The Bodacious Blogger’s Essential Ingredients

I’ve never been great at following recipes, perhaps because my first works of fiction were faux cakes and pizzas baked in my magical kitchen. (Okay, the sandbox.) My recipe ineptness has its perks, though. First, it’s made coming up with my own concoctions practically necessary. (I’m happy to report that they no longer taste like air or sand.) Second, it prepared me for writing, on the page and in the blogosphere.

Like baking a cake, there is no one “right” way or “perfect” recipe to achieve blogging success. But there are useful guidelines…

Essential Ingredients for Blogging Bodacious-ness

1. Authenticity. We hear this word a lot in regards to blogging, for good reason. Writing about issues and topics we care about, in our own voice makes for captivating posts. Our blogs should be natural extensions—or reflections—of us and what our brands represent. In other words, bake your own “cake” from scratch, using your own ingredients (your thoughts, beliefs, knowledge…). Readers can tell if we use a mix or swap the bakery label for our own. 😉

2. Readability. Ever looked at a recipe and felt so daunted by the tiny print, long lists of unpronounceable ingredients or lack of photos? I personally believe that posts should be as long as they need to be. Breaking up longer paragraphs with spaces, bullet points or photos, and using clear fonts and non-distracting themes can help ensure a comfy reading experience.

3. Takeaways. Imagine going to a cooking demo and leaving with an empty, ravenous belly. Might be okay if the chef was highly entertaining, but if not, your low blood sugar and emotional upset would probably prevent you from visiting again. Blogging works similarly. Giving our readers some sort of takeaway, be it entertainment, inspiration or how-to tips, functions like welcome and thank you gifts, bundled into one.

4. Supportiveness. When I was a kid, I loved going door-to-door selling everything from candy and cookies to 1-child plays. But I was weird. And have grown up since then. Not only is pushiness counter-productive for writers, but ineffective. (Thank goodness!) Supporting others creates connectedness and community. Visit others’ blogs. Follow those you find intriguing. Post thoughtful comments when a post strikes you, and share links you enjoy. (Not convinced? Read social media guru Kristen Lamb’s post, 10 Ways to Increase Your Likability Quotient.)

5. Effective Titles. Would you have read this post if I titled it, Random Stuff? “With 500,000 new blog posts published per day on WordPress.com sites alone, we can’t afford to use vague or boring titles if we want our blog to stand out in tweets or in someone’s Google reader,” Marcy Kennedy, one of my favorite bloggers, wisely said. For more of her insight, read Four Little-Known Factors that Could Destroy Your Blog’s Chances of Success.

Bloggers Who Take the Cake
The proof is in the pudding, right??? The following bloggers bodacious supreme, in my opinion. They have their ingredients and style down pat, never cease to inspire, entertain or teach, and continually bring joy to my cyber-villa. I’ve awarded each blogger one of my cake concoctions.

Natalie Hartford takes the Pink Rainbowlicious Cake for bedazzling the blogosphere with her unique enthusiasm, color and pizazz. She’s as sweet as her blog is PINK! She spilled some of her fab blogging secrets here: Keeping Your Blogging Mojo Alive and Burning.

Tameri Etherton takes the Berry Yummy Oatmeal cake. She’s wholesome, fun and nurturing, with no need for added sweetener. Because Tameri loves happy endings, her natural cake has sweet surprises inside.

Louise Behiel takes the Sassy Salmon Cakes. Louise never fails to educate and inspire. Her gluten-free cakes are fortifying, like her posts, and delicious, much like her friendship and support. She recently shared 8 Steps to an Emotionally Rich Family, and drew a brilliant comparison between old-fashioned radios and kids.

Kourtney Heinz takes the Flourless Chocolate Cake for her rich writing skills and ability to savor every bit. No room for extra fluff in this writing woman’s life! You’ll see what I mean when you read her captivating post, Looking at Who You Were. Loved loved loved it.

