Blogger vs WordPress

© Can Stock Photo / gunnar3000

I’ve been blogging for so long that I can’t remember exactly when I started. It was sometime around 2005, when I published my first Luke and Jenny novelette. I used a blog host called Blogspot, which has since become Blogger. I liked Blogger for many reasons.

The Pros 
  • Blogger is user friendly! You don’t need to know HTML code or have other technical skills to use it.
  • It’s easy to build a template with Blogger. Even the advanced template design tools are user friendly.
  • The Blogger platform is secure. Your blog is less likely to be hacked.
  • Blogger includes an easy to use stats feature. It includes the number of hits, traffic sources, operating systems and so forth.
  • Blogger is free!  It comes with it’s own hosting.
The Cons
  • Blogger has no technical support. Google no longer supports Blogger. If you’re having an issue you have to rely on online forums, which may or may not resolve your issue.
  • There are few plugins for Blogger. Blogger includes “gadgets,” which you can add to your blog. However, the selection somewhat limited, so you may or may not find what you want.
I loved Blogger. I’m a right-brained creative, and Blogger is certainly intuitive. I used it for years. I found it easy to modify the templates, so I could give my blog more of a custom look. However, because there were limits, I could only do so much.
Along came WordPress
While I was using Blogger, some of my author friends were using WordPress. Blogger has a distinctive look. It doesn’t matter how much you modify your template, it still looks like a Blogger blog. WordPress blogs, on the other hand, look more professional.
The Pros
  • WordPress has dozens upon dozens of third party themes and plugins. This gives you infinite possibilities for designing and customizing your blog.
  • You can pick and choose your own host. Unlike Blogger, you can pick your WordPress own platform. Some may offer tech support, while others may not. Prices may also vary. I recommend shopping around.
The Cons
  • WordPress is not user friendly. It’s definitely NOT for people who are unfamiliar with HTML coding or lack other technical skills. Those who are not technically skilled will most likely end up extremely frustrated.
  • WordPress is open code. While open coding allows third parties to create all those wonderful themes and plugins, it also makes WordPress more vulnerable to hacking.
  • Spamming. Spammers love to post their spam in your post’s comments. WordPress has plugins to block spammers. However, they can also make it extremely difficult for legitimate readers to post a comment on your blog.
In Conclusion

If you have the technical skills, or if your budget allows you to hire a webmaster, then I highly recommend WordPress. A customized blog makes you look more professional. I like to keep my websites clean and simple, and I was able to create this blog with the Twenty Sixteen WordPress theme. Please note that some WordPress themes are easy to use while others are not. My WordPress guru helped me find the right plugins for my specific needs, and if I need help she’s only a phone call away.

For those on a budget, I once again recommend shopping around. Nowadays many web host companies include blogs with their packages. This option wasn’t available when I started writing, so it’s worth looking into. WordPress has also changed with the times. It too now offers website hosting, with or without a blog.

Gayle Martin

The Trouble with Twitter

© CanStockPhoto/ShutterM

Someone I follow on YouTube recently posted a video about why he finally left Twitter. He made some interesting points. Twitter has an unusual dynamic. While most Twitter users are well educated people, he noticed they all seem to behave like middle school kids.

I use Twitter to promote my books and photography. However, I don’t engage as much on Twitter as I do on other social media platforms. I’ve always found their platform odd. Twitter used to call their tweets, “mini blogs.”  When I first signed up posts were  limited to 140 characters, which I found too limiting. I’m a writer. I want to express myself. They’ve since doubled it to 280 characters, but it’s still pretty limiting. Therefore, I mostly use Twitter to post links to my blogs and websites.

I use third party websites to post my Tweets. One is Hootsuite, the other is Buffer. Both offer free accounts with some nice features, such as shorted URLs for your links. Hootsuite has a nice dashboard where you can see how well your tweet performed. Buffer gives you preselected time slots to schedule your tweets. It too is a nice feature which can save you valuable time. However, both limit how often you can tweet per day. If you want to tweet more then the limit, you’ll have to upgrade to a paying account.

