Monday, November 29, 2010

Why Blog?

Quick Heads Up
I don't do this often, but in this season I love what writer Jennifer Slattery is doing on her blog for December. Stop by and be encouraged as she lists a top 20 of this year's blog posts. These aren't posts by her, but ones written by others.
Now back to our regularly scheduled post!

Why Blog?
by Edie Melson

For several years, blogging has been touted as the end all way of reaching an audience—especially for writers of all types. Now, enough time has passed that it’s possible to get a good statistical foundation of whether or not blogging really is a good use of a writer’s time.

And the answer is . . .
it depends.

I know, I can hear the groans from here, and I feel your pain. Everyone was promised, “Blog and they will come.” Well, that is only partly true and here’s the nitty gritty of blogging.

Blogging works for writers under these circumstances -
  • The blog/blogger has a clear purpose to blogging.
  • The audience is clearly defined. (For example, a novelist is writing for readers—not other writers)
  • The blog fits the picture of who the writer is. Or, in other words, it enhances—not contradicts—the author’s brand.
  • The rest of your branding makes sense with your blog.
Blogging DOES NOT work for writers under these circumstances -
  • The point of the blog is vague and undefined.
  • The audience isn’t clearly defined.
  • The blog leads readers to a different picture of the writer—not a deeper picture—but totally different.
Over the next few weeks I will address each point and show you how to make your blog work for you, instead of being a time waster for you and your reader. But for now, I’d like to know where you are with blogging.
  • Do you have a blog?
  • Is your audience for it growing?
  • Does it deliver results?
Chime in with your comments and questions.

And . . . Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Writing for the Internet—Part Three

The last part of Writing for the Internet that I want to cover is the importance of graphic elements in what we write. This includes much more than pictures—we discussed sentence structure, formatting and font choice in the first post. Today we’ll go deeper into what makes a webpage readable.

In years past, the emphasis with writing was simply that—writing. Now, as our society has become more and more visual we, as writers, must also evolve. This is especially true on the Internet. We must broaden our horizons and become designers. Trends and statistics are clear; in less than 5 years 85% of what is viewed on the Internet will be video.

Important Factors to Consider
  • Wide margins – approx 12 words per line max.
  • If your text is longer than 1-2 printed pages, try to break it up into separate web pages. It’ll be easier to read and the pages will download faster, especially if the user has a dial-up connection.
  • Avoid a busy background or frame.
  • Consider contrast between text and background. Although white is a good background color, consider a shade that is barely off-white as this is usually easier on the eyes.
  • Choose your font wisely. Times New Roman isn’t a good choice for reading on the computer. Arial, Helvetica, Verdana and Georgia are better choices. (This site is designed using only Verdana) Also take into account font size.
As writers we often view our words within a box, or at least our minds. We don't pay attention to the whole picture. We can no longer afford that mindset. When writing for the web, we have to educate ourselves. Often writers will be consulted or at least asked to voice an opinion.
Things to Consider
  • Study the web pages you go back to again and again. Make a list of what catches your eye. 
  • Look at web pages that frustrate you and make a list of your frustrations. 
  • Notice why the pictures and graphics help hold your attention when you're reading a magazine article.
All of these tools will help you become a more savvy content writer. Beyond that, make a commitment to stay current on the trends in your business—the Internet and all things digital. To that end, here are some websites I recommend to help you stay up to date on the changing market.

Now it's your turn. Where do you go to stay plugged into the digital revolution?

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Weekend Worship—The Apple of My Daddy’s Eye

Keep me as the apple of the eye; Hide me in the shadow of Thy wings, Ps 17:8 (NASB)

I grew up hearing my parents and grandparents use the expression apple of my eye. I was often told I was the apple of my daddy’s eye. There was even a polished, wooden apple, with a small picture of me in it, sitting on my daddy’s desk. It was a constant reminder that I was precious and important to my daddy.

One day, I began to wonder what that phrase actually meant and very shortly was surprised to discover the saying originated in the Bible, specifically, the Old Testament. So I went back to Hebrew, the original language of the Old Testament and discovered that the apple of someone’s eye is the pupil. It’s even more than that—it’s the reflection of yourself in the pupil of someone’s eye. Imagine standing close enough to someone to see yourself reflected in their eye. This is a perfect picture of the close relationship God wants to have with us. He holds us so close and so precious that we can see ourselves reflected in His eye.

