Welcome to this month's State of the Blog, where I share my goals for this blog, what I'm doing to reach them, and what's working (or not working).

February 2016 State of the blog report: Want a behind-the-scenes glance at what's working/not working for my blog? Take a look to learn about my blogging goals and what I'm doing to reach them >>>>>

This post includes affiliate links (marked with an asterisk). When you use the link to make a purchase, I make a small commission at no extra cost to you. I will only share affiliate links if I have used and recommend the product or service. If you have any questions, please contact me. Thanks for your support!

New to my blog? Start with my State of the Blog for January 2016

January 2016 Numbers

Keep in mind that traffic and social media numbers aren't everything -- I'd rather ten writer friends over 1,000 stop-an-go site visitors, wouldn't you? -- but numbers can help you get big picture insights and help you make changes.

Site Traffic and Top Content

Here's a comparison of my site traffic January 1st through 31st, 2016 (top) and December 1st through 31st, 2015 (bottom).

Psst: Learn how to find these stats in Google Analytics: I walk through the process step-by-step in the Build a Better Blog Challenge.

Site Traffic Comparison

February 2016 State of the blog report: Want a behind-the-scenes glance at what's working/not working for my blog? Take a look to learn about my blogging goals and what I'm doing to reach them >>>>>

What's important:
  • I went from 7k page views to 18k, which might sound great, but a good half of the traffic went to one of my recipes. People LOVE my Ginger-Orange Green Smoothie Recipe, and I've noticed it gets a spike in traffic every January. Hurrah for New Year's Resolutions? ;)

  • My bounce rate went up (one of my goals is to get people to stick around longer), but again - I blame that on the green smoothie recipe. People who visit my site for writing-related posts stay longer than those visiting for my recipes.

I've included another interesting graph, comparing my traffic in January (top) and December (bottom). Even though my numbers were much higher in January, the percent of New and Returning visitors was the same.

February 2016 State of the blog report: Want a behind-the-scenes glance at what's working/not working for my blog? Take a look to learn about my blogging goals and what I'm doing to reach them >>>>>

Social Media Referrals

February 2016 State of the blog report: Want a behind-the-scenes glance at what's working/not working for my blog? Take a look to learn about my blogging goals and what I'm doing to reach them >>>>>

Pinterest is a huge traffic driver for my site (and I talk more about how to use it strategically to drive traffic in my free Build a Better Blog Challenge), and in January my referrals from Pinterest doubled. I'll talk more about that in a second.

First, I want to point out that my traffic from other social media referrals is pretty low, but it didn't change that much - even though I took a break from social media during January. I think I could be using Twitter far more consistently and strategically, and I'll be working on that in February.

I also created a Reddit account near the end of January and will be experimenting with using it to help people find my content (when relevant). In next month's State of the Blog, I'll share what I learn.

Pinterest

As I mentioned above, my traffic from Pinterest doubled in January. The jump is in part thanks to my Ginger-Orange Green Smoothie Recipe, but there was also a marked increase in Pinterest traffic to my writing-related posts.

I attribute this to two things:

  1. I increased my activity on group Pinterest boards.

  2. I started using BoardBooster*, a pin scheduling tool with a number of features that have helped increase my traffic from Pinterest.

Next month I'll talk about how to use Pinterest group boards strategically and I'll also share my review of BoardBooster*, but if you want to try it out yourself you can use my referral link to get your first 100 pins free*.

From the breakdown charts below (Jan: left, Dec: right), you can see my Ginger-Orange Green Smoothie Recipe at the top of both months, but the rest of the content people are finding through Pinterest are mostly writing-related posts.

February 2016 State of the blog report: Want a behind-the-scenes glance at what's working/not working for my blog? Take a look to learn about my blogging goals and what I'm doing to reach them >>>>>

Social Media Growth

Last month I took a social media hiatus to focus on my revisions. It was a great choice in terms of helping me reach my writing goals, but I wondered if my numbers might drop.

My numbers didn't drop, and all grew - Pinterest most of all because I started scheduling pins in advance using BoardBooster* (I will be sharing my review soon).

  • Twitter: 969 (+4)

  • Pinterest: 607 (+225)

  • Instagram: 209 (+5)

Mailing List Growth

My mailing list grew quite a bit last month. I added sign ups (with content upgrades) to some of my most popular posts, plus a number of other small changes to approach my mailing list more strategically.

  • Subscribers: 159 (+92)

I'm putting together an e-course for writers and authors who want to start (or grow) their mailing list. Sign up to be notified when it launches!

How I did on my January goals

1. Blog once a week.

Excellent

I shared a new blog post every week: January 2016 State of the Blog, How to Make a Blog Post Image Template with Canva, How to Revise Your Novel, Website Basics for Writers and Authors, and 10 Weaknesses to Look for When Revising Your Manuscript.

What made a HUGE difference this month was that I worked in batches. I wrote 2-3 posts at a time and scheduled them in advance. Scheduling in advance meant I didn't need to worry about writing new posts every week, and it helped me focus on my revisions.

2. Get the super exciting secret series started.

Good

I made progress on getting this ready for you; I'll be sharing more about it soon.

Psst: my mailing list will hear about it first!