The YouTube vlogger also talked about Twitter “tribes.” Like other social media platforms, Twitter algorithms suggest people for you to follow. It also recommends you to people with a similar interests. Interestingly enough, my tribe is other writers and photographers, so I’m adding new hashtags, such as, “#romancereaders” and “#photographylovers,” to my tweets. Hopefully, this will attract more prospective readers and art buyers.

From time to time I’ll log on to Twitter itself, but certainly not every day. If a major news event is happening, particularly in my local area, Twitter is the best platform for real time updates. My tribe mostly tweets about their writing. So if someone asking a question about their writing, and I think I can help, I’ll send them a reply. I honestly enjoy helping other writers whenever I can.

Even though my tribe is a friendly one, I’m still very cautious about what I say on Twitter. If there is anything which could possibly be perceived as, “controversial,” then rest assured, someone will get pissed off and start screaming and name calling. Hate to say it, but the vlogger was right. A grown man or woman will indeed behave like a middle school kid. This is why Twitter is, unfortunately, a hostile platform. I find it very sad. It has the potential to be a whole lot more.

Gayle Martin

 

 

 

What it Means to Support the Arts

© Can Stock Photo/ ginosphotos

There are times when I may ruffle a few feathers, but so be it. Some things simply have to be said.

Those who regularly read this blog know I write novels, mostly as Marina Martindale. I’m also an art photographer, and I use social media to promote my books and my photography.

I was on Facebook the other day and came across a post about supporting the arts. It had plenty of likes, but there was a problem. The people creating the posts, and hitting the like button, may have thought they were supporting the arts, but they actually weren’t. Why? Because they weren’t telling their friends to BUY the art!

Hitting the like button doesn’t mean a damn thing

Whenever I post about my books and photography, I always include a link to a website where you can purchase the book or photograph. The posts will always get plenty of likes as well as comments such as, “Nice photo” or “I like really your book cover.” On rare occasions someone may say, “I’ve read her books and she’s great.” That’s the kind of a comment I live for! Sadly, those comments are too few and far between.

Unfortunately, hitting the like button doesn’t help me pay my bills. So if you really want to support my art, (or another artist’s work), please buy a photo or a book.

No, it isn’t a hobby

I’ve never understood why so many people think of the arts as just a hobby. Colleges and universities offer advanced degrees in the arts. Film and television production is a multi-million dollar industry. Does any of this sound like a hobby to you?

Artists, writers and musicians work damn hard, and they spend many years learning their craft. If you ever took music lessons when you were a kid you probably remember just how hard it was, and most of you gave up long before you mastered the instrument. Now think of what it took for a professional musician to reach that skill level. Does that sound like just a hobby to you? Do you really think hitting a like button on social media is all you have to do to “support” this artist? Seriously?

If you really want to support the arts then put your money where your mouth is

If you really want to support a musician then go to their gig and order a meal while you’re there. The venues who hire musicians do so to attract more paying customers. I realize some venues may be pricey, however the appetizers are usually less expensive. Trust me, I’ve eaten a lot of chicken quesadillas at friends’ gigs.

If you really want to support an artist then buy their art. Most authors have their books available for the Amazon Kindle, and you can download a copy for a few dollars. You can also get a Kindle app for free for your phone or tablet. Books make great gifts too, so if their writing genre isn’t your thing, you can still buy a copy for someone else.

You can also share their posts with a click of a mouse. Word of mouth and organic reach really are a thing, and it really does help get the artist’s name out there. Best of all, it only takes a few seconds of your time, and it doesn’t cost a thing.

Same goes for visual artists. How hard it is to share a post or click on a website link? You just hit the like button, so you obviously like their art. Visiting their websites helps improve their Google rankings, and many artists have their work reasonably priced.

Can’t afford to buy a framed print? Then you can probably buy the same photo on a coffee mug. You certainly can on my website. It only costs a few dollars, and it really does help support the artist. It will also be very much appreciated. Having someone tell me how much they enjoyed reading my book, or how much they like having a piece of my art in their home, means more to me than you could possibly imagine.

Gayle Martin

To learn more about my books please visit my website at martinamartindale.com.

To see my photography please visit my website at gaylemartinphotography.com.

Is the Social Media Fad Ending?

photo by Gayle Martin

As authors we’ve all been told social media is our best marketing tool, and it is. However, the Internet is always changing. Nowadays, at least by my observation, social media seems to be waning in popularity. My main social media accounts are Facebook and Twitter. I’ve been using both for years. A few months ago I started using Instagram, but so far I’m giving it a big, fat, meh.

