Blogs or Newsletters?

© Can Stock Photo/ kurhan

I saw a Twitter post the other day from another author asking which was best. A blog or a newsletter? I responded by saying I use both. I also have  websites. The Internet is an interesting place. You never know how or where someone will find you. Therefore, I’m of the opinion that you can never have too much online presence.

The Difference Between a Blog and a Traditional Website

Years ago I attended a meeting with the now defunct Arizona Book Publishers Association. The speaker, whose name I unfortunately can no longer recall, was an expert on online book marketing. He talked about how you need both a website an a blog. He described a website as the place where “you wore your business suit.” It should be straightforward and formal. As an author, I use my website to showcase my books.

The speaker then described a blog as less formal and more personal than a website. It was where you wore your sweats. In other words, a blog was where you could talk one to one with your readers. I use my Marina Martindale blog to share excerpts from my books, talk about my inspiration, and discuss my characters in depth.

Using a Blog as a Website

Nowadays many websites include a blog feed. At one time I included them on my website as well. Then one day it mysteriously vanished. I called tech support. They had no idea what was going on, but they couldn’t restore the feed either. I’ll just say I’m glad my blogs and websites use different hosts.

Some people use their blog as their website. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. In fact, I recommend Blogger to those authors with limited budgets who can’t afford website hosting. Blogger is free and easy to use. You can customize your template to give it a unique look. The only out of pocket expense would be buying your own domain name. It’s optional, but I highly recommend it.

I use a WordPress blog for my historic cookbook website. Cookbooks are unique as they’re not actually read. They’re used for finding recipes. Therefore, my blog/website is for posting recipes and cooking tips, with a link to buy the cookbook at the end of each post.

One final word about author websites. Some authors like to include a bookstore. I once had one on my website as well. However, I soon discovered that readers don’t feel comfortable buying directly from the author or publisher. They prefer to buy from reputable online booksellers, such as Amazon. I’ve since taken my bookstore down and replaced it with links to where they can buy the books.

Newsletters

My newsletter is where I pitch my books. Each newsletter includes at least one “free sample” article with a link to a book except on my blog. I also have a monthly contest where my subscribers can win a free, author signed paperback edition of one of my novels. All they have do to enter is answer a multiple choice question correctly. The question is always something from the book I’m giving away, and I include a “hint.” The hint is a link to another blog post with with an except revealing the correct answer. It’s a great way to get people to read a sample. It’s an even better way to get a book into a reader’s hands. Back when I used to distribute through Ingram I always opted to have them ship returns to me. I’d much rather use them as contest prizes than have them end up in a landfill. It’s a win win for everyone.

A few words of caution regarding newsletters. People have to opt in. Never sign anyone up without their permission. You also need to limit how often you send them. I limit mine to one newsletter a month. The only exception is when I’m launching a new book. I will send them a short, to the point announcement with a link to where they can buy the book. I save the rest for the next newsletter. The number one reason why people unsubscribe to a newsletter is because they’re receiving too many of them. So when it comes to newsletters, less is more.

 

 

 

 

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

Why I No Longer Use Ingram Spark

© Can Stock Photo/ araraadt

Once upon a time, there were two book distributing services in the United States. Ingram, and Baker & Taylor. Baker & Taylor distributes to schools and libraries. Ingram distributes to book sellers.

The book publishing industry began to change in the early 21st century. Personal computers were becoming more sophisticated and more affordable. At the same time, new software was allowing people to publish from home. It even had a name. Desktop publishing.

So along came Lightning Source

Ingram created subsidiary called Lightning Source, although I’m not exactly sure when this came about. However, I first heard of Lightning Source in 2003, after I wrote my first Luke and Jenny novel. My original publisher used Lightning Source for their distribution.

I began working with Lightning Source directly in 2011, when I created my own publishing company, Good Oak Press, LLC. At the time, they were a fantastic company to work with. They were there to help you succeed. If you had any question or concerns, or if you just needed a little help uploading a file, they were only a phone call away.

Then came Ingram Spark

A new subsidiary, Ingram Spark, came along a few years later. It worked with independent, or self-published authors, so I migrated to the new site. Same company, same great customer service. I had a long and happy business relationship with both subsidiaries for over a decade

Unfortunately, times have changed, and I’m afraid it hasn’t been for the better. It all started when I was having some serious log in issues with my account. No matter what I did, nothing would fix it. It’s a rather long, complicated story, so I’ll sum it up by saying that after much frustration and many emails back and forth, I was told the problem was fixed. Only it wasn’t fixed. The issue still persisted.