3. Clean up design.

Okay

I didn't get as much done as I had hoped - so much of my time went into my revisions last month, which I don't regret, but it did mean less time for working on my design.

Tasks:

  • Update the color palette (in progress)

  • Change heading styles (done)

  • Add post previews to my index (in progress)

I also updated my about page and have added SumoMe tools to my site (sharing, list builder, highlight to tweet). Once I have more data from SumoMe, I'll share my review.

Goals for February 2016

1. Experiment with Twitter

This month I'll be experimenting with scheduling tweets in advance, and being more consistent on Twitter.

2. Work on new email course for writers and authors

I've been dropping hints about my next blog project - a free course for writers and authors who want to start or grow their email lists. Last month I started outlining the course, and this month I'd like to begin work on the content.

Psst: Sign up to be notified when this course launches.

3. Finish design tasks

Most notably:

  • Finish updating the color palette

  • Add post previews to my index


Thank you so much for reading, friend. If there's anything I mentioned that you would like to learn about, please jump in the comments to let me know.

Now I would love to hear from you:

Do you have plans for your blog this month? Tell me about it in the comments, and be sure to link to your blog so I can take a look! :)

Photo credit: Death to Stock


Now that we've discussed the big picture process of revising your manuscript in How to Revise Your Novel, let's break down exactly how to approach your revisions.

What do you look for when you revise your manuscript? I'm sharing 10 weaknesses to look for when you start revising your novel. Take a look, and get your FREE download of my Novel Plot Test Worksheet >>>

This post includes affiliate links (marked with an asterisk). When you use the link to make a purchase, I make a small commission at no extra cost to you. I will only share affiliate links if I have used and recommend the product or service. If you have any questions, please contact me. Thanks for your support!

So you finished your first draft and set it aside for the recommended couple of weeks. (Trust me, friends, the distance is good for you.) You pull out your manuscript and read it. Suddenly, you understand why writers call rough drafts "rough."

Your manuscript--if you can even call it that--is a mess. A pile of words and scenes that don't even remotely resemble the beautifully crafted books on your shelves. That feeling of success you had when you finished your draft is a distant memory, and you start questioning your desire to write anything ever again.

UGH, right?

Here's the thing: First drafts are meant to be a mess. When you let go of creating a perfect story, you can explore rabbit holes and tease out ideas. With that type of writing, you need to write imperfectly if you ever want to finish.

Rough drafts are valuable. You can use a first draft to figure out what your story is about, or even who your characters are meant to be. Even if your finished rough drafts make you question your skills or sanity, they are an important part of the novel writing process.

The question is:

When you finish your rough draft, how do you craft it into the book you meant to write?

Revisions, my friend!

When you finish your rough draft, how do you craft it into the book you *meant* to write? Revisions!

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I have a process for approaching revisions, but I know how daunting just that word (REVISIONS!) can be to new writers. To help make it less intimidating, I've broken my approach down into ten weaknesses I look for when I'm revising my manuscripts.

These are meant to be a starting point for your revisions, and once you dive into your manuscript you'll likely discover your own approach. Just like writing, revising can be a very personal experience. Each writer will have different strengths and weaknesses. I encourage you to learn all that you can about how different writers revise, then pick and choose the methods that fit you.

However you approach your revisions, the important thing is to not quit after writing your first draft. It might seem daunting now, but that first draft is just the beginning. Revising is where you'll truly craft your story into the novel you meant to write.

Okay, friends. Let's go.

Take a look at my list, then jump to the comments to make any additions or suggestions!

10 Weaknesses to Look for When Revising Your Manuscript

1. Inconsistencies

Whether you're a pantster (you write without an outline) or a plotter (outlines are your favorite), you likely reach The End by any means necessary - including ignoring huge inconsistencies in order to finish your story faster. Perhaps your story begins with a young boy as the protagonist, but by the end, you've written the young boy out and made him a teenaged girl. Oops? While drafting, that's totally acceptable, but revisions are where you pinpoint those inconsistencies and fix them.

2. Placeholders

A technique I often use to write faster first drafts is using a placeholder when I'm not sure what to write. For example, if I can't think of what to call a character, I'll start with "Hero." During revisions, I'll search for "Hero" (using Scrivener's find and replace function) and replace it with a real name. I've also used placeholders for scenes (examples: Fight scene TK or Make this steamy scene actually steamy TK). When I revise, I search for TK and address each placeholder one by one.

3. Filler scenes and darlings

You know those scenes where absolutely nothing happens? You need to get rid of those. Sorry, friend. Or perhaps you have a character who contributes nothing to the plot? She needs to go.

Revisions are where you look for filler scenes (scenes that don't move the plot forward, up the stakes, or show character development) and darlings (anything or anyone unnecessary to the story) and delete them.

It hurts, I know.

You know those scenes where absolutely nothing happens? You need to get rid of those.

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Bonus tip:

For every character, ask: Do I need this character? Are they adding to the plot, increasing stakes, or are they an integral part of my main character's journey or growth?

There's a chance you don't need them, and your readers will appreciate having fewer characters to keep track of (especially if the character doesn't contribute to the plot). Also, if you identify two characters who accomplish the same thing, you might be able to combine them into one character.