I’ve spent most of my social media time on Facebook. It used to be a lot of fun, and, for a time, Facebook was a popular fad. Everyone was on Facebook. Those who weren’t just weren’t cool. People posted photos of their kids and grandkids and talked about their hobbies and interests. I shared my book covers on Facebook and I’d post about the current book I was writing. I also started a business page under my pen name, Marina Martindale, which has hundreds of followers. So, what changed?

For me, social media started changing when people began posting their politics. It created an us vs them atmosphere, which was both divisive and hostile. As an author and artist, I’ve worked hard to build a following. Therefore, I keep my politics out of social media because I don’t want to alienate any of my fans. Facebook and Twitter, however, added their own fuel to the proverbial fire when they took sides and started censoring people on one side, but not the other. Strange business model. I’ve never understood the concept of pissing off half of your customer base. But hey, that’s just me.

The Covid pandemic has made the one-sidedness, and the censorship, so much worse. Here’s a fun fact for you. Doctors don’t always agree. Remember the old ad jingle about four out of five dentists agree? So where was the fifth dentist? Don’t ask on Facebook or Twitter. They will censor you just for asking. Nowadays Facebook will put you in “Facebook jail,” if you so much as say, “boo!”

We Americans are accustomed to speaking our minds, and everyone has the right to their own opinion. We don’t take kindly to censorship, and many walking away from social media as a result.

By my own observation, I’m seeing fewer posts on Facebook from friends who used to post frequently. Others have closed out their accounts entirely. I’m seeing less traffic on my business pages. I’ve also stopped advertising on Facebook because my ads no longer have the reach they once had. Now in case you’re wondering, I’m not alone. My marketing guru tells me she’s seeing the same issue with other clients. Like any other fad, Facebook, along with other social media platforms, has apparently run its course. What was once new and exciting has become, “Been there, done that, and you can stick your censorship where the sun doesn’t shine.”

Once a customer walks away from a business, they’re gone. They don’t come back. I’m also seeing people forming new social networks, such as Parler, but they’re niche networks. While I make no claims of being a social network expert, I think smaller, niche social networks may become the trend in the future. Yes, Facebook and Twitter will still be around. MySpace is still around. However, I think their popularity has peaked, and I doubt they’ll ever regain the following they had before.

So, where does this leave us as authors? I have no plans for closing out my social media accounts, but I’m now focusing more of my marketing on email newsletters and blogs.

Gayle Martin

How to Create a Book Video

photo by Gayle Martin

One of the perks of being a novel writer is learning new skills, and one of the new skills I learned was video production. Book videos are a must-have tool for building your brand and marketing your book(s). They’re like a TV commercial or a movie trailer and they’re used on websites, blogs, and social media. There are several different ways to go about producing a book video. The most common are slideshows, author readings, and book trailers

Video Slideshows

Back in the mid 2000s, when I wrote my Luke and Jenny series of historical novels for young readers, Internet videos were a new technology. Video editing software was expensive and difficult to use. So, back then, many authors produced video slideshows, which were easy to create in Powerpoint. My first two book videos were simple PowerPoint presentations that I produced myself for very little money.

Even today, you can still create a nice video slideshow without having to spend a lot of money. Powerpoint has come a long way, and nowadays you can animate slides, record voice overs, and add music tracks to your presentation. Or you can take it to the next level and produce your slideshow in iMovie or one of its Windows counterparts. Whatever approach you take is entirely up to you.

Author Readings

Thanks for smartphones, we all have a camcorder in our pocket. Those authors who wish to make a more personal connection with their readers may opt to read a portion of their book to their readers. Such videos are inexpensive and easy to produce. All you need is a smartphone, a tripod, and some basic video editing software, such as iMovie.

Lighting, however, may be a challenge, so you should definitely take some test shots of your set before you begin shooting. If you have the means, consider hiring someone to shoot the video for you. A professional will know how to light the scene and can determine which camera angles are the most flattering. Either way, be sure to read a sample that’s interesting and action packed, but don’t give too much of your story away.

