Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How to Prepare a Media Kit for your Book



Media kits are a marketing tool many people use for their business or project, including books. They are a large piece of work and not something you should throw together last second, and they are always a work in progress. I have compiled some information from the web on how to prepare a media kit. 

Joan Stewart, the Publicity Hound, has provided a free webinar on putting together a media kit for your book. I'll be touching on key aspects of the webinar for those who do not feel like watching a powerpoint presentation. Templates are also available for sale from the providers of this free webinar. 


Media kits are prepared for a wide variety of audiences. You will have to decide the type of people who will be viewing your media kit and pick and choose information relevant to that audience. For most businesses, their primary audience will be investors and clients; however, for books, Joan Stewart explains that all these people will be seeing your media kit:

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Book Cover Design Tutorial




Q: Do you have a tutorial on how to design a book cover?

A: No, but I will write one. 

Start with a Template


CreateSpace and other places that print books will provide a template you create based on the amount of pages in the book. This is awesome because the spine changes size based on the amount of pages you have. In addition, some will provide a UPC code for your design with your ISB information.

In using those templates, what I did was I opened them in photoshop as they were, and I kept the layer with the template on it at 50% and built new layers under it. I boxed around the UPC code and copied it to a new layer (keep that one at 100%). Then when saving, I turned the template layer off. 

I have never designed an ebook cover. When I go to purchase an ebook, I usually only see a square like a cover design. I honestly, if I were going to publish an ebook that wasn't going to be in print, and no template is provided by the place I'm using to publish an e-book, I would just copy a design from Amazon or Barnes and Noble, and create a new graphic in photoshop that matches the dimensions in the clipboard, and then use those dimensions (or open something large, paste the image, and crop to the right dimensions). Then I would delete the design and design from that. 

When I google Ebook Cover design tutorials, I see a lot of articles where people seem to want it to look like a printed book. They have templates for that, but this article lists "generators" and tells you how to do it in Photoshop using Actions. I don't understand the need for this, honestly.

I assume wherever you upload the information for your ebook, they will probably have instructions for ebook covers. If they do, you'll want to read those and follow them because they are designed for the process the company has. 

Color


When you see a graphic on your computer, that's an RGB graphic. The colors are designed for light to be behind the color. In print, we use CMYK and spot colors (premixed). Those colors are designed to put on paper in the matter of ink. Most printers prefer graphics saved in CMYK mode (as opposed to RGB mode). You can design something in RGB and then switch to CMYK mode before saving. I think that's what most people do, but you have to pay attention to colors... 

I've seen many self-publishers design a fabulous cover that looks different in print than it does on the computer screen. Take for instance a book I'm in (you should go buy it) Clash of the Couples. 

This is Clash of the Couples
Book Cover Design

This is Clash of the Couples
In Print.

Notice the slight change in color? The design was more red and the book came out more of a retro orange. 

When working with color going into print, the safest route to go is to use colors defined by Pantone Color Systems. In print, many factors contribute to the color you get: the paper, whether or not a gloss is used... You can purchase or find Pantone Swatches on various types of paper, and in matte, printed on gloss, and coated with gloss. Then you can choose a color from there and find it in Photoshop (or tell the Printer what color to use). 

Or you can kind of see what you are going to get in Photoshop. If you click on the color picker, and choose Color Libraries, and choose the Pantone Libraries (different options of those too), then you'll see two blocks of color. One is the color on your screen that you chose. The other is the closest Pantone color match to it. As you can see here, Clash of the Couples red from the corner looks more orange already doesn't it?


The bottom color box is the color I chose from the image (the color we thought we were going to get). The top color box is the color closest on Pantone's colors (the color we got). It doesn't always work that way exactly, but it gives you a better idea of what you are dealing with.

The CMYK color process is also something one should probably understand when designing for print. "In additive color models such as RGB, white is the "additive" combination of all primary colored lights, while black is the absence of light. In the CMYK model, it is the opposite: white is the natural color of the paper or other background, while black results from a full combination of colored inks. To save money on ink, and to produce deeper black tones, unsaturated and dark colors are produced by using black ink instead of the combination of cyan, magenta and yellow." They usually print CMYK in layers matching them up using printers marks outside of the image or document. You can see the layers in effect the best on a newspaper where sometimes on a full color image, you see a shadow of pink, yellow or blue a millimeter off to the side. 

The main issue is because there are so many variables, it's almost impossible to see exactly what you are going to get in print by looking at a computer screen. As a result, anytime you have a print project, what you are going to want to do is order some mock prints. First, in design, print it up on your printer using the type of paper you plan to use. Then as you tweak it and design it the best way you can, order a print from the printer you will be hiring, and then see what changes you need to make to the color, especially if you are applying a gloss to it. 


When it comes to ebooks, all the places the cover is going to be will be on a screen. You can do that in RGB mode, and you really don't have to worry too much about the colors you use. You do want to pay attention to how much disk space you use because you want it to load quickly without taking away from the quality. 

DPI vs PPI


Many people interchange both of those terms, but they are different. DPI is dots per inch. It's a setting on a printer (not a computer). The printing device decides how many dots of color will be printed per inch of print. For graphic designers, you don't need to know anything about that outside of telling the printer to print it a certain way (like if you go through a local printer where you can decide these things). Choosing how much dpi depends on cost considerations, objectives, expected quality, and so forth. For instance, you'd probably use a smaller dpi for a newspaper than you would a magazine. 

PPI is pixels per inch, and that's what a graphic designer needs to worry about. Again, you want to consider if this is going to print or monitor? Why? In print, the higher the ppi, the better the quality (most are content with 300 ppi). In print, it also depends on the project. For instance, large dimensions do not require as high of a ppi as smaller dimensions, and the higher the ppi, the more space you use to store the graphic and the more time it takes to upload. 

On the computer, you don't need high ppi. Most monitors convert ppi to 72 ppi. If you upload a 300 ppi image to Facebook, and then click on the image, right click, save as... the new image you download will be at 72 ppi. The reason is the higher the ppi, the longer it takes to load. 72 ppi for the computer screen is pretty standard; however, if you are wanting to share the picture with other designers where it's useful to them in print, you'll have to find a means that preserves the higher ppi. 

Generally, when I grab a picture from google drive, if I right click and save as, I get 72 ppi. If I download the image using the down arrow in the upper right corner somewhere, then I get the original ppi of the image. 

This is important for print because for most book covers, you want the final design to be saved at 300 ppi. In photoshop, when I hit File, New, a box appears, and the field for Resolution is where I determine my PPI for that image before I create it (remember, pixels per inch). If I've already created it, I can change the resolution in image size. While the ppi for images you input your design is important to make sure you are using the best quality images you can, the most important part is the output ppi of your graphic (how you save it). If you use an image that's 72ppi, and you keep it small enough where it looks nice on your screen at 100%, you are probably fine to save that at 300 ppi for printing purposes. Again, the importance is size and dimensions of the image. If you have an incredibly large image you are scaling down for a book cover, and it's at 72 ppi, it will probably look no different than had it been saved as 300 ppi. 

The Design


FRONT Book Cover Elements:

1. The Title
2. The Author or Editor
3. A blurb telling you what the book is about (optional)
4. Image (optional)

BACK Book Cover Elements:

1. Description
2. Testimony (quoting someone's review)
3. Publisher
4. UPC with correct ISB
5. Whatever you want (i.e. picture of author, brief author bio, websites, logos...)

