Creating an Author Website with Squarespace

Creating an Author Website with Squarespace

The most common piece of advice for an author trying to find a publisher is to create a website and start a blog. The idea is that you regularly post new, free content to build your audience, all of whom will undoubtedly be chomping at the bit to buy your book when it is published.

I have been creating websites since the GeoCities days (the late ’90s for those of you too young to know the reference) when you had to hand code your websites. With every new website I create, I am eager to try something new. I’ve used basic templates in which you use a text editor to modify the HTML/CSS/Javascript to tailor it to your own needs. I’ve used WordPress and Weebly. One has so many options when creating a website that I found the idea of creating a new author website to be daunting.

So I made excuses to myself for not creating a website. I don’t really need a website. I just need a publisher who sees the genius of my creation. I can’t blog, anyway, because I want to keep the ideas to myself until I publish the book. However, I kept hearing the same advice over and over: Create a website. Start a blog. Create a website. Start a blog. Create a website. Start a blog.

AAAAHHHHH! ALRIGHT ALREADY!

I thought to myself, Why am I making this so hard? The technology is far enough along that creating a website and blog should be easy. I looked up a couple of reviews of website builders. For me, the most important criteria were that the software has to be easy to use and provide enough help that I can quickly throw something together. Wix is by far the most popular in this category, but one review said SquareSpace is better for bloggers. Ok, I’m not going to overthink this. SquareSpace it is.

Friends, it took me two hours to create my website. That is insanely fast compared to days of yore. I paid for the basic plan. Since I’m just using it as a blog, I don’t need any of the upper tier features yet. For less than $200 for one year of website service, one gets the following features:

  • A domain of your choice
  • Design templates that are easy to customize
  • Simple access to stock photos
  • Automatic newsletter signup form
  • Automatic security certificate
  • Analytics information for you to take to an agent/publisher (how many visitors you have to your website)
  • Marketing tools (including how many newsletter subscribers you have and an email/newsletter builder)
  • SEO tools

SquareSpace’s website builder is intuitive, but below are a few tips to help where I stumbled.

Create a Favicon

The favicon is a small logo that represents your website and can be used in multiple places, such as in the browser tab, your browser history, or on a list of shortcuts:

A favicon on a browser tab.

The black square with AH in white letters is the favicon representing my website.

You can easily create a favicon using an online tool such as Favicon Generator.

To add your Favicon to your SquareSpace website, go to the Settings option in your website’s main menu, and then select Favicon.

Settings appears as the 2nd to last menu item in the website's main menu.The Favicon setting is the fourth setting down for the website settings.

Turn on Blog Comments

By default, blog posts are not created with a comments section. I like the idea of interacting with readers and have chosen to allow comments on my posts. If you also want to do this, you can turn on comments globally and then turn them off on specific posts.

Managing comments sitewide can be done through the website settings where you found the Favicon settings above, but instead of selecting Favicon, choose the Blog Preferences option.

The Blog Preferences menu item is the 9th item in the website settings menu.

In the Blog Preferences menu, select Comments Settings, then Enable Comments Globally. After this point, any new blog posts you create will include a Comments section.

The Comments setting in Blog Preferences. The "Enable Comments Globally" option in the Comments Setting.

Then to remove the comments section for an individual blog post, select the ellipsis after your blog post entry, and choose Settings. In the Options menu item, you can toggle the Comments to off.

Select the ellipsis after the blog title, then select Settings. In the Options menu item, you can toggle the Comments to off.

Adding a Tag Cloud

If you hover over the text of your blog post while you are in Edit mode, you will get a “+” button above and below each paragraph. At the end of your post, you can use this to add a Tag Cloud (near the bottom of the features available in the “Filters & Lists” section):

If you hover over the text of your blog post while you are in Edit mode, you will get a "+" button above and below each paragraph.

At the end of your post, you can use this to add a Tag Cloud (near the bottom of the features available in the "Filters & Lists" section).

To add the tags that will feature in the tag cloud, go back to the blog post settings (using the ellipsis after the blog title), and now select Options > Tags:

To add the tags that will feature in the tag cloud, go back to the blog post settings (using the ellipsis after the blog title), and now select Options > Tags.

After each tag, press Enter. If you have previously entered tags for other blog posts, the software will auto-suggest tags as soon as you start typing.

After each tag, press Enter. If you have previously entered tags for other blog posts, the software will auto-suggest tags as soon as you start typing.