4. Character Arcs

Each of your main characters should show an arc during the story. An arc represents the change in your character from who they are at the beginning of your story to who they become by the the end, usually due to the choices and conflicts presented during the story.

Take Harry Potter, for example. In the first book of Harry Potter series, Harry starts off as a boy who lives in a cupboard beneath the stairs. He wears cast off clothes and is treated like a servant. He has no friends, no family, and no potential for his life changing. Through conflicts and choices, Harry grows and changes. The story ends with Harry leaving Hogwarts with a sense of who he is, who his parents were, friends and newly-gained confidence.

When you're revising your manuscript, ask yourself: Does my character grow or change during the story? How?

Do I need an arc?

You might get away with having a side character or two who doesn't show an arc, or possibly an almost flat-line main character (maybe in literary fiction?) but in general, your reader wants to see your characters growth or change. So - arcs are optional, but strongly recommended.

5. Easy solutions

In your rush to complete your first draft, you might create easy solutions to help your character. Perhaps, for example, your main character doesn't have a driver's license and she needs to get somewhere, so you give her an easy solution for getting a ride. Or maybe your character is facing the evil villain and suddenly she can do magic, so she defeats the villain and saves the day.

These easy solutions might help you finish your book, but they remove tension from your story. That's not good.

Think of your story tension like a balloon. When you make things easier for your character, the balloon deflates. Take out too much tension, and your reader is the sad kid at a birthday party holding a limp piece of rubber. Boring. (And sad!)

Now, if you add tension, your balloon gets bigger and bigger. Your reader keeps wondering: "Will it pop? When will it pop? How will it pop? Oh my goodness, it's totally going to pop. I better keep reading to find out." All the other kids at our hypothetical birthday party crowd around the ever-growing balloon, because who doesn't want to know what's going to happen next?

That's the experience you want to create for your reader.

Tension keeps your reader engaged and curious to see what will happen next and leads to a far more satisfying ending (and we want that), so look for spots where you make things too easy for your characters. Avoid giving them an easy out, and you'll keep your reader wondering how the characters will escape the conflicts in your story.

6. Stakes

Stakes are your best friend, and your character's worst nightmare. You might have gone easy on your character(s) during your first draft, but you want to fix that during revisions.

Stakes are your best friend, and your character's worst nightmare.

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The stakes are what is at risk for your character, the reason why they must take action. You want these to be juicy and heart-wrenching - the bigger, the better. Things like, "She falls in love with a guy then finds out he's the man who put her father behind bars." Ooh! Or maybe, "If she loses this game, she'll lose her only chance at college ... and crush her family's hopes." Oh, no!

When you're going through your first draft, look at what's at risk for your character. Could the stakes be higher? Could you make things harder for them?

Keep asking: Why should we (your readers) care? If the stakes aren't high enough, scary enough, or emotionally strong enough, why should we keep reading?

Your job is to make us care. A lot.

7. Description redundancies + story line mis-match

Redundancies

This is something I tend to see in my first drafts: if I love describing something, I describe it the same way over and over again. It works during first drafts, because when I revise I look for the redundancies, pick the best one, and delete the rest. But when I miss those redundancies? Ick. It means the reader gets to read the same description over and over again.

Check for spots where you are redundant and make note of them. Compare all the places where you describe the same thing (settings, characters), then pick the best descriptions and delete any repeats.

Story line mis-match

Sometimes we want to describe everything all at once, regardless of whether or not it fits the story line.

Think of how you experience a new place: How does it look the first time you visit? You might notice certain big things, like the feeling or atmosphere, but gloss over the details. Now, take that same location, but think about the tenth time you visit. Perhaps you start seeing more details, and you might notice if something were missing or out of place. Do the same, but consider the hundredth time you visit. Do certain details fade away? Is it easy for you to miss things because you're no longer seeing them with new eyes?

This goes for how you describe characters, too. When you meet someone for the first time, you might notice bigger details or characteristics (he has a beard and wears glasses), then on subsequent meetings you pick up on smaller things (one ear is bigger than the other, he has a small scar over his lip).

When you're revising, look for how you describe settings and characters and make sure they fit where they appear in the story.

8. Confusing story lines

While re-reading your rough draft, you might realize that your character jumps from one location to the next, or gains essential information with no explanation. Perhaps in one scene she is trying to make a decision, and the next scene shows her in a completely different place facing a completely different decision. Although it's perfectly acceptable to be mysterious and not give your readers all the information, you need to leave your readers plot breadcrumbs to follow. They need to be able to follow the story from one point the next, or you risk frustrating your reader or losing their interest.

Look for any and all confusing places in your manuscript and find a way to help the reader follow your character. Leave those breadcrumbs!

9. Goal, Motivation, Conflict

For each scene in your book, I want you to write down three things: Your character's goal, motivation, and conflict.

Their goal is what they want at the opening of the scene. Their motivation is the reason or need behind their goal. The conflict is whatever stands in their way, or prevents them from achieving their goal.

Scenes without goal, motivation, and conflict often fall under "filler scenes and darlings." Before you delete those scenes, ask yourself if you can clarify the character's goal and motivation, or add conflict. You might be able to salvage a lackluster scene and give it purpose.