So what does that have to do with my writing life? It has to do with God’s character—Who He is. He is a creative God. The very first thing we see Him doing, in the first chapter of Genesis, is creating. We all have that aspect of God somewhere within. For me, it’s reflected in my writing. And I’m never more in tune with God than when I’m writing. Rather than looking tolerantly at me when I’m writing, I know God is rejoicing that I’m using the gift He’s given me to create.

So I encourage you, draw close, gaze into your Creator’s eye—revel in the fact that He loves you with a love that defies description—and then feel His joy as you become a living example of Who He is.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Writing for the Internet—Part Two

Anyone who’s spent any time writing content for the web or even researching this market, has run across the acronym SEO. This stands for Search Engine Optimization. It's basically where, in the list of millions, your content will show up when searched by a reader (search engine). When you use different search engines—google, yahoo, etc., you'll notice that each will give slightly different results from any given search. But there are things we can do as writers to move our content up in the rankings. To accomplish this we have to have a basic understanding of how SEO algorithms work.

There’s also a common myth that an article’s search engine rank is determined by the number of times the keyword is used. There was a time—early in the history of the Internet—when this was partly true. But no more

If this were the case, all a website would have to do is have pages of nothing but keywords to up its search engine ranking. Search Engine Algorithms have done away with that method of cheating. Algorithms are too well written to fall for that—and many have built in sensors that penalize websites for trying to cheat.

Here are some other truths about Search Engines
  • Nowadays, Search Engine Algorithms take words literally—and that can be good or bad
This means that they don't understand it when we make a play on words. For example, a recipe for vegetarian chili titled, Too Hot to Handle Chili will rank lower than one titled, Homemade Vegetarian Chili. This is because an algorithm uses the literal meaning of words and the first title doesn’t even have the word “vegetarian” in it. Often times a clever title will result in fewer clicks.
This doesn't mean we can't be clever—only that we have to be deliberate in where we're clever. Take that chili recipe, give it a title that can be searched literally, like Hot and Spicy Vegetarian Chili, but in the description use the clever tag line as too hot to handle.
This blog—The Write Conversation—is a clever play on words that works. The reason being I want this site to be searchable for the keyword “write” as well as be clever about educating writers as an ongoing “conversation.”

  • Search Engine Algorithms also look for keywords.
Keywords are the words that appear on the website that describe that page. When writing content for a client they will often give you a list of keywords. It's your responsibility to use those keywords effectively. This is called Keyword Density and refers to the number of times a keyword is used on a page.

Search engines read from the top of a webpage to the bottom, searching to see that important keywords are used throughout the page.

Here’s a good rule of thumb when determining keyword density
  • Always use the keyword in the title.
  • Repeat the keyword at least once in the first 50 words.
  • Spread the use of the keyword naturally and evenly throughout the rest of the article. In a 400 word article that would mean using the keyword a minimum of three more times.
This should give any writer a good working knowledge of SEO. You can apply it to your own personal blog or website or you can use it to write effectively for clients.

Let me know if you have any questions about writing for the Internet because next week I’ll be wrapping up this series.

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An Important Announcement

Hey all,
This is Daniel DeGarmo with DeWard Publishing Company.
I'm sure all of you are aware of Sandi Rog's latest battle (with cancer - Type T-cell Lymphoma) that just began last week. As you can imagine, she's devastated, especially considering the timing of all this as her first novel, The Master's Wall just released last Monday.

Well, considering we are a small publishing company and can pretty much do whatever we want, my business partner and I have agreed to donate an additional $1 per book to a Fund that I'll be setting up this week.

Just so no one thinks we are being shady about the whole deal, this is above and beyond the royalties that Sandi (and her agent) is already incurring with every book sold. The purpose of this fund is to help out Sandi's family (husband and children) while she is laid up fighting for her life.

What I need from you is simply spread the word. For every copy of "The Master's Wall" that is sold (including Kindle) we will donate $1 to this Fund. I'll also be setting it up so that it can receive regular donations if anyone is interested in just helping out financially.

