Category Archives: Platform

Writers need a platform to promote their books.

What’s a Widget and Why Do I Want Them on My WordPress Blog?

Part 4 in the continuing series on using WordPress for blogging: a platform-building, book-selling tool.

Last week we talked about WordPress themes. Today, the subject is widgets. If a theme is analogous to a cover or skin for a cell phone, then a widget corresponds to an app. Just as our smartphones don’t need apps, our websites and blogs don’t need widgets, but for both they increase functionality and usability.

On  the main blog page of this website, the widgets appear on the right side of the page. There are presently six widgets:

Text: In a text box you can put any text (or html code, such as a link). I use this text box for a mini “about me” section.

Subscribe: Many people, myself included, like to receive an email each time a post is added. This is an essential element for every blog.

RSS Feed: Other people use a blog reader, which requires a RSS feed. After email, it’s the second most common way people read blogs. If you don’t have one, you will lose audience. (You don’t need to understand how RSS works, just add the widget and WordPress does the rest.)

Topics: This lists categories of posts. Clicking one of the links will list posts on the subject.

Recent Posts: Shows my last five posts.

Post Archive: This pull down menu lists each month I posted something, along with the number of posts for that month.

There are, of course, many more widgets to choose from. Some come standard with WordPress and others are included with the JetPack plugin (more on plugins next week). Plus there are many, many more. But start with some basic ones and go from there.

There are a couple warnings about widgets. First, less is more, so don’t clutter your site with every possible widget. Second, certain widgets can slow down your site or conflict with other widgets or certain themes, so add widgets one at a time to evaluate the impact on your site.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

What’s a WordPress Theme?

Part 3 in the continuing series on using WordPress for blogging: a platform-building, book-selling tool.

Each blog or website needs a theme. There are two ways to understand this.

From a content standpoint, a blog needs a theme or topic to guide writing and attract readers. The theme of this blog is book publishing, of which blogging is a related concept. However, that’s not the focus of this post.

From a technical standpoint, a theme is how a WordPress blog looks. This is the focus of this post.

Consider cell phones. We can buy a skin or cover to change how our phone looks. Just by adding a cover, we alter its appearance so it looks like an entirely different model, even though it’s the same phone underneath. Some people buy one cover and never change it, while others change their covers often.

A WordPress theme is like a cell phone cover: it alters how WordPress looks, even though the same WordPress platform exists under it. Some people pick one WordPress theme and never change it, while others try different themes and frequently change them. However, while a cover is optional for a cell phone, a theme is required for WordPress.

Some WordPress themes are free and others have a cost. There are thousands of themes to pick from. If you install WordPress today, it comes with a free theme, called Twenty Fourteen. Each year WordPress releases a new theme. For this blog, I use the Twenty Eleven theme, which I have on all twelve of my WordPress sites. Someday, I’ll look at other themes, but right now, I enjoy the consistency of maintaining sites that all use the same theme. Plus, I like the elegant simplicity of the Twenty Eleven theme.

To begin, I recommend using the free theme that comes with WordPress. Don’t worry about finding a different theme to start with. Instead, focus on the basic configuration and adding great content.

When we get a new cell phone, the first goal is to use it; adding a cover is secondary. So too, when we install WordPress, our primary objective is to use it; finding the perfect theme can happen later.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

What’s the Difference Between a WordPress Page and Post?

Part 2 in the continuing series on using WordPress for blogging: a platform-building, book-selling tool.

Many beginning WordPress bloggers are confused by the difference between a page and a post. Aside from both being one-syllable, four-letter words that start with “P,” they also look the same, both when writing them and viewing them. However, they are different and each has a purpose and place.

Page: A page is like our Twitter profile or the tabs on Facebook. Consider using a page for content you want to always be available. Use a page for topics such as “About,” “Contact,” “Services,” and your home page. Often pages are shown in tabs or menus on blogs.

Post: A post is like a tweet or Facebook status update. Use a post for ongoing content. The most recent post is shown first, with the rest following it in reverse chronological order. Also, posts may be placed in a category (analogous to a folder) and linked with similar posts using a tag.

Though I don’t recommend it, I’ve seen WordPress sites that use only posts, as well as ones with only pages. Though there may be good reasons for this, the list is short. Usually someone who only uses pages or just posts doesn’t understand the difference. Most blogs use pages and posts – and blogs look better when they do.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Getting Started with WordPress

Blogging is an important aspect of book publishing. This series on blogging with WordPress provides a starting point.