Bonus tip:

If you want to delve deeper into understanding goal, motivation, and conflict, check out GMC: GOAL, MOTIVATION, AND CONFLICT by Debra Dixon*.

What do you look for when you revise your manuscript? I'm sharing 10 weaknesses to look for when you start revising your novel. Take a look, and get your FREE download of my Novel Plot Test Worksheet >>>

Big thanks to my friend Caryn Caldwell for recommending this book (and lending me her copy). :)

10. Plot

The most important thing you can do when revising is make sure your plot is on point. (Unfamiliar with plotting your novel? Check out my favorite plotting resources for writers.)

I left this for last because it's a biggie.

First, ask yourself if you cover the major plot points:

  • Do I have an inciting incident?

  • Do I have a clear midpoint?

  • Does my main character experience a dark moment?

  • Do I have a climax?

  • Do I have a resolution?

Then, see where the major plot points occur in your novel. Although you don't have to have them right on the nose, you want them to be close.

  • Does my inciting incident happen in the first 25% of my novel?

  • Is my midpoint close to the halfway point of my novel?

  • Does the climax hit in the last quarter?

  • Is the resolution in the last chapter or pages?

Depending on your genre, you'll have different guidelines for the above. Make sure you read as many books (ideally popular or best-selling) in your genre as possible to get a feel for how other authors handle plotting.

In Middle Grade Fantasy, for example, I've noticed that authors get out QUICK after the climax. There are often only a few pages of resolution. Whereas in Adult Romance, many authors include a short epilogue showing the main characters living their HEA (Happily Ever After).

Do your homework to get a firm understanding of what your reader's expectations will be, and find out how (or if) you're meeting them during your revisions.

Pssst: You also might like the Novel Plot Test Worksheet I made. My email friends get to download it for FREE! Click the image below to sign up and I'll email you a copy today.

Want to make sure your novel idea passes the test? I created a Novel Plot Test worksheet to help you find out. Click through for your copy ----->


That's my list. It know it's lengthy, but it's helped guide me through a number of revisions. With each round, I learn more about revising, and my manuscripts get better.

I would love to hear from you in the comments: Do you share any of the weaknesses I listed above, or do you have others that you look for when revising?

P.S. If you found this post valuable, I would love it if you shared it with your audience! Use the tweet below to share it on Twitter.

I just read 10 Weaknesses to Look for When Revising Your Manuscript - what would you add to the list?

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Today we're talking about your writer or author website, and how to use it to achieve your goals. I'll share with you the basics you need to make a great first impression online, plus the most important thing every author should include on their website.

Today we're talking about your writer or author website, and how to use it to achieve your goals. I'll share with you the basics you need to make a great first impression online, plus the most important thing every author should include on their website >>>

This post includes affiliate links (marked with an asterisk). When you use the link to make a purchase, I make a small commission at no extra cost to you. I will only share affiliate links if I have used and recommend the product or service. If you have any questions, please contact me. Thanks for your support!

After I wrote my post "Should Writers Blog?" I received emails from writers who wanted to know: If I don't need a blog, then what do I need? Like, at a bare minimum?

At the very least, every writer should have a website, but not just any website. You want a strategic website that helps you meet your goals, ideally one that's simple to maintain (so you can get back to writing). I have great news, friends. You can easily create a website that helps you reach your goals without giving you headaches.

You can easily create a website that helps you reach your goals without giving you headaches.

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I'll share with you my four tips to help you get started (plus my bonus tip for authors), but first let's talk about why you want a website.

What do you want to achieve?

Just as we discussed in my Build a Better Blog Challenge, setting goals for your site will help you make future decisions. Before you do anything, take time to define what you want your website to do for you.

For example, authors may want a website to connect and engage with readers and grow their audience, whereas new writers may want a website to help them connect with other writers. There are no wrong answers, and the more you clearly define what you want to achieve, the better you'll be able to make choices about things like your domain name or which website service to use.

Action: Goal setting // Why do you want or need a website?

Set a timer for ten minutes. Grab a notebook and pen. Start the timer and write down every single reason why you want a website. When your time is up, look through your list of reasons and highlight the reasons that stand out to you. Use these to create a 1-3 line purpose for your online presence. Example: I want my website to be where readers can go to connect with me and learn about my books. Or, I want my website to impress agents and give them a way to contact me.

Keep your goals in mind as you read the tips below. I encourage you to make notes about how you'll use each tip to help you reach those goals.

4 Tips for Making a Simple + Strategic Website (plus one bonus tip for authors)

1. Own your name as a domain name.

Writers and authors are a special case when it comes to websites because your name is your brand. So although you might start a blog to connect with other writers, and therefore a fun, cute, or witty blog name would suffice, at some point you will want a website domain with your name or your pen name (example: AuthorName.com).

Side note: A pen name is the name you choose to as your author name for your books. This is the name you want people to know, so it's the name to use when choosing a domain name for your website.

Think about this scenario:

A reader finds your book or story. Perhaps they found it on Amazon, or maybe they discovered you in a literary magazine. They LOVE it (of course!), and like any good reader, they want to read more.

