I have recently set up a blog with, at least partly, the purpose of promoting our books. I have also recently joined quite a few forums and groups including independently-publishing or self-publishing writers (I’m still a tad fuzzy on the precise distinction, but I know I’m one of them, possibly both), or in which writers and readers can interact with each other. I have learned a few things along the way which have come up as questions on many of these sites, and I would like to share some of them.
I think this will turn out to be multi-part and organized by subject, because I see three areas to talk about. One is setting up a blog and making it do what you want it to do. Two is doing things to promote your books, and to help other writers struggling to promote theirs. Three is a look at our Kindles, the traditional version and the new Fire, and how your book is going to work and look and be received on them.
So, first, the blog thing. I have used computers and technology for at least a quarter century now. I still remember typing away on my first masterpiece while our oldest son was under five (he’s now pushing 30, sorry, son), using a Coleco Adam. He walked over, said, “Play Game?” and pushed the button to activate the attached game module. My last hour’s worth of word-processed masterpiece was replaced by Subrock, I think. I learned a valuable lesson about frequent saves and backups that day.
So I am not unfamiliar with or new to technology. We have created videos, 3D animations, e-books, illustrations, a 300+ page website and all kinds of stuff, but this blog made me cry. When I first began to figure it out, I kept reading, “Just jump in and start writing!” But the vocabulary of blog elements is a whole new language, and I had to learn that before I could do what our blog needed to have done.
What’s a widget? How do I get book cover images to link to? What’s the difference between a page and a post? How do I get our logo and the desired header text into the banner? Back up. Why does WordPress call templates themes, anyway?
The last question I still don’t know the answer to. But I have learned a few things about blogs. We use the Pilcrow Theme on WordPress, one of the simplest I have looked at. I mentioned that we have a 300+ page website. It is gorgeous, if I do say so myself. Colorful, complex, and daunting. So when it came to the blog, my husband said “Keep it simple!” Still, Pilcrow has the ability to upload a custom header, so I could put up our Findley Family Video logo and a verse that states our blog’s main focus in a simple, clean graphic. WordPress give you the height and width the graphic has to be to fit and it is easy to set that size graphic up in the program I make all our artwork in, which I will talk about in a later post.
Our blog has a top panel, where the banner is, and where there are tabs with the names of the pages viewers can navigate to. Blog posts go in the center panel. It has a main or left sidebar, where I keep a list of the most important posts indexed. The right or secondary sidebar has images and links of our books to Smashwords and Amazon, our two main publishing sites. We also have archives, ways to follow the blog, and a spam filter in those sidebars.
Widgets allow you to add these features into the panels. Most of what appears on our blog is done by way of the links widget. The Blogroll widget is normally used to link to other blogs you recommend. On our blog it shows the basic posts we always want people to be able to easily find. Eventually it might include other blog links as well. A list of 10 most recent posts, the archives link, and the Akismet spam filter also appear on the left.
Akismet does a very good job of keeping out those who seek to attach themselves like leeches to a blog. On the right side, along with the book links, is a list of pages the blog contains that are visible to the public.
Our blog has three visible pages and also hidden ones. The Home page displays the posts. The second is a photo gallery of some of the images from our e-book Illustrated Antidisestablishmentarianism. The third page is a list of all the blog’s entries which automatically gets updated each time we post. Hidden pages contain graphics or links I need to make other things work but don’t need to show up as pages. A new post automatically fills the home page unless you use the sticky note feature on a post. That will keep that post “stuck” to the front page until you remove the “sticky” feature, and new posts will appear below it.
To create the linked book images, I uploaded small images of the book covers to a hidden page. Then I right-clicked on an image and hit “copy image url.” Then I pasted that link into the form to fill out for links. In that form you specify where the link will show up, what kind of link it will be, what it links to and any text you want to show up with it. You don’t have to have images show up, but you want them to. The rest of the links on the site are just text.
We wanted people to be able to comment, but the default setting on the comment filter (another widget) makes people enter an email and leave a name, so we had to disable that. Your post will appear immediately as long as Akismet doesn’t classify you as spam, but we also get an email when that happens. By the way, if you want to give people a link to a particular post, make sure you click the title of that post and copy and past that browser link, not the link on the home page. Otherwise you’ll get a link showing only the blog logo, not the post itself. The photo gallery page shows thumbnails which, when clicked on, bring up a left to right scrolling set of full-sized images. A gallery can also be set up as a slide show.
Many people have complimented us on how good our blog looks. There’s an old saying that one of the tricks to doing something well is to make it look simple and easy, especially if it’s not simple or easy. Making this blog was not simple or easy for me, but here it is.