Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Are you a good enough writer?

Are you a good enough writer?
One bad advice people will tell you is, "In order to grow and be famous, you have to have quality writing. If your work is good, people will share it." That rudely implies, especially in the bigger blogger world, if you have been writing for some time and didn't get famous, that's because your writing sucks, work on that.

Well, yes and no. You have to have quality content in the sense that your article doesn't look like it was translated by Bing, but beyond that... Most of the big bloggers are not actually any better writers than most of the small bloggers I read. In fact, there are some huge famous bloggers I don't read because they really aren't creative writers, they don't say anything worth reading, and I think their memoirs are fake.

You Have to Suck at Writing to Get Paid for It

For the most part.... Most of the "Writers" I know don't blog. Their work is in New York Times or The Washington Post. They don't have a blog because they have a job. They did the writer deal before the internet made it too easy to blog, create e-zines, and self-publish books. They went to school, majored in journalism, and started out working a beat at a paper and worked their way up. That's a Career Writer in the traditional sense.

Even then, most of their writing does not qualify for a Pulitzer. My local paper, where one writer makes more money in a year than most of the bloggers I know combined, is full of typos and bad grammar. Meanwhile, a paid writer for some of the bigger newspapers can write an article that looks well written with big words and flashy intellect until you read the piece and realize it was all fluff. That's because they aren't really writers. They are news reporters.

Most of what you are told in your career as a paid writer is to suck at writing because people want to read an article quickly, in seconds. They tell you to...

  • Keep the most important parts of a story above the fold
  • Use headings and subheadings
  • Keep paragraphs 2 to 3 sentences long
  • Write like you are talking to someone, not at them
  • Use second person You
  • Don't use big words; keep it conversational
  • Write for a 5th grade reading level

If you told William Shakespeare to do all that, he would have vomited the tears of a thousand words.

Shakespeare Quote WTF Did I just read

Good Writers are Not as Famous as Bad Writers

Toni Morrison, one of the best writers in this day, Pulitzer Prize winner and one of the top authors pimped out by the Almighty Oprah, has only 350K followers on Facebook. ONLY 350K. Yes. That's a lot compared to me, but Toni doesn't compare her numbers to mine. No. On the other hand, James Patterson, who hasn't won a Pulitzer, whose name I can never remember, whose book I can read in 2 hours and not think of twice, whose books end up in used book stores because nobody keeps them, he's a top selling author on Amazon with a Facebook page of 3.7 million people. The best writers are actually not that famous in comparison to mainstream writers. But I'll tell you what. In 50 years, Toni Morrison's Book will be required reading in high school or college, and James Patterson, won't. Meanwhile, James is probably wiping his ass with 20 dollar bills.

Toni Morrison vs James Patterson Quotes and Fans

The Most Famous Writers of All Time are Not Even Writers 

The best selling book of all time is The Bible. Nobody who wrote in it were thinking about metaphors, or a better noun or an action verb. They didn't go to a seminar about networking. They were just simply documenting life as they knew it.

On top of it, Jesus only had 12 disciples. That's like a guy who blogs who has 12 subscribers, but His message has reached the entire world over and over again through a period of over 2,000 years. He is probably the top-quoted guy ever, and He didn't even write a book. I think what He has, and what the apostles have, that you don't always find with writers, was they had something important to say.

Jesus if He were a blogger

So Are you Good Enough?

Yes. Some of us are better at certain things than others, and that's fine, because our purpose is also different. Our needs are different. But all of us have something someone out there is looking for, and it's ok if it's not mainstream.

Epic Art Gallery Metaphor You Should Read

Perspective Quote and Picasso Art Motivational
When you go to the art gallery, you aren't thinking about what it took for those pieces to be there. Some of those artists studied art for 30 years while others dabbled in it for the first time last year. Most of them are there because of marketing and networking, which has more to do with personality than quality of art. And you are oblivious to the dirty business side of the art world as a viewer.

Instead, you assume all the pieces there are made by good artists. You never question their craft, their job, or their ability. You walk around looking at the story in each painting more so than the strokes. You look at every piece and decide which ones resound most to you. The ones you will share with others are the ones you want others to know about you, but your most highly loved art work is going to be private between you and that piece. The artist has no idea how he just touched your soul, and that is part of what makes it so amazing.

Your writing is that way. Whether you write how-tos or report the news, or whether you write creative stories or memoir... People viewing your work do not question whether or not you are a good writer. They aren't judging your abilities. (Editors might). They are simply looking for something that touches them. The magic isn't whether or not you touched everyone like a mainstream whore, but how you touched their souls in a meaningful way.

In the end, the numbers don't mean shit beyond something to throw at people superficial enough to care about those things. You don't have to be a good writer to get famous. You don't have to be famous to be a good writer. It's because the only one thinking about the writing is the writer. The readers are looking for an experience.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Blogstyles of the Famous: Why are You Really Here?

Many of us bloggers make the biggest mistake in blogging: we compare ourselves to each other. Fine. We'll learn from the bigger bloggers. Blogstyles of the Famous is where we delve into some of the truths of famous bloggers to find ourselves.