As I write this article, I'm still working on Elements of Design series, but those are a vital role to the design as a whole. 

The next factor to consider is emotional appeal. Your book cover is your number one piece of advertisement for your book. People are more apt to grab something that has emotional appeal. The cover should make them feel a feeling, preferably one that matches the content of the book. If you are writing a thriller, the cover should scare people, or give them one of those evil, creepy, unsettling vibes (the kind that gives you a little tummy ache). If you are writing humor, the cover should make people laugh. If you are writing a heart-felt story, the cover should make you cry, tears of joy or tears of sadness. If you are writing a controversial piece, the cover should make people pick a side, or make them angry, or make angry people who picked your side want your book. 

Some ways to appeal to emotions... 

I get into some of the psychological components behind going viral on the internet on this post about Going Viral. In it, I also discuss emotions. 
 
People are suckers for conflict. Juxtapose contrasting elements. For instance, here I have a mother trying to sleep, and children bringing chaos. Notice the glass of wine on the night stand? Everything to the right of center is peaceful, and everything to the left is the complete opposite. 


People love to laugh. The previous example is also funny. I always had the idea for a Mom for the Holidays book to have a conservative looking mom (preferably an older lady that resembles Julia Child or Ethel from Lucy's show) straddled over a Christmas Tree knocked on its side waving a spatula in the air. See, that's funny. 

People are psychotically addicted to fear. My 4 year old is afraid of zombies, so every time she sees a picture of a zombie I glance through on the computer, she screams at me to go back to it. She wants to stare at it only because she's afraid of it. Look at how fear is used in the media. People use fear all the time as a motivating factor behind their rhetoric, such as promoting vaccinations (fear the polio), promoting not to vaccinate (fear the autism), promoting gun control (fear school shootings), promoting anti-gun control (fear losing your rights)... We used fear of 9/11 to start a war, open a lot of security based programs like Department of Homeland Security and TSA, funding of military and security programs... Your book cover can induce fear whether you use a scary picture of a clown zombie with an axe covered in blood, or if you use fear inducing rhetoric, "The end is near!" A fiction about an apocalypse might show the world at it's worst according to the story like NYC in flames, or a military police state, or people in concentration camps. 

Shock Factor gets people's attention. I noticed I get a better response by invoking a little shock for everything I put out there online. For instance, if I say "Penis," ok, that's kind of shocking, but "pork sword" and "Bobbit Plunderage" really packed a punch that got more responses. Some of the most shared images I've seen include a naked, passed-out guy covered in lollipops stuck to him (including in his butt crack), wedding gowns with huge plush vaginas sewn on them, and of course, your run of the mill SHOCKING footage of... Blue Waffle and Two Girls One Cup both went viral for shocking reasons. A good book cover might have one shocking appeal to it, whether it's naked people dressed up as Adam and Eve in the earlier example I used (Clash of the Couples, buy it now), or if you throw in a good urban-dictionary-friendly word. Just beware, as I list later, you want something people won't be afraid to share. 

People want to belong to the Cool Kids Club. People's sense of belonging is pretty serious. It's the concept behind, "all exclusive," and "by invite only," statements. And if you notice, most of those exclusive clubs seem to represent themselves as better than everyone else, and that is what brings the feelings, "Those people are cool, and I want to be cool like them." While this is a very important marketing gimmick, it's also something to consider in cover design. You want to highlight the blurbs written by "cool" people who have a tribe to where people want to belong. Your "What this book is about statement" can also appeal to this sensation with a simple, "Join Us..." such as "Join us in discovering new ways to..." 

People don't know what they want until you tell them what they want. This is more of a component to sales, but it's true. Ever notice that most of your friends' opinions on a topic sounds like an internet meme or something you heard someone famous already say? If you read about website design and direct mail, you'll see a lot of people tell you one of the most important components is a Call to Action, like "Click here" or "Shop Now." In addition, they say you are more apt to get likes and shares on a Facebook picture by saying, "Please like or share this." It's because people like being told what to do on a weird subconscious level. Keep this in mind when putting together the cover. The back of the cover is a perfect opportunity to put a "You have to read this" statement. 

A picture is worth a thousand words, but a Face Expression is priceless. The best and easiest way to convey an emotion is with a good face expression on the right candidate. For instance, the idea I mentioned earlier, a mom straddling a Christmas tree tipped on its side... While it would be funny with a young woman dressed in a polka dot dress, it would be even funnier with an older woman in an apron making a psycho or fun-loving face expression. While you can get a face of yourself showing puppy dog eyes, they look much better on babies, kids and puppies. The face of a mom making a shame-on-you face isn't as effective as a kid doing it. Think of epic face expressions... John Candy's face walking through a crowd, Chevy Chase's happy face, Will Ferrell's serious face (and his yelling face), Lucille Ball's "ice-in-the-shirt" surprise face, Jackie Chan's constipated sour face....  

In addition, other things to consider... 

You want something Marketable and Shareable. Your book cover is the basis of your over-all marketing strategy. You want something you can tweak around for posters and shareable images. For instance, in the earlier example of Clash of the Couples, the posters and media kit focused on the Adam and Eve (sometimes on a white background) and the apple with a heart bitten out of it. The apple was also used in other marketing endeavors, including providing a recipe to Apple Pie. 

You want something that Stands Out from the Others. If red is a common color in your book's category, do something in green. If blue is a common color, do something orange. Really check out the books you are competing with on the shelf (virtual or real-life) and try to come up with something that will make yours stand out from the rest. 

You want something that Christians will share. For purposes of PR, you probably don't want the word Douche written on your book because some uptight pearl clutcher is not going to share a picture like that for sake of reputation, and more importantly, reputable media outlets might avoid saying anything about your book because you have the word ASS written in big letters on it and they try to keep their sites at least rated PG. The more mature your material is, the less you have that will promote it. If you go that route, you'll want to already have a great platform for marketing to that market with an idea well worth it (like if your book is about porn, well then you already are stuck with a mature audience). 

Keep it simple. People glance at book covers at first glance, meaning your design has exactly 1 millisecond to appeal to someone enough to make them look deeper. A design that is too busy isn't going to exactly appeal to that first glance. Imagine your book cover blurred, like someone is running so fast passed it that it looks like a blur (that's how fast most people look at it). That blurred image needs to grab their eyes and bring it back to it. Of those it grabbed, they will then see some detail in the design. The detail in the design has to make them want to keep looking deeper, like read the back cover or the description on an e-store. Then those things make them want to either buy the book, or keep looking at reviews and other things book related. Some of the things I've seen book covers do is focus on a simple image or a part of a bigger image. Instead of using a photograph that covers the entire book cover front, consider deleting unnecessary details around the main idea (erasing the background of the photograph), or choose a photograph that zooms in on the main concept. Some book covers have used something as simple as a circle as the only image on the cover. It doesn't really convey emotions outside of an abstract art appeal, but it has been effective in the past. If you have a busy cover, you'll want to at least organize the content in a way that it makes sense enough to the visual appeal (like use of symmetry). 