What do they do next? They type your name into a search engine. But nothing comes up. Or the results are all for a photographer with your name, not you. FAIL.

So what's the solution?

You need to get your site to rank higher in search engines when people type in your name. There are a number of things that can help make that happen, but the very first step is to own the domain name with your name.

Today we're talking about your writer or author website, and how to use it to achieve your goals. I'll share with you the basics you need to make a great first impression online, plus the most important thing every author should include on their website >>>

Action: Buy your domain name.

Even if you choose to create a blog with a different name, at some point you will want to own your domain name.

Tips:

  • I recommend using NameCheap* or DNSimple to buy your domain. I currently use DNSimple, but it's best for people who buy or own numerous domain names because you pay a monthly versus annual fee. If you just need one or two domain names, I recommend NameCheap*. I've used it in the past and although it isn't perfect, it's far superior to most other Domain Name Services.

  • Important note: when you search for your domain name, be ready to buy it within 24 hours. There are companies that will use your search to buy the name you want ... and then they'll turn around and sell it for far more than the original price.

  • If your name isn't available, then try adding relevant words like "books" or "author" to your domain name. Example: "BridgidGallagherBooks.com."

  • Still want a cute/witty/fun blog name? You can always create a main website under your name (AuthorName.com), but have a blog with a special name (AuthorName.com/BlogName).

Namecheap.com

If you read all of this and you still want a fun/cute/witty blog name, then here are two tips about choosing a name:

  • Think evergreen names, or names that will be relevant for a long time. Although you might love mountain biking now, the name "MountainBikingMom" might limit you in the future.

  • Avoid distasteful or inappropriate names. You might find bathroom or bodily function jokes hilarious, but will they be off-putting to your readers? Your website is your online business card. It's the first thing people might see of you online, so consider what type of impression you want to make.

2. Use an affordable + effective website platform.

Writers and authors, you don't need to spend thousands of dollars on your website. There are many affordable platform options for creating simple websites, and--especially when starting out--simple is exactly what you need.

Writers and authors, you don't need to spend thousands of dollars on your website.

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Here is a fantastic post about how to choose a platform from Marianne of Design Your Own (Lovely) Blog. I love this list because she wrote it with cost-concious people in mind. Although it's targeted to bloggers, anyone who needs a website will find this post useful.

I personally recommend Squarespace to my friends who want a simple, out-of-the-box website that is beautiful and easy to manage (and they don't mind paying $8/month). As with any website service or blogging platform, there is a learning curve. Thankfully, Squarespace offers fantastic, 24-hour support, so you can ask questions and get answers around the clock.

Today we're talking about your writer or author website, and how to use it to achieve your goals. I'll share with you the basics you need to make a great first impression online, plus the most important thing every author should include on their website >>>

For those who don't mind getting scrappy and learning basic HTML and CSS (or hiring a designer), then Wordpress.org is the second option I recommend. There is a bit of work required to get your site started, but once you do there are very few limitations to what you can do. This is a great option if you want a lot of flexibility and custom functionality, and you don't mind learning some coding basics.

If you're still not sure which would be the best for you, then I recommend reading this excellent post comparing Squarespace and Wordpress from Ashley, the web designer behind NoseGraze.

In summary: If you want simple, go with Squarespace. If you want more complex functionality, go with Wordpress.org.

3. Keep your design simple.

Like a great book cover, a great website design can set the tone for your readers. But. Some writers and authors take their design too far and the experience is jarring and distracting.

Like a great book cover, a great website design can set the tone for your readers.

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Less is more when it comes to website design. If you're at all unsure about choosing a design or template, go with simple. Black and white. Lots of whitespace. Keep calls to action (buttons, forms, links) to a minimum.

Pssst: I talk more about website design in my Build a Better Blog Challenge.

Action: Find other author websites for design inspiration.

Take a few minutes to visit author websites. Focus on authors in your niche or genre. For example, if you write YA Thrillers, then look up your favorite YA Thriller authors and study their websites. Try to visit at least five different author websites and jot down a few things about each site:

  • Do they create a mood with their colors and images? How?

  • What do you like about their site?

  • What don't you like?

  • Were you confused/distracted by anything on their site?

  • Does their site invite you to sign up for their mailing list?

Here's a great example for authors. These are the sites of two Middle Grade writers, Brooks Benjamin and MarcyKate Connolly. What kind of tone do these sites create? Can you guess which sub-genre their books would fall into?

Today we're talking about your writer or author website, and how to use it to achieve your goals. I'll share with you the basics you need to make a great first impression online, plus the most important thing every author should include on their website >>>

4. Include the content essentials.

Less is more is also a good rule of thumb for your content, but there are a few things you must include for your website to be effective.

There are a few differences for writers versus authors, so let's start with the essentials for writer websites:

  1. About (name + brief bio + photo of you)

  2. Contact (email address or form)

  3. Portfolio (if relevant)

  4. Blog (optional!)

That's it! You could include everything on one simple page and be good to go. It truly doesn't require separate pages or anything complicated.

For authors, add the following:

  1. Books (book cover + synopsis + buy links)

  2. Mailing list sign up

Both writers and authors: keep your bio brief and include an action for your readers. Think about your purpose and write to that purpose. Tell us enough about you that we know what you do, your purpose, and a sprinkle of personality.