Amber West takes the Fortune Cookie Cupcake for her entertaining, inspirational and grin-inducing posts. Her Friday Inspiration series is loaded with insight, and she’s consistently one of the first to lend a helping hand.

Susie Lindau takes the Crazy Cake. Whether Susie is giving us glimpses of her “wild ride,” throwing blog bashes or sporting flash fiction, her blog is a crazy-cool treat. Oh, and she’s also a mass murderer

Roni Loren takes the Hot Fodue Cake. Her novel, Crash Into You, caused more perspiration than the stairclimber I read it on. If you know what I mean. It’s one of my favorite reads of 2012, and her writing/blogging posts are some of the best. As for the “cake” portion of this recipe, that’s up to YOU. 😉

Nigel Blackwell takes the Blappleberry Pie Cake for his ability to blend education, entertainment and wit. His post, A Non-Controversial Sockumentary, is one of the most entertaining post I’ve ever read.

Jennifer L. Oliver and M.G. Miller take the (Practically) Instant Chocolate Cake, for Jennifer’s fine author interviews—her latest of which featured M.G. and his spectacular book, Bayou Jesus. Read it. Once you start, you won’t want to waste time slaving over baked goods. This whole grain cake takes minutes in the microwave. And it’s delish.

Debra Kristi, Coleen Patrick, Fabio Bueno and Ellie Ann Soderstrom take Health-Nut Choco-Copia Cake for their versatile mix of upbeat, inspiring posts on everything from mythology and HILARIOUS mistaken song lyrics, to family pets and sustainable agriculture. You can’t go wrong with these sweet tweeps. Ya just can’t.

So there you have it. My baker’s dozen. (Told you we bloggers can break rules. ;)) What blogging ingredients do you find most important? What kind of cake might your blog be?

****If you’re interested in preparing one of the cakes above, hop over to my Facebook author page and place your vote!****

The Truth About Social Media Time Suck

Are you sitting down? Good. Because guess what. *takes a deep breath* ‘Time suck’ is in the dictionary. This may not stun urban word-anistas, like Natalie Hartford, but it was news to me. Close your eyes and ponder the term. What leaps to mind? Lemme guess—Facebook? Twitter? Pinterest? All-things-internet?

The Urban Word Dictionary defines ‘time suck’ as: “Something that’s engrossing and addictive, but that keeps you from doing things that are actually important, like earning a living, or eating meals, or caring for your children.” Example: “Facebook is a time suck! I posted a funny picture after dinner and all of a sudden it’s midnight!”

Hmm… But no one is tying us down before the keyboard, or forcing our eyes on the screen. We may feel compelled to abandon other responsibilities and lose track of time, but if a child cried out from a nearby room, we wouldn’t say, “Quiet, kiddo. I’m on eBay.” We’d rush to his or her rescue. In other words, time sucks are voluntary—more like investments than stealers.

Unless you A) have a compulsive psychological disorder involving social media, or B) are being held at gunpoint by an internet-mongering psychopath (in which case, please visit 911.com) there are many ways to keep TS at bay and still reap the many benefits social media has to offer.

7 Ways to Dodge Social Media Time Suck 

1. Approach it like a pro. Social media is a lot like L.A. nightlife, minus the swanky outfits and over-priced drinks. When I was working as an actress, the scene was part of my job. But my goal was networking, not partying. So I never—okay seldom—partied too late or too much. Doing so would’ve given the wrong impression and sabotaged opportunities. The same applies for authors on social media. Like parties, social media is fun. But if we approach it like a party, our professionalism might tank.

2. Prioritize. Think of your time as an up-side-down Christmas tree. (Use a regular pine tree if you wish. I prefer the sparkles.) The widest part of the tree represents what matters most and what demands the most time. If you’re an author, your craft and career are likely top priority, as far as work goes. Building a social media platform is an important component, but the most important is producing quality work and growing craft-wise. Don’t let social media steal that away.