Book Trailers

Book trailers are like movie trailers. You shoot a few scenes from your book, but like the author reading, you don’t want to give too much of your story away. The idea is to entice a potential reader.

Unlike slideshows and author readings, book trailers are more expensive to create, and in most cases you’ll need to hire a professional to produce the video for you. Be sure to read their contract carefully before you sign. You may also need to hire actors. If so, they will need to sign a release form, granting you their permission to use their image. There are many release form templates available for download on the Internet, and oftentimes they are free.

Whether you are creating your video yourself or hiring a pro, there are a few things you need to be aware of when it comes to producing a video.

Royalty Free Doesn’t Mean Copyright Free

Some people think royalty free means copyright free. However, this isn’t the case at all. Royalty free is a term for a particular type of licensing agreement. Simply put, it means you don’t have to pay the right holder each time their image or music is used. You still have to pay a one time licensing fee up front to use the footage or music. There may also be limits on how the footage or music can be used. For example, it may be limited to editorial or non-commercial use only, so be sure to read the fine print carefully.

Other Sources

Pond5 is my go-to company for video production. You name it, they probably have it. Stock footage, music, photos, and whatever else you may need. Shutterstock and Can Stock Photo are also good sources. All of these companies will charge a fee, so you may want to shop around. Be sure to read the licensing agreement before you buy, and be wary of any website giving you “free” stuff. The quality may not be that great, and you may be buying pirated materials.

And finally

Whether you’re doing a simple slideshow video, or hiring a professional and doing a full board production, it’s important to remember that content is king. You want viewers to take an interest in your books, but you don’t want to give them too much information either.

I’ve posted one of my  book trailers below. It’s for my Marina Martindale contemporary romance novel, The Deception. I’ve come a long way since I created my first book video. Instead of a simple Powerpoint slideshow, I’m now producing book trailers.

Gayle Martin

 

The Trouble with Twitter

© Can Stock Photo/
ShutterM

I wrote my first book when social media was still in its infancy. MySpace was the big kid on the block, and all the book marketing experts were telling authors to embrace social media to promote their books. Among the recommended social media networks was one called Twitter.

Twitter Then

Twitter was a very difference place back then. It was for posting, “mini blogs.” It’s purpose was, “to let your friends know what you’re doing.” A typical tweet was something like, “Taking the kids to the park. TTYL.” Back then tweets were limited to 140 characters, so to me, Twitter was more of a bulletin board. Let’s face it. It’s kind of hard to engage with people with only 140 characters.

One of my author friends showed me how to use Twitter to drive traffic to my blogs. She introduced me to Hootsuite. Hootsuite could shorten my blog link, making it easier to to stay within the 140 character limit. I could also schedule my tweets to post on a day and time of my choosing. It worked. In less than 30 minutes, I could set up tweets to post throughout the day, and it really increased my blog traffic.

Twitter Now

Things change over time, and Twitter was no exception. I write contemporary romance novels, (under the pen name Marina Martindale.) I keep politics out of my books and out of my blogs. In fact, I write my books for people who want to take a break from politics. Twitter, however, was becoming more political and increasingly hostile. I still used it to drive traffic to my blogs, and while my number of Twitter followers increased, my blog stats showed significantly less traffic coming from Twitter. So as Twitter becomes more controversial, I keep wondering how much longer will it be of benefit to me?

For now I’m staying with it. However, the jury is still out. Most of my blog traffic now comes from Facebook, but about the time I’m ready to give up on Twitter someone retweets one of my tweets, so who knows? I suppose time will tell.

Gayle Martin

 

Consistent Book Cover Design

Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, building your own unique brand as an author is essential. For those of us who’ve written more than one book, this includes having consistent covers. After all, what’s the first thing a potential reader sees? Your book cover.

Five Star Publications, Inc., published Gunfight at the O.K. Corral: Luke and Jenny Visit Tombstone, the first title of my Luke and Jenny series of historical novels for young readers, back in 2006. As publisher, Five Star took care of the cover design. The illustrator and cover designer created a beautiful book cover, and I was quite pleased with it.

