I’ve Said it Before, and I’ll Say it Again…

please get a second reader. When I said it before, my concern was that you might go to all the work of writing and publishing a book, only to have poor sales and one star reviews. I’ve since discovered you can get five star reviews, even if those reviews include statements such as “there are a few typos and some discrepancies.” A book can have dozens of reviews, averaging four stars, despite “continuity problems,” the appearance of being “written in haste,” and “confusion with times, dates and names.”

We have evolved to see patterns based on scant evidence, which is how we can imagine an entire car, and make assumptions about its driver, based on a few details, such as rusting clunker, red convertible, or black limousine. This by-product of survival skills makes story telling easier – descriptions can be shorter, and errors overlooked. When the writer later mentions that the limousine is white, many readers may not even notice, as they have already established the car in their minds, and ignore the contrary evidence.

Other readers may notice, but not care if the story is otherwise good. I’ve enjoyed many books that were not perfect. Lots of elements make up a story, and we can easily forgive typos and other errors if the characters are intriguing, the dialogue witty, and the plot brisk and fresh. This explains why a book with errors can still sell well, and still get good reviews.

However, some readers will notice errors, and it will take them out of the story. The tolerance for distraction from typos or continuity errors varies from one person to the next, but no one likes distraction while reading. Trying to follow the story, and trying to determine if Paul and Raul are the same character, is multi-tasking, and people are not good at multi-tasking. When errors are noted in reviews, it is going to hurt sales. People who might have never noticed or tolerated the errors may think twice about purchasing a book when errors are brought to their attention. If the first volume of a series has distracting errors, some readers will pass on future volumes.

The goal is to have as few errors as possible, to avoid losing readers and sales. Good reviews that do not mention typos and inconsistencies will help sales more than good reviews that mention typos and inconsistencies.

Our reliance on patterns, and lack of ability to multi-task, combine to make it harder for writers to find errors in their own work. Writers are too familiar with their own work, and may have difficulty separating editing tasks from writing tasks. This is why a beta-reader or editor is helpful.

When an editor reads black limousine, they don’t visualize the car in the story. Instead, they consider past and future references to the vehicle. Is it always black? Is the interior, whether luxurious or worn, described consistently? Does it make sense for the driver to have this vehicle? Editors may read the book more than once, to consider different aspects of the work.

Please get a second reader – someone who will look for errors. It won’t hurt, and it might help.

Domain Names

Even if you do not have a website, if you have any online business or professional presence, you should have a domain name.

You can have a website through services like WordPress.com with or without your own domain name, but having a domain name is inexpensive branding. A domain name allows you to move a site from one service to another, without changing the site name. Owning a domain name also lets you use that name to have a branded or personal email address, instead of a generic Gmail address, or an address that includes the name of your internet service provider – and that needs to be changed if you switch to another provider.

Domain names are not expensive. Prices vary, but are generally $10 to $20 a year. As with other things, you get what you pay for. For example, domain names ending with .com make public the name, address, and phone number of the person who registered them. If you don’t want your contact information displayed to the world, you can request that the company you buy the name from, the registrar, substitute their information. Some registrars offer this for free, while others, especially low cost registrars, charge extra. Similarly, sometimes the name registration includes a small amount of web space or some email services, while other times it does not.

You can buy your domain name from the same company that you purchase your website hosting space from, and if you have a WordPress.com site, you can buy your domain name from WordPress. Some hosting companies include domain name as part of a package. Buying a domain name and hosting services together is easier, but buying them separately gives you more flexibility if you later want to purchase hosting from one company and domain registration from another. Not all name types are available from all companies. For example, WordPress.com does not sell some country specific extensions, such as .ca.

That brings us to the question of what extension you should have. There are many to choose from. The most common and widely known is .com, and that should probably be your first choice. People may assume your name is .com, and choosing another extension such as .net when .com is not available can lead to confusion. Using your country extension helps identify your location, which might be beneficial, and there may be a greater choice of names available. Country extensions are usually well known within that country. Different countries have different rules on who can use their extensions. For example, .ca is only available to people with some connection to Canada.

