Reblogging Etiquette

ReBlogging EtiquetteLately I’ve seen a lot of bloggers wondering what the etiquette should be around reblogging (blogging something previously posted on another blog).

Before I get into the tips, let me say that I think re-blogging can be useful. If you’re being reblogged, it’s an honor that someone found your content worthy of sharing with their followers, and it can extend your reach and bring people back to your site without the effort of guest posting. If you’re the reblogger, it can sometimes be a lifesaver in terms of getting content up on your site when your week has fallen to pieces. Plus, you’re providing your readers a service through vetting material for them and bringing them the best.

If done incorrectly, though, reblogging flirts with the line of plagiarism. You don’t want to flirt with plagiarism. She carries some really nasty diseases.

So how can we reblog in a professional, mutually beneficial way?

Ask First

Unless you know that the blogger doesn’t mind others reblogging their content, always ask first.

With all the social media options available, it’s not that hard to reach a blogger anymore. If Lisa or I don’t respond to a comment on our blogs right away, you can usually catch us on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or through email. I know that we’ve entered an age of instant gratification, but patience is still a virtue.

You should do more than just ask permission though. Not all reblogging is created equal. Find out the format the original blogger prefers. Are they alright with you copying the entire post onto your site? Or would they prefer you copy only the first couple of paragraphs with a link back to the full article?

Why does the format of the reblogging matter?

Comments – While I can’t speak for every blogger, I like to try to reply to comments on my post. If my post is appearing in full someplace else, chances are good I won’t be able to monitor the comments there as well as on my own site. With a guest post, you’re able to plan in advance. With a reblog, unlike with a regular guest post, I haven’t planned the extra social media time into my day to be able to check and reply to comments on two (or more) sites where my content is appearing.

Site Stats – If you’re a writer who’s blogging as part of building a platform, your site stats matter. They can influence whether you get an agent, whether people take you seriously, and (if you choose) whether you can eventually sell ad space on your site. The click-through rate for a post reblogged in full is much lower than for a partial repost with a link.

Common Courtesy – A good blog posts takes me 1-3 hours to write, depending on the complexity of the topic and the amount of research necessary. While I’m happy to share and to help, I’ve made significant sacrifices to produce my content, and I believe that still gives me the right to decide when and how it’s used.

Credit the Original Source

If something goes viral and you find it four people down the chain, go back and reblog from the original site. It’s respectful to the owner of the material, and it’s kind to your reader who won’t want to go back through a chain of sites to find the original source to see if they have more excellent content to read.

What if you follow the chain to a dead end? Part of being a responsible writer is doing your research and exercising due diligence. Run a Google search, and see if you can locate the original poster on your own.

Add An Introduction/Conclusion

If you end up reblogging the content in full, add an original introduction or conclusion telling people not only where you found the content but also why you thought it was worthy of reblogging. What’s the point that resonated the most with you? What do you disagree with?

Have you tried reblogging? What other pieces of etiquette do you think should be observed? Do you think reblogging is a great new trend that can benefit everyone or no better than plagiarism?

Marcy

**Remember that next week will be our last full week of posts here at Girls With Pens, so be sure to sign up for our monthly newsletter (space is limited) and subscribe to Marcy’s blog and Lisa’s blog to continue receiving posts on writing, marketing, social media, and all the other goodies you’ve come to expect from us.**

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Can You Earn A Living As A Freelance Writer?

When Lisa and I teach at writer’s conferences, we often hear the question “Can I earn a living as a writer?” (If we’re being honest, isn’t every writer’s dream to quit their “day job”?)

If you’ve read our bios, you know that Lisa and I both work full-time as freelance writers and editors. But we also know people who don’t make a living from their writing.

So I thought I’d create a little quiz to help you figure out whether a career in writing is right for you.

Rate yourself on a scale of 1-5 for each of these questions, and add up your score.

Why do you want a career in writing?
1 – Everyone’s doing it.
2 – Writing is an easy way to make money.
3 – I need to find a second career because I retired/was fired from the first one.
4 – I really enjoy writing, and I’d like to see if I can turn something I enjoy into a career.
5 – I feel driven/called to write, and I would write even if I didn’t get paid for it.

How many hours a week can you devote to launching your freelance career?
1 – Wait, you mean this is going to take a lot of time?
2 – I can eke out an hour or two.
3 – If I sacrifice some things like TV or Farmville, I can find a good 10 hours.
4 – I can write part-time for a minimum of 20 hours a week.
5 – I can go full-time right now because I’m independently wealthy or have a spouse who’s the bread-earner.