 

If you, too, have been dragging your feet when it comes to creating your own website and blog, I encourage you to try out a website builder like Squarespace or Wix. I can’t guarantee I’ll have the answers, but feel free to get in touch with me if you have questions. Good luck!

The Double Life of a Printed Page

The Double Life of a Printed Page

I’ve added one more pebble to the bucket of experiences I want to collect as I travel through life. For many years I have attended the annual Library Sale held on the last weekend in February at the Oklahoma City Fairgrounds. I have amassed a ridiculous amount of books that have filled 232 linear feet of shelving. A decent amount is still in boxes waiting to be displayed.

This year, I finally made it a priority to volunteer at the sale. I signed up on a whim, before my brain could kick into overdrive and throw around all the reasons why it wouldn’t be a good idea. You know, the usual “I’ve got so much to do” excuses and a rapid fire of other tasks vying for priority. I held my breath and clicked submit. As remorse crept through the creases, commitment stood cross-armed at the threshold of my mind preventing recrimination to develop. My resolve solidified.

After a day of teaching, I got in my car, inhaled deeply, exhaled slowly and drove to the Fairgrounds. Upon arrival I was greeted by a squad of smiling folks clad in peachy orange t-shirts who handed me one as well. After I slipped it on, I was directed to work in the General Area, a large room filled with thousands of books neatly laid spine-up on tables spiked with signs designating genre. I was placed under the tutelage of an older gentleman in the mystery section. The task was simple: keep the books in order and alphabetized as much as possible.

Not quite a case of Stendhal syndrome, but the expanse of cellulose garbed in colorful covers threw me into a semi-catatonic state. As if on autopilot, my hands grabbed book after book, sliding each in its place. Slowly, my brain tingled back to its regular activity. “So many books,” I thought. My first reaction was sadness. They had been bought, gifted, read (maybe) and discarded. Some even bore the shameful word stamped in red ink across the title page to prove it. They had donned the shelves of our local libraries and had been declared no longer relevant. They had been stacked in the rejection pile, then packed up and shipped off to the sale. How deeply sad. I almost felt their souls throb with pain. Or was it pain?

My thoughts shifted hue as a rainbow does, and I realized that I had it all wrong. The myriad of words encapsulated in them were a living organism. They no longer seemed Oliver-Twist-ish, poor and dejected. No, they weren’t victims of cold hearted rejection, they were just moving on, following the constant flow of change. They had accomplished their goal: entertaining and teaching; opening minds and challenging assumptions; and now, they had been released to find new eyes and penetrate other consciences.

As a writer, I often feel lost in the great ocean of published works. I ask myself if there’s room for my voice in the chorus of authors who produce such masterful books. I hang back and struggle to join in. It seems like a magic whose tricks are unknown to me. Words bloom from an idea into an arrangement that brings pleasure to readers. Am I capable of such a feat?

Handling hundreds of books, reading the spines and back covers, occasionally peeking inside and indulging in a few sentences, renewed my desire to join the throng of men and women who push forth the stories that populate their imagination. The millions of pages beckoned me once again to defy my hesitation and dream a little longer, holding tight to the hope that one day, perhaps, one of my books will find itself in the hands of a reader…and then another…and another.

OWFI Writers Conference 2023

OWFI Writers Conference 2023

The Pen & Keyboard Writers recently participated in OWFI Writers Conference 2023. The theme for this year’s conference was Out of the Box. The president of OWFI said that they were referring to both meanings of this phrase when planning for the conference: technology that works “out of the box” and thinking “out[side] of the box,” and I had fun applying these meanings to the different events within the conference. For instance, Casie Dodd at Belle Point Press gave a presentation, “Small Presses 101.” Dodd would very much like an author’s experience with her press to be “out of the box,” easy on the author while maximizing the success of her press. On the other end, in J Hall’s presentation, “Social Media Marketing (for people who never wanted to be marketers),” Hall encouraged his audience to think “out of the box” with their marketing and be more indirect and genuine instead of sales-y.

I was new to the OWFI Writers Conference this year, so I can’t say how outside the box the conference was, having little experience as to what’s usually in the box. The conference had four rooms of sessions presented simultaneously over the course of two days. The topics ranged from inspirational (“Unstuck Yourself”) to educational, and the educational topics covered subjects as varied as “Violence and Martial Arts in Fiction” to a session about dictation. Additionally, the conference included a book room where authors and presses could market their books (our 2022 anthology Celebrating the Seasons was on display) as well as two formal dinners.

