Thursday, October 29, 2009

Top 3 Ways to Build a Bad Blog that Nobody Wants to Follow

Don't forget to vote!
Today I want to share the things that make a blogger and their blog undesirable to follow in the hope that you too would share with me some of the things you don't like (especially if I'm guilty of them). Our blogs are such an important part of the way we market ourselves that we should be careful not to offend the masses if it is avoidable.

I know you're wondering, so I'll share. My list was inspired by the way Jill Kemerer wrote her How to Unbalance Your Life post.

Top 3 Ways to Build a Bad Blog that Nobody Wants to Follow
  1. Don't be willing to foster relationships with others: so, don't leave sincere comments on others' pages, never ask your readers questions, don't become a follower of another person's blog if you don't have to
  2. Have so many ads on your blog that it is hard to discern what is content and what is promotion: this is a favorite of mine. I usually stay on blogs such as these a maximum of 3 or 4 seconds -- on my slow days.
  3. Include mainly random information at random times: only talk about yourself, don't have content that will be consistently valuable to others, don't post very often and make sure not to include a posting schedule so people will know when to come back.
What are things you don't like to see on blogs? What do you consider bad blogger behavior?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Guest Post: Syntax Part 1 with Brittany Laneaux

Good morning all. Today Brittany Laneaux (an amazing freelance editor) is our guest and she has written some helpful notes for us about syntax. You can also check out Brittany's new blog on which she will write posts every Monday to help us with the craft of writing. Also, don't forget that the contest ends tomorrow at 3:02 p.m. CST. Enter now for your chance to win a cool prize.

Syntax Part One
Syntax is far from just a grammatical term, but people have a difficult time seeing what significance it has in their writing or even how much it can affect meaning in their writing. True masters of the language have learned to manipulate syntax in such a way that it not only shows the meaning behind your writing, but it can even be physically illustrated in your sentences.

Let’s start at the beginning: Syntax is simply sentence structure. Now bear with me if this is too elementary, but we all have to start somewhere. A simple sentence is exactly what it is called…simple. Phrases (prepositional, participial, infinitive, etc…) are added to your simple sentence to include details and to make the sentence more interesting. Syntax is the way you write these phrases and where you choose to place them.

For example, I am going to break down a sentence from Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

Sentence: But George sat stiffly on the bank and looked at his right hand that had thrown the gun away.
Simple sentence: George sat stiffly on the bank and looked at his right hand.
Phrase (Type, just for those of you wondering, Adjective Prepositional): that had thrown the gun away

Where this phrase is placed changes the meaning of the sentence and, therefore, makes certain implications when considering the meaning of the overall story. In this case the phrase is used as an adjective to modify the word “hand” suggesting that it was the “hand” that was responsible for whatever was done with the gun. George, to whom the hand belonged, was not responsible for his own actions.

However, if the sentence was written “George, who had thrown the gun away, sat stiffly on the bank and looked at his right hand,” the sentence would vilify George, not the hand. It would suggest that George knew what he was doing and was conscious of his actions. Written this way, the sentence also conveys a sense of regret or disbelief.

Where you choose to place phrases plays a part in what the sentence is actually saying, so be aware and be creative. Don’t be afraid to play with your sentence, moving things around to create different meanings and emphasis.

I’ll leave you something to chew on…

Here is a great example sentence from “Snow” by Julia Alvarez where she plays with phrases.

Simple Sentence: We rented a small apartment.

Sentence with phrases: “Our first year in New York we rented a small apartment with a Catholic school nearby, taught by the sisters of Charity, hefty women in long black gowns and bonnets that made them look peculiar, like dolls in mourning.”

Regina here. Thank you Brittany for your post. Visit her blog.  
photo: smoorenburg

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fun Friday: What is your escapist book of choice?

Here is yet another shameless reminder about The Really Cool Contest we have going on (that ends on Tuesday, so hurry!) + a hint that next month's contest will have something to do with your website.

Today is Fun Friday; the day we don't talk about anything too serious on the blog.

So tell me, what is the one book (or movie if you have to go there) that you can absolutley escape in? A book that you can pick up time & again, and the world around you actually disappears so that it is just you and those characters, you and that setting. What book does that for you?

When I'm reading one of Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swensen novels, I actually live Hannah's life for the time that I'm in the book. Also, every single time I read or watch any version of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, I am swept away by the story. I have a lot of Lizzie in me. So, please share about your "escapist" book of choice.

Next week tune in for an editor guest post that will hopefully get us all thinking. We will be talking about Syntax. I know you can't wait.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

nooks and niches

I know I'm repeating myself but please check out the contest we have going on right now.