Are you prepared to market yourself by networking in person at conferences, setting up a website/blog, speaking, and joining social networking sites?
1 – Not a chance. Not gonna do it. I’m a writer. Promotion, marketing, and branding are someone else’s job.
2 – The hunchback of Notre Dame has more social skills than I do, and people scare me.
3 – I have no idea how to do any of that, but I’m willing to learn.
4 – I’m already on social networking sites, and am actively learning about how to market myself and build a platform.
5 – I have a website, blog, social networking accounts, and I’ve already attended some conferences.

How well do you take criticism, and how willing are you to learn from others?
1 – Screw you, I’m perfect.
2 – God gave me this idea, and the message is what’s important, so my writing skills don’t really matter.
3 – I can learn how to write on my own. I don’t need help.
4 – It takes me a while to accept the mistakes I’m making or to understand concepts, but I want to improve.
5 – Bring it on! At least if I know what stinks, I can fix it.

How flexible are you about what you write?
1 – I want to write a novel. Period.
2 – I didn’t know I’d have to write something other than what I love to make ends meet.
3 – I’m open to the idea of writing other things, but I’d rather not.
4 – I might be willing to take some less glamorous work (e.g. editing, copywriting) if it pays well.
5 – Call me Gumby. I’m willing to take any writing or editing jobs that will pay the bills to get my start.

How is your grasp on the rules of grammar, punctuation, and spelling?
1 – I dont no nothing about them.
2 – Isn’t that what editors are for?
3 – I’m a quick learner. I’ll start brushing up right now. (Or I’m a slow learner, but I’m a hard worker.)
4 – I received excellent grades in English classes during high school and university.
5 – I am a grammar Nazi.

Have you received positive feedback on your writing?
1 – Not yet.
2 – Yes, but only from my husband/wife or best friend.
3 – I’ve had quite a few people tell me how much they enjoy my writing.
4 – I’ve had professionals tell me that my writing is ready, but I haven’t had anything published yet.
5 – I already have published clips and have been paid for my writing.

How do you think you’ll handle family/friends who disapprove of your career choice?
1 – I would quit if I didn’t have the full support of my loved ones.
2 – I’m too embarrassed to tell my friends and family that I’m considering full-time freelancing.
3 – It would take me a while to recover from their disapproval, but I think I’d eventually press forward.
4 – I’ll show them. They won’t stop me.
5 – I don’t expect everyone to agree with the choices I’ve made or the opinions I express. I would have to respectfully tell everyone else that we’ll have to agree to disagree. This is my life and my choice.

SCORE

8 to 16 – I’m really sorry to have to tell you this, but you probably want to look elsewhere for a career. Write as a hobby.

17 to 31 – You’re getting there, but you have a few obstacles to overcome and more learning to do before I’d recommend a career change. Many people fail at turning writing into a career because they jump into it before they’re ready.

32 to 40 – This career comes with no guarantees, but you’ve got as good a chance as anyone to earn a full-time living as a freelance writer.

How did you score? What else do you think it takes to earn a living as a freelance writer?

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

How To Write A Killer Guest Post

We’ve had a special request for today’s post. Sheila Wray Gregoire sent me a message last week, saying, “I’m looking for people to write guest posts for To Love, Honor and Vacuum on marriage/parenting stuff. It’s a good chance for bloggers who are just starting to get some exposure.”

guest postingSheila’s right. Guest posting on other people’s established blogs can be one of the best ways to grow your platform and increase your following on your blog. When you write a guest post, you’re not only getting exposed to a whole new set of readers, but you’re also proving that you’re good enough for someone else to risk their blog’s reputation on.

Unfortunately, Sheila found that most people who submitted a guest post for consideration didn’t know how to properly write a guest post. Hence, she reached out to me to see if we could spread the word about her need for guest posters and also tell our readers how to write a killer guest post.

This one’s for you, Sheila.

Here’s what you need to do if you want to write a guest post for Sheila or for anyone else.

1. Study the intended audience, voice, and style of the blog you want to guest post for.

This is one of the fundamental skills of article writing that also applies to writing a killer guest post. They know what their readers like, and they are going to insist that anything they publish fits with what their readers expect. They won’t break the rules just for you.

Are their posts short or long? Do they use numbered lists? Is the tone sarcastic or serious? Practical, inspirational, or a combination of the two? Show that you’ve done your research by getting it right.

2. Write something new.

Don’t submit material you’ve already published on your blog (or in print). When you offer someone a guest post, the assumption is that they’ll be receiving new material.

3. Meet a need.

You should scan the last 6 months of posts to be sure you’re proposing something fresh that they haven’t already written on. Better yet, try to think of a post the owner of the blog couldn’t write themselves. What unique experience do you have that also ties in to the theme and topic of their blog? Not only will this help build a relationship with your fellow blogger, but it will also give people a reason to check out your blog.

