers in two directions. Once I get this done, every time I post a new blog, I’ll also be adding new content to my website. And I’ll only have to update/freshen in one file. Most likely it will all end up on WordPress. I’d love to have someone design this for me, but no one wants to work that cheap and who can blame them. I also transferred all my domain names to GoDaddy from Yahoo. I’ll save about $130 a year and not have to think twice about spending $7 to register my new book title.

And I signed up for Ping.fm, which posts updates to all my social networking sites at once (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and more). This saves time and keeps my MySpace and LinkedIn pages updated now; before I was mostly ignoring them. And I've vowed not to join any new networks despite the zillions of invitations I get everyday. I don't have time to do them right, and I don't need the guilt for letting them languish.

Personal: I’ve eliminated half of my magazine subscriptions—because I only have time to half read half of them anyway. Down the road (when I’ve paid off the website redesign), I’ll cut the rest, buy a Kindle, and download what I want to read, when I have time. The people who lived in the house before us received every catalog you can imagine, and they didn’t forward any of them to their new residence. So now every time I get an unwanted mailing, I contact the company and make them take our house off their list. It takes time to do that, but it’s less crap on my kitchen table and less paper wasted. Long run, it will save time recycling all of it.

I also unsubscribed to many e-newsletters and am resisting the urge to sign up for any more. No matter how great the content, if I don’t have time to read it or follow up, then it’s just another e-mail to process. I also don’t look at e-mail until I’ve hit my word count for the day and/or finished work, so by the time I do, I’m tired and need it to be easy.

I do massive food prep on Sunday and/or Monday, so my lunches are ready to go for each work day and dinners for the next few nights are easy. It helps me hit my word count before work and keeps me from feeling exhausted after dinner.

Finances: We’re refinancing our house and getting enough cash back to pay off our credit card debt. At the same time, we’ll change our payment schedule to every two weeks—and shave seven years off the mortgage. Interest rates are so low now (4.7%) that we’ll end up spending less money on a yearly basis, even taking into account the refi charges and accelerated payments. Long-term, we’ll save a fortune on interest, all our debt will be in one place, and our single payment will be automatic.

In fact, we’re switching every payment that we can to autopay. Which means less mail coming into the house and fewer checks to write. And we’re making many of those payments with the credit card, which builds up flier miles, in case we ever get to go on vacation again. In April, when the option is available, we’ll switch our utility payment to a year-round standard and put it on autopay as well. I’m tired of seeing the winter bills for how much it costs to stay warm. This new way, we’ll pay the same amount every month, and I don’t have to think about it.

I’m still brainstorming ways to simplify (and save money) and if you have great ideas, please share them.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Writing Software

There was long and passionate discussion on a list serv recently (Murder Must Advertise) about writing software. Many people posted about how much they hate Word, especially the 2008 version, and others talked about the alternatives they use. But of course, they all have to copy/paste into Word to send manuscripts to agents and editors—because that’s the industry standard. I’ve always used Word but in a limited way. (I use Quark or InDesign if I have desktop publishing needs.)

But I recently discovered the Notebook Layout View in Word, and I love it! It’s such a convenient way to keep several small idea files in one document without having to scroll. It’s part of how I keep organized while I’m writing.

Which is the subject of my guest blog today at a new site called Better Software to Write. Theresa de Valence is not a only a mystery reviewer, she’s a retired software programmer who’s developing new writing software. So if you have software needs that aren’t being met by your current program, this is your chance to tell somebody who actually plans to do something about it. Stop by and share your piece.

Better Software to Write/How I Write (and Stay Organized)

PS: This is my 100th blog post! Help me celebrate by following.

Monday, February 9, 2009

E-Book Buzz

As the Kindle 2 is unveiled, the buzzword in publishing is e-book, e-book, e-book.

It’s the only segment of the industry in which sales are growing, and this phenomenon has some readers worried (“I’ll miss the feel and smell of a new book”) while others are delighted (“The environmental benefits are worth the sacrifice”).

But what does it mean to authors? Speculation on that front is rampant as well.
  • “More new authors will be published because the production costs are so minimal.”
  • “Author advances will disappear, and it will be more difficult to earn a living as a novelist.”
  • “If you don’t have an e-book, you’re missing a whole section of the market.”
All three scenarios could come true.

Another interesting question: Will e-books fall into the same categories—traditionally published versus self-published—that print books do? Will novels from well established e-publishers automatically carry more prestige than an e-book from Author Unknown? I read a post today that stated unequivocally that one of the benefits of publishing an e-book is: “You don’t have to go through the obstacles and headaches involved in finding an agent and a publisher.”

What about distribution? If you don’t go though the headache of finding an e-book publisher, how will anyone find and buy your book? Just because your book is downloadable from your website or for sale on Amazon doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have buyers. The production quality and file choice matter too. You want your e-book to be downloadable to, and nicely displayed on, the major e-readers: Kindle, Sony Reader Digital, and Mobipocket Reader.