I hope to have more information to share in the next day or so but at least for now I would ask that you would do whatever you can do direct people to buy Sandi's book.

Sandi has been copied on this email.....Sandi..Please forward this message on to anyone you think would help us out in getting the word out.

The same goes for you if you've received this email.
I want to close by lifting the following prayer up on Sandi's behalf:

Father, I lift my sister before you as her body has been stricken with disease.

You know, O God, that she has used her gifts to glorify You and spread your wonderful message of grace and love.

It is my humble plea that you would bring her healing and complete recovery. I know You can do this, You are the Great Physician.

Please bring Your Spirit into her home as her husband and children continue to live life without her there. They need You.

May all that is done bring You glory as our God and Father.

In Jesus' name - AMEN!

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Writing for the Internet—Part One

Over the next few weeks, I want to revisit the topic of writing for the Internet. There is a mountain of misconceptions about writing for the web. Let’s spend some time, debunking and discussing them.

Myth - People read the same way, no matter the medium
One of the great things about the Internet is the ease with which people can find information. Readers are often looking for information fast. They want to be able to read or scan the content quickly to find what they want. That means the author must make organization and readability of primary importance.

The writer must also take into consideration the delivery system of their medium. Studies show that people generally read up to 25% slower on computer screens. The reasons are complex, but here are a few. Computer monitors are harder on the eye than paper.They generally have fairly low resolution, so the words aren’t as sharp. Also, while the contrast between ink and paper is usually strong and fairly consistent, monitor settings can vary widely depending on type and settings.

Because of these factors, most people find it tiring and even frustrating to read long articles online.

The Solution - Capitalize on the medium
People want information, so give it to them—up front. This is called Frontloading the paragraphs. Writers are taught to work up to the information, building a case for its validity. Instead, state the information as succinctly as possible, then begin the case building.

Think of writing articles for print medium as building a pyramid. Writing for the web turns the pyramid upside down.

Learn how to format
  • Don’t indent paragraphs, instead skip a line between them. This gives the reader’s eyes a chance to rest.
  • Utilize headings, lists and bullet points. This makes scanning for information much simpler than digging it out of a paragraph.
  • Keep the paragraphs short, no more than 100 words.
Now it's your turn. Share with us some tricks you have to make your Interney copy more reader friendly. Or, ask a question and I'll be sure to cover it in the next two weeks.

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Weekend Worship—Warriors of God

Warriors of God
by Edie Melson

Trenches deep, the fighting hard,
Weary warriors returning scarred.

God touches the wounds, sculpting each face,
Etching in lines the proof of His grace.

Deep in the dark, hidden from sight,
God readies His own to shine in the light.

Agonizing sacrifices with rewards so great,
A crown from His hand worth any wait.

He holds precious the faith of each one,
Bestowing His blessing, “My servant, well done.”

I want to dedicate this post to a precious friend of mine, Sandi Rog, as she battles health issues that most of us can't imagine enduring. Her attitude mirrors God's grace and I'm humbled to call her friend. In the midst of this battle, her debut novel, The Master's Wall, hit the shelves this week and I encourage you to seek it out.  


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Thursday Review—NaNoWriMo

I know you're as excited as I am that it's the first Thursday of the month. It's Lynn Blackburn's day to post her review. Join me as we welcome her back!
Don't forget to join the conversation!

National Novel Writing Month
by Lynn Blackburn

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). (See Edie’s latest post on The Book Doctor for more details). The event is frequently referred to as NaNo and the participants are Wrimos. I was explaining this to my sister and her response was “You’re all a bunch of MoRos—short for Morons.” Not because of the goofy acronyms. But for the trip down Loony Lane that is NaNoWriMo.

Who do we think we are trying to write 50,000 words in 30 days? Have we lost our minds?


So why bother?

I can’t speak for everyone participating, but for me, it’s about two things. Stifling my Inner Editor (again, see Edie’s excellent post) and making time when there is no time.

Let me tell you about my Inner Editor. She’s a vicious little thing. Reminds me of a yapping dog. Small but ferocious. Determined to be heard and seen.

Are you picking up on the fact that I have a hate-hate relationship with her?