Last week, focusing on WordPress, we talked about two options: WordPress.com and WordPress.org. In a basic way, WordPress.com is analogous to Gmail, while WordPress.org is more like Outlook (or in the extreme, it could be like an in-house email server). The differences are the amount of effort to get started, the degree of control, the number of options, and the level of technical expertise required.

WordPress.com, like Gmail, is an online tool. You log in, set up your account, and begin using it. It’s basic, powerful, and easy to use. It provides some options, but not too many.

WordPress.org, like Outlook, requires more effort to configure, while giving more options, greater control, and increased flexibility. This is what we’ll go over today. (An extreme example, like setting up an email server in-house, is setting up your own webserver and adding WordPress to it. Few users, however, go to this extent.)

WordPress.org is a self-hosted option, that is, the user needs to find a host, usually tapping a company that specializes in webhosting or WordPress hosting (as opposed to setting up their own computer to host it).

I use GoDaddy to host this WordPress site. This is mainly because I already had an account and could add WordPress at no additional charge. With my account already active, it was just a couple of clicks to add WordPress.

If I was starting from scratch, I’d likely use BlueHost and there are two helpful videos to make it easy. Michael Hyatt put together a comprehensive 20-minute tutorial, while Jeff Goins has a more concise 8-minute version. (I believe they earn a small commission when you set up your WordPress account using their tutorial, but it won’t cost you anything more.)

Aside from GoDaddy and BlueHost, there are many other hosting options.

While WordPress.com can be completely free, there are two costs associated with WordPress.org. The first is an annual domain registration, usually around ten bucks and a monthly hosting fee, starting around five dollars, but which can go up to twenty or even more for high-volume, feature-rich, robust hosting.

Next week, we’ll peak inside WordPress and talk about its various components.

[If you want to mention a different hosting company, please add it in the comments section. Feel free to include a link to a tutorial.]

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Using WordPress For Your Blog: Two Options to Consider

This is a blog about book publishing, yet today starts a series on blogging. Why?

  1. Authors need a platform to promote their book, and blogging is an effective platform-building tool.
  2. Blogging is a form of publishing.
  3. Blogging helps us hone our writing skills in a public setting.
  4. Some writers turn successful blogs into a book.

While there are many options to use for blogging, I’ll only address WordPress, simply because it’s the most popular option. WordPress is to blogging, as Microsoft Word is to word-processing.

With WordPress, there are two flavors to consider: WordPress.com and WordPress.org. They’re essentially the same thing and merely implemented in different ways.

The benefits of WordPress.com:

  • The beginner package is completely free. (There is an annual cost for the premium and business plans.)
  • It is quick and easy to get started with WordPress.com.
  • It has a reduced feature set, which minimizes complexity over having too many options.

The weaknesses of WordPress.com

  • An awkward address: The web address for beginner plan (the free option) will look like: blog-name.WordPress.com. (You can buy your own domain name to point to your WordPress.com blog, but then it is no longer free.)
  • A long web address: Most of the short and nicer blog names have already been taken, so your blog address will likely end up being long. (Again, buying your own domain name is a workaround.)
  • No direct support (with the beginner package). There is, however, a strong WordPress community, which is often – but not always – a good resource in resolving problems and answering questions.
  • Ads: In exchange for completely free, you agree to allow ads on your blog. (There are no ads with the premium or business plans.)
  • Limitations: To achieve simplicity, the trade-off is some of the functionality available from WordPress.org.

Here’s why you should consider WordPress.com:

  • The beginner package is completely free. If you have no money, this is the ideal solution.
  • It’s a great way to learn WordPress. That’s what I did, but I soon switched to WordPress.org because I needed additional features and flexibility.

If WordPress.com feels like the right solution for you, start using WordPress.com today.

Next week I’ll talk about getting started with WordPress.org.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Integrate Blogging With Your Author Platform

As the final post in this series on platform building, we’ll address blogging. Although blogging isn’t right for every author, it is something that warrants serious consideration. After all, you are a writer and you wrote a book, so blogging is a natural extension of what you do: using words to connect with your audience and build a following.

Your blog should be integrated into your website, not a separate, stand-alone effort. (Conversely, you can expand your blog to become a website.) There are two aspects of blogging: the technical part of setting up a blog and the writing part of producing fresh content on a regular basis.

In upcoming posts, we’ll look at both, starting with a series on using WordPress for your blog and website. This website, by the way, uses WordPress.

This series on blogging will be a great primer for those who want to start blogging, provide helpful tips for those already using WordPress, and may even inspire bloggers not using WordPress to switch.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Six Tips on Using Social Media as Part of Your Platform

We’ve been talking about making your website the center of your book-selling, platform-building tool and not to depend on social media, which could change at any moment and thereby destroy your efforts. That doesn’t mean social media isn’t important, because it is. The point is not to make social media the star but instead, a supporting player.