As for the name itself, be flexible. You want something that is available, descriptive, memorable, not too long, easy to type, and unlikely to lead to lawsuits from other people or companies with a claim to that name. Particularly if the domain name is for a business or other organization, getting legal advice on the name should be considered.

Your personal name is a good choice for a professional, especially if you use your full name, or some combination of your name and initials, or name and profession. You could also use your business name, but be aware that it might not be unique online, and need to be modified, perhaps by adding your city. Generic terms such as Florist or FastFlowers are rarely available, and do not offer brand recognition. Name registration companies can tell you if a name is available, and may suggest alternatives if a name is not available. You should test minor variations of your proposed domain name, especially if the spelling is unusual, to see where you end up if your name is typed incorrectly.

Domain names are not case sensitive, so a name composed of more than one word can use capitals for clarity. BobsPlumbingVancouver is easier to read than bobsplumbingvancouver. However, try different combinations of capitalization: ChildrensWearHalifax might be mocked as ChildrenSwearHalifax.

You can have more than one name. Your registration company can arrange for one name to forward to another (for free or for a charge), and your email can also be forwarded to another email account. A domain name change can be phased in over a year or two by forwarding from one to another while printed items and contacts are updated. Multiple domain names also allow a site to have domain names in more than one language.

Finally, don’t sweat the name too much. While a business or a job seeker should have a respectable domain name, remember that many people are not going to get to your web site by typing in the name. Instead, they will click on links in search results, other sites, emails, or social media posts.

If all this seems like too much work, it can be tempting to let someone else buy the domain name for you. If you have hired someone to build a site for you, they could also take care of the name registration. However, you must ensure that they register the name on your behalf, and not under their own name. Even the most attentive and careful web person can get sick, or busy, and if they are the only contact, you may find yourself not only unable to renew the name or update the site, but unable to get anyone else to do it. If a name expires, the site disappears. Retrieving a domain name can be a long and difficult process. If someone is registering a domain name for you, make sure you are registrant.

If you would like assistance obtaining a domain name, feel free to contact me.

The Invisible Gorilla

I recently completed editing an academic textbook. This was a heavy copy edit, as well as reference checking and formatting. I made suggestions for the structure, requested some clarifications, proposed a few transition sentences, and even fixed spelling here and there.  I was happy with the work, and so was the client.

Having a little time on my hands, I drafted an academic article in my field, and asked my former client to take a look at it for me. They made suggestions for the structure, requested some clarifications, proposed a few transition sentences, and even fixed spelling here and there. My initial reaction was to think, how could I have missed these things?

I blame the invisible gorilla (read about it here). Because of how our eyes and our brains work, we often don’t see what we are not looking for. This can have fatal consequences for activities such as driving. You might hear someone say, after a collision, “he came out of nowhere” or “I never saw him.” Good driving means watching for the unexpected. The stakes are lower when you are writing, but the same problem exists.

As an author, you may overlook errors because you are not looking for them. You are concentrating on putting your thoughts on paper, or perhaps imagining the fame and fortune that await, once your masterpiece is published. (That’s how I overcome procrastination, and it’s helped get me published a few times, though fame and fortune still elude me.) It’s hard for an author to switch roles and be the editor of their own work. It can help to take a few days, and work on other things, but nothing beats a second set of eyes.

They say that a person who is their own lawyer has a fool for a client (and they’ve been saying it since at least 1809). That’s not a comment on the skill of the lawyer, but a reminder that one person should not take on two roles. No matter how good a writer you are, the editor should be someone else who can see the gorillas you miss.

Selling on your WordPress.com site

If you use WordPress for your self-hosted site, there are many plugins available to support marketing and selling your products. The free, or nearly free, WordPress.com service can also be used to promote a business, sell products, or request donations, but there are a few conditions. These are discussed below, and are largely summarized from this WordPress page.

You should be familiar with the user guidelines for WordPress.com. Basically, site content should be original, and not offensive. You should read the terms and conditions too.

