‘Unprofessional’ for a writer to use a free blog or website?

Here is where I have to disagree with the ‘experts’, specifically Joanna Penn. She says that using free blogging services— wordpress.com and Blogger in my case, is ‘unprofessional’ and that discerning viewers can tell a free website and, evidently, look down on you for it.

Even people who have plenty of money might choose to not spend more of it on paid blog services and domain names and such. And also, it might be a sign of solidarity with poor, disabled, and other disadvantaged writers and aspiring writers who haven’t made it big yet.

If you are a writer or aspiring writer with Asperger Syndrome [autism spectrum disorder], you have according to some statistics an 80% chance of being unemployed— even though the Asperger Syndrome diagnosis (when they still had it) rules out retardation and extreme low-functioning. It’s hard to get even the most menial job when employers take one look at you and see you as ‘odd’ and ‘shifty’ because you can’t make eye contact correctly!

Writing was one of the recommended careers for Aspies according to one book I read, and the prospect gives a lot of us hope. But being told you have to spend money on just starting a blog….. There are better things to save our limited funds for.

There is also the case of homeless aspiring writers who are bloggers. I’ve read of a case where a homeless girl wrote a popular blog about her homeless life and eventually got a book deal. She wrote her blog, I assume, with a free blogging service, and used the computers in public libraries.

I reject the notion that you need to pay for your blog and for a domain name to be serious about being a ‘professional’ writer. I have seen writers who have tried to save money on a domain name and turned their free blog into something less functional. If your words are good, people won’t notice your blog isn’t a paid one. If your words are not yet good because you are still learning, people won’t notice your blog’s free status either because they will either criticize you (a good thing) or just look down on you.


What is an author brand, anyway?

“If you are an author, you need a brand!” they keep saying but they rarely explain what they mean by brand. It’s not cowboys on horses rounding up a herd of authors and applying hot metal brands to tender author-flesh.

According to Jeff Goin’s book, ‘You are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)’, an author brand has three elements.

  • Author name. Ideally, your real name. But if you have the family name of Dickens and the first name of Charles, you need a pen name. Same if you could lose your day job by the politically incorrect things you write, or if it would cause problems to your family members.
  • Image. Your author photo. It’s like when you are on Facebook and someone you know ONLY on Facebook has a photo of himself as his FB profile picture and it kind of feels like you know him in real life. Or it could be a logo. That’s less personal, you need a reason to use a logo, and you need a professional to design one unless you are a professional graphic designer.
  • Your Voice. That’s the hardest one. A writer needs to develop a unique voice and no one really tells you how to do that. But it’s really just when you are being YOU and you say the you-things you might say in real life with your friends. OK, when you are writing online or in books you may develop you-things to say that you wouldn’t say in real life. Maybe it’s just the a few unique turns of phrase you have that you use in certain situations, or some issues you can’t shut up about. If you are still unsure, ask some of your best social media friends— ‘Is there something you recognize about the things I say when I post? So if I posted on someone else’s account by mistake, you would guess it’s really me?’

Warning: Although your voice will develop and change over time, you shouldn’t be switching names or images/logos much. Once you start putting yourself out there as a writer/aspiring writer, you can’t expect people to follow you to your new identity.
If your image is your author photo, it’s better to keep the same one for a long period of time than to switch each week. If you need to update because your old photo was taken when you were twenty and you are now 108, try to have similarities in your background, clothing and overall look so people can pretend to recognize you. Remember, Coca-Cola is a success because it’s kept the same name and logo for a lot of years! You need to do the same.

How New Author Bloggers can get Readers, Part 1

Imagine you just started your author-blog yesterday. You wrote a blog post that is really fine-and-dandy. But it will probably be a while before you start getting discovered by readers. What can you do, right now, to get your posts read?

One thing that has worked for me is the Insecure Writer’s Support Group or IWSG. It is a monthly blog hop for writers which has really blossomed in to something big. It takes place the first Wednesday of every month. Here is where you sign up. http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

It’s a very LONG list of participants. And they weed out the people who forget to participate regularly. Now, just this list of subscribers is gold, because it is a list of active author bloggers.

Best Practices for IWSG Participants

     Your Post

The group is about sharing your insecurities as a writer. DON’T write a post that sounds like a blurb from your book. Write something that shares a little of yourself, and how you are not quite 100% confident about your writing. But— here’s an important hint— don’t sound TOO insecure. You want other people to have some confidence in your writing. So don’t write an ‘everything I write is utter dreck’ post because that encourages people to believe it! Write something about one little thing that is giving you trouble. Or that you worry about. As in my own case: I’m working on a zombie apocalypse story, and I finally have a good name for my Hero: Eirik, a Viking form of Erik. But in this case his birth name was Frederick. It’s great, and Frederick has resonance with me because I had a grandfather Frederick. And my other grandfather had the middle name of Friedrich, German for Frederick. But then I realized— the name Eric is close to Rick, the hero of the zombie TV show The Walking Dead. What is my subconscious mind trying to do to me?