Authors have a little more leeway, because readers often visit your site to learn as much about you as possible. It's great to share more, but make sure you keep it relatively short to help them focus on an action (example: signing up for your mailing list).

Examples:

"My name is Sarah Jones and I write books about magic and cookies. (Wait, I eat cookies.) I am currently seeking representation for my Middle Grade Fantasy about two pixies who go on a culinary adventure of monstrous proportions in the Land of Giant Sweets. Want to get in touch (or bake me cookies)? Send me an email: name@domainname.com."

"Sarah Jones is an avid mountain biker who writes contemporary Children's fiction. Her first book, THE BEST TITLE, is coming DATE from PUBLISHER. Join her mailing list for a first look at her book."

"I'm a romance author who loves nothing more than a glass of red wine, a bubble bath, and a steamy book with an alpha hero. Read my latest book for free here!"

Get the idea? Simple. Focused. Actionable.

Bonus tip for authors: Make sure you have a mailing list.

Pssst: Writers, you could skip this one, but skim it because you'll need it once you're preparing to publish.

All authors should have an email mailing list. Your email list is a way for you to get permission to contact your readers when you have new books, news, sales, or upcoming launches. It is the one way you have to contact people that you own. Unlike social media (Facebook, I'm looking at you), where you have little to no control over how often people see your updates or if they see them, with your email list you can guarantee your email makes it into their inbox.

Tim Grahl, author of Your First 1000 Copies (a must-read for authors), says it better:

Today we're talking about your writer or author website, and how to use it to achieve your goals. I'll share with you the basics you need to make a great first impression online, plus the most important thing every author should include on their website >>>

"The truth is, your email list is your #1 asset for community building. Here’s why:

  1. When someone requests that you email them, it is a huge sign of trust. Everybody already gets too much email, so the fact that they are requesting that you be another inbox item is a huge commitment.

  2. People won’t check your website every day (or week) but they check their email every five minutes.

  3. It’s much easier to ignore a status update than a new inbox item.

  4. The people making money online use email marketing. I follow several people online that are “internet marketing gurus”. Despite what you may personally feel about some of these people, they are the ones actually making a lot of money online. And you know what? Every one of them would trade Twitter, Facebook, their blog and any other online asset to keep their email list. They make money off their email list.

Social networking, blogging and all the other tools out there serve their purpose and can help grow your community, but your email list is, by far, your most important asset. Above all else, focus on growing your email list."

Although adding an email list sign up form to your website is simple, starting an email list can be intimidating. I want to help you get your list started, so next month I'll be sharing some blog posts about mailing lists, and I'm also putting together a free Email Marketing for Writers & Authors e-course. Sign up to be notified when the course launches.


Okay, friends. That is IT. The basics for creating a simple but strategic writer or author website.

Now it's your turn. Do you have questions about websites, design, or mailing lists? Jump in the comments. I would love to hear from you!

Psst: There's still time to access my FREE Build a Better Blog Challenge! Click the image below to join + I'll also send you my Blog Content Workbook for Writers.

Build a better blog in 2016: A community-building challenge for writers and bloggers who want to up their blogging game. A FREE workbook, seven-lesson course, and online workshop replay, plus support to help you focus your blogging goals and create a content plan for 2016. Click through to join and sign up to get your FREE workbook!


How to Revise Your Novel

Posted on January 13 2016 in writing & reading

We've talked about how to plot your novel and how to write faster first drafts, but once you've written your first draft ... What's next?

How to Revise Your Novel: Learn the difference between editing and revising, and get a step-by-step plan to help you survive revisions. Click through for the post, plus get your FREE Novel Plot worksheet to help you keep your revisions on track >>>>>

Your rough draft is meant to be rough. To get to The End, you've likely ignored plot problems, grammar, and anything else that prevented you from writing quickly. That's a great way to get your first draft, but now you're left with a very messy manuscript. This is why we revise and edit.

Revising vs. editing

Writers throw around the terms "revising" and "editing," and it's important to know how they're related, and how they're different.

Both revising and editing are ways to address problems in your manuscript, but they are like two different lenses you can use to look at your manuscript. Revising is the big picture lens. When you revise, you're addressing novel-wide issues, problems, tasks, or questions. Editing is the micro lens. When you edit, you address sentence-level issues like sentence structure, grammar, and punctuation.

Revising isn't re-writing

I started writing novels seven years ago. At first, revising meant I re-wrote sections of my manuscript over and over. Honestly, I can't even tell you how many times I re-wrote the first 300 words of my first manuscript. I thought that if I wrote a perfect paragraph or chapter, then the rest of the manuscript would fall into place.

It took me four years to realize that revising isn't about perfection, it's about improving your manuscript one step (or problem) at a time. Sometimes, it will mean making your manuscript look a lot worse before you can make it look better. Worry about perfection later, when you're editing your manuscript, or getting ready to query or publish.

Now, I'm starting the seventh (or eight?) round of revisions on one of my manuscripts. Although I have learned quite a bit about revising and I get better with every manuscript, there is still so much to learn. My approach to revisions may not be the best approach for you, but I do hope you find it helpful.