I think most of the successful bloggers I know started blogging for shits and giggles (therapy). Not one of them seemed mentally prepared for the fame because they weren't really seeking it or striving for it. It just wasn't a goal, nor was it really expected on their part. Most were moms lost in the world of motherhood aching to find themselves again. Most had children who outgrew the needy "wipe my butt" phase and had the extra time.

Some of them got internet famous. Their pages grew to over 100K followers. Their blog views spiked. They got book offers, job offers, and sponsorship opportunities. Some were interviewed by some major television networks.

Now here's the turning point. In the cycle of a famous blog, and not all famous bloggers are here yet, but Abraham Maslow starts to take over. Once you satisfied the basic needs of income and worship, you grow up. You realize there's more important things in this world. You already conquered fame, what's next? How do I use this fame to impact the world better? We all want to change the world don't we? So at this point, most bloggers humble themselves and do the Jesus thing.

It usually starts off as a charity fundraiser, and when they realize how much money they raised, they become addicted. "What else can I do?"

At some point in blogging, they actually accomplish their original goal: they find themselves.

This kind of celebrity phenomenon isn't exclusive only for blogging. Many musicians and actors find in their careers after fame, what's left? And they realize what we are able to realize without the fame. There is nothing left. Fame has no substance. But you can use it with your talents to give back, and that has substance.

It's in that desire to give back, and the act of doing so, do we truly find a purpose.

Some bloggers lost themselves in motherhood and laundry, or some other daily grind, and thanks to blogging, they found themselves again. And it's in this phase you see them stop blogging as often because their calling was not in blogging. It was something else. For some, it was what they were doing before motherhood. The blog just helped them find that path.

We often focus on the wrong things. We become overly concerned with letting our numbers define our worth. We count page views, social media followers, click throughs, book purchases, and email lists, and if our numbers are low, we feel like a failure. We turn to the business side reading how-to's and create plans to increase those numbers that entail things like improving blog design, improving the writing, writing more lists and making catchier titles, link dropping, link baiting, advertising... Barf. I'm personally sick of this shit myself.

I don't think blogging is a calling. It's something we do to find our calling, or something we do alongside it. It's something we do for ourselves. In writing and connecting with other writers, we find who we really are like in high school (and it IS just like high school... there are those bloggers who are all, "You can't sit with us!").

So ask yourself right now, "Why did I start blogging? What was I trying to achieve?" And really ask yourself. Keep digging. If your answer is, "To grow a platform to sell something," then ask yourself, "Why did I want that?" Or maybe your answer is, "I needed the therapy. A place to vent my feelings." Is that really all you wanted?

As you blog, you learn more about who you are and what you want. And at some point, you'll find something in your own writing that means something to you. It's in those words do you eventually find a cause worth fighting for and a purpose worth having.

I think for a lot of us, we just want to find something greater than where we are, and we don't know what that is.

Instead of growing our blogs, I think we can all get the most out of blogging if we put the bulk of our efforts on growing ourselves. With every post, you bud. And when you bloom, the internet will be watching, but by then, it won't matter to you as much.

Remember. Your blog doesn't define you. You define your blog.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Perform Your Own SEO Audit

Perform your own SEO Audit
Recently I had to write how to perform an SEO audit in a word count smaller than I wanted. So now I'm going to perform an SEO audit on my sites, as a nonexpert, and write about it. As boring as it is to read this article, it was even more boring to write. I really took one for the team on this one.

The focus on this article is on blogging. If you have a regular website like Doc Johnson Photography (because that would be an interesting name), this information will still be helpful, and all of it still pertains to you.

I also have a free SEO Checklist printable for those who sign up to receive our newsletter. You should totally check it out because this is a lot of information, and the free printable chunks it making it less overwhelming. You may decide to print the printable and read that first, and then come to the blog for just the things you are questioning.

I want to point out that I have several wordpress blogs and several blogger blogs. The wordpress blogs also have all the plugins I thought I needed for awesome SEO to include Yoast, WordPress SEO (for keywords), Wordfence (for faster page load times), and a few social media share plugins (for sharing). After performing my own SEO audit, I can testify that it isn't enough by itself.

The point of an SEO audit is to make sure your website is as search engine friendly as possible. It's almost a form of networking with robots. A lot of the info in here will give you tips for some blogging lifestyle changes that will help your blog attract robot love with its SEO Juice.

An SEO audit has 3 main steps.

1. Gather Information
2. Analyze Information
3. Make Some Changes

1. Gather Your SEO Information

There are various places we will use to gather information, and a few of them offer the same things (with different results), and that's ok. Combining them will make for a more thorough check on things than going it with just one. 


The first step is to crawl. Not on your hands and knees. Get up. I mean crawl like Google. Install a crawler to search your sites like Google does. Screaming Frog SEO Spider is highly recommended by all sites discussing this topic, and it will forever be known on this article as, "The Frog." Once you download and open it, enter your website to crawl. You should get a bunch of lists about your website. Yes. That's all it does. It just looks through your site the way Google and Bing does. If the results look like your computer threw up on screen, that's ok. Grab your geek glasses and a cup of hipster-mocha-latte, and we'll talk about it here in a minute. You can also check out The Frog's User Guide.