4. Give your absolute best.

If you’re trying to choose between two ideas you think would be perfect for a guest post, choose the best one.

But then I won’t be able to use that awesome post on my site?

No, you won’t. You’ll do better. You’ll give a brand new audience a chance to see how awesome you are. Translation–you’ll actually gain at least twice as many new readers as if you posted that stellar content on your own site. Plus, you can provide a paragraph summary about your guest post and a link on your site on the day it goes live. That gives you the best of both worlds because your regular readers won’t miss out.

4. Ruthlessly self-edit.

Guest posts help the blog’s owner by giving them a day off from posting themselves. But not if they have to spend as much time editing your post as they would have writing their own.

5. Don’t blatantly self-advertise and link back to your own blog.

The blogger that you’re writing for will usually have you write a bio (or they’ll write an intro about you) where you’ll be able to include a link to your blog. That’s all you need. If you write well enough, people will click through to your site. I know because I’ve done it. Focus on the quality of your post, not on how many times you can talk about the content readers can find back at your site or how they really, really need to buy your book.

6. Include an appropriate keyword.

You and the blog’s owner both have a vested interest in people finding your post. Research an appropriate keyword the same way you would if you were writing for your own site, and let the blog’s owner know what that keyword is so they can include it in a tag and in the appropriate places on the backside of their website.

7. Promote twice as much as you would a post on your own site.

Basically this comes down to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Even though you’re sending traffic to someone else’s website, it’ll work out for your benefit somewhere down the road.

Now I’d like to call on you for some help. Help us help Sheila spread the word by tweeting about this post on Twitter or posting a link on Facebook.

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Do You Have What It Takes To Write SEO Web Content?

With every website competing for attention from Google, writers who can successfully write search engine-optimized web content are in high demand. But writing SEO takes a special set of skills. Do you think you have what it takes?

CIK Marketing Chantielle KennedyI talked with Chantielle MacFarlane Kennedy, owner and founder of CIK Marketing, to find out what she looks for in a writer. CIK Marketing is making a name for themselves through their success in helping small business owners create an online presence. They’ve built websites for clients such as The Sugar Fix Candy Shop, Jackson Seed Service, and me. One of the key services they offer is website content that will help their clients rank high in a Google search.

So what skills does Chantielle say are essential for anyone wanting to get into writing search engine optimized web content? What do you need if you want to write search engine optimized web content so that your own site ranks high?

A Knowledge of Search Engine Optimization

How often should a keyword be included in the content? Too often and Google thinks you’re spam. Not often enough and you won’t outrank the other sites using the same keyword.

Where are the essential places to include keywords? Keywords placed in headings and hyperlinks are weighted more heavily by Google.

The tricky part of being an SEO web content writer is that you need to do all this without your writing sounding awkward and forced. As Chantielle explains, “SEO is all about balance – you need to write for the search engines, but at the same time write for a human reader as well.”

(Want to learn more? Read our post on Writing for the Web. Chantielle also recommends Google’s Guide to SEO, and for writers, Jeff Goins gives a great Beginniner’s Guide to SEO for Non-Robots.)

Interest In A Variety Of Topics

In working for CIK Marketing, I’ve written about lawn grubs, botox, tourist attractions in Boston, and much, much more. I once joked with Chantielle that at least we never get bored. A healthy curiosity is a bonus for an SEO web content writer because you need to be willing to write about whatever relates to the client’s business. And if you’re not excited about what you’re writing, you won’t be able to make that content exciting for the reader.

Salesmanship

Search engine-optimized web content has a two-fold purpose. It needs to bring people to the business’ site and then sell their service or product to the customer once they get there. “As a content creator,” Chantielle said, “you need to take on the tone of a salesman, but still stick to the facts. It’s tough but necessary if you’re going to write content that resonates with the reader and impresses the client.”

Good Writing

For an SEO web content writer, good writing includes the following:

  • Tight Writing – Instead of 1000 words for an article, you often only have 500 words to get your point across.
  • Strong Grammar and Spelling Skills – SEO web content doesn’t go through the same editorial process that an article does, so your work needs to be flawless when you turn it in. (For the worst offenders, check out 6 Grammar Mistakes that Will Cost You Readers.)
  • Clarity – When writing an article, you’re targeting a very specific audience. The audience for website content is more diverse, so you need to write fascinating content at a grade five reading level.

According to Chantielle, “A good writer can learn SEO skills, but someone with SEO skills can’t necessarily learn how to be a good writer.”

I’ll be sharing more tips from Chantielle about writing SEO web content from June 16 to 18 at Write! Canada. It’s not too late to register. I hope to see you there!