If you are a revisions rockstar, then definitely jump in the comments on this post to share your favorite or tried and tested approach to revising!

Okay, friends. Let's jump in.

Revising your novel is hard, but it's manageable with a plan.

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1. Set aside your manuscript.

Before you do anything, set your project aside. My rule is a minimum of two weeks, but a month would be better. What you want is to distance yourself from the story. It will help give you a fresh perspective, which will be essential for spotting plot problems.

2. Read it and make a list.

Now that you have some distance, read through your manuscript from start to finish. At the end of each chapter, try to jot down any big picture problems that stand out to you. Now is not the time to worry about grammar, word choice, or any small-scale mistakes and errors. Focus on the story as a whole. Are there things that don't make sense? Is there enough conflict? Do your characters have arcs (do they grow or change)? What could improve?

Writer tip

I like to read my manuscript on my Kindle (you can email your document to your Kindle address) because it helps me stay in the reader mindset - if I read on my computer I'll be tempted to fix things and make changes. Others prefer to print our their manuscript. You can also read your manuscript out loud, although I find this most helpful for finding smaller plot problems (awkward dialogue, missing words, mis-used words, etc.). Find what works best for you, and remember: right now your goal is to find and list your plot problems, not fix them.

3. Jot down your favorites.

Take a moment now to write down your absolute favorite things about your story. Try to be kind and generous, as though you were commenting on a friend's manuscript. Trust me, revisions are difficult, and having a little note of positive things about your manuscript will help keep you going when you're struggling.

How to Revise Your Novel: a step-by-step plan to help you survive revisions

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4. Prioritize.

Take your list of plot problems and order them from biggest to smallest, or most important to least important. Try to group together plot problems when possible. For example, if you listed numerous problems related to one character ("poor motivation in chapter two," "why did he do X at the climax," etc.), those problems likely fall under a bigger umbrella ("character X needs stronger goal, motivation, conflict throughout"). When you group them together, you can make sure you address the larger problem in addition to the smaller problems.

5. Make a copy.

Before you make ANY changes to your manuscript, make a copy. There is always the possibility that you won't like the changes you make, and you will want the option to revert to your previous version.

You can save a copy in Google Docs, upload it to Dropbox, or save it in a folder in Scrivener. Always back up your work to more than one location. It might sound like overdoing it, but losing your work is no fun.

6. Revise.

Okay, now we dive into our revisions. With your list at hand, start from the top (biggest, or most important). Make changes and mark off each item once you're done. This is by far the most challenging step. Use your list to keep you focused. When you find new problems that need to be addressed, make a new list. You have the option of adding those items to your current list, but I encourage you to keep the new list separate and tackle those items in a new round of revisions.

Psst: I made a Novel Plot Test worksheet that can help you identify plot problems or weaknesses. Click the image below to get your copy!

Want to make sure your novel idea is ready for NaNoWriMo? I created a Novel Plot Test worksheet to help you put your idea to the test. Click through for your copy ----->

7. Get feedback.

Find a trust-worthy reader to read your manuscript and give you feedback. With an early reader you simply want a sanity check. Does the story have potential? What are the best parts? Later, you can share your work with critique partners or beta readers for more detailed feedback.

Any time you share your manuscript, make sure you communicate exactly what kind of feedback you want. You will have varying needs throughout the writing and editing process, and you can make the most of your -- and your reader's -- time by being clear about your expectations.

For example, after your first round of revisions, you might want someone to read it and tell you what they love about the story (not point out grammatical mistakes or nit-picky details or even tell you negative things because you might break down and cry). But after your third or fifth round of revisions, you need to hear what is and isn't working and that nit-picky reader will be extremely helpful.

When you get feedback, you can create a new list of items to consider, then pick and choose which to add to your list of revision items.

8. Repeat steps 2 - 8 as necessary.

For each read through , your list of "big problems" will start to include smaller items, too. That's great. I encourage you not to focus on the smaller problems in your first rounds of revisions for a couple of reasons. First, when you're revising you're going to toss out and add scenes; you don't want to edit a scene to perfection if you're only going to have to delete it. Second, revising and editing are challenging tasks, and you don't want to burn out. Once you've addressed the bigger problems, then start fixing smaller problems.


Those are my tips for navigating your revisions. I'd love to hear your thoughts on revising. Is there a step you'd add, or an approach you've found helpful?

P.S. You might also like How to Set Reasonable Writing Goals and How to Get in the Writing Zone.

Photo credit: Death to Stock


Templates are a great way to help you save time and create consistent images, and you don't need Photoshop - or a graphic designer - to create them. I put together a quick tutorial to show you how to create and use a blog post image template with Canva, a free photo editing and image creation tool.

How to Make a Blog Post Image Template with Canva: a step-by-step tutorial to show you how to create an use a blog post image template. Create beautiful images for your blog posts, quickly and easily. Extra bonus? Canva is FREE, so you can make your blogging templates for free. Click through for the tutorial >>>>>

Friends, you know I love Canva. Remember when I made a tutorial to show you how to make a cover for your NaNoWriMo novel? Today we're going to use Canva to make beautiful blog post image templates so you can create one blog post image then simply copy and edit every time you need a new image for a new blog post. (Did I mention that Canva is free? Seriously. It's your new best friend.)