My Brain is Stuffed, Let’s Eat

At the first dinner, Grady Hendrix gave the keynote presentation. Hendrix is the bestselling author of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires amongst others. His speech was both humorous and uplifting. He encouraged us to play a drinking game: every time he made a mistake in his writing career… drink! What goes on at a conference stays at the conference, so I won’t say if anyone was hammered by the end of the speech, but let’s just say Hendrix admitted to a number of mistakes. At the heart of many of his mistakes was “toxic nostalgia,” when he tried to write about the past in a way that was a rose-colored view of that past instead of capturing the challenges of that time. His best successes have come when he could realistically portray a protagonist’s battles (even if he’s doing so humorously). What I loved about Hendrix’s presentation was how honestly he spoke of his difficulties getting his stories published and how he struggled to incorporate the well-intentioned feedback from his spouse, his editor, and his publisher. These were sentiments I’m sure everyone present could relate to.

At the second dinner, we learned the recipients of the OWFI Writing Contest Awards. We celebrated our members winning several awards:

  • Holly Jahangiri
    • Honorable Mention, Essay: “In an AI World, Are Human Writers Already Obsolete”
    • Third Place, Poetry: Unrhymed Short: “Tepid Coffee”
  • Joe Scavetti
    • Third Place, Prose Humor: “Late-Night Conversation”
  • Darlinda Hagens
    • Honorable Mention, Unpublished Romance Book: Fighting for Love and Heaven

Measuring the Conference Success, Personally

My as yet unpublished research book on happiness outlines the importance of meeting six basic needs (autonomy, physiology, safety, growth, social, and esteem) for long-term happiness and meeting expectations for short-term happiness. Writing a book on the subject, I can’t help but evaluate all my experiences against my happiness rubric, so to speak. I’m going to include you, dear reader, on this fun little activity for measuring the success of OWFI Writers Conference 2023.

Long-Term Happiness

We’re playing the long game with need fulfillment. The more we can fill the six needs over the course of our lives, the more satisfied and happy we feel overall. However, it’s great to get a boost meeting any of these needs with a short-term experience like a conference. I primarily look to conferences as a way to meet growth and social needs: the conference sessions should be educational, and everything in between should provide opportunities for networking. This was absolutely the case at this year’s Writers Conference.

Growth

The speakers at the conference covered a variety of topics, and, as a newbie to both the conference and to book publishing, almost all of the information being taught was new to me. I learned everything from what to consider for the design of the book cover to how to run promotions through book deals sites. The speakers provided me with a wealth of resources. Should I choose to do so, I can continue my research further post-conference.

Social

Your social needs require that you not only make one-on-one connections but that you feel like you’re part of a community, too. This, honestly, is my favorite part of attending conferences. I love nerding out with people over a shared interest. Simply due to the fact that we’re all at this event because we enjoy writing and have goals to publish means that we’re all instantly friends. I can strike up a conversation with the stranger next to me as if we’ve known each other a lifetime. We’ll laugh together about $3 sodas or toilet leaks or that person who wins all the darn awards (good for her, but, also, share the wealth!).

Having those moments for connections, both casual and deep, are important. The conference organizers clearly understood this and built plenty of opportunities into the schedule. The conference sessions were spaced with 20-minute breaks, and the free time given for lunch and before dinner was ample. They scheduled break-out sessions so that groups could spontaneously gather over a shared topic of interest, and they provided a lobby with plenty of seating for conversations, planned or unplanned.

Remaining Four Needs

The other four needs were also met to a greater or lesser extent. Our autonomy needs demand that we feel some control in any given situation. Conference-goers could choose between four sessions or could choose to not attend and instead nap in their hotel room. The long breaks meant that I had time to fit a workout in, and the dinners had healthy options (physiology needs? Check!). The community is an encouraging one. I asked several dumb questions (because I’m so new to this!) and yet received thoughtful, supportive responses. Thus, my need for a safe environment was met. Finally, when every person seemed thrilled that I was there, my self-esteem received a happy little boost. Check, check, and check!

Short-Term Happiness

While a conference organizer can plan for how to meet their attendees’ varied needs, it’s a little harder to set expectations. Yes, they can publish information about the conference ahead of time, but a person’s expectations can be based on outside factors beyond the organizer’s control. For example, I spoke to one conference attendee who has been attending the OWFI Writers Conference for years. He stated disappointment that there were so many topics on the business side of writing. What he’d been looking for was more conversation about the art of writing. He had seen the schedule of sessions ahead of the conference, but his expectation was formed largely from past experience. I, on the other hand, was new to the conference. My only expectations (that I learn something and that I meet people) were based partly on the published schedule and partly on my own experiences with other types of conferences. Therefore, the meeting of expectations is more of a personal bar, unique to each person.