Why I Left Ingram Spark

Ingram Spark is longer the helpful company I signed on with back in 2011. They have discontinued telephone support. Tech support is only available by email only. Unfortunately, the more complicated the issue, the more difficult it is to resolve it by email alone.

The initial response to the emails I sent always asked me for information I had already included in the original email, along with a screenshot. For example, if someone named Bill responded to my first email,  I’d reply with a, “Dear Bill.” Then would repeat everything I had described in the original email, along with another screenshot. Next thing I knew, I would get a response from Sally, asking me the same questions Bill had asked. So where was Bill? I thoughtI was working with someone named Bill. So, once again, I’m having to rewrite my original question and attach yet another screen. The next response came from Marco, who, like Sally, had never bothered to read the earlier emails.

Having to describe the same issue over and over again only made matters worse, and after awhile you realize they don’t give a damn about helping you. As a result, the issue was never resolved. Sometimes you need to communicate in person, but I no longer had that option. There came a point when it finally became a deal breaker. Thankfully, there are now some alternatives.

I recently learned that one of my author friends has never used Ingram Spark. This came as a big surprise. He’s been writing books longer than I have, and he has built himself a good following. He distributes his books through Amazon’s KDP Publishing, Draft2Digital, and SmashWords. So, I’ve  changing course too. I’ve closed out my Ingram Spark account for good.

Kindle Direct Publishing

As we all know, the Amazon Kindle has been a game changer. I started publishing my ebook editions directly with Amazon shortly after the Kindle came on the market. The platform easy to use, and I could upload my files for free. However, I had never published a print edition with KDP Direct. That all changed with my latest Marina Martindale contemporary romance novel, Aquamarine. When I uploaded the print edition to KDP Direct I found it was almost as easy as uploading an eBook.

I admit I was a little concerned about the printing quality, but after receiving my first author’s copies, I can find no difference between KDP and Ingram. Both companies produce good quality print books. The only difference is that Amazon does not charge you a fee to upload your files. You upload them for free. So why spend money when you don’t have to?

Amazon also has outstanding customer service. You can contact them by phone, email or chat. I’ve found their phone support to be friendly and helpful. No long waits on hold either. You enter your phone number, and they will call you back. They will also work with you until the problem is fixed.

Other Book Distributors

I’ve started distributing my eBook editions through Draft2Digital. They offer virtually the same eBook distribution as Ingram Spark. My eBook editions are now available for the Barnes& Noble Nook, Sony and Kobo eReaders, Apple Books, and others. There is no fee to upload your files, and their customer support is available by phone or email. Draft2Digital is also merging with SmashWords, and I will soon be distributing my print editions with them as well.

Ingram Spark is by far the winner when it comes to convenience. Those who don’t want the hassle of having to upload their files to multiple accounts may think the forty dollar upload fee worth it. To each their own. Unfortunately, because of all the grief they have caused me, I’ve decided they simply aren’t worth headache, and I’d rather keep the forty dollars in my own pocket. I can only hope, for their sake, that they will take whatever steps are necessary to improve their customer service. They lost a loyal, long-term  customer when they lost me, and somehow I doubt I’m the only one. All I can say is I won’t be coming back.

Gayle Martin

UPDATE: Smashwords and Draft2Digital have merged. If you are using D2D they will now publish your books on Smashwords.

 

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

 

 

 

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

Hey Google! I Can Think for Myself

© Can Stock Photo/ Curioso_Travel_Photo

I created this blog on Blogger and later migrated it to WordPress. Part of me hated doing this. I loved Blogger. It was so easy to use. However, there was a problem. Google owns Blogger, and, like Facebook, Google is getting much too creepy.

As I discussed in my previous post, The Best Search Engines for Novel Writers, no writer should ever use Google for their searches. Nor would I limit this suggestion to just writers. In my humble opinion, no one should be using Google. No one. Google has become too powerful. So much so that it’s now trying to tell us what to think.