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Carpooling With Fans On The Facebook Freeway

The next post in our Facebook series is about how to interact and build community on your Facebook Page. As with all social media, building a community takes time and effort, and a good deal of transparency.

What Fans Wantpeople on city bus

Why do you join a Facebook Fan Page? Usually it’s for insider tips, coupons, exclusive promotions, free giveaways. Authors and writers can only give so much away, we’re not a business with several product lines – and most of us can’t afford to finance big ticket giveaways with iPads and the like. Fans join author and writer pages because they are fans looking for a behind the curtains peek at the writer’s life, or they’re writers who are looking for tips and advice on the craft of writing – generally.

Ted Dekker – A Case Study

I am a big Ted Dekker fan and have been following him on Facebook when he was still using his personal profile as a fan page. His Facebook journey is one worth studying. He began using his personal profile as a gathering place for fans, and I lurked through his family photos, his daughter’s wedding, etc. (Because this is what Facebook is about.) But one of the big problems with doing this is that personal profiles have a 5000 friend limit. He reached that fairly quickly and had to switch to a Fan Page.

What Dekker does really well is connecting with fans. He posts fun videos, inside scoops about his next book or WIP. He asks for fan input on selecting book covers, character names, even feedback on moral dilemmas, exclusive details and advance tickets to various events and book signings. Fascinating stuff. And he posts personally. Obviously he pays someone to manage his Facebook page, but he takes the time to personally connect with fans. When his Facebook admin posts, each status makes that clear “Kevin here”.Transparency is important!

Invite Conversation

Ask questions, ask for input, invite sharing, be genuine, be transparent, be friendly. These are the ingredients that build community on Facebook. Try to ask fans questions that avoid yes/no responses. Did you find an interesting link your fans would be interested in? Post it – ask for feedback. Invite fans to share from their own experiences, to post their website or blog address as a way of mutual sharing – there’s limitless possibilities here. When fans post on your Facebook page with questions, answer them promptly. That doesn’t mean hovering over Facebook 24/7. Just make a point of checking at lunch and before bed – whatever works for you. Invite them to share photos and videos that relate to the community you’re building. Remember, your Facebook Page isn’t about you – it’s about your fans. This is why editors and agents are constantly chanting: who’s your audience? Knowing your audience is just as important with Facebook – don’t neglect the fans!

Facebook Insights

When you reach the magic 25 fans mark, Facebook gives you insights to your page. These are measured results of demographics and interactions. Use this as a tool to judge what kinds of posts fans interact with the most, and tailor your posting to those tastes. One page I managed, I learned that fans loved the Bible verses I posted from people helped by the non-profit. I began doing that twice a week, and our community doubled.

How Often Do I Post?

It depends. Generally, you want to post twice a week. Big businesses who employ people to manage their Pages 24/7 can post more often. Non-profits can post more often because there’s a virtually limitless supply of content. Fans aren’t concerned with what you ate for breakfast, unless it’s remarkable (photo caption: the bistro I found on my first morning in Paris). Be sure to use video links (Youtube is probably the best) because fans want to see you, know who you are.

Remember Your Social Media House

My post on building your social media house is important here. Remember, Facebook is the back door, but you want people in the living room. If Facebook is not the main place you want people to land, be sure to find ways to point them to the living room. Use the Networked Blogs or RSS apps to point people to blogs or websites where you want the main body of your traffic to land.

For other posts in our Facebook for Authors/Writers series, check out Pimp Out Your Facebook Page, 5 Top Reasons Authors Should Be On Facebook.

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Pimp Out Your Facebook Page

Businesses and personalities of varying popularity and exposure are jumping on the Facebook Freeway to create communities, build a customer base, and sell products. Here are 8 tips to Pimp Out Your Facebook ride.

A Moment Of Truth

I’m going to bare it all here for a moment – our Facebook page is awful. I take full and complete responsibility for that. It’s not that I don’t know how to manage or create a great Facebook Page or content, I get paid by non-profits to do that – I just never seem to have time to work with ours. (And managing a successful page takes time and effort – a lot of it.)

But writing this series has given me a good kick in the pants. So, have a look at our ‘before makeover’ Facebook Page because by the end of June I hope to transform it into something…less embarrassing. I’ll be posting quick Facebook Friday tips on Facebook on transforming a blah/boring/embarrassing Author/Writer Facebook Page into one people want to engage with (hopefully). 🙂

Tip #1 Start A Fan Page

Fan pages (recently renamed Facebook Pages) are a gathering place for people who like what you’re selling whether you’re a non-profit helping children in Africa, or Nike selling shoes. Even Playboy has a Facebook Page – what do you think they sell with the caption: Think You Can Hang With Hef? Alright, sarcasm noted – I’m not a fan of Playboy, but this is the point of a Facebook page: to get Fans (now called Likes).