Visiting blogs

The number one thing that the IWSG does for you is gets you to visit other people’s blogs. And the one thing you have to do is to write comments on blogs. Any blogs. All blogs. Except porn/erotic-romance writer’s blogs, of course. (Their writing world is not our world.)

Comments can and should be short, but they should show that you have actually read the blog post in question. ‘Nice post’ does not cut it. ‘Nice post about your cat’s flea infestation’ does.

There are four kinds of blogs on the IWSG that it pays to comment on:

  • The ones at the very bottom, who have just signed up and who may not be used to getting comments on their blog
  • The ones at the very top, who are regular participants and who get lots of comments on their IWSG posts (make yours memorable.)
  • The ones in the middle, who don’t get the attention that the bottom and top do
  • Your regulars. These are the people who, after a few months of participation, you think are good matches for you and your blog. Perhaps they are writing in your genre, or they share your worldview, or maybe they are just funny or have great content or share cute pictures of their cat. Make a list of these blogs you like and be sure to visit them each time.

Being visited

Remember to visit back on the blogs of your commenters. I’m really insecure about doing that because visiting back feels too much like social interaction and as a person with Asperger Syndrome (autism spectrum disorder) that’s difficult and scary.

Mark the Date

It’s easy to forget about the date of the IWSG, which is the first Wednesday of the month, so mark it on your calendar and put a note on the wall of your writing room. It’s a very worthwhile effort for those with new or rarely visited blogs.


When platform building just doesn’t work

I know the advice for writers is to build a platform, build an audience. But the problem is that as soon as a learn how to do something that builds my platform, something changes and my strategy no longer works.

For a while I thought that blogging was dead and I should post everything on Facebook or other social media. But then they made changes to Facebook and all the strategies failed.

This makes me feel like a failure in general. Like nobody is interested in what I have to say. Which is probably true because I’m weird. But really, it is just that all the social media change their rules to make more money, and we lose all our effective platform building strategies with each change.

And so I fall back on my blog. It’s always been at the core of my platform building. I started blogging when blogging was new. And it is still a good place to express my ideas and get them out to people who might like it. Or like to bully me because of it.

The one thing I think of is that I need to figure out how to attract the right sort of people to my blog. It does no good to ME to have people read all or part of a blog post if they hate Christians/Catholics and only read books by atheists. Or people who don’t really read books at all, when there are so many movies and video games to entertain them.

And another aspect of ‘platform building’ – I need to do more to promote the books of my author friends. I don’t know whether to do more review posts dedicated to one book, or maybe a ‘book roundup’ that introduces 5 or so books. Because I don’t really like blogs that are just book review after book review.


Are Facebook Author Pages now Worthless and Not Worth Doing?

Once upon a time, Facebook pages were good. I had one on a controversial topic that got a lot of attention and followers, and I had a Facebook author page that got a bit of attention because I followed other author-pages as my page, and got some interaction by looking at my author-page’s feed and interacting.

Then Facebook decided to monetize their pages. If you weren’t willing to turn every post into a Facebook ad, they showed your post to fewer and fewer of the people who had liked the page in the first place. My Facebook author page became more like talking to myself.

Another bad change: there was no longer a news feed specific to my author page, consisting of posts from pages I had liked as my page. This was my main strategy to grow all my Facebook pages! I’d like a bunch of pages related to my page— in the case of the author page, other author pages— and look at the feed, share stuff, hope some of my posts would get shared in return.

OK, I know that some internet bullies were starting Facebook pages to do their bullying with, making it harder to deal with them since if their page was disciplined for abuse, they would usually not lose their account— that fate seems to be reserved for Christian and/or conservative page owners who don’t bully but do express ideas  that Facebook doesn’t care for.

I have searched and searched for tricks to make my Facebook author page’s posts more visible, but I have concluded it is more work than it is worth at this point.

What are alternatives? I have my personal Facebook account, but I use that for contact with family and one of my Facebook ‘friends’ interfered with a discussion I was having with my sister-in-law about her actually notifying me about when the family Thanksgiving dinner was taking place and if I was invited instead of putting it as a message I wouldn’t see. ‘Friend’ accused my of having a ‘pity party’ whatever that means. I guess I’m not allowed to like being excluded from things because family members take my Asperger Syndrome ways as signs I don’t want to be included.

I’ve thought of started a new Facebook account to take the place of my page. I don’t know if that would be a good idea. My family might not respond if the new page is for family, and I have a lot of friends on my current account.

Then there is the idea of using my Twitter account to replace my Facebook author page. I syndicate my page posts to Twitter and use Buffer to promote the posts as well, and it works. But I don’t like the amount of hate and bullying there is on Twitter. Plus, I know people who have had their accounts suspended for expressing conservative or Christian thoughts, or for being retweeted by the President.

Since I want to build up this blog to help sales of my current and future books, I’m looking for new and better strategies, now that Facebook has ruined the Facebook author pages for the sake of more money.