3. Step away from the net. We all know when we’re helping our platform and when we’re simply procrastinating or surrendering to the TS vacuum. When the latter happens, un-plug. Take a break. Eat a healthy snack. Turn your wireless off. Step…away… If you feel incapable, seek professional help. (I mean that sincerely. Therapy’s a great thing.)

4. Strategize, time-wise. After blogging—arguably the most important web presence for authors—the top three social media platforms are Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. We have limited time to spend on-line; best we use it wisely. Popping over to Google+, Linked In and other sites can help, but spreading ourselves too thin turns even modest efforts into TS. Invest more time into the most popular sites and less into others. Basic, right?

5. Strategize, timing-wise. I’m a morning person, so I prefer to get my writing in early. As much fun as it would be to post creative, witty or otherwise sharp blurbs on Facebook during my peak brain-time, I’d rather invest that sharpness into my craft. If you’re groggy during morning hours, social media can provide a great warm up; save your juice for later. In other words, find and commit to timing that works for you. (If you’re someone who can’t help but be sharp, creative and/or hilarious at all times, timing is less of an issue—lucky duck!)

6. Link it up. Remember those three social media superstars from #4? We can link them all together—a huge time saver, if used appropriately. Since I’ve linked my Pinterest account to Facebook, I’ve had more dialogue and connectivity going on via both. My Facebook fan page is linked to Twitter, so anything I share on the fan page goes out to the Twitter-verse. Don’t overdo link-ups, however, as we don’t want to spam our friends and readers. Spending quality time on each platform is important.

7. Keep your goals in mind. If we lose sight of our goals, little will hold us to them. Distracting-TS-ers will seep in, robbing us of dreams we’re fully capable of reaching. If goal-focus doesn’t come easy for you, keep reminders near your computer—inspiring photos, quotes or affirmations. Connecting with supportive friends can also help. So while over-doing social media can detract from our careers, lean on friends—on the web or in-person—as needed.

Extra Tips & Tricks:

  • If you don’t have time to read blogs throughout a particular week—or even if you do—read Gene Lempp’s Blog Treasures. His Saturday morning mash-ups feature the “best of the blogosphere” from the previous week, and they never disappoint.
  • Pin on Saturdays. Pinterest activity rages on Saturdays, when other social media quiets down. So if adding pinning to your already-full plate seems daunting, save it for Saturdays.
  • If you are prone to social media TS, set a timer. Dan Taylor, a Vienna-based social media consultant, offers this and other great advice in his post, How to Avoid the Social Media Time Suck.
  • Consider joining Triberr. Not sure what it is or how to use it? Check out Jenny Hansen’s great post, My New Time-Saving Social Media BFF—Triberr.
  • Use Twitter lists. Roni Loren sold me on lists in her post, Picky, Picky – The Danger of Authors Being Too Clique-y on Twitter.
  • Take your computer out for coffee. Okay, sounds sort of sick. But seriously, social networking in social settings can help shake things up, put us in a sociable mood, and prevent day-long Facebook/Twitter-thons. (Once you run out of coffee, go home. :))

How do you avoid social media TS? Have you mastered time management? Any tips or challenges to add? 

#Pinterest & Blogging: 7 Keys to Success

Like many, I was hesitant about joining Pinterest, particularly before the recent copyright changes. Though I dug the concept, it sounded like a time-sucker and more fun than vital. When I learned that it’s the fastest growing social media platform, a top referrer to retailers and appeals particularly to educated women, I figured it was time to research my brains out look into it. I’m so glad I did.

Pinterest is now the third most popular social network, according to a new Experian study, behind Facebook and Twitter. And retailers are not the only beneficiaries. Crystal Underwood’s tips-for-mommas blog leapt from 100 hits per day to up to 7000 after she embraced the virtual pin boards. Design blogger Jessica Colaluca, one of Mashable’s “21 Must-Follow Pinterest Users,” credits Pinterest for 35 percent of her estimated one million-plus monthly hits. And major publications, including Elle magazine, Martha Stewart Living and Cooking Light, are taking Pinterest by storm.