Unfortunately, when the time came to publish my second book, Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War: a Luke and Jenny Adventure I found out that the person who designed and illustrated the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral cover was no longer available. Thankfully, we were able to find another illustrator with a similar drawing style. However, no two artists are exactly the same. I loved the Billy the Kid cover illustration, but it didn’t match the O.K. Corral illustration closely enough to make the two books look related. I now had to make a decision. I could either have a book series with one cover which looked like it didn’t belong, or I could have the original Luke and Jenny book cover redone with a new artwork from the new illustrator. I opted for the latter. It really was my only option.

My covers were now consistent, which, in turn, made it that much easier to build my brand.

A few years later I published updated editions of the Luke and Jenny series, this time with my own publishing company, Good Oak Press, LLC. I could have redesigned the covers with new illustrations, but opted not to. My brand had been well established by then, and other than new ISBN numbers, and some minor copy editing, the books were essentially the same as the Five Star editions. The only change I made was to add the brown borders to distinguish them from the earlier Five Star series.

After completing my Luke and Jenny series I changed genres and started writing fiction for adult readers. This meant starting all over from scratch and building an entirely new brand, including creating a pen name, Marina Martindale, but the same rules for my covers applied. While I now write stand alone novels, I still work with Wes Lowe, who did the Luke and Jenny cover illustrations, and I still have consistency in the cover designs. It’s all about building your brand.

Gayle Martin

 

 

Are You Posting Your Politics?

© Can Stock Photo/
ShutterM

Nowadays many people express their political views all over social media, regardless of whether or not an election is coming up. I understand freedom of speech, and you certainly have the right to express yourself. However, there may be unintended consequences.

Why political posts on social media is a bad idea for novel writers

Social media is an invaluable marketing tool for authors. It’s the best platform we have for driving traffic to our websites and blogs and building our brands. It takes a lot of time and effort to build a following, as in months, or even years. So why, after doing all this hard work, would you want to risk alienating your fans and followers?

If you’re a political writer then you’re the exception. Political topics are  what your readers expect. However, many of us are not political writers. If you write novels, short stories or other creative fiction, and your sole purpose is to entertain you reader, then you may want to think twice about posting your politics on social media.

The risk you take

I make no claims of being mathematician or a statistician. However, I think it’s a safe bet to say that roughly half of your fans and followers don’t share your political views. It doesn’t matter if you’re conservative, liberal or libertarian. They don’t share your views. Nor will you get them to change their minds.

If you’re all over social media bashing conservatives, or liberals, or their candidate, then you risk alienating roughly half your fan base. No doubt these fans will unfriend or unfollow you on social media. They may also unsubscribe to your blogs and newsletters. Most importantly, they may stop buying your books. If you made them angry enough they may even leave scathing reviews. So, before writing that political post, ask yourself this question. “Do I really want to lose half my fans?”

I’m sure some of you are so passionate about your beliefs that you don’t want people who disagree with you buying your book in the first place. If so, it’s certainly your prerogative. However, I think most of us don’t want to lose any of our fan base. I know I don’t.

Yes, they will unfriend you

I’ve unfriended many people on Facebook because of their political posts. This includes unfriending fellow authors. Some of their posts were so hateful it was shocking. Others were people I’ve known for years. Unfriending them made me feel truly sad. However, I’m tired of all the hate. I’m tired of all the negativity, Most of all, I’m tired of all the mean spiritedness and the divisiveness. It’s put me in a place where I’m seriously reevaluating some of my friendships.

I guess I must be old school. I’ve always subscribed to the notion that who I vote for is for me to know, and the rest of you to wonder about. 

Gayle Martin

Author Business Cards

an overlooked book marketing tool

© Can Stock Photo / iqoncept

The lowly business card. One of the most overlooked, and underused, tools in an author’s promotional arsenal.

I studied graphic design in college, and one of my instructors taught us to think of a business card as a billboard in miniature. It’s an advertisement for the product or service you represent. Sadly, too many people don’t see it that way. Many of the business cards people hand me are so poorly done I want to dump them in the recycling bin. Honestly, it’s not hard to design a professional looking business card that helps promote your book. (Or your product or service.) 

Use easy to to read serif fonts

You want your message to be understood. Therefore, it needs to be easily read. As a graphic designer, I suggest using serif fonts. Serif fonts are easier to read than sans serif fonts. Common serif fonts include Times New Roman, Baskerville, Century Schoolbook and Garamond. All are attractive and easy to read. I highly recommend using them for your most important information, such as your name, phone number and email address. If a fancy, decorative font makes this information too hard to read, your card may end up in the trash.