Before we get started, you might be thinking: um, why do I need an image for my blog posts? I'm a writer, not a photographer. Sheesh.

I get it. Your words are the real gems in your blog posts, but images can be powerful, too. We talk about this in detail in the Build a Better Blog Challenge, but here's one REALLY powerful reason: images do better on Pinterest, and Pinterest has HUGE potential as a traffic source for your blog.

Images do better on Pinterest, and Pinterest has HUGE potential as a traffic source for your blog.

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Remember my State of the Blog post? Pinterest is my number one social referral, in part because I started adding pin-worthy images to my blog posts (learn more about creating share-worthy blog posts).

With a template you make one amazing share-worthy blog post image, then copy that image and edit it when you need a new one. In addition to saving you time, having a template will help you keep your fonts and colors consistent (the web designer in me is doing a happy dance). Sounds pretty great, right?

So let's make that template!

How to Make a Blog Post Image Template with Canva

1. Sign in to Canva or create your free account.

Go to Canva.com to sign in or create your account.

2. Under Create a Design, choose the Blog Graphic template.

Another reason to love Canva: they've created a blog graphic template for us! Vertical images do better on Pinterest (get more clicks and repins), and Canva's Blog Graphic template dimensions are perfect for blog posts. You can also create a design with custom dimensions if you would prefer something different.

How to Make a Blog Post Image Template with Canva: a step-by-step tutorial to show you how to create an use a blog post image template. Create beautiful images for your blog posts, quickly and easily. Extra bonus? Canva is FREE, so you can make your blogging templates for free. Click through for the tutorial >>>>>

3. Either choose an existing template to edit, or upload a photo to start your custom template.

A number of Canva's templates are free, look for the "Free" label in the bottom right hand of the template. If you choose to upload a photo, please make sure you either own or have permission to use it.

How to Make a Blog Post Image Template with Canva: a step-by-step tutorial to show you how to create an use a blog post image template. Create beautiful images for your blog posts, quickly and easily. Extra bonus? Canva is FREE, so you can make your blogging templates for free. Click through for the tutorial >>>>>

How to Make a Blog Post Image Template with Canva: a step-by-step tutorial to show you how to create an use a blog post image template. Create beautiful images for your blog posts, quickly and easily. Extra bonus? Canva is FREE, so you can make your blogging templates for free. Click through for the tutorial >>>>>

4. Add your blog post title (optional) and your website.

You don't have to add your blog post title, but I have found that images with my blog post title get more repins on Pinterest. It's good practice to include your website on images, to help make sure people who see (and like) your image can find you.

How to Make a Blog Post Image Template with Canva: a step-by-step tutorial to show you how to create an use a blog post image template. Create beautiful images for your blog posts, quickly and easily. Extra bonus? Canva is FREE, so you can make your blogging templates for free. Click through for the tutorial >>>>>

How to Make a Blog Post Image Template with Canva: a step-by-step tutorial to show you how to create an use a blog post image template. Create beautiful images for your blog posts, quickly and easily. Extra bonus? Canva is FREE, so you can make your blogging templates for free. Click through for the tutorial >>>>>

5. Duplicate the image and edit to create a new blog post image.

You've created your blog post image template! Now you can make a duplicate of the image and edit it for new blog posts.

How to Make a Blog Post Image Template with Canva: a step-by-step tutorial to show you how to create an use a blog post image template. Create beautiful images for your blog posts, quickly and easily. Extra bonus? Canva is FREE, so you can make your blogging templates for free. Click through for the tutorial >>>>>

How to Make a Blog Post Image Template with Canva: a step-by-step tutorial to show you how to create an use a blog post image template. Create beautiful images for your blog posts, quickly and easily. Extra bonus? Canva is FREE, so you can make your blogging templates for free. Click through for the tutorial >>>>>

6. Name your template.

Click on the name of your template to change it. Use a name you'll remember.

How to Make a Blog Post Image Template with Canva: a step-by-step tutorial to show you how to create an use a blog post image template. Create beautiful images for your blog posts, quickly and easily. Extra bonus? Canva is FREE, so you can make your blogging templates for free. Click through for the tutorial >>>>>

7. Save a copy.

Click "Download" to save a copy of your template. If you'd like to download the newest blog post image only, under "Download" click "Options" and specify the page number.

How to Make a Blog Post Image Template with Canva: a step-by-step tutorial to show you how to create an use a blog post image template. Create beautiful images for your blog posts, quickly and easily. Extra bonus? Canva is FREE, so you can make your blogging templates for free. Click through for the tutorial >>>>>

That's it! Easy, right?

If you liked this tutorial I would be so grateful if you shared it!

Here's a quick & easy way to create blog post image templates with @Canva

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Do you already add images to your blog posts? Is there something you'd like to learn about, or anything you find challenging/frustrating? Jump in the comments - I'd love to hear from you!

P.S. If you use this tutorial, let me know what you think! I would love it if you linked to your blog post with the images you create. :)

Credit for both photos: Death to Stock