“We are seeing traffic increases and high engagement, and [Pinterest] is great branding for us to get our content out there.” — Keith Pollock, editorial director of Elle.com

Whether you’ve joined Pinterest or not, making your posts more “pinnable” can enhance your blogging experience on multiple levels. There are loads of ways to obtain blogging and Pinterest success. Read on for my favorites…

1. Fill your blog with high-quality content. Joining Pinterest will not automatically stimulate quality blog hits (i.e., readers who linger, comment, subscribe and interact), even if you post visually-stunning images. Why? Because successful blogging takes lots more than pretty pictures. Pinterest can help open the door to our sites. Posting captivating content will keep guests from fleeing to the neighbors.’

2. Be authentic. Many of us recognize that authenticity makes for better posts and more enjoyment for us and our readers. The same applies to Pinterest. If you’re not a foodie, featuring glamorous food photos simply because the images are popular is counter-productive. Withholding your passions and interests can have similar effects. People sense falsity, so steer clear of it. Pinterest’s updated etiquette tips say it best: “Pinterest is an expression of who you are.”

3. Give to give. Giving of ourselves also enhances enjoyment—ours and our readers. If you, and by extension your brand, is entertaining, provide entertainment. If your brand is inspiring, inspire. Have cooking, cleaning or photography skills? Share some pointers. Such giving attracts like-minded readers to our blogs, who will appreciate what you offer. In return, you’re likely to gain subscribers, comments and, when applicable, sales. This practice reminds me of exercise. Many of us start working out because we believe we should. The emotional benefits—better moods, sleep quality, energy…—keep us at it.

4. Get creative with titles, photos and topics. Using your authentic self to conjure up snappy titles, eye-catching graphics and topics you genuinely dig is a great way to lure people from Pinterest to your blog. It also encourages re-pins and comments. Just make sure that your post’s content is at least as entertaining, inspiring, though-provoking or delightful.

5. Use your own photographs or self-concocted graphics. If you feature stock photography in a blog post, the pin should technically link to the stock company—not your site. Creating your own photos and graphics allows you to convey precisely what you wish to, without infringing upon copyright laws. Adding your website address to images can help draw more eyes to your site, particularly if you pin a photograph without any text. (Check out my example above. If I can create graphics, trust me—you can, too. ;))

6. Keep your blog and pin boards in mind in the “real” world. I only recently signed up for Pinterest. Already, it’s opened my mind up to cool new ways to use it. I tote and use my camera more often and have been dabbling in graphic techniques. Just as life inspires blog topics, knowing our posts could appear on Pinterest can inspire us to seek out photographable moments that coincide. Best of all, the process feels more like fun than work—how life should feel, IMHO.

7. Support others. As with other social media platforms, rambling on about ourselves, our products or our work generally evokes one thing: annoyance. We all know how frustrating endless pitches from a particular salesperson can be. If you’d slam the door on your content if it appeared at your door, switch gears. Comment on, follow and share others’ fabulous posts and pins on Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook and/or your blog.

Extra pointers:

  • Don’t only pin blog posts. Share and celebrate your interests. If your blog is serious, show your goofy side, and vice versa. You can also use Pinterest boards as tools to organize your favorite products, articles, books and so on.
  • Link your Pinterest account to Facebook and/or Twitter. Mine is linked to Facebook, which allows me to interact with people on both networks with one post. I then Tweet pins selectively. Experiment with both, then decide.
  • Invite your friends to Pinterest. Lisa Hall-Wilson and I both have group boards, which are a great way to join forces with like-minded folks. If you’re interested in joining my group, Writers United, drop me a note: august@augustmclaughlin.com.
  • To encourage readers to pin your posts, add a “Pin it” button to your share options, and a “Follow Me on Pinterest” widget to your theme.
  • Focus on quality and connections, not “the numbers.” Gargantuan numbers of hits can be fun to see on your blog dashboard, but it doesn’t mean much if people spend little time reading or enjoying your content. I’d rather have a handful of close-knit, supportive connections than boatloads of rapid clicks. Wouldn’t you?

