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Thursday, January 31, 2008

The tale of two websites

Occasionally someone says "I'd love to know what you think of my website."

No, actually, you probably wouldn't.

But don't worry, because I won't be providing any feedback about your site unless you pay me for it. You see, website analysis is part of what I do for a living. I analyze websites for effectiveness: Do they get across the message the individual or company wants to communicate to the intended audience?

Of course, the criteria for effectiveness vary. Does the accountant's website look serious and well-organized? Does the artist's site look creative? Does the interior decorator's site look fashionable, and show plenty of large pictures of completed projects? Does the photographer's website put attention on the photography rather than the words? Does the online store site make it a breeze to locate and purchase items? Is the writer's website crisp and to the point?

This evening a writer I know asked a group of us to take a look at her new professional website. I clicked over to it and groaned. It was so...wrong.

website? The design, colors, and typeface were tired and 10 years out of date, and the text went on, and on, and on. There was a bio on the "About Me" page, but also lots of redundant bio information on the text-heavy homepage. The headshot was boring. The writing style was bland and wordy. The subheds were corny. Worst of all, the bio of this 50-year-old writer included a long paragraph detailing ho-hum campus activities and student awards from 30 years ago.

No, I'm not going reveal the URL of this sad website. But I'd like you to see the website of a mid-career writer whose online presence is a paragon of effective communication. Oh, and you'll love her new mystery novel, too.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Do you read science fiction?

Literary and technology critic Clive Thompson says SF is the best philosophical writing around. In this article for Wired, he writes about why the literati have given speculative fiction short shrift -- and why it's time for them to stop reading about what is and start thinking about what might be.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Giving it away

According to Techdirt, both indie and bestselling authors are finding out that providing free online access to digital versions of their work increases sales of the print books. A good post, and interesting comments.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Published in TidBITS

I've been doing quite a bit of web content writing and editing, so it's always a thrill to cross back over in to journalism and have a bylined article published. Here's a piece I did on laptop bags for TidBITS, the Mac news site. And the accompanying slideshow.

Monday, January 21, 2008

SEO: Clique-through

Remember cliques from high school? I went to a high school in the South, complete with fraternities and sororities (really!) to get us thoroughly indoctrinated to the cult of popularity before we tripped off to Duke and UNC (for the boys) or Sweetbriar and U Va. (for the girls).

What puzzled me most about teenage cliques was not the self-referential and self-congratulatory behavior of the BMOCs and Queen Bees. No, what confused me, trouble-making Yankee girl that I am, was the behavior of the average kids. Instead of creating groups of their own, they spent all their time watching and talking about the cool kids the way you'd obsess over your favorite TV show characters.

Get a life!
I wanted to say. As you might imagine, I hung out with the geeks, who were a default group rather than a clique. All this pre-dated the era of Dungeons and Dragons, so I think we spent our time playing in Zappa-esque folk-rock combos, making reel-to-reel tapes and videos (video cameras were thirty-pound items worth thousands, and had to be borrowed from the school), putting out an alternative newspaper, and baking brownies.

What's got me thinking about cliques now?

Search engine optimization, that's what.

If this blog links to a snarky post from one of the trendy blogorati, my own blog ratings and traffic go up. Ooh, it's like I'm almost in their clique!

But if I link to something interesting from a normal blogger who doesn't use self-promotional SEO tactics on his or her blog, what do I get? Bubkes.

My sophomore year in high school, egged on by a close friend who desperately wanted to be popular, I went out for the cheerleading squad and, to everyone's astonishment, made it. Then I spent a year in a surrealistic environment that was—with the exception of a couple of hours each week during which I bounced around flailing enormous crepe pom-pons and screaming myself hoarse—rathering boring and puzzling. And junior year I went back to the Zappa-esque rock band and baking brownies.

Blogging has made the transition from being a geek activity to being a mainstream one, and I can't say that I fit in with the digital cheerleaders. Still, it's nice once in a while to get out there with the pom-pons.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Let's eat!

Deborah Ng posts a list of the 10 best foods for writers.

Macworld 2008: Tech notes

Back from Macworld!

I'd thought Twitter would revolutionize the Macworld social experience, but I was wrong. I'd failed to take into account two factors:

1. The Twitter network slowed to a crawl during Steve's keynote.

2. The AT&T E network couldn't penetrate Moscone South, the underground hall that's the site of the main Expo, so you couldn't keep up with Tweets using an AT&T mobile phone. The wifi option was no help, as wifi networks in Moscone kept going down (including the one at the Bloggers Lounge).

Nevertheless, I did manage to post my best Tweet ever, announcing that I'd just spotted Barak Obama getting out of a limo and entering the side door of the Westi Hotel at Union Square Thursday a bit after noon.

It's hard to believe that a year ago (even seven months ago!) there were no iPhones. They are pretty much standard fare around San Francisco now. I usually take a 12" laptop to Macworld and lug it around, but this year I left the laptop in my hotel room and handled just about everything, including short emails, notes, photos for an article, and even some posts to a photo blog, using the iPhone. I left longer emails for when I got back to my room (again, a place with molasses-like wifi). My back certainly appreciated it...I was able to enjoy Macworld carrying just my regular messenger bag-style purse. My only regret was lack of zoom and flash for photos; next year I'll take along a little Canon Digital Elph.

