And we’re back! This time I thought I’d get into a little more detail of things like style, layout and content. Things every author should know and wield with impunity.
First thing’s first. DISCLAIMER: Everything that follows is totally subjective opinion content based on a few years experience trying to sort my own website into some kind of order, and browsing other authors’ websites and (more often than I care to say) cringing at what I found. Take everything you read here with a grain of salt.
I had a plan today. It was to sit my behind down at a computer and get in a solid word count for Wolfen. I am so close to the finish line I can smell it. But while I was doing my daily social media rounds, I came across an article that completely derailed my train of thought. It was about reading, and the decline in male readership. If you have a few minutes to spare, I encourage you to check it out here. The statistics and survey responses are really something.
So my plan changed. Instead of writing a chapter or two, I came here to write a blog. But what’s a blog without pictures? Therefore, in a separate tab, I opened a stock image site and did a quick search for “reading.” Here’s what I found:
This post was born out of frustration, watching people in the public light on the internet post updates, rants, and even threats and insults on a daily basis. It’s bad for business and bad for your health, so I thought I’d put together some “best practices” for how to interact with the public when you’re in the spotlight (however small that spotlight might be).
You may say, “Who are you to tell me what to say and how to act? I am a genuine person and people enjoy that about me. I won’t lie and pretend for the sake of appearances!”
And I would tell you, “Okay.” I’m not going to preach at you to change your ways, or pretend to be someone you’re not. If you get something out of this, great. If not, that’s okay too. I am sharing this for no other reason than to share, so take it as you will.
“Be cool, Hunny Bunny,” – The Art of Public Relations
People have written oodles of books on the subject and I won’t bore you with too much detail. Just a short bullet point list of tips to help you navigate the shark infested waters of the Internet:
What goes up, does not come down. What you put out there, stays there in one way or another. Before you post something, think about whether you will want someone to see it years down the line, maybe at a time when your public image will be the deciding factor in your success, whatever that might be.
Words hold power, and once spoken, they can never be taken back. Yes, I just quoted The Royal Wizard at you, but the point is a valid one. Don’t believe the lies, words can hurt as much as sticks and stones. Something you consider an off-hand remark might crush whoever is on the receiving end of it. Some of my friends and family are amazingly good at destroying my confidence with a well chosen sentence, so in this, I know exactly what I’m talking about. Don’t be that person.
Reputation is your currency. It truly is. It can take years to build it up, and lots of effort to maintain. Think of all those Bestsellers out there, raking in readers and sales based solely on the popularity of their name. Think of all the times a public figure was utterly discredited based on one story or rumor. That is all it takes. One mistake, and you can lose your audience. If you think building a reputation is hard, imagine having to rebuild it after something like that.
How you see yourself is not necessarily how others see you. We perceive the world through the filters of our own making. People might not share your background, sense of humor, or experiences. Alienating someone is as easy as being inconsiderate of their background or views. See the first two points above.
Like attracts like. That is perhaps the most important thing to remember in PR, and it’s not some hokey spiritual nonsense, either. What you put out there is what you will get back. Think about it, when you turn on Facebook, for example, what do you want to see? A funny picture of a cute cat, or someone complaining about how much their life sucks? And when you see it, how do you feel, and how does it affect what you post? If we spread negativity, it will only create more negativity in others and rebound back to us. So instead of posting about that bad review you got (which isn’t attracting any new readers) or the weirdo sending you annoying messages (which only makes people paranoid about what you’re saying about them behind their backs), why not post something inspiring or uplifting? “I just passed 50,000 words on my next novel!!” packs a much greater punch than, “I can’t believe this @$$hole just slammed my book on Goodreads!”
Share your ups, not your downs. There are times when tragedy strikes and we truly need to see there are people out there who want to support us and give us a shoulder to cry on. This is not what I am talking about. I’m talking about the dozens of little things that go wrong throughout the day. A coffee spill, stand-still traffic, all the petty little things that drag us down. They tend to add up and if that makes up the majority of your online public presence, eventually all people remember about you is all the whining. In times like this, try to be your own cheerleader, not a ball and chain. Find something to be happy about and share that with the world. Not only will people admire you for your strength, tenacity and spirit, but you might just inspire them to be better, try harder, enjoy life more. Isn’t that worth doing?
And last but not least, be good. Be the change you want to see in the world. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Don’t lower yourself to petty fights on the internet. Make peace, not war. Step out of the shadow. Be the light. Resist the Dark Side. “Be cool, Hunny Bunny.” (Pulp Fiction) And any other cliche saying you can think of. There is enough bad in the world without us adding to it. Yes, it’s hard work, but if something as simple as a smile can improve your mood, imagine what offering a hug or encouragement can do for someone else–as well as you!
Smile! It will either cheer them up or piss them off. Either way, you win.
I didn’t have a DIYDay post in me this week. I don’t feel qualified to “teach” on this subject since I suck at it. But I am learning.
For example, I have learned that a well-made graphic will draw thousands of eager eyes. A graphic is like the three-second window into YOU, which has massive appeal in today’s world of overstimulation, information overload and short attention spans. We can’t help it. We’re all busy people! We no longer have 30 seconds for the elevator pitch, there are too many of them vying for our attention.
Give us something worth looking at, do a double take, and then come back to find out more. An invaluable lesson learned: A site banner will signal what kind of site you are running. A graphic advertisement will decide whether people click on it or not. An author picture will have you judged from appearances alone (so make sure it’s professional!). A book cover will make or break your book.
Now here is the problem with fantastic graphics: Where do you put them?? One side will answer, “Everywhere!” while another will say, “Consider the strategic advantages of each location and go with the one that will pack the most punch.” Yeah, that one is up to you, because I have no clue. With so many advertisements everywhere these days, people condition themselves not to look anymore. It’s not a challenge anymore, it’s a war zone and the winning side gets the business.