Forget running ads to make money, no matter how many posts you read about making fortunes running ads. WordPress.com runs ads on your site, unless you pay to remove them. That’s part of how they can offer the service for free. You cannot place Google AdSense Ads or anything similar. If you are getting thousands of page views per month, there is an advertising service from WordPress you may be able to join, but for most of us that’s not an option.

However, you can place affiliate links, such as links using the Amazon Associates program. Links have to be for reputable sites, and WordPress decides what is reputable, but if you have to wonder, it’s probably not. Also, you cannot build a site just to place affiliate links. If you write book reviews, and post an affiliate link for each book reviewed, that’s okay, but you cannot make a site that looks like an online bookstore.

A site that promotes your business (like this site) is allowed, though I recommend purchasing a package that removes ads. There’s no point in promoting potential competitors. You can also sell products and request donations. You won’t be able to set up a shopping cart system or payment system, but you can provide links to your products on sites like etsy, or sell items directly and collect payment through PayPal. You can post PayPal links or buttons following these directions.  WordPress also has a complete tutorial on setting up a business site.

You can request donations, using the PayPal donate button, but you must meet the PayPal requirements for donations – in other words, be a registered charity. Charities may also quality for a discount on their PayPal processing fees. If you are not a charity, you can still request contributions, but those contributions are purchases, not donations.

If you are selling or promoting products that might be considered mature, such as nude photographs or drawings, make sure you mark your site as Mature, and understand the limitations of mature content.

Although there are some restrictions and conditions, in many cases you can use a free WordPress.com site to quickly and easily promote your business, or sell products you have made. If you would like assistance setting up or modifying a WordPress.com site, please contact me.

WordPress Bookmarks

WordPress makes creating web sites easy, but there is one handy web page feature that requires a tiny bit of coding: Bookmarks. Fortunately, it’s simple coding that anyone can do. You add the code when you are editing your page or post. These instructions apply to WordPress.com and WordPress.org sites.

Introduction
Create a Bookmark
Link to a Bookmark from the Same Page
Link to a Bookmark from Another Page


Introduction

Bookmarks allow you to jump to anywhere on a page (or post), from the same page, from another page on the same site, or from another site. You can use bookmarks to create links for a specific point on a page, and send these via email, or use them for social media posts.

If there are sections on a page, like this one, you can create a table of contents at the top of the page, like the one at the top here, and allow users to click and go directly to that section.This is useful on longer pages, and remember that a one screen page on a large desktop monitor might already require a lot of scrolling on a mobile device. There are two steps for each bookmark: Create the bookmark, and create the link to it.


Create a Bookmark

  1. Switch to Text (HTML) mode. The mode is selected by tabs in the upper right, above the toolbar for the typing area. The default mode is Visual, and you can switch back at any time.
  2. Find the location for your bookmark. For example, to set the bookmark for the heading at the top of this section, I scrolled down to the heading. The line looked like this:
    <strong>Create a Bookmark</strong>
    Just ignore the characters around the text, but be careful not to erase or move any of them. If you accidentally delete something, go back to Visual editing and fix the appearance there.
  3. The bookmark should always go on the line above the heading (or paragraph, or image) that will be the destination for the link. If there is no blank line, add one with the Enter key.
  4. Type the bookmark code, including a name. For this section, the bookmark code is
    <a name=”Create”></a>
  5. The name of the bookmark is between the quotes. It can be anything you want, but it should be short, simple, and descriptive, with no spaces or odd characters. You can put as many bookmarks as you want on a page, but each one must be unique. This bookmark could also have been
    <a name=”second_section”></a>
    or
    <a name=”part2″></a>
  6. You can also create a bookmark at the very top of the page, just in case you want to offer users a Return to Top link. That bookmark might be
    <a name=”top”></a>
  7. Go go back to Visual mode, and you’ll see a little anchor symbol where your bookmark is. If you make any errors typing the bookmark, WordPress may delete it completely, or your page may look odd. If so, just switch back to the Text/HTML editor, and double check that the bookmark is typed correctly. Now you just need to create a link to your bookmark.