Inspiration:










Saturday, November 22, 2014

Find Your Tribe



Look, if you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own... If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business—you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen.
~Barack Obama

I know Obama's "You didn't build that," speech inspired a lot of mockery when he said it, but it's true. Everything we accomplish as human beings, from building the pyramids to writing a novel, we do it as a team somewhere along the way, exchanging ideas, collaborating, and drawing on each other for reassurance and other emotional support. Even a writer who lives as a hermit with little outside interaction still draws from things they've learned from their teachers, things they've read, and people on which they base their characters. Most writers I know would have never considered a career as a writer without that one person who once said, "You should be a writer." 

The more successful projects utilizes more people. There is power in numbers. We bloggers are all internet wanderers, and our survival oftentimes depends on those who wander about with us. We usually have a tribe of bloggers who help inspire us to write better, who show us places to submit our writing, and who helps share our work. Then we usually also have a community of readers who follow our work and join in a conversation, oftentimes finding their way offline via the inspirations we find online. 

As a blogger, it's not always easy finding a tribe. Anyone will accept a message of, "You're awesome. I love your blog," with a thank you, but not very often will someone accept, "Will you review my book?" with a yes. You find the type of YES people by going to various online communities and connecting with a few who mesh well with you. 

These are places where I have found my current tribes.

Finish the Sentence Friday


Finish the Sentence Friday is a blog hop of some of the most caring, talented individuals. We used to operate every Friday, but because a blog hop is time consuming and many people don't simply have the time for a weekly one, we try to post something once every other week. You join the Facebook group, check in time to time, free to ask questions if need be, and then post when we post if you desire to join us. The writing prompt starts a sentence, and you, the writer, finish it. Then we usually go live Thursday nights at 10 where we link-up on a host's blog, and then Friday, you go through and check out everyone's blog, commenting when possible, sharing your favorites. 

Baking in a Tornado


Karen from Baking in a Tornado also started several blog hops. She has 3 every month. You sign up every month via email, and then post on the scheduled days at 10AM with a link to the others (you can copy and paste from the email). Secret Subject Swap is where you get a writing prompt, like a question or what if, from someone else in the hop, and you also provide one for someone in the hop.Use your Words is where we exchange 4 to 6 words that we somehow fit into a post. Many in this hop have been writing fiction for this one. Then there's Fly on the Wall where you just basically show snippets of your life in the past month as if the reader is a fly on your wall, spying on your life. Of course, like any blog hop, after you post, it's assumed you are going to go through and read everyone's post and comment. 

The Publishing Bloggers Network


The Publishing Bloggers Network is a Facebook group for those trying to self-publish books. While I am not currently writing a book, I like this group because people exchange a lot of ideas about marketing, blogging, and so forth, but also many people in the group are those who compile blog anthologies and they will advertise in the group when they are looking for submissions. I have met a wide range of personalities from this group, and honestly, the support from the people I've met in this group has really inspired a lot of my moving forward with things. 

The group has a continuous feed for you to link your social media and like social media on the list, an exchange of likes and shares. Frequently, they post something where you link to something current you are doing and go through and share some of the others in the list. 

Beyond Your Blog


I fell in love with the person handling this group by reading her blog. I suggest following her blog because the information she gives is just too good to pass up. Beyond your Blog focuses on getting published via submitting to places, whether it's NY Times or Scary Mom. She interviews a lot of the people who choose pieces to publish, giving inside information on what they are looking for in particular, and because many are podcasts, it provides you a taste of the personality deciding to take your work or not. Her Facebook group shares up to date submission opportunities while her blog shows a list of places who are always accepting work. 

The SITS Girls Facebook Group


The SITS Girls have a blog that really delve into the art and business of blogging, and they are always accepting submissions to recycled blog posts (they usually provide a summary and link). Their facebook group has been a great place for me to find tech support from other bloggers and help troubleshoot blogging situations. This is not a group to promote anything you are doing. They have zero tolerance for shameless self promotion. Their blog has many great articles I found useful. 

The Women of Midlife Boulevard


Women of Midlife Boulevard is a facebook group and blog. They usually take submissions to their sites from those in their group. They too provide a place to share content in group comments for likes and shares in exchange for you going through those on the list liking and sharing. 

BLUNTMom Syndication Group


I'm new to this one, but the BLUNTmom Syndication Group a group where you can submit recycled posts for Blunt Moms to consider publishing on their website. 

#Write Stuff


Every Tuesday night at 9PM, writers get together on Twitter to discuss writing. They #writestuff all their posts. This is more creative writers who write fiction. They have a Google Plus community of writers where they share their creative work and gather advice. 

Anthologies


The place where I met many of the bloggers I keep seeing shared by people, many who are Huffpost contributors and doing big things, are in the Facebook groups for anthologies I'm in. Motherhood May Cause Drowsiness and Clash of the Couples have introduced me to some of the best bloggers on the web (outside of the ones I already knew of course), and they have been more like teachers to me. These are people who are apt to accept a facebook friend request just because you are going to be in a book together, and they respond well to questions in private message about, "How should I handle...?" and "Which design do you like better?" and "How do you think I could improve...?" This has been the best contribution anthologies have supplied my writing career, more important to me than adding it to my bio and getting paid a hundred bucks. 


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Blog Make-Overs 2014 Trends

Blog design is starting to take a turn in mainstream trends. Simplicity is in. That is very Socratic of all you bloggers out there. If only I can apply the same concept to my house...

Google and Facebook are sites that paved the way to simplicity long before everyone started realizing it. When Yahoo's search page was full of information and photos, Google did a simple box with the word "Google" over it. The ease of use on Facebook can be attributed to the notion that Facebook doesn't have a bunch of their stuff clogging their pages. Their buttons are small icons on a very narrow blue bar, out of the way to see your newsfeed. The simplicity concept has become an evergreen concept to sites like these. I seriously doubt Google will be adding too much to their homepage anytime soon.

From my experience and what I've seen on the subject, Zazzle was one of the first to start this trend. They used to let their store-keepers design their own stores with ability to easily change background colors, sidebar colors, fonts, font sizes, font colors, and a custom header. It was much like Blogger blogs. Then they changed things. All stores look the same now. White background. Gray text. All stores are now consistently uniform. For a site like Zazzle who features a bunch of small stores in a large marketplace, that was brilliant.

OLD ZAZZLE STORES



NEW ZAZZLE STORES




Now the blogosphere is following that suit. I don't have old pictures of some of my favorite blog designs in the past for comparison, but they went from colorful backgrounds and coordinating sidebars to white. They went from chronological story layouts to something that shows snippets of featured posts. They went from elaborately ornamented headers to text headers. There's more white space between content.

Trending Blog Make-Overs


1. All white background (or basic colors... textures are subtle)
2. News or Magazine Lay-Out (offering more posts above the fold)
3. Incorporating Side Bar with Main Page (Snippets and photos of featured articles and recent articles that do not look like they are in a sidebar but part of the main page spilling into the sidebar).
4. Flash or Slides for Featured Articles
5. White Space (the more the merrier)
6. Category Menus (Instead of only displaying pages created, the menus are now showing more categories of content).
7. Any use of color is more splashed on than smothered in.