Groups are gathering places for people who share a common interest whether it’s bird watching or historical re-enactment. The problem is that you’ll eventually realize that a Page is set up for marketing and groups aren’t and you’ll want to switch. Problem. Now you’ve got followers in two different places splitting your exposure.

Tip #2 Custom Landing Page

A custom landing page is the first page you land on, often called a Welcome Page. Some great examples are BMW, World Vision Canada, Ted Dekker.  The main goal of your welcome page is turn visitors into fans. You want them to ‘like’ you. Offer something free as incentive – download a free app, a chapter from your book, your newsletter, coupons, inside info. Create mystery or intrigue like the Playboy welcome page offers. You get the idea. Using video on your welcome page can increase conversions up to 80%. It’s important to have good design to compete. Here are some great options for building pages yourself (because we’re all about marketing on the cheap): IWIPI, Wildfire, Hubze, or Lujure.

New! Here is a great review of free apps for Facebook to create custom landing tabs. Thanks to Social Media Examiner for putting this list together.

Tip #3 Use iFrames

Facebook had all these great apps that allowed the average user to create fun content and customize the tabs at the top of their pages using FBML. Now, Facebook has gone to iframes which is more complicated and harder to learn – though it offers designers an open canvas. This means that the days of the average user creating custom tabs is virtually over unless you’re tech savvy or work from a template. So, however you come up with a designed welcome page, be sure the code is compatible in iframes.

Tip #4 About Me/Info

Complete the about/info section of your Facebook Page. Tell people who you are, what you’re about, etc. They want to know more about you, so don’t hide! Share your contact info, your blog and website address, all the good stuff. You WANT to be found. The Info Page lets you embed links in specific places, be sure to take advantage of that.

Tip #5 Profile Photo

Facebook has moved things around on the Pages a bit this winter. Pages are allowed to have profile pics, but keep it under 200px in height. If you have access to photo editing software, create a jpeg file and include your website or blog in text in the profile pic. You can’t include hyperlinks in the jpeg, but it’s a high traffic place to have that address. When creating a profile pic, keep in mind the thumbnails – the small square images shown when you post anything. You can edit the thumbnails, but keep in mind what that thumbnail will look like when creating your profile pic.

Tip #6 Vanity Urls

A url is the address used to find you on the web – www.girlswithpens.wordpress.com. A vanity url is usually shorter and easier to remember – www.girlswithpens.com. Both will lead you to our blog. You can do this with a Facebook Page if you have 25 fans. So, to find us on Facebook you can type in www.facebook.com/girlswithpens and you’ll find us. Easy. You can do this by going into the Edit Page feature and selecting Basic Information. It’s second from the top. This is so much easier than before when you had to verify your account with a mobile phone number, yah de yah da. Yay Facebook!

Tip #7 Image Rolls

Another recent change to the Pages, is the appearance of a row of photos across the top of the page. These photos will be the 5 most recent photos posted on your page. You can edit which photos appear there by rolling your mouse over each photo, a small x will appear in the top corner. Click the X. Gone. Easy. Some companies are turning this space into banners. There are outside apps that will let you upload custom banners if you want. Businesses are encouraging fans to post their own photos in a constantly changing montage of fans and product shots. What great advertisement. One pizza store has a mascot – a giant pizza slice. They ran a Facebook promotion where you would receive a free coupon if you found ‘the slice’ at an event and snapped a photo with ‘the slice’ and posted it on Facebook. Neat.

Tip #8 Posting As Your Page

Before, you were never allowed to post elsewhere on Facebook as your page, your personal profile would be used. Now you can toggle between the two. You can navigate Facebook as your Page’s persona and comment and like other pages, which helps to further promote your page.

As you Pimp Out Your Facebook Page, post the link on the Girls With Pens Facebook Page, or here in the comments, so we can all see your progess.

Lisa

Other posts in this series: 5Reasons Authors Should Be On Facebook, Building Your Social Media House

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Building Your Social Media House

Marcy’s Twitter blitz was so popular that we’ve been asked to do a series about using Facebook. Before you jump in the Twitter Ocean with Marcy, or on the Facebook Freeway with me, there are a few things about social media you should know.