Link to a Bookmark from the Same Page

  1. First you need to type the word or phrase that will be the thing to click. For example, if you are making a table of contents, you need to type the headings at the top of the page. If you want to offer a Return to Top link, type that wherever you want to offer it.
  2. Highlight the text, and click the Insert/Edit Link button in the WordPress toolbar.
  3. In the box for the link, type a hashtag, and the name of the bookmark. For the example bookmark above, you’d enter
    #Create
    For a link that goes to the top of the page, you’d enter
    #top
  4. Click Apply. The link is created.


Link to a Bookmark from Another Page

  1. Bookmarks can be added to a page address, so that when someone clicks a link to a page, they go directly to a specific place on the page.
  2. For example, the address of this page is
    http://covell.ca/wordpress-bookmarks/
  3. To go directly to the Create a Bookmark section of this page, from any other page on the internet, the address is
    http://covell.ca/wordpress-bookmarks/#Create
  4. That link can also be sent via email, or used on social media posts.

Bookmarks are a simple but powerful tool that make it easier for your readers to find things on larger pages, and for you to offer links to sections of your pages.

Making web sites better for you and your readers is one of the services I offer. If you’d like assistance with your site, please contact me.

How to Fix a Facebook Share

You’ve finished a great blog entry. You share it to Facebook – and then realize there’s a typo in the headline, or you forgot to add an image. You cancel the Facebook share, fix the blog, update it, and share it to Facebook again. The headline still has a typo, or the image is still missing. The page has updated, the link goes to the updated page, but the preview on Facebook did not update. What happened?

Facebook does not automatically refresh link summaries and images, so if something changes on a page that has been shared to Facebook, the link preview might not update to show the change. It does not matter whether you shared it or someone else did. For example, you might share a link to a newspaper story, and see a description and image on your Facebook feed that is from an earlier version of the story.

Fortunately, there is an easy way to force Facebook to refresh the link summary and image.

  1. Make sure you are logged into Facebook.
  2. In a new tab, go to this page: https://developers.facebook.com/tools/debug/og/object/
  3. Enter the URL for the item you want to share.
  4. Click the button that says “Fetch New Scrape Information.”
  5. Facebook refreshes and displays all the data it has about the shared item, including an updated summary and image. You can close this tab.

Now you can share the post, and this time the link preview will be current.

Please Get a Second Reader

I recently saw an interesting tweet from an author promoting her ebook. The pitch was good, so I clicked the link through to an Amazon page selling her book. The additional information there was promising, but the reviews were alarming. Just two, and both were one-star ratings. The reviewers complained of poor spelling and grammar. No sale. I returned to Twitter, saw another book by a different author, and discovered similar poor reviews. This time the complaints were about a character that apparently had two names, and a sudden ending. A look through Amazon’s listings reveals many more books with one-star ratings, often due to poor grammar or plot errors.

I feel sorry for these authors. They took the time and effort to write stories. This is not easy. Then they did the work of preparing ebooks, posting them to Amazon, and promoting them. All of this takes hard work and courage. The result is public shaming over easily avoided mistakes, and probably poor sales.

Before publishing your ebook, please ask at least one other person to read it. A second set of eyes can spot mistakes that you might overlook. Ideally, the other person reading your book will have a strong grasp of English and is familiar with the genre. They should be able to give you honest and objective feedback about your work.

Other readers can be anyone from friends and family to critique groups and beta readers. Services such as mine offer manuscript evaluation or editing. A manuscript evaluation is a broad review of the strengths and weaknesses in areas including grammar, plot, characterization, and style, with tips for improvements. Editing is a more thorough analysis and correction of one or more specific areas, and is more costly than a manuscript evaluation.

Asking a friend to read and comment on your work is easy. For any other service, make sure you understand exactly what is provided, the terms (such as how long it will take to get the response), and the cost. If you are interested in a manuscript evaluation from me, please contact me for more information. Regardless of how you do it, please get a second reader. Don’t go to all the work of publishing your book, only to end up with discouraging one-star reviews and poor sales.