How to Simplify Your Design


You can simplify your design in Blogger. Change all the backgrounds to white. Change text to a dark gray. It was done on my site here: Doodlegraphs.com; however, the layout is not as easy to change. The only magazine layout blogger offers is a dynamic template that doesn't allow much for categories, pages, and other trinket gadgets. It has no sidebar for these things. In order to fully get what you need with this trend, you should go Wordpress.

Wordpress is the only place that really offers a plethora of news and magazine themes. The most popular trending theme is the Genesis Framework, including themes like NewsPro , MetroPro and Magazine Pro. Those themes average about a hundred dollars each (including the Genesis Framework required to operate the theme). For my main blog's site, BitOfCrumpet.com, I used a free theme that did not require Genesis Framework, Magazine Basic.


Pro's to the new trend


  • Easier to read
  • Less distraction with colors and pictures
  • Focus on the words, which as writers, that's the idea
  • Stand out from other bloggers with your writing, not your colors. 
  • Make your content graphics stand out more
  • Easier to navigate
  • Tantalizing links to previous articles keeping people on your blog longer


See some blogs using the art of simplicity!

(Hint: If you see a blog design you love, scroll to the bottom. If they used a free theme, it will probably tell you which one. Paid for themes usually don't logo mark their pages like that)

I'm pretty sure Nikki went with News Pro, but I'm positive she is using the Genesis Framework. One of the best blogs the internet has to offer... Moms Who Drink and Swear

Abandoning Pretense kept her savvy grunge look to her blog even though she incorporated the simple designs to it.

My Brown Baby had a design I loved with browns and oranges and it was perfect for the branding of her blog in such a classy way; however, she too upgraded to the simple design. Instead of coloring her content, she colored her navigation process. The My Brown Baby header is now more of a logo-quality graphic as opposed to an elaborate picture, and it will look good in print, even if gray-scaled, improving the ability to brand herself.

A simple blog design makes all your photographs and graphic art posters stand out more. Check out Jen Kehl. 

Moms Who Write and Blog did a new makeover using black, white and splashes of pink. She went simple yet managed to maintain her girlish figure.

This lady uses a lot of photographs giving rich imagery to her blog with her content as opposed to the blog design itself. Check out Horrible Housewife.

Before you start to freak out and change your theme!


Before thinking, "I need to switch to Wordpress and change the look of my blog," remember, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO. Think about what your blog is meant for.

For instance, I seriously doubt anyone is going to ever talk Insane in the Mom-Brain into removing her oh-so-coveted personalized Sebastion Millon header. Her blog content is also less categorical and more entertaining. You can read any one of her posts, at random, and love it. If she decided to put category headers on her blog, they would be more like, "Daily Constitutional (in regards to the daily poop), Zombies, Sporking, Norman Reedus..."

The Bloggess is also in the same boat in regards to categories. Most of the tags I see her use on most of her content is, "Random." Her blog design is the most ideal blog design for her blog. She uses her blog for reasons different than someone needing to go News Pro.

If you have a "Personality" blog where the bulk of the content isn't to inform but to entertain, you'll want a design that matches your personality and effectively allows you to express it in the design. This trend is more for blogs who write to inform or persuade, for bloggers who accidentally blog a magazine.

Always list your primary objectives and mission with your blog before making decisions. Remind yourself your focus and what you are really trying to achieve as you navigate through the business of blogging. Then ask yourself, "How is your design working to achieve your mission." Remember, your blog design works for you. Look at it like an employee. If it's doing a great job, then there is no need to make any serious changes or adjustments; however, if it's not working for you at all, then fire it and get a new one.

















Friday, October 24, 2014

Copy Cat Strut

As a blogger, I have found myself in other people's words. I have read blogs where people say exactly what's on my mind better than I could say it. I see my soul in between the words spilled out on a page like our spirits connected telepathically in an unspoken universe. But I have also seen my words, literally, my words someone else is claiming as their own reworded enough to make it legal. My ideas someone else borrowed without giving me credit. It would amaze you some of the bigger bloggers who do this. In fact, maybe it's the secret to their success, borrowing funny stuff from less famous people.

I'm not really talking about someone taking your graphic you made, and using it on their blog. I'm not talking about someone taking a paragraph of your blog post, and posting it on their blog. I'm talking legal copying. I'm talking someone taking 5 words from your tweet and putting it in a blog post like they came up with it instead of saying, "Like so and so said (with a link to so and so)..." I'm talking about when you make a graphic for someone, send it to them, and they don't say thank you. They don't use it. Instead, they design their own graphic just like yours.

While I hate being copied, I can understand why people do it. They researched copyright laws. That's why they do it.

Copyrights protect art. Your blog post is your copyright. How you expressed information and feelings is your copyright. However, facts and ideas are not copyrighted.

So for someone to take your words, word for word, and post it somewhere quoting you, giving attribution to you, and linking it to you, they can be infringing on your copyright if they didn't get your permission. You have a right to take them to court, and the judge will decide if what they did falls under fair use or not. It is subjected to a judge's opinion, and yours. It is not safe to quote someone and link to them. There is a risk to it.

However, it is perfectly safe to paraphrase someone else's words and pass it off as your own words because they are your words. What they are not is your idea, and that has no protection. In addition, people think you came up with it and it makes you look cool. It's the safest way to go. It's also the douchiest way to go. It's still plagiarism to paraphrase without revealing the source. Plagiarism is not illegal. It's just unethical.

So basically, ironically, copyright laws inspire people to steal your ideas.

If you are like me, and you don't want to be a douche, you want to give credit where credit is due because you have morals, manners, and dignity...

1. Understand Copyright Laws


First, you have Fair Use. The thing about fair use is it's subjective to opinion. The things fair use definitely covers are things like news reporting, parody, criticism, comment, nonprofit... Basically, if you quote someone's blog post, link to them, only quote a small portion of it (not the whole thing), and provide news or your opinion, or totally make fun of it.

There's also the implied license. Bloggers post blogs knowing you might print it up for personal reasons, or cite them in an education paper, or share them on social media. I mean technically speaking, sharing someone on social media can be a copyright infringement, especially if you quoted them. Think of it this way, if I quoted one of your blog posts in a blog post giving a link to your post without your permission, you might get annoyed. But if I do it on Facebook sharing from your blog, giving an excerpt I copied and pasted, you are less annoyed. It's essentially the same thing; however, because I'm quoting you, that's your copyright and it puts me at a risk, even to share it on social media (though it's not normally practiced to sue over that).

Another example is if you post something on Facebook, ANYTHING, a status or picture, it is implied that people are going to share it due to Facebook's share option being available and one of the most popular features on Facebook.

But this entire thing is a gray area. Sometimes courts rule one way, and other times they rule another way. News Aggregators are one that's been susceptible to lawsuits, and one site can wheel and deal using the content and another site doing the same thing can lose. It all depends on the judge, the defendant, and the circumstances surrounding the case.

To be safer...

2. Get Permission


When in doubt, get permission from the person you want to quote. I was really nervous about getting permission for this blog post after the fact because I was really unaware how gray this area is... I really thought I was doing the right thing here highlighting people, promoting their projects with their advice in a way that's informative to the reader, but by law, I was taking a risk. But when contacting all the people I highlighted, they were unusually awesome about it. They all got back to me within an hour of contacting them with praise and permission. Do not be afraid to pursue people. You might make a new friend.