Cameras of all sizes were much in evidence, with many people snapping photos of products instead of taking brochures. My strategy was to take a shot of an interesting product and then a shot of the booth's signage, so I could identify the item by the adjacent signage shot after I'd uploaded the pictures to iPhoto.

The other technology item that was ubiquitous in San Francisco this year was GPS. All the airport shuttle vans had it, and thank god. The driver from the Oakland airport acted as if he'd never ventured into downtown San Francisco before.

My friend Doug Plummer recently rented a car with GPS while on a photo shoot in Boston, a city where the roadways usually confound him. "This time I had an authoritative female voice directing me," Doug writes in his blog.

I've just submitted an article about some noteworthy Macworld products; it's scheduled for online publication later this week and I'll be sure to link to it then.

Friday, January 11, 2008

See you at Macworld?

I'll be in San Francisco for Macworld next week. Please email (karenwrites [AT], or my .mac address if you have it) if you'd like to meet for coffee or lunch.

Look out for the burglars!

Many writers have day jobs in other fields, and that's often where they come across their best material.

Case in point: The Lakewood Espresso Stand (near Tacoma) had been having problems with burglaries. The owner installed a pair of surveillance cameras.

He got great video of the next break-in attempt, but didn't just turn it over to the police. Instead, he edited it into a howlingly hilarious YouTube video. In addition to doing some clever screenwriting, he provides a delightful voiceover that will be immediately familiar to anyone who has seen Pirates of the Caribbean. (And, you'll have to admit, this particular burglar just handed the material to him on a platter.)

The lesson for those of us who write is never pass up great story material. (Thanks to Jeff Carlson for Twittering this tip.)

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Off pitch

The excellent email newsletter Get to the Po!nt showcased a couple of marketers who pitched their story to the media via a handwritten note—more specifically, a digital photo of a handwritten note.

Clever idea, I thought. But when I clicked to read the note introducing Getting to First Base, a Social Media Marketing Playbook, I was less than impressed with their execution.

There are better ways to get to first base than on a grammatical/spelling error.

Friday, January 4, 2008

A few of the people I listen to

80/20 Internet Marketing has an extensive review of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, a book about the ways that sales and marketing folks induce us to part with our time and money.

TheZorg lauds the communications skills of WonderingMind42, a "high school science teacher in the process of burning out," who has posted a series of sharp and amusing videos about a not-very-amusing-topic.

Doug Plummer at Dispatches talks about the pros and cons of converting his professional photography set-up from PC to Mac; he's six months in to the process.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Jargon watch: Banned words

Lake Superior State University has published its 33rd annual list of words and phrases that ought to be banned because of "misuse, overuse and general uselessness." Here they are:

  • perfect storm
  • Webinar
  • waterboarding
  • organic
  • wordsmith/wordsmithing
  • author/authored
  • post 9/11
  • surge
  • give back
  • ‘blank’ is the new ‘blank’
  • Black Friday
  • back in the day
  • random
  • sweet
  • decimate
  • emotional
  • pop
  • It is what it is
  • under the bus
What I want to know is: How could they possibly have missed "green?" Please don't tell me the laundry detergent, someone's political views, or your office supplies are "green." Kermit is green.

I do, however, love it that the list makers nailed the cloying adjective "sweet." I recently read a blog post by a particularly smarmy blowhard and damned if he didn't use the adjective "sweet" four times—while describing his own artistic endeavors, no less!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

End-of-year accounting

How many of us in the writing biz have the guts to do a year-end assessment of our work as frank (and as useful) as this one by science fiction author David Levine?

Taking a deep breath and attempting to follow David's example...

Writer Way blog entries written in 2007: 100
Writer Way blog entries with illustrations: 5
Writer Way videocasts: 1
By-lined articles written for on-line publication: 4
By-lined articles (chapters) written for book publication: 1 (accepted, not yet published)
Articles, news releases, and blog entries written for clients' sites: 48
Book manuscripts (by other authors) edited: 1 (not yet published)
Presentations given: 1 (Ignite Seattle)
Panel participation: 1 (Macworld 2007)
Interviews: 1 (The Writing Show)
Professional meetings and conferences attended: 12 (Ignite Seattle, Macworld, WebTrends, Seattle Weblogger meetups, plus events hosted by Biznik members and Lunch 2.0.

New proposals sent out: 14
New projects resulting from new proposals: 2
New projects received from existing clients: 4
New projects received via professional organizations: 2 (National Book Critics Circle; Biznik)
Projects that collapsed (no payment): 1
Projects completed: 3
Projects ongoing or underway: 4

Professional writing goals for 2008
1. Make better use of illustrations and photos in the Writer Way blog.
2. Do more videocasting (when appropriate to the topic); it's the way of the future.
3. Send out more proposals for web content writing work; 14 are simply not enough to yield meaningful results.
4. Attend conferences that focus on writing; I've registered for Potlatch (speculative fiction) and the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop.

Lessons learned from 2007
Over and over again, I have been impressed by the work I've gotten from professional organizations and from former clients. My job at Apple came via a want ad posted with Women in Digital Journalism; my best blogging work comes from a fellow member of the Fremont Noodle House lunch group. This year the National Book Critics Circle had a particularly good gig available to interested members (more about that later). As Crosby, Stills & Nash observed, "love the ones you're with."