My first ERROR

I downloaded it and tried to open it. It kept saying I needed to be running more up to date Java with a message like, "java runtime corrupted." I have Java. It's the most up to date. And like anything else that's free, in order to get any support for it, you have to pay them money defeating the awesome purpose of it being free. In googling "java runtime corrupted," I found people attempting to play Minecraft had the same issue (and this is why my nephew couldn't get Minecraft on my computer last month). 

The forum listed many different ways to remedy the situation, but I went to the following Oracle Java Link, and opened a new browser because I use Chrome and it won't work on Chrome, and it too couldn't find Java. I first checked my Java to see it was enabled, so then I clicked as if I wanted to install Java, and it let me install a new one despite the fact that I already have Java running somewhere else on my computer. And then I ran the test again after restarting my browser, and it still couldn't find it, but The Frog was able to open at that point. 

Webmaster Tools

You'll want to sign up for Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools. if you haven't already.

Haven't signed up? Feel lost? Check out these videos.

How To Sign Up for Google Webmaster Tools
How To Sign Up for Bing Webmaster Tools 

When you've signed up websites, you'll need this data as well for an SEO audit; unfortunately, these places don't always crawl and obtain data immediately from signing up. That's ok. Do what you can without it and then check back at a later date to use Webmaster Tool data.

Also, if you are new to Bing, I totally suggest playing around on their Help site set up similarly to the webmaster tools with explanations. For instance, they have a "How to Disavow Links" that is designed for listing spammy pages linking to you.

MOZ Bar: Domain Authority

This tells how awesome you rank for quality, trust, and good SEO behavior. It's like your website's credit score, or better said, your SEO grade had this been a test.

40-70 is good. 70+ is great.

To find out your domain authority, you can install MOZ Bar into your browser, which I highly suggest as it gives ranks for any site on the web (including your own and sites you're searching). You can hide it and show it, and it's about as impeding on my life as Pinterest's button.

The higher your score, the less you'll need to do for an SEO Audit. The lower the score, the more work that's ahead of you. Don't fret about a low score. My score for this blog is very low, mainly because I don't blog enough to share enough.

To improve domain authority, you can do a number of things. Check out these articles on the subject.

5 Best Techniques to Increase Domain Authority
5 Practical Steps to Improve your Website's Domain Authority
SEO Infographic


As we sort through the things we are analyzing, there will be other places to gather some information listed.

2. Analyze Information

This might get long and boring, but we are strong, determined people. We CAN do this. We are doing it for the people. The people need to be able to find you. This will help people find you.

You really can do these in any order. Some are more boring than others. There's a lot to look at, but for the most part, reading about it will take longer than doing it.

I'm also not sure what information is NECESSARY versus FLUFF from researched sites. But I'm going to attempt all this and see if there's an SEO improvement.

I've broken this down by:


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What pages are NOT being indexed? 

We want to make sure your pages are accessible to the crawler. This isn't about making sure people can see it. It's about making sure robots can see it. The main place that tells robots not to look is the robot.txt file on your website. It's the place robots pay to see their own sinful peep shows.

In Google Webmaster Tools, you can access the robot.txt file. Click on the site, on the left, click the crawl option, and from there, robots.txt Tester. It should say stuff like user-agent:* and some disallow options. Make sure there aren't any pages listed there that you want the search robots to find. You do want your "unfriendly" pages listed here to avoid getting penalized (like if you're breaking a big SEO rule somewhere). And if you see the word Sitemap, that's telling Google where to find your sitemap, so that's totally allowed to be there.

On Bing Webmaster tools, click configure my site, and then Block URLs. Make sure you don't have any URL's on there unless you don't want search engines finding it. In Bing, I don't think this is your robot.txt file. I think this lists pages that have a NOINDEX meta-tag to the HTML header of the page. It lets the robot see it, but it won't let the robot index it. Whether I'm right or wrong, the important thing is to make sure there isn't a web page listed there that you want robots to show people.

The Frog will also help you double check accessibility. Go to the Directives Tab and Filter by your choice like No Index.

New Geek Vocabulary Terms:

robot.txt: it hides the skeletons from search engines
no index: it gives the search engines permission to see it, but not index it to share it


Both search engines should have your sitemap because the internet says so. A sitemap lists pages for crawlers, and it's usually an xml file. Not all crawlers use them all the time, but you are not penalized for submitting them, and in some cases, it is used.

A sitemap is a file you upload to your server. You submit the web address of the file to the search engines, so you only need to submit the file once to each robot unless you change its name, but you do want to update the file itself with new pages as you create them.

Most of the people reading this blog are like me, Wordpress users, and we're in luck. Wordpress automatically creates and updates the sitemaps. Just type in On my main blog, I had numerous sitemaps show up in a list. Those are really child sitemaps. All you need to submit to the robots is the main one, sitemap.xml. Now if you self-host and aren't seeing any, try using the following plug-in: Yoast's Wordpress SEO. You only need the free version.