If the person has a problem with you quoting them, then it's less unethical to plagiarize via paraphrase. That's what they get if they don't want free advertising and good SEO.

3. Put a Disclaimer on your Blog


Many professional sites have a legal page that includes the following: Terms of Use, Privacy Policy, Limited Liability, Warranty, and Copyright Permissions. Define how people can use your content in case they can't reach you, and provide a means to reach you with any questions. This is an especially good idea because we all want to be shared. That's what makes blogs bigger.


Some etiquette I try to do...


1. I cite all my inspiration. If I read your blog post, and in invokes a blog post from me, I link to you (which is good SEO and free advertising). This includes news stories that I heard about from you, even though I don't have to tell the world where I heard about the news. Sometimes it includes your writing style. I am inspired by the talent of writers such as Toni Morrison, T.S. Eliot, Nicole Knepper, Jenny Lawson, and Patti Ford. These are people who inspire me, and I frequently cite them as inspiration.

2. If I write a post and find out after the fact that you wrote one similar to it before I did, like great minds think alike, as that does happen a lot, I go and update my post to add your link with a little note explaining that I found something similar go check it out.

3. If I like something you said, like maybe your whole post, I will frequently paraphrase it, but I'll still link to you and claim it your idea. The ONLY reason I paraphrase is because if the link becomes a dead link in the future, I'll still provide my readers with the content I was referring to.

Graphic Design Note:


I've not had anyone submit to me any graphic arts to be used; however, as a graphic artist, I want my work out there. I want my work seen. I enjoy designing things, and sometimes I do them for other people like a free gift. There is no greater insult than after working 3 hours on a dumb project just to be funny for a specific blogger in mind, I give it to them, and they turn around and do a less-funny version of it to post on their blog and social media. I understand they are trying to "protect my copyright," but stealing my idea is not saint-like. After spending the time, I have more than earned a simple, "Do you care if I use it on my blog?"

We all know the people of the internet want to be entertained 24/7, and no comedian or writer is capable of producing gold that much, that often. Nobody expects that of you or anyone. Everyone borrows content from others to keep their audience entertained, but when you do, remember, they are scratching your back. They are helping you provide content. The least you can do is return the favor with a little SEO and blog pimpage.






Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How to Build a Strong Facebook Page: Bloggers Weigh In



The largest internet playground is full of selfies, every popular meme, every unpopular meme, blog posts, news, useless facts, pictures of food, youtube videos, stupid quizzes like "Which Disney Princess are you?" and how-to DIY crafts... And like the Energizer bunny, the content keeps going and going and going... Facebook, also known as Facesuck and Suckbook and Vaguebook, is big. It's so big, if you blog or have anything to sell, you almost can't ignore it. In fact, social media in general is the platform for new small businesses, and is the reason so many are so successful. The question is, how? How do people have a huge Facebook page? And how do they use it to help their non-Facebook interests grow?


Here's a collection of some of the best information on the internet to answer that question. This isn't black and white. It is not scientifically proven. Not all these methods will work for everyone, and it really is an art to figuring things out (with a huge hint of luck). But these gurus can guide you into understanding more about Facebook culture.

HOLLY HOMER


In this podcast, Michael Stelzner interviews Holly Homer of KidsActivitiesBlog.com "to find out how her Facebook page fan base grew from 7,000 fans to more than 530,000 fans in only 8 months without using Facebook advertising or crazy gimmicks." I'll summarize the podcast below, but you can listen to the entire podcast if you desire.

Holly and her co-blogger Rachel set out to reach 50,000 fans on their Facebook page. At that time, they discovered a huge Facebook page was stealing their content without any credit to them, and that content was getting things like 9,000 shares. That's when Holly realized her content can go viral. People like it.

They analyzed their blog and social media, finding the top posts, what was being shared the most on social media… Things that had a possibility of going viral, and they were mostly sharing that a couple times a day. As the page started to grow, they wanted to help other people, and found content from others to share (with credit). They watched the insights and analytics for their posts and let that determine what they did again (good posts) and what they didn’t do again (low engagement posts).

The main mission is to drive traffic to the blog. The primary goal on the page is to share things related to the blog, like in her case, things to do with your kids.

She started posting more than once an hour, 24 hours, around the clock. They were also posting 2 to 4 BLOG posts a day on their blog. They only put things on Facebook they think will do well on Facebook.

Top Two Most Important Numbers to Look At On Facebook

1. Talking about number.
The talking about number is “how Facebook evaluates the health of your page.” You want a high percentage of your talking about number to your number of likes on your page.

Talking About Number / Total Number of Page Likes = Percentage

It’s more exposure to have a lot of people talking about you than a bunch of likes not talking about you. As Holly says, “To get people talking about you, you have to have people talking about you… You need comments, likes, and shares [and comments on shares]."

2. Exposure Numbers per post
She looks at the exposure number to each post and finds several posts that have a similar exposure number and tries to see how it got its exposure. Example, a post she wrote got 10 shares. Sounds like a failure, but that post actually had an exposure to 200,000 people. The success was due to people clicking through. Every action you get on a post, including click on a link, is like Facebook karma.

Some basic tips:

Use bold and all caps to provide more visually appealing summaries in the About Section.

Use a square photo because mobile and desktop Facebook favors square or landscape images.

Increase your "talking about" percentage by posting topics that are controversial on Facebook, such as artificial food color or bottle feeding.

Do not delete all the negative comments. Facebook is a place to let it all out, so give your audience their voice. Delete comments that are name-calling beyond the limits, using racial slurs and language you don't want on your site; however, just because someone rudely disagrees with you and calls you a name, that's gold. That riles up people into engaging your post.

Do not use a third party scheduler. Facebook likes Facebook.

Only post things on Facebook that do well on Facebook. “If you come across a post, and you say, “Crap I wish I had written that,” that’s something that is going to do well on your Facebook page.” Holly

⅓ their content and ⅔ other people’s content

Your night time audience is a very different audience than your day time audience. Post accordingly.

Facebook’s graph of letting you know when people are online, that’s useless. When you post something, it doesn’t show immediately to anyone. It parcels it out slowly to people, so if you post something at 10PM (peek time for moms putting kids to bed on Facebook), but most of the growth with the post won’t happen for several hours. It doesn’t matter when you post it, the important thing is to get some interaction in the first few minutes.

If you boost posts, boost the ones that are already doing well.

Post frequently. Holly has been posting at least one item to Facebook every hour, sometimes 2. Because Facebook only shows a small percentage of the fan base, even though she’s posting 26 times a day, the average fan is seeing 3 to 4 of those. They do get messages daily from people saying, “You post too much.” They direct them to the unlike button. THey won’t let 1 to 2 fans a day derail the success.

Post high quality stuff in your niche

Remember, Facebook loves Facebook. Videos on Facebook will do better on Facebook than videos from Youtube.

Locate pages with better talking about percentages than you. Facebook gives you "good karma" when sharing their posts.

When tagging pages, only tag pages with better talking about percentages than you. Never tag a page with a lower percentage than yours. 

