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’m No Longer Using 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 changing 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. 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 emails back and forth, I was told the problem was fixed. Only it wasn’t fixed. The issue still persisted.

All I can tell you is 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.

In my case, the response to the emails I sent usually asked me for more information, which I had already included in the original email. Each response also came from a different sender, who had obviously never read the prior response. Needless to say, this only made matters worse, and the issue was never resolved. Sometimes you need to communicate in person, but I no longer have that option. There came a point when it finally became a deal breaker. Thankfully, there are now some alternatives.

Kindle Direct Publishing

All 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 just wasn’t sure about using it for publishing my printed books.

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 Extended Distribution and SmashWords. SmashWords also distributes his books to Barnes & Noble. This includes his printed books as well as his ebooks. Unfortunately, SmashWords has had its share of controversies, so I don’t use them myself. I have, however, used Barnes & Noble press in the past to distribute some of my ebook editions. So, I’m now changing course. I will no longer be distributing my print editions through Ingram Spark.

The pros

Unlike Ingram Spark, Amazon does not charge you a fee to upload your files. You can upload them for free. So why spend money when you don’t have to?

I was also 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.

Amazon 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.

The cons

To the best of my knowledge, KDP does not distribute to Barnes & Noble. However, Barnes &  Noble does also their offer self-publishing services through Barnes & Noble Press, and I already have an account with them.

Ingram Spark is by far the winner when it comes to the most thorough book distribution. Unfortunately, because of all the grief they have caused me, they simply aren’t worth headache in order for me to sell that one book through an obscure book seller. I can only hope that they will take whatever steps are necessary to improve their customer service.

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

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