How Google is trying to manipulate us

One night, as I was listening to Coast to Coast AM, the host announced the her guest was an expert on alternative medicine. She began her introduction by stating that Google has eliminated ALL alternative medicine websites from its search engine. All of them. It has replaced them with ANTI-alternative medicine websites. This means if you’re looking for alternative treatments for your allergies, because all conventional treatments have failed you, you won’t find any information on Google. Why? Because Google thinks you’re too stupid to decide which treatment would be best for you. They will decide the treatment you need, not you. Nevermind the fact that we all have the right to live our lives as we see it. Unfortunately, this is but one example of how Google is trying to manipulate you and tell you how to think.

Needless to say, this can be especially problematic for authors. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you’ll need to do some research as you write. So what happens if you’re writing a novel about a character with cancer who seeks out other treatments? You certainly won’t find the information you need from Google.

Fortunately for us, there are other search engines that DON’T think they’re God. They will give you the information you are searching for, and they will allow you to think for yourself. These search engines include Bing, DogPile and DuckDuckGo, one of the search engines I discussed in my previous post.

Hey Google! We can think for ourselves, thank you very much, and there are much better search engines out there.

Gayle Martin

The Best Search Engines for Novel Writers

Writing fiction isn’t about making things up as we go along. Good fiction writers know their craft. They can easily spend as much time researching their subject matter as they do writing about it. And that can be problematic.

Novel writers may have to research the strangest things. For example, some of my Marina Martindale novels revolve around crime. When it comes to creating a good conflict, few subjects work better. Crime plotlines aren’t limited to mysteries. They work well in other genres too. I write contemporary romance, so having a character become a crime victim, or be accused of a crime he or she didn’t commit, works well for me.

Let’s use my contemporary romance novel, The Deception, as an example. I wanted my story to be believable. This is where research comes in. However, doing a Google search on how many years my antagonist could get for attempted capital murder could potentially raise some red flags. Google records your IP address and your searches. Google also tracks you around the web. And while police officers would probably enjoy a good read as much as anyone else, we don’t anyone getting the wrong idea. After all, that unexpected knock at the door could really ruin your day. This is why we need to do our searches anonymously.

StartPage and DuckDuckGo

There are two search engines which you can use for anonymous web searches. Startpage, and DuckDuckGo. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Startpage works with Google, but doesn’t record your IP address. You also have the option of visiting websites anonymously. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t as not all websites allow anonymous viewing. Nonetheless, it’s a nice option to have. 

Unfortunately, Startpage also has a distinct disadvantage. It only works with Google, and Google has become way too creepy. They’ve been very outspoken in their commitment to weed out websites with points of view they disagree with, which troubles me in many ways. However, I’m going to limit my comments and simply state that as writers, we can, and should, be able to see ALL points of view on a given subject. We’re writers. We can think for ourselves.

Thankfully, there is another anonymous search engine out there. DuckDuckGo. Unlike Startpage, it’s not married to Google. However, it too has also a disadvantage. It doesn’t allow you the option of visiting a website anonymously.

So there you have it. Neither search engine stores your information, nor do they track you. If you’re a writer, I highly recommend using either, or both. 

Gayle Martin

One of the Pitfalls of Social Media

 
© CanStockPhoto/ShutterM

As authors we’ve all been told that social media is an essential marketing tool, and it truly is. I’ve made fans and sold books on social media. However, social media can also be a double-edged sword. Therefore, it must be treated with respect. Let me give you an example of something that happened to me a few years ago.

After posting a comment on a friend’s Facebook post, I started engaging with another of her friends on the same thread. We were talking about jazz music, something we both enjoyed. During our online conversation she mentioned that she was a book editor. At the time I was publishing books for other authors, so I told her I was a publisher. I then asked her to please send me a friendship request so I could include her on my referral list. She was more than happy to oblige. 

As it turned out, she posted frequently Facebook. However, I found her content troubling. She ranted about her hatred of children, her dislike of men, and her belief that interpersonal relationships were a complete waste of time. She also posted about her hatred of churches and of people of faith. Anyone who disagreed was told to “go f— themselves.” No matter how respectful they were, they got the same hateful, vulgar, response.

I soon realized that I could NEVER refer this woman to any of my authors. If she was that mean spirited and disrespectful on Facebook, I could only imagine how badly she would have treated them. So, instead of sending her referrals, I blocked her.