JEN MANN


Lisa Nolan had a Q&A with Jen Mann regarding Facebook growth. Jen Mann is a hilarious and award-winning writer. Her books are inspired by her immensely popular blog, People I Want to Punch in the Throat. She lives in Kansas with the Hubs and her two children, Gomer and Adolpha - no, those aren't their real names, their real names are actually worse. She spends her free time crafting and volunteering with the PTO. Seriously.

Jen started her blog (People I Want to Punch in the Throat) in April 2011. Jen says that in a few months time she grew to 70 regular readers. In December 2011, she wrote a post called "Overachieving Elf on the Shelf Mommies." It sat dormant for a week and then suddenly out of nowhere it went viral. Overnight she gained 26,000 followers on Facebook. Since then she's worked really hard to grow her readership every day and to keep people coming back for more.

Q: Was there a long or brief description in the FB post? And was it followed by a link to the BLOG post?

A: I usually do brief description on FB to push out my posts. A teaser to hopefully make them click. I've seen people giving a whole paragraph lately and I wonder if that is working.

Q: After you got 20,000 likes/followers, what did you post on your FB page to make your followers happy, to keep them coming back for more? 

A: CONTENT. I wanted to ride the wave for a week or so, but my husband WISELY (I'll never say that to his face though) pointed out that I needed something new for the next day and the next day and the next day and so on. I tried to write something 5x a week for the next 6 months and then I dropped down to 3x a week.

Q: Was there social interaction on your page BEFORE the viral post (post likes, comments, shares)? What about AFTER the viral post? How do you get your followers to socially interact on your FB page? 

A: Nothing before, because it didn't exist. Ever since then, yes. Definitely. I try to post a lot and on a semi-schedule so they can know it's coming. I ask questions or share pictures that they might share. I also open up the page a few times a year for them to share their small businesses, blogs, books, charities, you name it.

Q: Tell us 5 dos and 5 don'ts for FB page growth--what should bloggers do on their FB page, what should they NOT do?

A: The Dos Are: Give them something to read. Even if it's a repost, you've got someone on there who has never read it. Share. Share other things you think they'll enjoy whether it's another blogger's work or a picture or something that goes with your brand. Answer questions, comment on their comments. You don't need to comment on everyone, but I answer questions and I like a bunch of stuff. Have fun. It's your page and you can do what you want. If you're not having fun, no one is. The Don'ts Are: Don't share stuff that isn't relevant to your reader or your brand. Don't be controversial unless that's your thing and you can handle the pushback. Don't be too cocky. They put you there and they can take it away. Make sure your readers know you appreciate them.

Q: Tell us the type of content you post and share on your FB page? What's popular? A particular favorite?

A: I share my blog, other blogs, e-cards, funny stuff. The most popular are pictures (wah wah - sad trombone) followed by my blog posts.

LIZA HAWKINS


Liza Hawkins writes for her blog (a)Musing Foodie and has a corresponding Facebook Food page. She answered in the The SITS Girls Facebook Group a question regarding Facebook posting. Reposted from Blogging As I Learn It, Liza gives you some of her best tips. 

1. Multiple posts per day (but only 10-20% of them should be about you/your blog) about things the people that like your page want to read. It takes a little time to figure that out, but one example is asking the right kind of questions:
I used to pose a question like: "What's your favorite ice cream?" No one would answer. Post reach would be low.

Then I tweaked my question: "Ice cream: CHOCOLATE {or} VANILLA?" And suddenly everyone wanted to comment with their opinion! Giving people a choice, versus asking an open ended question, makes a difference and get people interacting.

2. I also focus heavily on my "People Talking About This" number, and try to keep it above 10% at all times (although I have a goal of 50% I'd like to reach!). You can see your (or any other page's) Talking About This number by clicking on the "Likes" link.

3. Also, I've noticed that not only does it matter what kind of content you're sharing, it matters where the content comes from. Facebook's algorithm likes popular news sources, so when I share a link via HuffPo, BuzzFeed, Bon Apetit Magazine, etc., it reaches a lot larger group of people than if I share a less popular or unknown link source.

4. Similarly for tagging. If I tag another page in my comments, I get a lot more reach if that tagged page has a large "Talking About This" number. Facebook wants your posts to go viral as much as you do, so it gives weight to those posts that include potentially viral things.

5. If you schedule Facebook posts in advance (which is what I do since I work all day), make sure to only schedule them directly in Facebook. Don't use a 3rd party app for that.


MICHELLE GREWE


I am Michelle, but I had already done some research on virality of memes for personal curiosity and blogged about it on one of my blogs. "How to Get Viral and Spread like an STD." I really suggest reading the entire article because it goes into the psychology behind the herding instinct with many links related to all aspects of virality. 

Basic Virality Concepts

  1. Viral Memes are often adopted as awesome the more people see them. They may not like it the first time they see it, but after the 5th time, they start to accept it and embrace it. This is why your newsfeed and radio station overplays the same thing over and over again. 
  2. Viral Memes are cultural. They speak of the culture they pertain to. What is famous in America isn't often famous in China, and vice versa. 
  3. Memes are timed when things relative to it happens, like Batman memes being out there right after a Batman movie is released.
  4. They should be relatable. That gets more likes and shares. This is why there are a lot of memes that say things like, "That moment when..." The only reason people like those are because it relates to them. 
For something to be viral, it has to already be viral for most of your audience. This is why people are most apt to comment on a blog post if there are already comments on your blog post. According to Psyc Central"Researchers discovered that it takes a minority of just five per cent to influence a crowd’s direction – and that the other 95 per cent follow without realizing it."
Belonging is an emotional trigger that ties in with the herding instinct. "The neurochemical oxytocin triggers a “bliss response” in the brain whenever we are engaging in social behavior," according to ASTD. Everyone wants to belong to a Tribe, and they tend to choose tribes they most relate to, that feel right.

NICOLE KNEPPER


The infamous Queen of Cussin wrote a fabulous post about how to start a blog. Considering the popularity of her Facebook Page with over a million likes, Moms Who Drink and Swear, I could not leave her out of an article about Facebook pages. Some key paragraphs from her blog post... 

"People want to be read, heard, validated – right fucking NOW. If I reply and a conversation begins, the person inevitably confesses that they are struggling with the doing part of blogging, whether it's starting one or maintaining one. Blogging is all doing, you know.
...
More doing. Once you have a blog, you need to “do” blogging. This means you need to write, learn, listen, read, write, share and be a part of the collaborative community that you created. You must be patient and accepting of the process as it is. A collaboration is a partnership, a relationship, and a cooperative effort.

You write, and hopefully people read. If they read something that encourages and engages them, they reply to your words, and then… you have that conversation – you do your part to build the community that you are a part of. I repeat – you are a part of the community. You may have built it, but without people to be part of it, your blog is more like a column or an online journal. Successful bloggers are collaborators, and the essence of collaboration is a give and take.
...
If you already are a blogger, keep doing the work. Part of that work, is understanding that you have no control over what others do or don’t do, but you do have control over the effort you make to initiate, include, engage, and accept. A community is about people, not one person being done for by other people. Stop taking so much."



This post was originally posted on The Publishing Bloggers Network. Due to the owner of that blog closing the blog, the author reposted it on her blog. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Grammar 101: How to make your nouns verb adverbly

Grammar 101


This is not a post letting all of Facebooklandia recognize the difference between their, they're and there. That's never going to happen people. They won't read about it. They don't care. You'd have a better chance making "fetch" happen.