Okay, so I know you have all probably heard about the nook by now, but I just have to say that I think the thing is AWESOME (though I don't have it yet, available for pre-order only right now). It is an eBook that has wireless built in, touchscreen, an mp3 player, with a memory card it holds up to 17,500 books, it lets you preview books before buying, lets you read books on your compatible phones, lets you lend the book to a friend for 14 days, you can also read books for free at any Barnes and Noble, load and read PDFs. It lets you take notes, highlight passages, bookmark, store photos, read for up to 10 days without charging, and has a built-in dictionary. What else needs to be said?

Amazon Kindle here. I'm just a bit jealous. I feel like people are going to start buying the nook instead of me and that Barnes and Noble really will succeed in their plan to take over the world. This is not good.

Okay sorry. Had to get that out. Though I've long loved the Kindle, I may be moving on.

On to Marketing & Branding Thursday:

What is your branding statement?
Branding is making yourself known for what you do, above others who do similar things. A branding statement (or your tag line, slogan etc.) is most effective when focused on the benefit to the consumer, not focused on you. Example: let us say I am a graphic artist. The slogan "artist extraordinaire, graphics with flare" is less effective than "art that moves you". "Graphics leader" is less effective than "art for your heart" or some such thing. You get my point. When people point out that they are the "best" or "No. 1" in their slogan it begs the question, "as compared to who?" or "who says?". When you appeal to the emotion or curiosity of your intended audience, you will go much farther.

That being said, what is your branding statement? Okay, now I need to go change mine.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Being an Art Entrepreneur

First off, to be really cool you must enter The Really Cool Contest with Really Cool Prizes for you to choose from.

Second, today is Tuesday so we are talking about strategies for being a successful "Art Entrepreneur"- which I define as someone who engages in the arts in such a way that they are their own business, in need of branding, definition and promotion. Bam. I could work for Merriam or Webster.

Today, I was hoping we could think about continuing education. Lawyers have CLE, continuing legal education, that they have to get every year in order to remain eligible to practice law. I think this is a great concept. I have thus developed the not-so-original idea of CWE, continuing writing education (but feel free to insert whatever in there- dance, acting, etcering). Part of being successful in any business is knowing as much as you can about your business. Most entrepreneurs fail either because of a lack of knowledge about what they're getting into or incorrectly estimating expenses. Luckily with art, we don't have the same types of expenses as other entrepreneurs.

I have taken a few classes as a part of my CWE and I also intend to go to a workshop or two before the year is out. I have learned a lot by keeping up with your blogs and the blogs of agents and publishers as well. I feel I need some more CWE though. Any suggestions? What do you do for your CWE?
photo: dave_mcmt

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Old is New: Inexpensive and Old Fashioned Branding Ideas

When marketing yourself or your business you probably try to think of crazy creative ideas that have never been done before ... I commend that. Standing out among competitors is crucial to success in "this economy".

We've all heard the saying that "history repeats itself" and we all also know that fashions cycle through time. When I was in middle school, the 70s came back. I wanted my mother to buy me bell-bottom pants and other hippy paraphernalia (yes, I just used that word; I don't get to do so often). We've all seen the 80s come back in style, and if you are watching the fashion world now, you are witnessing my favorite eras (the 30s, 40s, 50s) come back in style.

What does my clothing preference have to do with marketing? A valid question astute readers.

Old school marketing techniques are coming back in style and if you start now you can be a leader instead of an eventual participator.
  • Get together a mailing list (in database or spreadsheet format preferably) and start sending out good old-fashioned note cards or letters to your clients and associates - the kind you mail.
  • Instead of sending a thank you e-mail to someone you have an address for, send a thank you card and (prepare for what's coming next...) make it by hand if you can.
  • Bring back customer service. When you are talking to people on the phone or in person (even if they may never do business with you) stop what you are doing, focus on what they are saying, and make them feel as if they are THE ONLY person in the world.
  • Make your brand an experience. When you enter a Barnes & Noble these days you know that you will not only find books, but free Wi-Fi and a coffee shop with baked treats. You can sit down, read a book, sip some tea and eat a lemon raspberry tart. Awesome. In the old days, shops had candy for the children, had plenty of seating room for when you wanted to take a shopping break, etc. Think of something specific to your business that makes it an experience for your clients. Think Ikea.
photo: kevinzim

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Master of The Elements

If you could only be a master of one of the following elements of writing (and just okay at the rest), which would you choose:

character development

What do you feel is most important? Oh, and before somebody hits me with, "I think they are all equally important and must be woven together in a delicate format to make your work stand out," just don't. It would be ideal to be a master of all, and if you are, I salute you. But, for the purposes of this blog post, pretend you can only have one. What sticks out to you most when reading?

I would choose character development. I would want to be able to develop characters so real that you feel like you know them (or like I do when I read a GREAT story, feel like I am them- or could be). I would also choose it because when you have great characters, some of the story writes itself.

What elements of writing do you think you need more work in? For me, I'd say character development and pacing. I'm signing up for a class ... I think. Hence the picture.
photo: alkruse24

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Are you judging me? I'm judging you.

I'm not judging you in a mean evil way, but when I land on your blog or your web site, I, like so many other people am making educated guesses (judgments) about you and the type of person you may be.
I say this to say that the image we leave hanging out there for the whole world to look at is important, very important.

Our skill is not wrapped up in the way we dress, the new shoes we bought for the interview, or our beautiful hair ... but those things do reflect how we feel about ourselves.

As artists, marketing ourselves online, it is important to keep our physical and web presence where we want it to be; we must represent ourselves well. The REALITY is people DO judge a book by its cover, people DO assume things when they land on your blog and the layout is sloppy, people DO make judgments when EVERY time they see you it looks like you flopped out of bed and just stayed like that. Knowing that people do make judgment calls, stop fighting that (if you are), embrace it and USE it to your benefit.

  • If you are like me and you know your website needs change to appear more professional or trendy, then do it (I promise to work on mine this week).
  • If your blog or business card needs a makeover, give it one, now. When you're out there on the web for ALL to see, you'll never know who is looking ... unless you have Google Analytics.
  • If you are like me and you leave the house in need of a comb, or a new shirt, or just a little bit more effort, more times than not, then go ahead and make that change.
  • Set aside a little more money or time for maintenance every month. Take control of the image that publishers, agents, directors, execs and the rest of the world sees.

Let's not moan and complain about the world and how it perceives us, let's take control of that perception by taking care of the things that need it.
photo: notsogoodphotography

Monday, October 12, 2009

Length is just a number

How long should a blog post be? Is there a rule on this? Often times I will read posts from people suggesting that blogs posts should be short, an easy read for the busy people reading them. Some bloggers keep their posts to something you can read without scrolling down on the page; sometimes I get relieved when I see this. However, some of the most interesting posts I've read (such as this one by Bane) are longer yet they grip me the whole time I read them.

This post by Kevin Muldoon gave me the hope that there are others out there who don't mind longer posts. What's your take on it? Do you think there is a general rule we should follow for the benefit of our readers? Do you think that as long as the writing is good it can be as long as we want? What is your general length goal when you write blog posts? Do you (as I do) get nervous when you find you have a lot to say, wondering if anyone will read it all? Do you (as I have done a few times before) just skim a long post instead of reading it?
photo: D Sharon Pruitt

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Tense Conversation Can Get Tense

I juggle struggle with what tense to use in stories sometimes. Most of the time when I start to imagine my story I also imagine the tense and point of view it is told in (example: third person past tense), but there are some stories (sneaky little things) that seem to want to be told a way I'm not used to, or I keep changing my mind on.

When I work on my screenplay there is order in the "tense world"; it all fits because frankly, it has to. When I work on short stories and novels there are plenty of POVs and tenses available. I'm not a huge fan of present tense because it has to be done so well to make for a flowing read. I usually (as in ALWAYS) write in past tense, so deciding on POV is all that is left for me.

The novel that I just finished with another writer (I love you Mums) was written in first person past tense. The only thing is, as I read back over it, I kept wanting to change it to third person. What to do? I've decided that I'm going to make two versions of the doc and read them over to see which one tells the story the best.

Do you fight the POV and tense war sometimes? How do you resolve it? What is your preferred writing style? What format do you like to read?

photo: Faeryan

Monday, October 5, 2009

Target Market vs. Extended Market: Artists and their Audience

I'm back in America!

While I was out of town, I started thinking about foreign markets and promotion in general. The last few decades of business have moved us toward a global economy. It is becoming easier to get almost anything, anywhere in the world (thank you, Internet).
I started thinking about all the places that I would eventually like my books to be sold ... and all the places that I'd like to go to promote the books. Music artists and movie people travel all around promoting their work. They visit small venues in different states and countries and play for small audiences, building fans one by one. This takes patience, determination and belief in the excellence of their project.

Depending on your project (and your pre-existing level of fame) I think that the one by one approach is the best way to establish supporters. It builds lasting connections and REAL fans.

We must define our target market and our extended market for our finished products. For example: a women's fiction writer who just wrote a certain "chick lit" novel may establish her target market as women from age 25-40, who make a mid-range salary, love fashion, and have had a few tough relationships. She then may further define her extended market as all women (and some men) under 60 who may find a few things to relate to in her story.

If she scores an interview with a news radio station that is most listened to by men and women 35+, then she is participating in marketing to her extended audience. If she lands a booth at a "Thirty & Flirty: Single Women Unite" conference she is promoting herself to her target audience. She may get sales as a result of both promotional techniques, but she'll probably sell more to her target audience, and (if her work is good) build fans that will jump to get her next project as well.

What places would you like to promote your work; and who is your target sales audience (not your ideal reader who you wrote the book for)?

Photo: fiskfisk