For Blogger blogs, if you type in your blog's address with a /sitemap.xml, you'll only get the last 25ish posts. That's not what you want. I don't understand the hack, but if you submit it this way, you'll get the whole blog. Type in whatever address you have with the search engine and add


Make sure you don't accidentally get any spaces in that if copying and pasting.

My Second Error

The first time I attempted it, it didn't work. But when I entered the information on this sitemap generator, it provided a sitemap address in the robot.txt file it created, so I copied that sitemap's address and pasted, and it worked. I used it on all my blogger blogs without regenerating. 

If you need to make your own sitemap, Screaming Monkey will create one for you, or you can check out Google's list of 3rd parties for sitemaps, or this Sitemap Generator. Once the sitemap is generated, you'll need to download the file to your computer, and then upload to your server. Once on the server, collect the web address for its location and submit that to the search engines. Just keep in mind, as you add pages, you will want to update the sitemap FILE (not the search engine submission). You can just regenerate new ones every time you add pages, or you can learn how to manually add a page yourself in code. You can also consider switching to Wordpress. Many wordpress blogs make beautiful static websites like I did here for myself as a writer.

Once the sitemap is created, submit them to the robots. In Google, you click Crawl, and then Sitemaps. There's a button on the top right to add a sitemap. In Bing, you click Configure My Sites and Sitemaps.

For an in-depth SEO analysis, you can check the pages in the crawler with the pages in the sitemap. If you have pages on the sitemap listed that aren't in the crawler, then you want to update the sitemap. If you have pages in the crawler listed that aren't on the sitemap, find a place in your architecture to put them (like by adding categories in a Wordpress blog).

Site Search your Site

Go to Google's website and search (using your site instead of website below)

At the top, it tells you how many results. Compare that to how many pages you actually have. From the Frog, go to the Internal Tab, filter by html, and on the bottom of the spreadsheet, it will give you a total.

If they are about the same, then you're good to go.

If Google has a lot more pages than the Frog, check to see if you have duplicate content by going to this address  

If you have duplicate content, there will be some sort of warning saying that it omitted similar results. If that's the case, find that content, combine to one page, and redirect old pages to it. (See Redirect Pages) If there's no warning, I can't tell you what it is, but I can tell you I had this issue with my Wordpress blogs, and I noticed Google was indexing archives and old Homepage (that shows the recent posts on top) pages that the Frog was not. Also check out the subheading Duplicate Content on this post.

If Google has less pages than the Frog, you want to see why Google isn't indexing those pages. It could be you are penalized. I wouldn't worry about it unless it's obvious Google is ignoring your site. In many cases of an actual penalty, they will send a message to your Webmaster Tools. It's also possible some of your pages aren't getting indexed due to algorithm changes, and it may or may not fix itself in time, especially after you perform an SEO audit. But you can Google to see if other sites were affected by the algorithm changes.

Search Yourself

Google and Bing your name, whether it's your name, your blog's name, or a business name. If your site is toward the top, that's good. If not, it's something to work on. Start first by making sure you aren't being penalized, and then work from there.


HTML Code Compliance

Make sure your html is too legit to quit. You can use the W3C Validator. You'll probably have to google some of the results.

Page Load Speed

You can test your page load speed with Google's Page Speed Tool, and Pingdom will break it down by each process so you can see what exactly is slowing you down. Google recommends that a page load in 1.4 seconds or less.

Site Architecture

In the frog, go to the right hand side and click the tab, "Site Structure." You want it to be kind of flat utilizing both vertical and horizontal linking. Reduce clickage to important pages, and increase links between pages.

HTML navigation can be read by robots. Many robots struggle reading Flash and Java, so you want to avoid those for a navigation system.

You might as well also take the time to think about how user friendly your site navigation is.

Site URL's

Take a look at the lists of URL's on the Frog (Internal Tab on the top left). Your URL should be static (as opposed to dynamic), where most of the address are numbers, letters and phrases. The length should be under 115 characters. It should be easy to remember, contain relevant key words, and use phrases or words over numbers. Hyphens are better than underscores, but use sparingly. Avoid subdomains like, and avoid unnecessary folderes like Try to keep it all lower case if possible.

If a lot of the URL's don't adhere to this, just make a mental a note to change that for the future. Switching URL's would require a redirect from every OLD URL. You can't get rid of the URL once you have it (like herpes), so your best bet is just to take a mental note and move forward with that.

URL Codes

Go into the frog, and check the code and status on the Internal Tab (you might have to scroll to the right).

First let's check redirects. Try to use 301 redirects instead of 302, so look for 302's in the codes.

Second let's check errors. You don't want any 400's because those are errors. If you see any, find the page and correct it or redirect to a good page.

Here's a list of codes and what they mean.


Internal Links - Outlinks

These are links you enter on your site linking out to another place. You can analyze these from webmaster tools and the Frog.

The more you link, the easier it is for search engines, but you want less than 100 links per page. The links should be relevant and natural and link to trustworthy sites (high domain authority). Mix up the anchor text: some Click Here and Learn More, others a keyword or company name or article title. Every page should have at least 2-3 links with rich text keywords used 10-30% of the time. Don't link to redirects if you can. Try to aim for going directly to the page.