This post is more for the bloggers who would like to write less like a blogger and more like a graduate student.

First I want to point out that the blog is supposed to be informal writing styles. It's faster to read 3rd grade level writing than it is a doctorate thesis, which is why your newspaper articles are not much more professional than your blog. Everything you could possibly want to convey in writing can be done on a simplified "for dummies" level if you fully understand what you are trying to convey.

Second, I'd like to point out that I enjoy reading grammatical errors by writers on their blogs. It adds to their style. Moms Who Drink and Swear used to write a lot of run-on sentences, and I loved it. She stopped in recent years, and I desperately miss her run-ons. I also miss her made up words that resembled a long hashtag and took a sentence of space, like getthefuckoverit.

But I understand most bloggers are discovering careers as a writer, and they would like to be published. And let's face it, people are dumb enough to believe that if you "sound" intelligent by using "big" words and proper grammar, then you must be "intelligent." But the secret is, the most intelligent people prefer the simple solution, for example, Einstein. Language's purpose is to communicate, and if you are using words too archaic for your readers to acknowledge without "looking it up," then you are not effectively communicating. Mind you, I stand alone in this logical point about the hypocrisy of mankind, so just know I'm right, but the norm is in direct opposition of it, so it doesn't matter that I'm right, kind of like it didn't matter that the earth is in fact round when the rest of the population believed it's flat.

So now that I said my peace, let's improve our grammar so we can be fancy with proper etiquette and shit (I added, "and shit" to sound gangsta and to provide some juxtaposition).

I'm a firm believer that what happens a lot in education is that we were taught the basics at a time when we couldn't fully comprehend it. The teenage years is when the brain, cognitively speaking from a neurological standpoint, develops the ability to reason in abstracts. Up until that point, the mind is very concrete, which makes for lot of, "kids say the darndest things." This is where Gosh is God's big brother, and you really actually have to try to eat your food with your mouth shut because, "Shut your mouth and eat your food." So we learned the basics of math and grammar at a time we couldn't fully understand what we were doing, and we never re-evaluated the basics now that our minds are ready to comprehend it.

So I'm taking you back to the basics, not because I think you are that stupid. You are not. I'm doing this because you will discover, hopefully at some point, some basic "aha!" now that you are not 5 years old looking at it.
Commas Save Lives Grammar 101

Sentence Structure

The two most important components of any sentence is the subject and the predicate, otherwise known as the noun and the verb. Every story is about nouns verbing. Nouns verb. That's what they do. If nouns don't verb, then nothing happened for a sentence to exist to say it as such. 

This is the most important thing to realize for sentence structure and comma placement. A subject and predicate is required to formulate a complete sentence. In addition, as a writer, you will improve your content by paying close attention to the subjects you choose, and the verbs they do.

Jim cooked dinner.
Jane ate dinner.

Jim and Jane are subjects. Cooked and Ate are verbs. Now pay attention to how these subjects and verbs are used. Pay attention like you are OCD and subjects and verbs are two different types of messes.

Avoiding Run-Ons.

A run-on usually occurs when you have two sentences, complete in thought, as one sentence without using a proper method to combine sentences. Pay attention to the subject and verbs to decide how many complete thoughts you have in a sentence. If there are more than two nouns verbing, you have to connect them legally in grammatical terms.

For instance... Jim cooked dinner. Jane ate dinner. 
Two complete thoughts. Two separate sentences.

To say, "Jim cooked dinner, Jane ate dinner" or "Jim cooked dinner and Jane ate dinner," that's a run-on because you didn't properly mesh the two sentences together.

Clauses

A clause is a fragment of words that have both a subject and a verb. A sentence can be a clause, but a clause isn't necessarily a sentence. In other words, we have two types of clauses. Independent clauses. These are clauses that form a complete thought, and can stand alone as a sentence by itself. For instance, Jim cooked dinner. Dependent clauses need more words. They cannot stand alone as a sentence. For instance, Although Jim cooked dinner.... 

Combining Clauses

There are many ways to combine clauses, but I'm going to hit the most popular I see in writing, and the methods I use the most.

The semi-colon

You can combine two independent clauses with a semi-colon. Common practice suggests that the two clauses must be related.

Jim cooked dinner; Jane ate dinner. 

The conjunction

You can use a conjunction to combine clauses, and this is where things get confusing. There are two major types of conjunctions (though there are other types of conjunctions out there).

For coordinating conjunctions (and, or, but, for, nor...), look at the subject and verb. If both sides of the conjunction have a subject and verb, you use a comma before the conjunction. If not, then you don't. 

Examples:

Jim cooked dinner, and Jane ate it.
Jim cooked dinner and ate it.
Jim cooked dinner and Jane ate it.
Jim cooked dinner, and ate it. 

Basically:

Subject Verb COMMA conjunction Subject Verb.
Subject Verb conjunction Verb.
Subject conjunction Subject Verb.

Sentence, AND Sentence
Sentence AND Phrase


Subordinating conjunctions (after, before, since, while, when, although, even if, unless...) have a comma between two clauses when at the beginning of a sentence. If you use a subordinating conjunction in the middle of the sentence, no comma is necessary. 

Examples:

After Jim cooked dinner, Jane ate it.
After Jim cooked dinner and ate it, Jane had some.
Jim cooked dinner before Jane ate it. 

Basically:

Subordinating Conjunction Subject Verb COMMA Subject Verb.
Subject Verb Subordinating Conjunction Subject Verb.

Dependent Clause, Independent Clause.
Independent Clause Dependent Clause.


Now the confusion. It's fucking flipped. Let's review again...

Coordinating Conjunctions:
Subject Verb, conjunction subject verb.
Subject Verb conjunction verb.

Subordinating Conjunctions:
Subject Verb conjunction subject verb. 
Conjunction Subject Verb, Subject Verb.

In one case, we have a comma when the subject and verb are on both sides of a conjunction. In another case, we don't have that comma when subject and verb are on both sides.

I cried, but I laughed.
I cried although I laughed. 

Even if we try to decode the stuff another way... it's still contradicting...

Complete thought, complete thought. RUNON
Complete thought, conjunction that's a complete thought. CORRECT.

I spilled milk. I technically just creamed. ... Two sentences. Two independent clauses.
I spilled milk, I technically just creamed.  ... Run On Sentence when combined with comma.
I spilled milk. So I technically just creamed. ... Two sentences. Two independent clauses.
I spilled milk, so I technically just creamed. ... Not a run-on when combined with a comma.

Even if you consider something like, "And she screamed," to be a dependent clause instead of an independent one (because your English teacher told you so even though writers consider it a sentence by itself for ages and ages)...

Coordinating Conjunction: Independent Clause, Dependent Clause.
Subordinating Conjunction: Independent Clause Dependent Clause.

I spilled milk, so I technically just creamed.
I spilled milk since I technically just creamed.

So now that you know the sadism involved in grammar that causes people to misplace commas and write run-ons, maybe you can find your own way to easily decipher when to use that comma and when not to. For me, it's just a matter of understanding the difference between coordinating conjunctions and subordinating conjunctions, and using accordingly. In my mind, if I define phrase as a group of words that cannot stand alone and a sentence as a group of words that can stand alone...