I’d love to hear from you. Any of these tips strike a chord with you? Any to add? Thoughts on Pinterest in general?

#Pinterest: How to Pin Without Getting Arrested

Okay, so even before the Pinterest copyright changes, it’s highly unlikely any of us would have been locked up for pinning. To my knowledge, no pinner has been jailed, fined, tarred or feathered—at least not for pinning. But there has been tremendous concern over the social media giant’s potential to infringe on copyright holders. Lucky for the millions of “pinners” worldwide, however, much of that has changed.

Effective today, Pinterest no longer asserts the right to “sublicense” or “sell” pinned images. The company has also removed the word ‘irrevocable’ from the copy right license and updated their terms in accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.

What does this mean to Pinterest users? Here are the main points:

  • We can now safely pin our own images and most images linked to original sources.
  • If someone re-pins ours images without proper citation, we can report it by filing a copyright infringement notification. If the claim is deemed valid, pins in question will be removed.
  • If we pin an image without proper linkage, we might get flagged. Pinterest can remove the image and notify us that we’ve overstepped bounds. We then have the option of contesting the claim.
  • If we collect enough warnings, we can be removed from Pinterest and, potentially, face legal repercussions. (Similar results can stem from posting images we don’t hold rights to on our blogs.)

8 Tips for Safe Pinning:

1. Pin your own images or graphics, linked to your website. This not only helps ensure that your images are credited to you, but can increase traffic to your site. If you’re not handy with a camera, create text graphics like these.

2. If you find a random image you’d like to use on the web, seek permission from the owner. If credited properly, many photographers and artists appreciate the publicity. They may also share your link with their circle of friends.

3. Don’t pin personal images you don’t want re-pinned by others. This may seem obvious, but many of us post personal photos on social media sites without much thought. If a photo contains other people, asking their permission is a good idea.

4. If you notice that someone hasn’t linked a pin properly, tell them. It may take a while for people to get a hang of proper pinning. Most of us want our links shared. So if you notice that someone hasn’t given you credit, thank them then suggest adding a link. You can also direct them to the copyright terms.

5. Use credible websites. Google Images is not a valid source for books, food, fashion or other goods. If you dig a Banana Republic top, link the image to BananaRepublic.com, not Google or your blog. Use Mac.com for Mac products, Amazon.com for books you’ve found there, CookingLight.com for Cooking Light photos and so on.

Clicking the pins on my non-fiction board brings you to each book's purchase screen on Amazon.com.

6. Install and use the “Pin It” button. This allows you to pin images from websites to your boards, and links it appropriately—assuming the site owns the image. To nab the “Pin It” button, click here or visit the Goodies section on your Pinterest homepage.

7. Include the URL in pin descriptions. Though not required, this helps ensure that the original source gains credit. URLs appear as hyperlinks, which tend to invite more ‘clicks.’

8. If you’re unsure of an image source, seek it out. Google can help you determine the original source of a photo. For a step-by-stey tutorial, check out this post by The Graphics Fairy.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Are you on Pinterest? How do you feel about the copyright changes? Any Pinterest topics you’re dying to learn more about? (I’m planning a series of Pinterest-themed posts, so feel free to make requests!)