You don't want a lot of broken links in your linkage. A lot of times, the link breaks over a period of time, so it was good the last time you checked your blog post, but not anymore. If you go to the frog, and check the External Tab, you can peruse the codes in the list looking for 400's to repair broken links and 300's to change the link to hit the actual page instead of a redirect. You can also click on the Response Codes tab for a list, and you can filter by coding. You can also try Link Checker to see what you got.

Backlinks - Inbound Links

These are links other people link to your page or site. The more others link to your site, the better, unless they are spammy. The other sites linking to you should be relevant and use relevant anchor text. The more different the root domains of these links, the better, especially if they are from popular sites and trusted domains. It's better if they link to an internal page (like a specific post) than to the home page.

In addition to your webmaster tools, Open Site Explorer helps you see who is linking to you. If you see a bad site linking to you, go to your webmaster tools, and disavow the links.

If any of the links to you are broken links, like someone had a typo, but the root domain is correct, you'll want them to correct it, but if they can't, you can create a page to the bad address and have it redirect to the good page.

Did you switch Blogging Platforms?

If you switched from Blogger to Wordpress, you want to clean up your old blogger addresses, especially if you had it pointing to a domain you purchased.

The easiest way I found to redirect old posts to new posts is using the Blogger to Wordpress Plugin. The instructions don't mention it, but when you copy the code it forms for you, paste it at the very top of your Blogger template before anything else. I used this plugin over a year after switching, and it didn't interfere with the plugin I had used to switch, Blogger Importer.


Content is King. Everyone else says that at this point, and I didn't want to be left out.

Check out your pages. Google ranks pages with over 2,400 words the highest, and they like at least 300 words. Most people aim for 400-600 words. These are words in text, not java or images. You want the content to be unique and quality. Use keyword in the first paragraph, and then 1-2 more times in text and conclusion. No spammy keyword stuffing, and use good grammar. You don't want multiple pages with the same keywords. Merge them if you got them and redirect the old page.

Duplicate Content

Two different addresses going to the same page without a redirect is bad SEO. For example, a printer-friendly version of an article. You don't want two pages that look so alike, Google is seeing double like it drank too much booze.

Look for plagiarized content with Copyscape. And look for duplicate content on your site with Siteliner.

Wordpress creates duplicate content on its own. It has the same content appearing under posts, tags and categories. I've read quite a few articles on the subject, and they seem to contradict, but I'm planning to remove all my tags and just let the categories be duplicates. I linked to a couple articles below on this subject.

Some will say to no-index or robot.txt the duplicates, but Google says not to go that route. In many cases, you can do a 301 Redirect. In other cases, an option is to Rel=Canonical Label the page. That labels the page as a duplicate, but ok. It's kind of like introducing a cloned robot friend to Google's Robot saying, "This is not me! This is my clone!" To Rel=Canoninize, add the following to your clone's head (in code, head, get it?)

<link rel="canonical" href="/>

For syndicated content, try to get the site to link to your post (not your page) at the bottom. That let's Google know where the original content is. If you provide any creative commons, make sure to require attribution to the post.

Switching from blogger to wordpress can create duplicate content. Check out Did you Switch Blogging Platforms? Above.

Check out some of these for more information:


From the frog, you can see title tag length if you scroll to the right from the internal tab. You can also click on the Page Titles tab.

The titles should be no more than 70 characters. It should describe the content on the page well and relate to that topic. It should contain a keyword, preferably toward the front if possible. Avoid duplicate titles (check for this by going to Google Webmaster).

Meta Descriptions

From the frog, click the Meta Description tab.

Meta Descriptions should contain keywords, but they should also read naturally. Make sure you have meta description tags. Help for Blogger Users. As a Blogger and Wordpress user, I'm not going to worry about meta descriptions on my Blogger Blogs.  

Make sure they aren't duplicated on other pages. They should be unique, relevant, descriptive, and contain a call to action. They should also be between 51 and 160 characters. They should also use correct grammar with no more than 5 commas.


If you really want to analyze your key word usage, take a look at the Frog's title tag and meta description. That tells you what you have been aiming for with key words. Then check Google Analytics to see if that's what you're getting (via search terms that brought people to you). You can do some keyword planning by using Google's Keyword Planner.

In addition, for Wordpress users, Wordpress SEO is a great plug in for entering and planning keywords for each post as you write and post.


These are the choices you have on making your font bigger for headings and subheadings within a post. When it comes to these, size matters. Search engines tend to think the biggest font size contain the most important keywords. So, make sure headings are a larger font than paragraphs. Each page should have headings, and if possible, headings should contain keywords. While I've read places that recommend never using H1 tags, most SEO sites do recommend using H1 tags, but sparingly. You want at least 1 per page, but don't overuse them.


Every image should have an ALT tag. Ideally, you want the image file name and the alt description to accurately describe the image with relevant keywords. File names are what you name the file, and try to get into the habit of naming your images with keywords and phrases as opposed to numbers. All images should also specify height and width in the image tag.