Doing social media willy nilly will not garner the results you’re looking for. Like any other entrepreneur, you need a strategic marketing plan. It’s a world of free, so if you want people to buy what you’re selling, give them something free in return. Offer insider tips, free information, make them laugh – be creative. If you’re not sure what your social media options are, check out my post on Social Media For Tech Idiots.

houseYour web presence is like a house and you want everyone in the living room because that’s where you’ve set up your book display – where they can buy what you’re selling. You want as many people as possible to come into your living room, so you leave all the doors to the house wide open. But how will they see your living room from the curb? You need to get them in the door first.

The front door is maybe your website where you offer things like a bio, news, e-books, newsletters, etc. There are web designers who cater specifically to authors and writers such as Umstattd Media.

Your blog is the back door. You’re going to offer different kinds of content there.
Facebook becomes the back patio entrance. People may find you through Facebook when they wouldn’t have found you any other way.
Twitter is the garage door entrance. People on Twitter are looking for different content than on Facebook or a blog.
Youtube is the balcony entrance.
Comment/Like/Tweet on likeminded sites – this is like a street sign pointing to your house. Your chances of a successful yardsale multiply when you put signs out at the nearby busy intersections – but it won’t do you any good to put up signs across town. Be selective.

You get the idea. The more entrances offering unique content into your ‘house’, the more likely you are to appeal to a larger number of people.

The Living Room
Your living room needs a goal. What do you want people to do when they are in your living room? That goal must be very clear. Whatever it is you want people to do, make that the point of your living room wherever you base that – is it to buy books, sign up for a newsletter, buy a CD or video tutorial, take a writing course, hire you as a freelancer? Whatever. Every entrance to your house has a sign (a hyperlink) that leads visitors to the living room. They may only stick around that entrance, but they might click through. This is the goal.

Build A Brand
As an author your product isn’t your book (though that’s the tangible). As an author you’re selling yourself. You need to brand yourself, and keep your brand consistent across all your social media platforms. Brandilyn Collin’s brand is Seatbelt Suspense – this is what she’s known for, what fans expect when they pick up one of her books. On Twitter, Facebook, her website, Youtube – they all market Seatbelt Suspense. What’s your brand? Maybe it’s just your name? Your platform is built on your brand. If you aren’t sure what a platform is, or why you need one, check out our post on Building Author Platform.

A final word…
Nothing is worse than arriving at someone’s door and finding nothing or no one home. It’s a huge time commitment to maintain and provide fresh content for all the social media outlets available. Instead of doing several poorly and leaving people with a bad impression, focus on one or two and do them well. If you know you don’t have the time to write new content on your blog twice a week, then focus on Facebook or Twitter or a website that require your time in smaller chunks? Begin small and work up – not the other way around. Don’t point people to a Twitter account or Facebook page that you never use.

For the rest of the week I’ll be posting about Facebook. For other posts in this series, see Top 5 Reasons Authors Should Be On  Facebook, Pimp Out Your Facebook Page, Get Liked – Facebook Marketing Tips For Authors, Carpooling With Book Fans on the Facebook Freeway. Also watch our Facebook Page for Facebook Friday tips on how to improve your Fan Page.

Have a question about Facebook? Leave us a comment.

Lisa

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Writing For The Web

Writing for the web is no different than writing a great article for a newspaper or magazine. You still have to write clean, be intelligent, be credible, etc. But there are a few tips and tricks specific to this platform. There are a number of great books out there, and even more blogs, on the topic, but here are some of the basics I’ve picked up.

Be Brief
There have been studies published on how people read when they’re on the Internet. They scan. Keep paragraphs simple – one idea – and no more than 3 fingers long if possible. (I have small hands but I hold my fingers to the screen, and if my paragraph flows past my fingers then it’s too long. If you’ve got meat-hooks for hands – use your best judgment.) Forget the flowery language and verbose descriptions. When writing for the web make your point up front (see inverted pyramid writing) and move on.

Relevant Titles and Headings
Studies also show that people scan the web in an F pattern – so they search for the title and the paragraph headings first, and then read the first few words or line of text. Relevant headings and titles help scanners–don’t frustrate them with misleading titles or clever headings. You want people to link to your content and share it with their friends – tricking people into wasting time will not win you any extra points. Use white space to break up the text, use bullets, lists and point form when appropriate.

Bold and Italics Are OK
Using bold and italics to draw attention to key words or phrases is essential in writing for the web. Avoid using underlining because that typically indicates a hyperlink. Use the formatting sparingly to avoid people just ignoring it. Make your text easy to read. Be cautious using dark backgrounds or coloured text, and unique fonts don’t make you stand out – it makes your web copy hard on the eyes. Remember you’re one click away from another website that’s easier to read.

Know Your Audience
Who are you writing for? Are you writing for an audience that’s primarily local, focused on a cause, or a specific nationality? If you’re hoping to attract a worldwide audience, using only British or Canadian grammar could ruin your credibility with readers who may assume you can’t spell correctly. Don’t be afraid to use industry jargon or terminology if that’s who your audience is. As with any other writing, keep your audiences’ education level and age in mind.