Not really. When I’m editing, I’m quite fond of the little monster. She’s ruthless. Which is what I want during an edit. But not during a first draft. And after giving her the run of the place for the past several months, it’s been near impossible to muzzle her.

But NaNoWriMo is all about shutting her up. Or at least ignoring her until I’ve met my word count.

My other issue is time. I’m learning that successful writers make time. They don’t find it. It doesn’t just happen. They hunt it down and use it whenever they can. In the carpool line, during naptime, early in the morning, late at night.

I tend to want to write whenever the time fairy sprinkles me with pixie dust and stops the clock for a solid hour. Which is to say, almost never. But NaNo doesn’t give me the option to wait for the right opportunity. I have to make time. I have to remember to charge my laptop and think about how to fit writing into my day.

I have to choose to write.

When this month is over, I hope to have written 50,000 words. They won’t be perfect. They’ll need a serious review by the Internal Editor (she’s gnashing at her leash and she’ll be a terror after a month of solitary). But if those 50,000 words have found their way out of my head and onto the page by November 30th, I’ll have had to scrape out time. Five minutes here. Ten there. I’ll have had to write fast and furious.

The tagline for NaNoWriMo is 30 Days and Nights of Literary Abandon.

I’m not usually much of an “abandon” kind of girl. But I’ve been stewing on this draft for over a year. Maybe a little “abandon” is what’s called for.

Care to join us? In NaNo land, I’m “LynnHB” and Edie is “emelson”. If you sign up, link to us as buddies and we’ll cheer each other on.

Don't forget to join the conversation!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Hook ‘Em!

Today I'm privileged to introduce you to one of my closest friends - Vonda Skelton. She and I met at our very first Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference and she's been my partner on this writing journey ever since. Vonda Skelton is a national speaker, freelance writer, and the author of four books, including Seeing Through the Lies: Unmasking the Myths Women Believe and the Bitsy Burroughs Mysteries for kids. She is the owner of The Christian Writer’s Den Writing Blog, She and Gary have been married 41 years—and they’re still happy about it!

We are both having a crazy week, so we decided to switch blog posts and bring back a blast from the past. Enjoy learning from a master!
Just don't forget to join the converstation!

Hook 'Em
by Vonda Skelton
I’d already had one article published in Clubhouse Magazine (Focus on the Family) and was eager to write another. I developed a unique idea, found the perfect 12-year-old to interview, and had received the go-ahead from the editor. But my submission was quickly rejected.

And it was all because of my opening paragraph.

Here's what I initially submitted:
Have you ever had a field trip that changed your life? Lindsay Knauer has. She was ten years old when her home school group planned a special field trip to learn about fencing. "I didn't think I would like it, but I did." Like Lindsay, a lot of kids are finding out how much fun fencing is.

The editor's response was kind, but his words roughly translated to something akin to, "Y-A-W-N!!!!!!!!!!"

Lindsay and I collaborated on the rewrite and hit the jackpot:
The air is filled with the crashing and clanking of weapons. Screams of victory and cries of defeat echo all around me. Scoring machines screech high-pitched beeps that set my nerves on end. The score is four- four. The next touch determines the winner.

I have only a few seconds to plan my attack. Suddenly the director calls, "Ready! Fence!" My heart pounds. Rapid footwork takes me to my opponent. Weapons slice the air, metal cracks metal. I lunge for my opponent. Will it be victory or defeat?

Big difference, huh?
In my original paragraph, I made many mistakes.
  • The first was starting with a question. Think about it. If you open with a question and the answer is yes, the reader doesn't feel he needs to continue because he already knows what you're going to write about. If the answer is no, the reader believes the piece isn't of interest to him and he moves on. Either way, you lose the reader.
  • The second mistake was that the paragraph was just plain boring! And, in case you haven't learned anything else, I hoped you've learned that boring is bad. Really bad.
It’s easy to see that the first example was generic, take-it-or-leave-it writing. But the rewrite drew in the senses, built tension, and engaged the reader through action. Senses, tension, and action are good. Really good.

So as you write your book or article or short story, remember to use the senses, tension, and action to draw the reader in. And chances are, you'll draw the editor in, too.

And that's good. Really good.