Social Media

Believe it or not, your social media ranking and popularity affects your SEO. Make sure it's easy to share content from your site, for each post as well as the site as a whole. Plug-ins like Sumo Me can help make social media sharing even easier for you (as well as provide a nice pop up box for email collections), and highly recommended, Jetpack too makes it easier to share. Shared Count will tell you how well you are doing on the social media sites, and if you keep a portfolio on Contently, they generally configure how many likes and shares you are getting per article.

3. Make Some Changes

This is the part where you can write a long list of things to do. Some of these things, you can't change the past. Never attempt changing your old URL's. Once you create a URL, it's there forever. But some things that you can't change, you can always change how you approach it in the future. So this is also the time to plan for some changes in the way you blog.

But like anything in business, not only do you want to implement your plan, but you want to come back later and monitor results.

I hope this SEO Audit is helpful for your site. I'm so sorry it's long and boring, but I tried to make it more interesting than reading the IRS Pub 17.

P.S. To get codes highlightable, I used this website

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Blogging and Taxes

Tax Hunger Games Funny
Warning, this blog's purpose is to take a "professional" sounding advice and turn it into easy to understand stuff, and be entertaining enough to keep you awake through it. Consider this that boring seminar you HAVE to attend, but I'm the speaker wearing a light up tie.

If you blog, there's a chance you have some extra income you might need to claim for tax purposes. Let's talk about that. I put the important crap in the color of turd soaked dehydrated urine (it's a burnt orange). I also put in funny pictures for an eye break.

How do you know if you HAVE to file it or claim it? 

Did you make $400 before expenses (GROSS)? If the answer is yes, file and claim. If not, it's up to you.

The reason is self employment tax... The IRS wants you to pay for the social security and medicare employers usually take out of your check and match, that as a private contractor, you didn't have to pay. The IRS has a bigger amount for "Did you make this much last year" to tell you if you need to file, but that's for W-2 income. 1099-MISC income and other income earned without tax papers are usually claimed in the form of a small business requiring you to pay self employment tax. The IRS wants their money.

My personal advice is ALWAYS FILE regardless of what the IRS says. They are shady motherfuckers there at the IRS, and I don't trust their own manuals. They know their own loopholes to fuck us over better than we ever will to avoid being fucked. When the IRS thinks you owe them money, let's just say, the odds are more in your favor to negotiate with a Mexican Drug Cartel over unpaid debts. If you don't need to file, then file to prove to them you didn't need to file.

Plus, if you set your blogging up as a business, you want years and years of records of what you made, even if you didn't make that much. Businesses popping in and out of existence between years might trigger an audit faster than businesses who are steadily earning a little bit of income every year.

How to claim the Income?

You have two choices for freelance writing income and other blog income: Business or Hobby. 

Claim it as Business Income

You can set your blog up as a business and claim your income and expenses on a Schedule C like you would any small business. Most 1099 MISC goes here. In fact, if you receive a 1099 MISC for more than $400, you probably want to go this route because the IRS wants to tax you for that.

Claim it as a Hobby

There is a place in the dark corners of the 1040 where you can claim "Other Income." Hobby income goes here. It seems easier because all you do is put in the amount you received as income in that box. But it's more complicated, because in order to claim expenses, you must do so on a Schedule A, and you can't claim anymore in expense than you made. In other words, you may not get to claim expenses if you take a standard deduction (it would be implied in that standard deduction). If you itemize, you only get to claim expenses up to the amount you received. You can't have a negative income for hobby income like you can a small business.

BUT, you don't have to pay self employment taxes for hobby income. SE tax is based on how much you claim. If you are claiming a small amount with no expenses, like $400 from various companies, or even $50 you made on Etsy, this might be the way to go.

Which way to go?

The IRS usually defines hobby as income you make doing something you want to do, that you would do even if there wasn't an income, where the sole purpose of doing it is because you want to do it. A business is something you do to make money, where the sole purpose of doing it is to make money. Most blog income qualifies as both. It is something you do for fun, but you turned your fun into a profit-seeking venture.

While many tax preparers and accountants consider the short-term benefits of classifying income one way or the other, you have to think about the long term. If you see your blog as a business in 10 years, go the business income route. If you see your blog as a hobby or nonexistent in 10 years, then base it on where it best serves you for that year.

Another consideration is EIC. In order to qualify to receive the Earned Income Credit, one has to have earned income. Some tax preparers say for joint returns, only one spouse has to have earned income to qualify; however, the IRS PUB 17 flat out says BOTH spouses must have earned some income to qualify. I always wanted to be safe not sorry back in the days our income qualified us for the EIC, and I claimed my blogging money as a business so that it would be earned income.

While we are probably talking a few dollars between Sch C and Hobby income, the easiest way to find out which is best for your return that year is to do it one way, see the amount, and then do your taxes again the other way to see the other amount. If you have other income from W-2's, spouse income, and so forth, most likely going either direction won't change your tax situation any more than what you pay an HRBlock to prepare them for you.