Your fiction is about your character, not your genre

When you ask the question ‘what is this book about?’ you may get this kind of non-answer: It’s a hard-boiled detective novel. It’s a contemporary story of modern malaise.  No, no, no! Those answers are an indicator of genre or category. Very few readers are looking for just-anything in a certain category. Fiction, famously, is about folks. Your lead character, for one.

Instead, a good answer renames the main character with an adjective-and-noun combo, and then tells about the problem he faces. A dragon private investigator has to solve a mystery. A dull businessman awakens to find he’s become a giant cockroach. That’s how you hook the reader.

You may say, but what if the seeking reader absolutely dislikes private investigators who are dragons? Wouldn’t it be better to kind of sneak up on him with the dragon thing? No. How many books have you purchased just because they were allegedly about a hard-boiled detective or about modern malaise? Are you an enthusiastic modern malaise reader? I doubt it. When folks ask what a book is about, they are really asking WHO the book is about, what sort of entity is he, and what is his problem.

Giving a name is not enough. We may all know who Scarlett O’Hara and Michael Corleone are, but we don’t have a clue about your Bill Wilson or Amanda Gracenote. Tell who they are: a noun. Is your lead a beggar, thief, cook, maidservant, swordsman or serial killer? Make a short list of one-noun descriptions of who your character IS, in this particular story.

Next, pick an unexpected adjective. Some adjectives aren’t worth using. If your swordsman is strong or brave, that’s usually understood. Most heroines of romance novels are beautiful or at least pretty. Now, if you have a cowardly swordsman or a homely romantic heroine— really homely, not some girl who thinks she’s homely because she weighs a bit too much due to her enormous boobs— this is unexpected and will arouse curiosity.

Then, mention a problem. It doesn’t have to be the biggest problem, or the one that leads to the final confrontation. Best is something that happens near the beginning and is a launch-point into the rest of the story. You don’t want to use something that’s a spoiler, but you do want to mention something juicy— something perhaps a little different that could catch a reader’s interest.

Now, here is a hint: if your adjective-noun description is really wild— like the dragon detective— the problem can be more hum-drum— solve a mystery, like detectives do all the time. If your adjective-noun is kind of commonplace— a dull businessman— the problem has to have a real kick to it. Like becoming a cockroach. In fact, if both parts of your descriptive sentence are wild— a dragon detective who wakes up as a cockroach— that’s probably a bit too wild for the reader to relate to.

The biggest thing an author can do for a story is come up with a good one-sentence description that’s a hoot. Try it— an adjective-noun to describe the Lead, and a brief description of the/a problem that the Lead has to deal with. Remember when writing it— less is more. If you churn out something that’s 37 words long and has 8 adjectives when 1 would do, start over.

Once you have a good one-sentence description, use it everywhere. Incorporate it into your book blurb. When sharing the link to your book online, always add your one-sentence description. Use it in query letters. For writing success as an indie or traditionally published writer, these will be the most important words you write.


Promoting your blog’s posts with #Buffer

I started on Twitter as a way to get my blog posts before more readers, so I could build my platform. I built up a list of followers and people I followed, with emphasis on writers. I do a lot of retweets of other people’s stuff, and I weed out the people I follow who don’t follow back, or who are mistakes for other reasons.

But if I only post my blog post links to Twitter when I make the post— WordPress makes that automatic— most of my Twitter followers miss it because they can’t be on Twitter ALL the time. I’ve read it is recommended to Tweet your blog posts 3 times in the week you make it. Plus, I like to retweet my older blog posts that might be of interest.

That would mean going online to Twitter several times a day, which would be a major time sink. So, Buffer. Buffer is a service that lets you schedule a bunch of Tweets for preselected times of day. You write out the Tweet and the link to your blog post, add hash tags, and soon you can have a bunch of Tweets scheduled to go.

This is a big help— whenever I tweet a bunch of posts like that, my blog gets more action, according to the site stats.

NOTE: You don’t have to write out your blog post’s official title every time you Tweet it, whether you tweet it through WordPress when you post, directly on Twitter, or through Buffer. Suppose you wrote a post on how to create a villain. “How to create a villain” might be your official post title. But when you tweet you might use different wording for each time you Tweet: “Building Better Villains”, “Does Your Book Need a Lord Voldemort?” and so on.

Vary your hashtags as well. Check on Twitter to see if your proposed hashtag is in much use. Since the purpose of using hashtags is to find new readers who are NOT your followers but who have clicked on a hashtag to see what others are saying, you want to have popular hashtags. Sometimes your post will fit in with a current trending hashtag: use it! In fact, every time you go to Buffer, have another window open to Twitter to check hashtags. It really helps.


I am @nissalovescats on Twitter (and GAB) and I welcome new followers. I usually follow back all accounts that are related to books, reading or writers, just not accounts that are there to sell me services I don’t want. Or bitcoin call girls.