1) Pick Carefully: Accept that you can’t be on every social media platform, or even the top five. No one has that much time. Pick a couple to focus on, and invest your time there. Choose ones you understand and like, but also look for where your potential readers are. It makes no sense to be active on Pinterest if most of your audience is on LinkedIn.

2) First Things First: Before you do anything, set up your full profile; don’t leave that for later, because if you’re like me, you may never get around to it.

3) Walk Before You Run: Learn how to navigate your chosen social media hangout. You won’t become familiar everything until you actually use it, but proceed with caution until you feel comfortable. That way you can avoid rookie mistakes and look professional instead.

4) One at a Time: With a good understanding of your first social media site, you may proceed to a second one, if you want. But don’t try to learn two at the same time. That’s just confusing and counter-productive. I know.

5) Include Links: Add links on your website to your social media pages. And most certainly, make sure your social media profiles point back to your website. That’s the main goal of social media.

6) Interact and Redirect: Use your social media presence to engage people and then point them to your website, your primary online station, the hub for all your activity. Your website is home base for your platform, and that’s where you want everyone to end up.

Although an important part of an author’s platform, social media is a means to get there and not the end goal.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Three More Tips for Your Book-Promoting Platform

In using your website as the foundation of your book-selling, platform-building initiative, there are several key points to follow. The first three are to make it mobile responsive, remove clutter, and delete slow plugins. That is, to pursue a minimalist design; less is more.

Here are three more website tips:

  • Fix Broken Links: Broken links – be it internal links to other pages on your site or external links to other websites – are disrespectful to visitors. At the very least, broken links will frustrate them and at the worst, cause them to leave. Search engines also don’t like broken links. If they find broken links on your site, they will lower your ranking and thereby suggest your site to fewer people. Fortunately there are programs that can search for and notify you of broken links so you can fix them.
  • Implement SEO Best Practices: Books have been written detailing search engine optimization (SEO), so a brief blog post won’t cover everything. But the basics are to use alt tags on your graphics, appropriately include your targeted keywords in your content, consider both people and search engines when writing your titles, and include a good description and relevant keywords. Whatever you do, don’t try to game the system, because you will eventually be caught and penalized.
  • Keep Your Site Up-To-Date and Regularly Add New Content: Regular visitors (your biggest supporters) and search engines both like to see new content on your site. Keep them happy with regular posts. Also, be sure to remove outdated information so you don’t frustrate visitors.

That’s it for now. Next week, we’ll talk about the importance of capturing email addresses.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

The First Step in Building Your Platform

After you write and publish your book, the next step is to promote it. This requires a platform.

However, don’t build your platform around a social media site. You can’t control that. Overnight they could change the rules, limit your reach, make you pay to be seen, or even summarily turn off your account. Then, you’ve lost the platform you worked hard to build.

Instead, make your website the home base for your platform, a website you control and own. Then use social media as a tool to point people to your site.

So, the first step in building your platform is to have a website – or fix your existing one. Do this before you spend another moment on social media or even think about growing your platform or reach.

On your website:

  • Make your site responsive to mobile devices.
  • Remove the clutter.
  • Delete slow plugins.
  • Fix all broken links.
  • Implement SEO best practices.
  • Keep your site up-to-date and regularly add new content.
  • Capture visitor email addresses.
  • Link to your social media sites and other online content – and link them back.
  • Integrate your blog with your site, and make it your primary means to interact with followers.

Once you complete these steps, then, and only then, should you work to build out your platform.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Book Review: Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World

Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World

By Michael Hyatt (reviewed by Peter DeHaan)
Book Review: Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World
Michael Hyatt dedicates his book Platform to all the creative people who were dismissed because they lacked a platform to promote their work. As his subtitle proclaims, he wants to help them Get Noticed in a Noisy World.

Divided into five sections, Platform takes readers on a progressive journey, starting with creating a compelling product all the way to engaging their tribe. The book’s sixty concise chapters make for easy reading, moving writers and artists forward in successfully launching their product.

Packed with practical advice and easy to follow steps, Michael shares insider knowledge and firsthand experience to aid readers in their quest for a bigger platform in order to better promote and sell their work. Regardless of their platform size, Michael Hyatt’s tips can help readers develop a larger and more effective one.

Platform is an essential, must-read book for all creative people who long to share their work with a larger audience.

[Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, by Michael Hyatt. Published by Thomas Nelson, 2012, ISBN: 978-1595555038, 288 pages.]

Read more book reviews by Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

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