Multiple Business Projects

I know many bloggers generally are all over the internet. Maybe you have multiple blogs, or multiple forms of blog income. In my case, my income one year had money from an SEO organization, graphic design payments, t-shirt sales from Cafepress and Zazzle, and font sales on My Fonts. I'm all over the place, and I wasn't about to do 5 schedule C's. I lumped it all under one business under the name of Gabbysol Neterprise (named after my kids Gabby and Solma). Just add all the income together under receipts. Multiple 1099's? You can do them separate if you wanted to, but I wanted to point out, you don't have to. Many companies do business under a different name and have many small companies consolidated under a big name.

Schedule C Expenses

The regular way to do taxes is just spit out the information. Honestly say how much you made, and honestly claim expenses. BUT, with blog income and expenses being so easily loss worthy, you kind of have to ask yourself at some point if it's in your best interest to claim a loss.

When I file my business, I always claim a profit. If my gross income is smaller than my expenses, I just don't claim my expenses. I do this because like I said earlier, years of a small business steadily producing a little bit of profit are less apt to get audited. If you claim a loss more than 3 years in a row, the IRS is going to start asking why are you in a profit seeking venture if you aren't making any money in it? I believe their computers automatically look for businesses that always claim a loss. It's about as big of a mistake to make as having two people claim the same social security number. It's not a matter of odds like some discrepancies where it depends on if the right person sees it at the right time.

Most tax professionals will tell you want to have a loss to maximize your refund that year, and they try to make the loss as big as possible claiming every expense you can possibly claim. They would be wrong to do so all the time. In some instances, you benefit by claiming more beyond avoiding audits. If you qualify for the EIC, the extra money might make a bigger return on a refundable credit despite paying income taxes on the amount than if you didn't claim that money at all or less than it.

Boring shit to explain the EIC thing... 

When you file taxes, you have income, subtract adjustments to income, and you get an AGI (Adjusted gross income). You then deduct your standard or itemized deductions and your exemptions, and then you pay taxes on that amount. Changing that amount a few hundred dollars doesn't really change your tax liability by much because it's a small percentage of a big number. After you find your tax liability, you then deduct two series of credits. One is the non-refundable credits like the Child Tax Credit. These only reduce your tax liability down to zero. They won't go any further than that. Then you can deduct Refundable credits, which are credits that can turn your tax liability into free money from the government. This can bring that zero into the negatives. The EIC is a refundable credit, and it is based on a bunch of variables. 

The EIC chart has a list of how much you have to make, how many kids you got, and then it tells you based on that how much you can claim as a credit. This is dollar for dollar. There is no percentage of a huge number. The chart is a curve when it comes to income. If you make a little bit of money, you can get a little bit of money. The more you make, the more you can get. Then it peaks at 18,000 to 22,000 and flips to where the more you make, the less you get until you make too much to qualify for the credit at all. 

If your other earned income is very little, the more profit you claim on blogging income could increase how much you get with the EIC. If you (or you and your spouse on Married Filing Jointly) make less than 20,000 a year, you would probably bank to claim more income in your business than less without going over the peak amount for your tax situation (single vs joint, and how many kids you got). 

If you decide it's in your best interest to claim expenses, here are some types of things you can deduct:

1. Tickets to conferences and seminars regarding blogging and writing.
2. Travel, some food and lodging, mileage or plane tickets, for conferences and seminars
3. Did you travel to promote a book you are in? That counts too.
4. Subscription fees you have for business purposes (i.e. if you subscribe to the Wall Street Journal just so you can submit your writing to them... If you subscribe to or a site like that where you pay to find jobs... If you subscribe to a site that gives tutorials... )
5. Website expenses (web hosting, domain registration, Wordpress themes and plug ins)
6. Contract labor (did you hire someone to do your graphic design? Or design your website?)
7. Advertising
8. Promotions... Did you purchase 5 copies of a book you are in for promotional reasons?
9. Postage for submissions (for those who don't email them)
10. Anything related to your craft that you have a record of paying.

What you probably don't want to claim in case you get audited?

1. Vodka, coffee, or any drink you require to write with.
2. Child care deductions so that you can get something done can be claimed elsewhere on the 1040.
3. Money spent bribing a spouse to take the kids somewhere does not qualify as child care expenses

Tax MOm
Check it out on Nick Mom

Home Offices

That's a tricky expense, but you can claim the portion of your home you use for business, especially if you store inventory, and the portion of the computer and internet you use for business; however, if you use these things for personal reasons at all, I suggest not worrying about it. I'm not going to do what other sites do, and sell you a possibility that isn't really worth pursuing just to get you to read my blog... BUT if you bought a computer and use internet strictly for blogging and all things related to your blog, and nothing more, then you could probably claim those things. This is a gray area the IRS has yet to define because just about everything we do online is related to our blog. As a writer, any social media presence is work. Any google search is work.

For me, everything I do on this computer is related to writing and design; however, I don't claim it because the year I purchased the computer was before I had a business, and the internet is shared by the family and some neighbors. The place this computer sits in my home is so small that I would lose money if I put a value on my time to claim it.

FILING A 1099 

Did you pay someone more than $600 to do some work for you?

You may need to file a 1099 if so. Check out When Do You Need to File Form 1099-MISC? for more info.