The point I’m making is to use caution when posting on social media. Mean spirited and hateful posts really can come back and bite you. 

Gayle Martin

So Who Markets Your Book?

© Can Stock Photo/ araraadt

From time to time I get into interesting discussions with other authors lamenting about how their book isn’t selling they way they expected. The first thing I ask is what have they done to market their book. Most of the time they haven’t done anything. Many authors, especially newbies, honestly think all they have to do is list their book on Amazon, and people will buy it. Or they think someone else, such as a third party publisher, or distributor, will market their book. 


“Build it and they will come,” may have worked in Field of Dreams. Unfortunately, it doesn’t apply to selling books. Nor is your publisher responsible for marketing your book. They distribute your book to booksellers, but they’re not in the marketing business. You, the author, are the one responsible for marketing your book, and not taking the initiative means your book won’t sell. Fortunately, there are many things that you can, and should, be doing to help promote your book. 

How authors can promote their books
  • Have a website or blog, or both, about your book.
  • Promote your book on social media.
  • List your book on other websites.
  • Have book signings.
  • Send out a newsletter.
  • Have contests and giveaways.
  • Create a book trailer.
  • Advertise your book

If you can only do one item on this list, make it a having website. If you’re on a tight budget, you can create blog on Blogger for free. Blogger has an array of nice-looking templates and it’s very easy to use. Godaddy, Wix and WordPress, offer templates so you can build your own website. If you have the means, you can hire a webmaster and have them create a state of the art website will all the bells and whistles. Whichever way you go, it’s up to you to promote your blog or website. This is where social media comes in.

Of you’re an author, social media is an absolute must. It costs nothing to open account on most social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Keep in mind, however, that it takes time to build a following on social media, so don’t expect instant results. I’ve also found contests and giveaways to be a nice marketing tool. You can do giveaways through social media, or with newsletters.

If your budget allows it you can hire a publicist, but be sure he or she has experience in book promotion. Book promotion is quite different from other kinds of public relations. Also be sure to talk to him or her about the cost. Some firms may charge as much as $3000 a month for their services. Others may charge much less, and may do just as good of a job as the higher-priced publicists.

No one ever said marketing a book would be easy. This is especially true in a time when anyone with a computer and access to the Internet can upload a Word file to Amazon and call themselves an author. However, unless your name is Stephen King, James Patterson or J.K. Rowling, don’t expect people bust down the doors to buy your book just because it’s listed on Amazon. You really have to get there and do some work.

Gayle Martin

Why Off-Site Storage is a Must

Photo by Gayle Martin
It’s happened to me twice now. That oh so sickening feeling of going to open a file, only to discover it has somehow vanished off my hard drive.
Computers are mysterious creatures. I jokingly tell people they’re black magic, although I sometimes wonder if there could be some truth to this. Both times it happened was after I’d saved the files and shut down my computer properly. Obviously, files can be lost or hopelessly corrupted, even when you’ve done nothing wrong. This is why I have off site storage.
What is off-site storage?

Off-site storage, sometimes called the cloud, is just that. Your files are backed up to a third party server. So, heaven forbid, your computer gets lost or stolen, or an important file gets lost or damaged, you can easily download a backup. Some people may worry about privacy, which is a legitimate concern. However, any reliable off-site storage company will encrypt your files. 

My personal choice

I use Carbonite, but there are other offsite backup services out there. Carbonite costs me a little over $50 per year, and it’s money well spent. It runs in the background and it automatically backs up my files. I never have to stop and do a backup. On those rare occasions when I’ve had to use it, I found it very easy. The first time was to recover missing a Word file. I got all but the last two paragraphs back. More recently, I had to recover an InDesign file that mysteriously vanished. Carbonite downloaded it completely intact.

But I back my stuff up on an external hard drive

Some people tell me they don’t need off site storage as they manually backup their files up on an external hard drive or a flash drive. Okay. So, what happens if you accidentally drop your external drive, or if you lose your flash drive? What happens if, Heaven forbid, your home is burglarized? Or if there’s a natural disaster? It happens. In such a scenario your external drive may be lost as well. You can replace your computer, but the data will be gone forever, unless you have an off site backup.

Stuff happens, and it can happen to you. Carbonite has saved my rear-end, not once, but twice. I’m now a customer for life.

Gayle Martin