Truthiness: Raising the Bar in the Blogosphere

“And that brings us to tonight’s word: Truthiness. Now I’m sure some of the word-police, the “wordanistas” over at Websters, are gonna say, “Hey, that’s not a word!” Well, anybody who knows me knows that I am no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true, what did or didn’t happen…” — Stephen Colbert

The other day I came upon a fiction author’s blog—we’ll call her Snazzy. In Snazzy’s latest post, she recommends a particular breed of dietary supplements capable of “preventing colds, lowering the risk of cancer and heart disease and stimulating weight loss” in one fell swoop. She doesn’t work for the supplement or wellness industries (that I know of) and simply wished to share her good fortune with others. Commendable, right? To a point…

The supplements the well-intended Snazzy praised are responsible for a slew of serious side effects. And numerous large-scale studies showed not an ounce of effectiveness. I know because I’ve read the studies and interviewed the researchers.

As a journalist, I spend a great deal of time reading clinical studies and interviewing experts, from physicians and psychologists to sports physiologists and dietitians. These individuals invest extraordinary amounts of time and energy into gaining knowledge, typically in hopes of bettering the world. My heart aches when I think of their vast knowledge and efforts going down the toilet because an unknowing (or careless) blogger with a larger social microphone decided to speak up inappropriately against it.

Now I realize that blogging varies from journalism and other literary forms in numerous ways. Many blogs feature one person’s “musings,”  entertaining quips or videos, philosophical insight or all-things-hilarious. The voice is usually more colloquial than newspapers and texts. But anything goes, right? Many of us use our blogs to inspire, help or guide others. All good stuff! But I feel it’s important to recognize that as bloggers we are self-published authors, even if we go the traditional publishing route elsewhere. The ability to cover any topic our hearts desire brings crazy amazing perks, along with risks and responsibility.

Was it illegal for Snazzy to detail benefits of the supplements she knows little about? Nope. But it was, in my humble opinion, irresponsible and potentially damaging to readers and the literary world as a whole. If we bombard the web with “truthiness,” without revealing it as such, we lower the bar for writers, readers and researchers alike.

While we can’t very well eliminate truthiness from the blogosphere, bookstores or other media singlehandedly or overnight, we can do our part by boosting the authenticity and accuracy of our own work.

Simple Ways to Boost Blog Accuracy (and the Blogosphere as a Whole):

  • Become a responsible reader. Want to write about stopping bullying? Don’t simply say, “More kids get bullied than ever before, especially boys.” Go to Google Scholar and read the latest studies. Interview a psychologist or sociologist. Or quote books published by field experts.
  • When you state statistics, facts or other findings, provide readers with the source. When possible, insert a hyperlink.
  • Address both sides. If you’re presenting a controversial issue or finding, seek out and share an opposing viewpoint. If you prefer to stick to a particular side, simply reference the opposers. (“While not everyone agrees, I believe ______…”)
  • When you state an opinion, present it as such. “In my opinion….” (Think like the judge on “The Good Wife.” ;)) Remember, stirring up some healthy debate is a great thing.
  • Incorporate supportive research, even while covering topics in your area of expertise. Psychologist Michael J. Breus does a great job of this here: Kava Continues to Be A Mystery.
  • Avoid using sources that lack legitimacy, like Wikipedia, outdated books and studies, tabloids and personal home pages.
  • Do rely on universities, newspapers, hospitals, qualified experts and current studies.
  • When addressing theories, don’t mislabel them as facts.
  • When possible, opt for large scale studies or research reviews, which compile findings from numerous studies. (If you simply polled your friends, make it known. “100 percent of those asked…” only means so much when you asked your mom, dad and hamster.)
  • Take articles, blog posts and books not supported by legitimate sources and research with a boatload of salt.
  • If this sounds all like too much work, stick to fiction, opinions, personal narrative and musings. And duh, call them that. 😉

Putting more time, effort and research into our posts makes for better reading, increases our odds of gaining readers’ trust, supports hardworking researchers and adds smartness to our hardworking brains. Sounds like an all around win-win to me.

So what do you say? Am I off my blogger-rocker?? If you hit up heavy topics or offer advice in your blog, do you seek out optimum sources? Or do you leave that up to the reader? Any suggestions to add? Wanna learn more? I love hearing from you!