Sentence Phrase
Phrase, Sentence

and Sentence, Sentence is a run-on unless there's a coordinating conjunction separating them. 

Any other type of complex conjunctions you run into, you can almost go back to the other types to help you determine...

Whether Jim cooked dinner or not, Jane ate it. 
Jane ate the dinner whether Jim cooked dinner or not. 

Whether and Or are correlative, but their use with two independent clauses are similar to the use of subordinating conjunctions. It goes back to the sentence and phrase basics. "Whether Jim cooked dinner or not," cannot be a complete thought on its own. You need more information. So we'll consider it a phrase. "Jane ate it," now that's a complete thought. So, we'll consider that a sentence. So we have a phrase and a sentence, and that's Phrase, sentence. The next example flips it. So we have a Sentence Phrase.

Conjunctive adverbs (accordingly, also, besides, furthermore, therefore, similarly, nevertheless...) also combine two thoughts. But they can also serve a different purpose.

When combining two independent clauses, put a semi-colon before the conjunctive adverb, and a comma after it.

Jim cooked the dinner; however, Jane ate it. 

But if you are using a word like, "however," as a means to interrupt, then it's just commas.

Jim, however, cooked the dinner that Jane ate. 

And if you use it in the beginning of a sentence, use a comma after it.

Therefore, the rules of engagement are as follows... 

Remember, coordinating conjunctions are not conjunctive adverbs. You do not need a comma to start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction...

And so it begins... 

Subject and verbs


They say the best writers use less adjectives and adverbs and use better subjects and verbs.

Now let's focus on each for a second. This is my biggest flaw in writing, and something I check in particular in one round of editing. I usually don't edit my blog posts, so I confuse people.

The subject: 

Every time you write a piece, you decide the perspective. First person perspective is about I. I have done this. This happened to me. Second person perspective is about you. You did this. This happened to all of you. Third person perspective has nothing to do with you or me, but he and she. He did this. This happened to him.

It's really easy in a blog post to combine first and second person. That is the nature of the blog. I'm am me talking to you, so there's a lot of "I like to do this personally, but you can do whatever you want." It's a conversation between two perspectives. In a more professional writing environment, like a book, you usually pick one perspective and stick to it. Most APA reports, college thesis papers, and journals prefer things to be third person. Removing yourself and the reader from the equation instantly makes a piece look more graduate study worthy.

The verb:

Some verbs verbed yesterday. Some verbs will verb tomorrow. Some verbs verb currently. Some verbs are verbing later. Some verbs haven't verbed at all.

Pay attention to past, present and future tense. Pick one in a story, whether it's a paragraph reminiscing about yesteryear, or a short story about something that happened 3 days ago, and stick to it. You can write about things you are going to to tomorrow, and then mention something you did before in the middle of it, but make sure your paragraph about yesterday doesn't switch back and forth between past and present tense. It's really easy to do, at least for me. I'm thinking, "Picture it. Ten years ago. I was on the beach. I stood along the edge of the ocean feeling it breathe in and out with every wave across my toes, and BAM, a beach ball whacks me in the face." According to that, the beach ball whacks me in the face when I'm remembering it, not when it happened. I switched verb tense.

Subject and Verb:

This is my biggest flaw in writing... Make sure the subject and verb are in agreement. The three things to remember are... The one thing to remember is... 

When you throw in words in between the subject and verb, that can throw you off. Beware of it. Look for the subject--the noun that's doing the verb. The most important factor of all things is... It's tempting to say ARE because things are, but things are not the subject. Factor is the subject, and the factor is.



Now other parts of the sentence do exist. We have adjectives describing nouns, adverbs describing verbs. While subjects verb, the direct object is the one who got verbed. Prepositions relate the subject to another noun. Gerunds transform verbs into nouns. Modifiers modify elements. I am not writing a textbook on grammar in one blog post; however, you can read more about all the elements of a sentence on Chomp Chomp. Try to think about the term and how it affects the sentence. For instance, nouns verb adverbly.

When you learn a new term, or revisit one you already know, think about how you would put that in a sentence like, "nouns verb adverbly." It really puts the term's use into perspective, and that makes it easier to pick up on the rules in a way you can remember them. In addition, it makes you think about sentence structure in a manner that makes it easier to improve it. We all choose our words on purpose, but to choose your words knowing that it's a direct object that just got verbed, now that's more intentional than not knowing that.

Some quick things:

1. Never end a "phrase" or "sentence" in a preposition. 

Prepositions relate a subject to a noun, and a noun should be mentioned after the preposition.

"At Home" is a prepositional phrase...

Jim likes to Zumba at home. 
At home, Jim likes to Zumba.

Improper:
When it comes to Zumba, for Jim, home is where it's at. 

Proper:
Where do you go?

Improper:
Where do you go to?

Proper:
Where do you go to get that juice?

2. Modifiers should not dangle. 


Often times, we start sentences with modifier, and then we mention a subject and predicate. "Having no idea what to do next, Subject Verbed." A dangling modifier is when that modifier doesn't describe the subject that follows it. It must describe the subject that follows it.

Proper:
Having no idea what to do next, I decided to avoid making a decision for a couple days.

Improper:
Having no idea what to do next, the decision was going to have to wait. 
The decision isn't what has no idea what to do next. I am the one who has no idea what to do next.

3. Oxford commas are a preference FOR THE MOST PART. 


The old school approach to listing things is to provide a comma between every item on the list. I went to Walmart and got apples, duct tape, some rope, and lube. But these young whippersnappers of this modern era decided they were too good for that last comma before the and, and they removed it. Now it's more like, "I went to Walmart and got apples, duct tape, some rope and lube." I personally prefer the Oxford comma because sometimes I say things like, "I went to Walmart and got apples and dip, motor oil, chocolate and tampons, and some blush." I reserve the right to separate my list with commas and reserve the lack of comma before an and for related items, like chocolate and tampons are related items. Some rope and lube are not related items, or are they? That's why it was that way before these whippersnappers came in and pissed all over it. In blogging, it's your choice; however, if you are writing for something like school following a style, then you probably need to find out what that style dictates for this comma in particular.

4. Plagiarism is not professional. 


If you are trying to write for a college paper, or you are trying to get recognized in a scholarly article, plagiarism is not tolerated. In the blogging world, you see plagiarism all the time, mostly inadvertently. In reality, plagiarism is legal. Borrowing someone's words, even when quoting and citing, is a legal risk if it's not for educational purposes or other fair use. In professional articles, anything you paraphrase or quote should be cited as a source. It is better to cite sources that are more credible than you are than to pretend you came up with the idea on your own. While I can tell you that I think it's important for my baby to trust me, I sound a lot more intelligent when I say Erik Erikson's theory of cognitive development says it's important for your baby to trust you.

Hopefully I helped provide some clarity to some basic grammatical issues. I know most people are not in the mood to google and read a bunch of articles about comma usage, but I will say it is a hell of a lot more fun than googling "why is my RSS feed not working on my wordpress blog?" I say that because I'd rather read about commas than PHP, and if you are different and love to read about PHP, then you can most definitely handle reading about commas.

Let it be known that my RSS feed is not working on my wordpress blog, and I chose to write this post to procrastinate any further google searches on fixing my RSS feed.