On the other side, any 1099 you receive, you want to claim that. 

Cash vs Accrual Accounting

I was in bookkeeping too
and found this hilarious.
I love reconciliation.
Cash based accounting means you claim the money the moment you get it. That means the moment you get paid, you claim it.

Accrual based accounting means you claim the money the moment you earn it, before you actually get paid. 

As a bookkeeper, I'm a huge fan of accrual accounting because it's accurate and more fun with debits and credits, but for my personal blog business (where I do earn income selling t-shirts on cafepress), I went cash base just because the records I get from the t-shirt sales makes it almost impossible to go accrual without personally entering every sale I make. Cash is just way easier for a small business like this. 

The important thing is whatever method you use, be consistent with it every year, so choose something you will easily remember next year. 

Now, when it comes to the t-shirt stores like Zazzle and Cafepress, and my fonts at MyFonts, as many of you have these stores, they do this thing where I sell something, they hold the money for 30 to 60 days to make sure the item is not returned, and then they give it to me in the form of store credit until they issue a check (or pay my paypal). So when is that money exactly earned?  After speaking with several IRS representatives years ago, I decided the way I was going to keep track is to... 

1. The payments I receive in pay pal go on the year the pay pal transaction occurs.
2. Anytime I spend my store credit, I claim that as money earned on the day I spent that money. 

In other words, I don't consider store credit actual cash in hand unless I spend it. 

Keeping Records

The IRS has a nasty habit of waiting like 3 years before they decide to audit you. It's because it usually takes them quite some time to discover you. And if that happens, you are most likely not going to remember where you got your information. So when you file your taxes, it's important to keep information on file somewhere.

How you do this is up to you, but I'm going to tell you what I do because it's easy and it would suffice for an audit.

The goal is to have a record for every number on my Schedule C. I usually do a spreadsheet for my income statement (a list of revenue and expenses). Then for each item on my spreadsheet, I make sure I have one or both of the following: Receipt or Bank statement showing transaction. 

For my business, most of my transactions I claim are online transactions. I don't keep track of them throughout the year. Instead, I go to my accounts for each place of business and print receipts there when I put my taxes together. I also try to keep all my business related transactions in a year on my Pay Pal account because I don't use it much for things like groceries. I'd go crazy trying to find all my transactions on my normal bank account. But, looking through my list of transactions with that account makes it easy for me to find my expenses (because I don't remember registering my domain last February). 

You don't have to have the 1099 in hand in order to file (and I have been lately filing before I receive those), but you want to keep those with your records as well. 

Then I keep all that paperwork with a copy of my taxes on file. Some businesses keep that kind of paperwork separate in a business file, but as small as my blogging business is, I like to keep all the crap the IRS needs together in one place. I usually put them in one of those huge yellow envelopes and label the corner of that year, "2014 Taxes." Then I stick it in my filing cabinet like it was a file. The envelopes keep the smaller things in better, like W-2 copies.

Tax Preparation vs Accountant vs DIY

Click to see more pictures like this
I managed tax offices for a couple years, and THEN I took Federal Income Tax Accounting at a university. I can vouch that the Jackson Hewitt's have a better grasp of tax laws and IRS requirements than someone who completed the college coursework. That textbook did everything wrong. It actually went against what the IRS says. I'm not sure why, but as a result, I don't trust accountants as much as these little tax preparation offices. The difference is the accountant gets his training from college. Tax preparation offices usually have a training of their own based on material directly from the IRS, and their training provides more realistic real-world scenarios based on the volume of taxes they prepare every year. And the people doing your taxes there only do that, so they know it well. Accountants do so many other things, way more complicated things, that they aren't always so up-to-date with specifics regarding personal tax preparation. 

Now if you incorporate your business, or have a partnership requiring the Schedule K, or a nonprofit requiring a 990, then you want to go with a professional accountant. That's what they specialize in better than personal taxes. 

But as a former tax office manager who trained the 12 week course for Jackson Hewitt, who also was trained with college coursework and VITA training, who also volunteered to provide VITA training, I do my own taxes. I wouldn't have it any other way. 

I know they seem very overwhelming if you don't know the lingo, and the IRS Pub 17 (the Bible of tax preparation) is the most boring thing you will ever read, but if you are willing to dig up a receipt from January to save yourself 20 bucks in your refund, then learning this skill would save you hundreds of dollars every year. So if you really want to maximize your tax refund and save on your taxes, the biggest deduction you could claim is to file them yourself. 

The easiest way to learn how to file taxes is to take the VITA course and be a VITA Volunteer. It's also the most accurate method to learn because VITA is ran and operated by the IRS. It's also usually free. If your personal situation requires things beyond the scope of VITA training (i.e. farm income), I'd still take this course first, and then you'll have the framework in your head to read the IRS material on how to do the more complicated things. 

Now if you are planning to attempt to cheat the government, go through a paid preparer, and sign up for their audit products. You aren't paying for tax preparation in that case but a scapegoat.

I hope you find this information helpful. Have a Happy Tax Season and may the audits be ever in your favor.

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. 


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. 


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). 


Updated to add the following link for the back cover information: