Ch..ch…ch…Changing…

Okay, before I get into the meat of this post, I have to get in my shameless plug.  If you haven’t already nabbed this one, now’s the time, as its enrollment in KDP Select is up next week, and I’ll be rolling it out to other retailers.

Coffee free days promo

 

Now, on to the topic at hand.

Yesterday I read this article by Michael Hyatt about why he pulled the commenting option from his blog.  Those of you who are part of ROW80 may have already seen me reference this.  The poll is still up over there, but I’ve already made the decision to do the same here on my blog.

Now, I don’t get anywhere NEAR the traffic here that Michael Hyatt does, but I do have a fair number of comments or trackbacks to approve (and I only just discovered you can make it where you don’t have to do that…), and there is a vast quantity of comment spam caught by the built in spam filter.  Plus the spam that gets through that I have to spend time DISapproving.  Each time I do this, it may only take seconds or a minute or so (depending on the speed of my internet), but over the course of a year…that time adds up.  If, over the course of a year, I gain a few hours by doing this, HOORAY! Maybe I’ll find the time to write another meet cute with what I’m saving.

And, let’s face it.  I’m absolute crap at replying to comments here unless someone asks me a direct question.  I’m notorious for starring the notification in my inbox to come back to when I have time…and then I almost never find the time (or make the time, which is a prioritization issue that’s outside the scope of this discussion).  I’m certainly not trying to be rude or unappreciative of those who take the time to comment.  This is just not really where I hang out.  And it kind of reflects my reasons for blogging in the first place.  I blog, first and foremost, for myself.  To get my thoughts out there.  If it engenders discussion or interest, AWESOME.  But even if I wasn’t getting readers at all, I’d still be going it for me.

The crux of Hyatt’s point is that by removing comments from his blog, discussion about whatever he’s posting about inevitably moves into other forums–i.e. social media.  Facebook.  Twitter.  This is where people hang out, this is where people ENGAGE. And because social media is like a giant cocktail party–this is how others end up finding out about you that might not have.  Social media becomes SOCIAL again–which is why I love it.  I DO hang out on Twitter and Facebook (because I’m surgically attached to a computer most of my waking hours), and I DO respond and engage there.

So that’s where I am, y’all.  I’m closing comments, and I hope you’ll move the party outside!

You can find me on Twitter @kaitnolan or on Facebook.

 

Subscribe By Email: NOT Just A 90s Throwback

I posed the question yesterday on Twitter of WHY bloggers so often do not have a subscribe by email option.  It was more a rhetorical question to prompt people to think “Do I have that?  No, I don’t.  I should add one.”  And if it had that effect on someone, awesome.  You might just gain readers.  Anyway, someone popped up to offer her reasons for not offering it.

1. It’s very 1990’s. 2. Many email subs send the entire post. I don’t want that. I want people to come to my site. 3. RSS.

Let’s take this one at a time.

It’s very 1990s.  Well who the hell cares?  People so often equate blogging to a popularity contest, so by not offering an email option for your content, you’re missing out on people who are either a) stuck in a decade of the technological past or b) have over reasons for wanting content by email (like that they like to read a post in their email on their phone and can’t or don’t want to click through).

Many email subs send the entire post. I don’t want that. I want people to come to my site.  Okay fair enough.  There are subscribe by email options that allow you to send a partial that forces a click through.  As a subscribe by email person, this is going to annoy me, but if that partial is interesting enough to prove that clicking through is worth my time, I’ll do it.  But here’s the thing: I’m not likely to interact on your site.  I almost never comment (I don’t even do that on my own blog often–I know, I suck on that point, but that’s not what’s under discussion), and I definitely don’t have the time to READ other people’s comments and engage in the community that you’re trying to build.  I don’t click around if I go to a blog.  I read the post, and then I leave.  So how is this gaining you anything by forcing me to come there except one more tick on your metaphorical interwebz bedpost?  And if I DO happen to get a full post by email?  If it’s awesome enough to make me want to say something back, THEN I will actually click through and DO something.

This reminds me of the same kinds of arguments as traditional publishers who resisted putting a book out in ebook because they wanted people to buy the hardback.  They’re two different groups of people.  Ebook readers won’t buy the hardback.  If the book isn’t in e, they simply won’t buy it, period.  By the same token, people who want posts by email are not going to suddenly change their behavior and be willing to spend valuable time out of their day clicking over to your blog to see if you updated or switch to using RSS feed readers.  They simply won’t read your blog.

RSS.  Oh, how I used to be a fan of the RSS.  It was such a nice, easy way to keep up with stuff.  Any time any of the oodles of interesting people posted something, it would get queued up and let me know what I needed to read.  And I kept adding and adding.  And people kept posting and posting.  And my time got shorter and shorter, until there were suddenly hundreds, then THOUSANDS of posts I needed to read.  DEAR FREAKING GOD, THE PRESSURE.  And then Bloglines got bought out by somebody whose format/interface I didn’t like and I decided it was time to cut myself free of the insanity.  I deleted my entire account.  And then I subscribed by email to only those half dozen I deemed MOST important, most worthy of spending my time on.  Am I saying RSS is bad? No.  You should definitely have that option.  It just isn’t for me.

There have been other blogs I wanted to read.  One I signed up for in 2011 and NEVER GOT A POST even though I knew she was posting every day.  I finally figured out this morning that I signed up for her NEWSLETTER, not her blog content (it wasn’t clear from the button).   There was no means of subscribing to her blog content.  So I miss out.  Because I’m not going to take the time to remember to go somewhere every day.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because people want something by email that they’re only interested in your books or products.  That’s not always the case.  The blog I was talking about?  I don’t actually want to read her books.  It’s not my genre.  But her blog content is top notch.  So the newsletter didn’t do me any good at all.

It’s been suggested that a blog is a cold call.  And maybe sometimes it is.  Certainly there have been posts by people I would never have known existed if not for Twitter.  Somebody says it’s worth reading or it has an interesting title, and I’ll click over and read.  And if I think it’s interesting enough, I might click around to see if there’s other equally interesting content.  And if I make it past THAT, then I’ll look for a subscribe by email button…and most of the time not finding one.  Meaning you’ve just lost me as a reader.  And unless somebody brings you to my attention again for awesome, you’ve probably lost me permanently.

Ultimately, it DOESN’T MATTER why some people would rather get your content by email.  You can think that’s dated and stupid or whatever the hell, but the point is, THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO WANT IT.  It costs you no more than five minutes of time to add the option.  You don’t have to interact with those people like you would on social media, so it’s not a time suck for you.  You are not probably going to convert the email subscriber people to those happy little ideal visitors who comment and glom and interact with your site.  Which means by not having the option, you’re simply losing them as readers entirely.  And it’s the content that is the important part of potentially converting someone to a reader of your other work.

The Positivity Project

If you follow me at all, you’ve probably noticed an increasing frequency in the number of posts spawned by something I read at Daily Good.  Seriously, I’m loving this having good news delivered to my inbox every day.  We could all use our faith in humanity restored.

It’s spawned a great deal of introspection and general philosophizing about positivity, particularly since that post I wrote about retraining your brain.  And, well, it’s led me to fall off the wagon in a big way.

That would be the no creating new blogs wagon.  Because I have a documented addiction.

Let’s review.  I have three blogs I actively post on (this one, Pots and Plots, and the ROW80 blog).  I have 3 LJs (2 defunct and one with future plans).  I had, previously, 2 other homes for my cooking blog before I settled on my current one.  This does not count the 2 blog domains I currently have reserved “just in case”, nor the half dozen for other purposes that I made myself delete due to lack of use, or the various and sundry Blogger blogs I had back in the day.  I have a problem, I’ve acknowledged it, and I’m dealing.  Thanks.

But this positivity thing has really captured my imagination.  I really LOVE the idea of retraining my brain to focus on the positive.  As somebody who has struggled in the grip of negativity and anger since I was in high school, I find this really empowering and appealing.  So I did it.  I fell off the wagon and I started another blog.

The Positivity Project is not meant to be the be all end all of anything.  I’m not claiming to be an expert.  I’m not claiming to know the right way to do something.  At the root, my motivation for creating this blog is to make myself sit down daily and document the positive in my life.  The stuff that makes me grateful, happy, or otherwise just optimistic about life and the world.

I’m trying to retrain my brain.  And maybe inspire some other folks to do the same.

So if you’re interested, pop by.  If not, no worries.  I’m not offended.  Just thought I’d share my latest brain child with you.

Dear Void, I Love You

It seems that I’ve read a slough of posts by bloggers lately where they are apologizing to their readers for having fallen off the face of the planet and making the confession that they don’t really like blogging, it’s a huge time suck, and they’d rather be writing fiction anyway.

Such posts usually leave me with three thoughts:

1) Then you probably shouldn’t be blogging.

2) You’re trying way too hard to always be brilliant and insightful.

3) You’re totally not blogging for the right reasons.

I have been blogging off and on for 12 years across various platforms.  For the past 7 years, I have ripped out a post almost daily, and with rare exceptions, I didn’t spend a lot of time on it or angst about what to talk about.

I’m not worried about being brilliant or insightful.  Which is a good thing, as I think my posts rarely are.  That’s totally not the point of my blog.  The point is not even to connect to readers and grow an audience (though I’ve managed to do it all the same)–which is absolute heresy in our climate of Platform Building advice for writers.  I have already talked elsewhere about the need to be yourself when you blog (I’d link you, but I can’t remember what I called the post).  So what I actually want to talk about today is why I blog.

Cover of "You've Got Mail"
Cover of You’ve Got Mail

One of my all time favorite movies is You’ve Got Mail with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.  This movie holds a special place in my heart, not only because my husband and I totally met for the first time in a coffee shop with a rose and a book, but because I so connected with Kathleen’s character on multiple levels.

She writes to NY152:

Sometimes I wonder about my life.  I lead a small life.  Well, not small, but circumscribed.  And sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave?  So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around?

I don’t really want an answer.  I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void.  So goodnight, dear void[Emphasis mine].

This has always struck a chord with me, this idea of sending something out into the void.  And honestly, I think that’s what got me started blogging in the first place.  I had journaled off and on for years, since grade school.  But apart from my truly appalling handwriting, I was never driven to stick with that particular format.  But blogging…the idea of recording my thoughts about…anything and throwing them out there into the void, where they can, in theory, become part of the collective unconscious that is the internet–I find that appealing.  

Sometimes the void (all of you) talk back, and that’s really cool.  I always appreciate comments (even though I’m heinously bad about replying).  But it’s not what drives me.

Neither does number of hits or actual exposure (though they’re nice).

I blog daily for me, because I usually have something on my mind and seldom have someone immediately present to share it with who would give a hoot.  Maybe I wouldn’t have so much to say if I were surrounded by people who get me all the time.  But either way, the only value I really place on my blog posts is the personal payoff of recording my thoughts.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Anything more is gravy.

Certainly this is not the prevailing or even a documented attitude toward blogging these days.  I kind of have the sense that people are the same way about blogging this way as they are about cooking just for themselves.  “It’s too much trouble.”  or “It’s only me.”  This sense that doing something just for yourself isn’t enough reason or justification, as if your own desires aren’t worth something.  Probably this is an offshoot of our Puritanical origins that demonize selfishness.  But that’s getting off on another tangent.  My point is, your thoughts are important, even if they matter only to you.  

So stop worrying about blog hits and number of comments and whether or not your post is brilliant enough to with a Pulitzer.  If you have something to say, say it.  And if you don’t, then stop making excuses and stop blogging.  Switch over to a static website with all the information peeps need to find your books, and focus on some other form of social media presence that you actually LIKE.

Bloggers Beware, You CAN Get SUED For Using Pics On Your Blog via Roni Loren

So I’m coming in late today with no particular idea for a post, so I am passing on the cautionary tale offered up by fellow author and blogger Roni Loren about her experience accidentally violating image copyright.  Go read her post.  It’s kind of chilling.  Highlights below.

Here’s what I learned about Fair Use:

It DOESN’T MATTER…

  • if you link back to the source and list the photographer’s name
  • if the picture is not full-sized (only thumbnail size is okay)
  • if you did it innocently
  • if your site is non-commercial and you made no money from the use of the photo
  • if you didn’t claim the photo was yours
  • if you’ve added commentary in addition to having the pic in the post
  • if the picture is embedded and not saved on your server
  • if you have a disclaimer on your site.
  • if you immediately take down a pic if someone sends you a DMCA notice (you do have to take it down, but it doesn’t absolve you.)

NONE OF THAT releases you from liability. You are violating copyright if you have not gotten express PERMISSION from the copyright holder OR are using pics that are public domain, creative commons, etc.

So…if you’ll excuse me, I have 2,000 posts to check for copyright violations with images.

The Correct Way To Share

Social media is a great thing.  It is a lynchpin to any good platform that our content be shared.  Our mamas all taught us that sharing is a good thing.  But when it comes to sharing intellectual property like blog posts and the like, there is a right and a wrong way to go about it.

Retweeting links?  Go for it.  If you wanna tack on a short line about why whatever you’re linking to is awesome, that’s even better.

Sharing posts on Facebook, on your own page and your friends’.  Cool.  By default Facebook grabs a little excerpt, maybe a picture, and links back to the original post.

Adding somebody’s link to your mashup of awesome, this is a great tactic.  Some of the best content I’ve read on the internet has come from mashups.

Pinning something on your board at Pinterest with a nice line about what you like about it.  We love when you do this.  And that’s how Pinterest is designed to work (now anyway since that brouhaha where people were posting whole articles/recipes/posts).

Reblogging on Tumblr, which does a fantastic job of attribution, so you can chase something back to the source.

It’s reblogging on other blogging platforms where the trouble often starts.  Why?  Because people often don’t do it correctly.  The entire point of reblogging is to share someone else’s content in a way that gives the source credit and will drive traffic back to that original source.  So all the people who post someone else’s entire post are not really reblogging.  They’re plagiarizing.

In most cases they don’t know it.  They’re trying to help, to share.  And they get really put out when you ask them to take your content down, not understanding why we are upset that they want to share our content.  You all know how I feel about plagiarism, so it’s often hard for me to hang on to my temper in these cases.  But I add a few more chains and politely explain that the CORRECT way to reblog is to post an excerpt of the original post and link back to the original source.  Sometimes it makes a difference, sometimes it doesn’t.

I’m not a fan of reblogging in general (outside of sites like Tumblr, which are designed entirely around reblogging) because too many people use it, not as a means to share, but as a lazy blogging mechanism.  The latest case where I contacted someone about my content was someone who had a blog that was nothing BUT reblogs.  What the heck is the point of that?  Blogging is about creating YOUR OWN content.  Regurgitating a bunch of other people’s stuff, even if you think it’s great, is not a blog.  But that’s departing from my point.

If you’re going to share someone else’s content, make sure to do it right and give credit where credit is due.  As I tell my students, it’s far better to over cite something than not cite it at all.

How To Put A Custom Sign Up Form on WordPress.com

First off, I feel compelled to link back to Kristen Lamb’s recent and timely post about how to approach people for reviews, guest posts, or interviews without making us want to claw your eyes out.  The request I got last night pretty well broke all the rules.  Except for not spelling my name wrong.  But that’s just a Writer’s Service Announcement, not actually what I want to talk about today.

So I have written in the past about why I am still using WordPress.com and domain forwarding rather than actually doing the self-hosted version of WordPress.  I’d link to it but I can’t seem to remember when I made the post.

(Edited: I’m back on self-hosted in 2015, but this is still accurate stuff).

In a nutshell:

  • It’s cheaper
  • I like being hooked in to their Possibly Related Posts feature
  • It’s very low maintenance

There are a few downsides:

  • WordPress.com does not allow javascript
  • There are limits on what widgets you can use (where with self hosted the sky’s the limit)
  • It doesn’t allow any kind of outside subscription form (like for a newsletter)

The javascript I’ve gotten over, and the limits on widgets have kept me from going widget and plugin crazy (which keeps the site neater and cleaner), but the last bit has driven me nuts because it has meant that I had to use their native form builder to create a sign up form for my newsletter that then sent me an email with the necessary info for me to add people manually.  I don’t get scads of sign ups all the time, so it didn’t really take all that much time to do, but it’s just one of those things that ought to be automated.

Up to now I’ve used Vertical Response for my rare updates.  It allows you to buy credits and pay as you go instead of subscribing (although that’s an option too), which was a good thing with a small number of subscribers and infrequent mailing.  I’ve been really happy with them except that I can’t use their sign up form code in WordPress.  I recently signed up for Beth Revis’s newsletter and noticed she used Mail Chimp.  For the heck of it I checked it out.  Mail Chimp has a totally FREE option (a fantastic thing when you are on a shoestring budget) and, more importantly for me, they have an option to generate a link directly to the sign up form rather than forcing you to embed assorted code.

Why is this important?  Well, because this year (or maybe last year), WordPress.com rolled out many themes with a custom menu option that allows you to rearrange your pages and tabs and add links in those menus to outside websites.  I had already employed this so that my food blog and the ROW80 blog showed up in my menu up top, but Mail Chimp enabled me to link to the sign up form.   How did I do this?

1) I went through Mail Chimp’s handy dandy little wizard to design my form.  It’s got lots of templates that can be tweaked with color, font, fields, etc.  To add some extra legitimacy (in case people are freaked out that the link takes them away from my site), I created a smaller version of my blog header to go at the top of the sign up form, trying to visually link the two.

2) From there I went into my WordPress dashboard to the Menus option under Appearance.  Then I copied the direct link to the sign up form from Mail Chimp and pasted it into the Custom Links box on the Menus page.