Added Value
The key to return traffic to your web site or blog is added value. New and fresh content regularly is very important. To give added value use hyperlinks to extra or more indepth content. You can use hover text widgets and plug ins, or link to other pages and websites instead of loading all the information you know into one page. If you can link to other pages on your own website that’s even better. The Google spiders love this (more about that later).

Credibility
With the web, anyone can post anything so it’s important to be credible. Ever read several websites on the same thing – the one that says something very different isn’t unique – its content becomes unreliable. A website that looks gimmicky or blatantly tries to sell a product over and over won’t attract visitors. The Google spiders are looking for content that other people are reading and recommending – this activity increases credibility and hence ranking. Remember, it’s all about adding value. Don’t be afraid to link to outside websites because it shows you know what you’re talking about.

SEO
Search Engine Optimization. The people at Google make a living helping people find what they’re looking for–fast. To do this, Google sends out web crawlers across the internet to search out, compile and categorize content. (This is super simplified – just stay with me.) You want the Google spiders to not only find you, but really like you and recommend you to users – give a high ranking.

The trick to SEO is choosing the key words or phrases people will use when searching for the information you’re offering. Content is King. Write valuable original content first – organically placing your key word or phrase in your web copy. Not in every paragraph – the spiders aren’t blind. Don’t cheat – not only do the spiders dislike cheaters they can and have tanked search rankings as a penalty. For instance, the phrase ‘writing for the web’ occurs six times in this post. Did you even notice? The spiders notice content at the beginning of the web article first, so pay special attention to your title and first paragraphs.

Writing SEO copy is a whole other blog post that would cover tagging, meta tags, naming photos, and so on. Again, these are all very brief points about writing for the web.

Now my son is asking me to send the google spiders to find a walk-through for his latest video game, so I’ve gotta go. I’d love to hear your tips for writing for the web (ha – slipped one more in :))

Lisa

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Hook an Editor in Two Sentences or Less

Writer, your mission, should you chose to accept it, is to hook an exhausted, distracted editor in two sentences or less. This message will self-destruct.

You might not be a secret agent (that career’s over-rated anyway), but when it comes to pitching articles, five seconds really is all you have before your query letter self-destructs. You have two sentences or less in which to convince an editor to read on rather than sending a form rejection. They have too much to do and too many other queries to read to give you any longer than that. It’s speed dating in the extreme.

But that’s not fair! Maybe not. You might have an amazing idea that the editor never gets to hear about, but think of it this way. How long do you give a magazine article before you flip to the next one or toss the whole thing aside to do something more exciting? In an editor’s mind, if you can’t interest them in a couple of sentences, you won’t be able to hook their readers either.

Here’s an example of what not to do from one of my very early query letter leads:

“Mature Christians want to live in a way pleasing to God, but how can they know what that way is when God produced the Bible before the invention of things like bikinis, and movies, and Euchre.”

Answer me this: What was the topic of the article I was pitching?

My early attempts didn’t sell because they were vague and boring. A good query letter hook needs to give an editor (and eventually a reader) a tantalizing, focused, and clear hint about your article. Sounds difficult, but it’s not if you stick to some tried-and-true hook templates (illustrated with examples Lisa and I have used successfully).

The Question Lead

Do you know how many tablets are left in that bottle of Tylenol #3 prescribed to you two years ago – the one still sitting in your medicine cabinet?

The benefit of the question lead is that it makes the editor a participant. You get them thinking, and suddenly they’re paying full attention to what you’re going to say next.

If you’re not careful, however, the question lead can backfire. A good lawyer will tell you that in the courtroom you should never ask a question that you don’t already know the answer to. The last thing they want is for the witness on the stand to answer in a way they didn’t expect. Their whole argument would be blown.

If you’re considering a question lead, you’re facing the same challenge. You need to be absolutely certain how the editor will answer your question. For example, if you ask “Have you ever wondered . . . ?” you’re taking a risk that the editor answers “no.” If they do, you’ve lost them. Craft your question carefully.

The Story Lead

Since she turned 19, Ruth has fought four separate battles with lymphoma, thyroid cancer, and skin cancer. She jokes that she’s trying to get into Guinness World Records as the person to have cancer the most times and live.

You find a person whose story can add a personal element to the article you’re writing. (It also obviously works if you’re writing a profile.) A good story lead puts a face to otherwise dry statistics, shows that you’ve already done some research, and lets the editor know that real people are dealing with this issue.