Use a light colored text on dark backgrounds

Someone once handed me a business card with tiny red text on a dark brown background. Both colors had the same value, meaning there was no contrast between them. This made her phone number and email address unreadable, so her card went into the trash.

If you must use a dark background, use a light color for your text, such as white or yellow. Ideally, you should use a light background with black or navy blue text. Light texts on dark backgrounds are hard on the eyes.

Keep the font size to a 9 point minimum

I’ve been frustrated to no end trying to decipher phone numbers and email addresses printed with a 6 point, or smaller, font. Even with my strongest prescription glasses, the type is too small for me to see clearly. My graphic design instructors taught me that any font size smaller than 9 points is very difficult for people to read. If I can’t read it, the card goes into the  wastebasket. No exceptions.

Don’t be cheap

I get it. Money is an issue for many of us. However, you want to avoid cutting costs on your business card. A cheap looking card makes you look, well, cheap, and no one wants to do business with someone who looks like they don’t have any money.

One of the biggest no-nos is printing out your business cards at home. I recall a business association meeting where someone asked the woman sitting next to me for her card. She smiled and proudly handed that person a home printed printed card. The person she gave it to responded with, “Oh, I see you’re using Papers Direct.” That was it. She was done. What could have been a good business lead instantly went sour. Don’t be that woman. A homemade business card makes you look like a rank amatuer.

Be careful with online templates

Online business card templates have become popular with those on a budget. However, other people are using the same template too. I have, on occasion, ended up with identical business cards from different people in different occupations who used the same background template. This made it all too easy for me to pull up the wrong card. If using an online template keep it simple, and stay away from the artsy fartsy Vista Print background templates with all the flowery swirls. 

The best design for author business cards 

For you authors out there, I recommend a designing simple card, with your book cover or logo, along with your name, website and contact info. A plain white, ivory, or pastel background should work just fine. If your budget is small there are plenty of online printing companies, such as PrintingForLess.com, who can print 500 4-color cards for around $50, including shipping. If needed, they can also help you design your cards.

Remember, your business card represents you. Oftentimes it’s the first thing people will see about you, and you want to give them the best impression you possibly can.

Gayle Martin

Book Signing Etiquette

Whether it’s a bookstore, a book fair, or other special event, book signings can be a lot of fun. They’re a great way to engage one-on-one with potential readers and network with other authors. However, we authors can sometimes allow our enthusiasm to get the best of us. 

Treat other authors with respect

The worst experience I ever had at a book signing was during a big event weekend in Tombstone, Arizona. The local bookstore had invited so many authors to come and sign their books they ran out of space inside the store. So, they seated me, along with one other author, on the boardwalk in front of the store. Strategically, we had a great advantage. There was a lot more foot traffic outside the store, and we were right next to the door. Customers had to walk past us before they went inside. I should have had one of the best weekends ever. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. The other author completely sabotaged it. 

He was a nonstop talker who talked and talked and talked about anything and everything. Yak, yak, yak, yak, yak. He wouldn’t shut up. Not even while I was talking to potential readers, or trying to close a sale. And yes, he actually killed some of my sales.

As if this weren’t bad enough, he started babbling about a controversial book he planned to write about his religious beliefs. So while I’m trying to talk to my customers, he’s quoting Biblical scripture, chapter and verse, in a very loud voice. Not only were people no longer stopping at my table, they were literally running away.

I strongly believe in religious freedom. However, this was not the venue for a religious debate. I normally did well at Tombstone events. This time, however, I had a disaster. I hardly sold any books, all because of one very self-centered author who couldn’t keep his stupid mouth shut.

A book signing is not a place to socialize

A book signing is where authors come to connect one on one with their readers. If there are other authors at the same venue, as there often are, please show some respect and a little common courtesy. Keep your conversations with other authors brief, and try to limit those conversations to those times when there are no customers around. Most importantly, keep your mouth shut while other authors are talking to potential buyers. Nothing says rank ametuer louder than interfering with another author’s sale.

Gayle Martin