3) From there it is a matter of dragging it around in the menu tree until it’s where you want it.

4) I also went to the Mail Chimp page where it generates the code they intend for you to use on your website for sign up.  Except instead of copying the code, I took a screen shot of the preview of the form.  This I placed as an image up there in the top right of my sidebar.  It’s kind of fooling folks who try to click in the email field because the image is linked to the main sign up form page.  This way I have two chances to catch subscribers–in the sidebar and in the top menu bar.

That’s it!  Now everything it automated and I get an email from Mail Chimp whenever anybody new signs up (you can turn that off if you don’t wanna know).  Easy peasy.  There may be other mail services that also allow a direct link to a sign up form, but Mail Chimp is the first one I found that fit my other needs.

Housekeeping And A Few New Features

Well, if you’re reading this at the site rather than via a feed reader or email, you will note that my menu bar beneath the header is suddenly less crowded.  So is my sidebar.  Last night I decided to do a little bit of clean up, so I made a series of nested menus.  I’ve moved Crit Partner Match under the About Kait tab, along with new pages for A Round of Words in 80 Days (for which I still need ONE MORE SPONSOR!  Volunteers?  Anybody?  C’mon!  You know you wanna!) and the Indie Book Collective, since I figured it made sense to have links to the assorted stuff I’ve started.

There is also a new My Fiction section with individual pages for Forsaken By Shadow, Devil’s Eye (which finally has a blurb now, thank you Susan), and Red (where you can now read the first chapter as a teaser).  Since the sidebar was getting crowded with links and such, I moved all the purchase point information and what not for all titles to their individual pages, and just left thumbnails of the covers in the sidebar, linking to those pages.  Hopefully it will make the site a little cleaner and easier to navigate.

I re-read the first chapter of Red myself last night and started grinning like an idiot.  I am so in love with this story.  Can’t wait to dive back in.  But must get Devil’s Eye out and finish a short story for an anthology I’m doing with a big group of other indie authors.  I’ll probably start outlining that one today while DE is with CPs.

Wow, that was totally not anywhere near my most interesting post.  Sorry for that.  It’s time for more caffeine.

But oh, never fear, I have a far more interesting post up over at Quiet Fury Books about what drove me to write paranormal.

The Importance of Subscription Options

Okay, I have a gripe to share with you.  This is something that’s been annoying me for a while, and I’ve been saving it for a day when I couldn’t think of anything else to blog about.

It’s standard wisdom that writers are supposed to have a website/blog. It’s part of that whole platform thing we’re supposed to be building.  Some writers choose to have a static website that lists only their bio, their books, and any updates on new releases or appearances, etc.  And that’s fine if that’s what you want to do.

But those who choose to have a blog–those are who I want to gripe at this morning.

So you decide to blog.  You update your posts on some regular schedule, be it daily, weekly or whatever.  Your content is interesting.  You start to build a following…

And then you don’t bother having any way to subscribe to your freaking blog!

I’m sorry, but I’m a busy woman.  I do not have time to come by your blog every day to see if you posted something new.  That is why feed readers and email subscriptions were invented, so that your new content comes directly to me.

But over the last year as I’ve stumbled across new blogs I’d like to read, I keep finding blogs with no possible way to subscribe to them. My feed reader (Bloglines at the time) could not find the RSS or ATOM feed to subscribe to.  There was no subscribe by email button.  There might POSSIBLY be a Google Friends Connect widget, but I don’t want to have to go somewhere else to follow blogs because I chose not to use Blogger for a reason.  There’s the Networked Blogs widget through Facebook that’s an option too, but it’s still not the easiest for everyone.

As a writer trying to build a platform this is BAD.  It’s annoying and off-putting to potential readers because we’re ALL busy and it’s your job to make it as easy as possible for us to get your content.

Take a look in my right sidebar up top. See that?  You can click on those buttons and subscribe to the RSS feed (short for Really Simple Syndication) of either the post or the comments, and there’s a separate button for subscribing by email.

Too many blogs I’ve visited don’t have them.  I have to admit, the worst offenders seem to be those writers using Blogger as a platform.  I have no idea if Blogger has any kind of integrated feed or not.  WordPress.com is kind enough to offer these things as pre-integrated widgets.  If you’re on WordPress, there is absolutely NO EXCUSE for you not to be using them.  And Blogger folks, there’s no reason for you not to come up with a widget to do it too.  Feedburner has plenty of options to do so.  It should be up top, clearly visible to any visitor to your site.

So this is a call to action!  If you do not already have RSS feeds and email subscription options on your blog, add them today.