I’ve thought about all of this because I’ve considered self-publishing some of my early novels as e-books. Then I decided against it because the benefit would be minimal, and who needs the stigma of being a self-published e-book author? I know that statement will rile some people, but the attitude exists, whether valid or not. Well known authors, on the other hand, could probably do quite well selling e-books from their own websites.

Ultimately, as an author, I want to have all my books available both in print and e-files from traditional publishers with established distribution (and web traffic). But the publishing industry is changing and becoming much less clearly defined. As e-book sales grow and become a sizable chunk of the market, some of the old distinctions may disappear.

What do you think? Are e-books the future? And does it matter who produces them?

Status Update

I started a job last week at the Register Guard, our local paper. I’m writing features for the special sections (supplements to the paper with titles like Home & Garden and Tastings). It’s 19 hours a week with no benefits, but I am truly grateful to have a steady source of income. And so far, I like it a lot.

I hit 52,000 words on my third Detective Jackson story today and am on track to finish the first draft by mid-March as planned. I’m excited about how this story is turning out; it’s richer and more complex than I first imagined it to be.

The Sex Club will soon be available as an e-book from Echelon Press. I’m excited to make this story available to a much broader range of readers.

I entered one of my novels, The Baby Thief, into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest. I rarely enter contests, but decided there wasn’t any reason not to. There's no fee, and it’s an upload submission so there’s no mailing costs either. What the heck?

What's your status? Share your news!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

What Makes a Great Author Website

I’ve been thinking about redesigning my website. When I first put it up I was in a hurry, needing a web presence ASAP to support various promotional activities I had going. A graphic artist/friend designed the pages—and I liked the look—but I didn’t know what I really needed or wanted at that point. So for the last few weeks I’ve been asking about people’s favorite author sites and looking at dozens of websites to see what design elements they have in common (and what they have that I don’t). Here’s my findings.

For crime authors, most sites have a black or dark grey background with white text and red accents. So in that regard, my designer knew exactly what she was doing. Good examples:
Michelle Gagnon
Alafair Burke

Most of the popular sites also have very little text on the opening page (or top half of the opening page). Instead they have vivid pictures (often changing) and book covers. About half of favorite author pages have their photo on the opening and half don’t. Examples:
Alexandra Sokoloff
John Sandford
Nora Roberts

Many of the informal-survey favorites have a blog built into their site and others have page that is distinctive to their site—Sticky Notes, photographs, Fan of the Day, character bios. Examples:
Thomas Holland
JA Konrath
Chris Grabenstein
JC Hutchins

Almost every popular site I looked at had a row of clickable navigational links across the top of the design and often down the side as well. Many also had pull down menus from those tabs.

What they don’t have:
I was surprised to see that many author websites don’t have obvious BUY buttons. They may be buried somewhere but you have to search for them. And many do not have links to the home page on every other page. On some of the sites, I found it impossible to get back to the home page at all.

Overall, my favorite for design is Karen Olson’s. She hit all the right elements—clean gorgeous opening page, easy clickable navigation, black/white/red color scheme, access to the home page on every page, and big buy buttons. The only element she lacked that some others had was the unique page.
Karen Olson

And J.A. Konrath gets honorable mention for having the most usable content and an easy to navigate structure.
JA Konrath


Sunday, February 1, 2009

What Makes Me Keep Reading

I recently blogged about what makes me put down a novel, so to be fair, I thought I’d post about what makes me keep reading.
  • A great opening in which something unusual, unexpected, contradictory, or violent happens. For example, in Secret Dead Men by Duane Swierczynski, the third sentence caught my attention. “..but a couple of kids organized and impromptu club with a mandate to experiment on her corpse.”

  • Intriguing characters who are unusual, unexpected, contradictory, complex, or compelling. From the first page of the same story: “Then again, what do I know? I was a dead man impersonating an FBI agent.”

  • Characters who don’t fit the current clich├ęs. I like cops who aren’t cynical, FBI agents who aren’t workaholics that can’t handle relationships, private investigators who aren’t alcoholic loners, and women who are soft on the outside and tough on the inside.

  • Complexity! I like parallel plots and interwoven stories and multiple points of view. And if it all comes together in a way that surprises me and makes perfect sense, I pick up the next book by that author.

  • Passion about a subject. I like politics, religion, and social issues in novels as long as it works for the story and doesn’t overwhelm it

  • Multiple plot points and plots twists that leave me thinking: Wow! Stunning but believable

  • Moderate levels of crime and violence written with sensitivity to the subject, the victim, and the reader

  • Just enough detail (setting and character) to make the story real. I like Elmore Leonard’s approach: Only write the parts that people will read.

  • Believable relationships of any and all kinds

  • Crisp, fast-paced, realistic dialogue

  • Fast-paced narrative with a great balance of dialogue and action in which the surprises just keep coming

What did I forget? What makes you keep reading?