The trick with this lead is to find an individual who’s story is unique and compelling. Before you use a story lead, run it through the “who cares?” test. Why should the editor and her readers care about this person? Also, you should only use a story lead if this person will play a prominent role in your article. If they’re not important to your article, they don’t belong in your query.

The Statistic Lead

According to a 2006 Barna report on Teens and the Supernatural, 54% of the teens in evangelical youth groups are moderately exposed to witchcraft and psychic activities.

A statistic lead works because it gives the editor a specific, concrete number rather than a vague statement. When choosing a statistic to lead with, though, you need to choose one that’s shocking, provocative, or intriguing in some way. You also don’t want to include too many numbers up front or your lead becomes dry and loses impact.

The Quotation Lead

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”

A quotation doesn’t need to come from someone famous, but it does need to be so awesome that you can’t say it better in your own words. It also needs to be short and directly apply to your article topic.

We’d love to hear what query letter hooks have worked for you.

Marcy

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Where Do You Get Your Ideas? Part 2

Last week, Lisa let you into the twisted caverns of her mind to give you some idea-generating help. Today it’s my turn. Since we use some of the same methods, I won’t rehash what’s already been said. Instead, I’ll give you some new ideas and maybe a few of them will be the ones that turn out to be perfect for you.

What’s Your Problem?

Last year I sold an article to In Touch (the magazine for Charles Stanley’s ministry) based on my struggle to forgive the drunk driver who killed my best friend. We all like to think that our problems are unique or that we have it rougher than anyone else, but the truth is that at any moment, someone else is going through what you’re going through. Bring a little good out of those struggles by using them to both further your career and help others.

A few guidelines before you start:

  • Make sure you point out how your experience can help a wide audience of people. My article wasn’t meant to help only people who’d lost a loved one to a drunk driver; it was aimed at anyone who’d been deeply hurt and didn’t know how to forgive.
  • Come out the other side before you try to write about it. This not only gives you more objectivity, but it also allows you to offer potential solutions to the problem.
  • If it’s not a problem that you’re ever really “over,” find experts who can speak to how to deal with it long-term.
  • List the people you’ll mention (both directly and indirectly), and ensure that you can write without hurting their feelings or their reputation. If you’re not certain, ask someone you trust, and get an unbiased pair of eyes to read the article once you finish. Even when you’ve done your best, people might get offended. You can’t always prevent that, but exercise due diligence in the process.

Take Scissors to Your Local Newspaper

Lisa mentioned that the biggest problems with getting ideas from the news are that they’ve already been written about and the market can quickly become saturated. You’re probably wondering how you can possibly get ahead of the wave or find news-worthy ideas that no one else has caught on to yet. It sounds like a lot of work.

I’m a big fan of working smarter, not harder. (I think of the old cartoon DuckTales every time I say that.) One thing I like to do is go through my local paper with a pair of scissors. I divide up what I gather into two piles. The first pile is for “experts” that I might be able to use in a future story. This week I found a Christian counselor who has a list of qualifications and specializes in suicide. I felt like someone gave me a giant, calorie-free chocolate bar.

The second pile is for ideas that currently have a local slant, but which I might be able to make national. For example, if a local church is hosting an event and you can find other churches or organizations across the country mobilizing for the same cause, you might just have a story.

And don’t forget to skim the letters to the editor. Some of it will be very specific to your town, but the rest of it will give you insights into what people are worried and wondering about.

A local story won’t be read by the same number of people as a national story, especially if you live in a small town of 10,000 as I do. Yet someone else has done the work of discovery. All that’s left for you to do is to make it your own and tune it to the Christian market (unless you want to write for secular magazines and then it’s even easier for you).

Anniversaries and Annual Events

Having recently finished an article on the three lessons we can learn from giving something up for Lent, one source of ideas that I couldn’t pass up suggesting to you is anniversaries and annual events. The Haiti articles that Lisa and I are working on are another example of where we’ve benefitted from keeping in mind milestones.

Timing is everything when you pitch an anniversary or annual event. If possible, you need to know how far in advance a publication assigns articles. Because ChristianWeek is a newspaper, for example, you can pitch a story with a month lead time, but a magazine like The Lookout wants queries no less than six months in advance. Unlike with other stories, these articles need to be published as close to the date as possible. If you query too late and they have that issue planned already, they can’t just slot your story into the next issue the way they might with a less time-sensitive idea.

That said, if you’re pitching an annual event, editors are always in need of a fresh take on something they’ve had to deal with every year. For anniversaries, focus on the big numbers (like one year, ten years, or fifty years), and be ready to show why that anniversary will interest the readers of that particular publication.

Have any other great ideas you’d like to share? Leave a comment.

Marcy

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.