Networking is supposed to be a good one. Word of mouth. You’d think that would be easier than creating a graphic. And it probably is–for extroverts. Going up to someone and sparking conversation out of thin air always seems like magic to me, the kind which I don’t possess. Whenever someone comes up to me and says hi, I always look over my shoulder to see who they’re talking to. When asked what I do/write, I can never find the right words, even though I may have rehearsed them a time or ten…thousand.
But “You can write,” you say to me. “You should take it online! Network on social media. Type out your heart and people will respond to you like gees to the pied piper.” This is a concept I have heard of before and never could figure out how to implement until recently when a PR minion’s good hearted effort took my friends list on Facebook from 60 to 900. For the first few days this was happening, I sat there, watching the number rise, my jaw on the floor. And then the question became, “Now what?”
See? Back to square one. Sparking conversation out of thin cyber air. I am learning slowly, though. For example, I have business cards now. Yes, I can see why you would be making a “Huh?” face at me, but it’s true. Not that I go places where I could be handing them out, but they’re good to have anyway. A possible conversation starter (?) lol I also somehow managed to make friends with some truly amazing people who seem to want to help me out and spread the word about my books for some unfathomable reason. That must mean this networking thing really works, right?
But the biggest lesson I have learned is that for an author without an agent/publicist, marketing oneself truly NEVER stops. It’s not all book launch parties and then silence until the next release. Playing the recluse and being mysterious no longer works. Trust me, I tried. Keeping the juggernaut (whatever size it may be) going is… oh, how should I put this… a monumental pain in the backside. It forces you to be engaged in the outside world while actively trying to escape it into whatever universe you are writing at the time. If you have a full-time day job like I do, well, you do the math. There are only so many directions the mind can be stretched before something snaps loose. There is a thin line between genius and madness, and every artist or writer will walk it at one point or another for whatever length of time. Ever wonder why creative people are so eccentric? Here is your answer.
But we still have the best jobs in the world. 🙂 Write on, my friends. Write on.
Disclaimer: For the sake of being consistent, here is my marketing pitch of the day: Like me on Facebook, Follow me on Twiter, Buy my books on Amazon, B&N, Sony, iTunes
Ready to get back on the horse? Now that you know how to format a book, make a cover page, and all that jazz, let’s see if we can spruce up your internet homestead. Before I begin, I would like to say that there are many places out there which provide you with pre-made templates to make your life easier. But if you want more of a personal touch to your template or want to make your own, begin with the basics. Get ready for a lot of reading.
Hyperlinks and anchors are two apples on the same tree. They take your page text from “Visit my website at http://aliannedonnelly.com ” to Visit my website. Now, there is nothing wrong with spelling out a link. But if your link takes up two or three lines, you might want to hyperlink. We do this with an <a> tag. On the back end (where your readers can’t see) it looks like this: <a href=”xyzlink“>Something</a>. “a” tells the browser that what follows are directions to go to another place. “href” tells it this will be another website. “Something” tells it how to make the link look on the page. This can be either text or a graphic, which will make it look more like a button. “/a” tells it this is the end of the direction.
While links take people to completely different pages, anchors make them jump around on the same page. For example, you can have a table of contents at the top and let your readers jump to chapter 17 instead of starting from the beginning. In this case, you need two pieces of code. The hyperlink you create will be in the table of contents and will look much like the link code above, but at the end it will have a bit extra. For example, <a href=”xyzlink#anchor“> . But this link needs something to point to, so at the place where you want your link to go, you add a little tag like this: <a name=”anchor”>, which tells the browser, HERE I AM!
Got it? Good. Moving on.
Organization is my middle name. Well, not really, but I am a stickler for details. The thing is, everyone who looks at your page will see it differently because everyone uses a different device. What you think looks fantastic on your monitor will look cluttered and disorganized on another. To minimize this, use tables. Yeah, they’re a little involved and cumbersome with the code, but trust me, the end result is worth it.
In code, a table is organized by rows and goes from the outside in. Every element has its own tag, and must therefore have an end tag. Note that if you forget even one end tag, you may have to start from the beginning.
<table> – begins the table. The /table (end table) tag will go all the way at the end.
<tbody> – means this is where the contents begin. the /tbody tag goes just before the /table tag.
<tr> – starts the table row. Depending on how many columns you have, the /tr tag will go after you close the last column. You can have as many rows as you need.
<td> – defines the cell in the row. They go from left to right and each cell must be closed with a /td tag.
so your table code might look something like this:
<td> First cell in the first row</td>
<td>Second cell in the first row</td>
<td> First cell in the second row</td>
<td> Second cell in the second row</td>
And your table will look something like this:
First cell in the first row
Second cell in the first row
First cell in the second row
Second cell in the second row
You can define how you want your table to look with other attributes such as width, height, borders, padding, margins, background, etc. Read all about them here. If you look at the bottom of my home page, the social media buttons are all in a table with an image set as the background to make it look like a button. If you look at one of my book pages (screen cap below), you will see it has a sidebar on each side of the main content. I did this with tables.
Now, this works, because my website has a fixed width template. That means that regardless of the size of the screen a reader is using, my website will always be the same ratio of width-to-height. Flexible width templates rearrange your content to fit the screen so readers don’t have to scroll left to right. This is great for the reader, but not so much for the person designing the site, because you never know how things will look once you alter the width, which is why you should always test your website on multiple computers and screens.
Remember, no one learns to be fluent in HTML or any other language. We learn the basics of what they can do, and then go online and google the specific piece of code we need 😉 Good luck!