My expectations were on the low side of the spectrum. The conference easily exceeded them. Not only did I learn much, I was also inspired by some of the speakers to write and read more. On the social side, I met some lovely smart people. The connections were so tantalizing that I have extended several of them beyond the conference.

Conclusion

Based on the standards I use for evaluating the success of an event, the meeting of six needs of long-term happiness and the meeting of expectations, OWFI Writers Conference 2023 was a home run, well worth the time and money spent on it. I’m looking forward to spending the next year reaping the rewards from the conference. I plan to both put to good use the information I learned and savor the friendships gained.

Your author showing her excitement at being at OWFI Writers Conference 2023.

Celebrating the awards

Another of the Pen & Keyboard tables

Formal dinner time!

Dressed up and ready to celebrate the awards!

We Didn’t Win, But We’re Still Celebrating!

We Didn’t Win, But We’re Still Celebrating!

Happy Mother’s Day

A gentle drenching rain falls on this damp, green Mother’s Day morning. Last night’s angry flashes of lightning and foundation-rattling thunder were enough to send me scurrying far away from the windows. But now, the rain is softly percussive against the drooping leaves, plinking droplets sounding musical notes as they splash into muddy puddles. A steady thump, thump, thump of water against the metal chimney keeps the beat, drumming its insistent, incessant, rhythm. My pequin pepper bush stretches its branches wide as the heavens quench its thirst. It bursts out in spicy little nubbins of joy.

What creature doesn’t celebrate the seasons? What creature doesn’t mourn – just a little – the passing from one to another, even while welcoming the next? Without winter to clear the way, there would be no spring. Without spring, summer would make a desert of us all. Fall reminds us that winter is just around the corner, but sings the other seasons out in a joyous riot of color and the momentary refreshment of a crisp, cool breeze wafting a hint of apple cider.

Celebrating!

Pen & Keyboard Writers‘ anthology, Celebrating the Seasons: An Anthology in Poetry and Prose, didn’t win the Oklahoma Book Award. It didn’t win Best Adult Book in the Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc (OWFI) Contest. But, ever-hopeful, our writing group enjoyed the OWFI Conference and our pre-con lunch at San Marcos Mexican Restaurant, nonetheless. In fact, seeing each other face-to-face was the real reward for a job well done.

Pen and Keyboard Writers at San Marcos Mexican Restaurant in Oklahoma City Jacque Graham, Holly Jahangiri, and Vivian Zabel at OWFI Conference 2023 Autumn Harting, Eva Mahoney, Carla Guthrie, Darlinda Hagens, Biruta Harris, Donna Richardson, Don Richardson Jim Martin, E. H. McEachern Pen and Keyboard Writers at the OWFI Awards Banquet, May 2023

The Reviews are IN!

Cover of Celebrating the Seasons“A lovely collection of poems and short stories from different age perspectives in a celebration of life’s transitions. The seasonal comparative analogy is nothing new but the diversity of the stories is refreshing.”

“This is an easy read and maintains interest. There is a natural progression through the poems and stories to reflect the spirituality of each season in turn.”

“Consistent and professional.”

“This is a charming collection that balances well. Each author’s piece(s) blend and support the other selections for each season. Cohesive and fluid. The introductory poems in each season set the stage for the life lessons represented in each season. Very nice balance.”

Those were from the judge who didn’t choose our book as the winner! See customer reviews so far at Amazon.com: Customer reviews: Celebrating the Seasons

To get your own copy in print or eBook, choose your favorite online retailer here: Celebrating the Seasons

Follow our group on Amazon: Amazon.com: Pen & Keyboard Writers: books, biography, latest update – we had so much fun on the first anthology, we already have another in the works!

 

Celebrating All Seasons – Year ‘Round

Celebrating All Seasons – Year ‘Round

Every season brings with it changes—some good, some bad, some challenging to one’s sanity. Celebrating the Seasons is a lot like the change of seasons. Each of the stories has at least some of what you hope for in a specific season, like Joe Scavetti’s Tomorrow in the spring season, for example. On a grey day, the young male protagonist, feeling that, “All of his hopes, dreams and comforts . . . were flooding down the storm drains of Pensacola,” learns a life’s lesson in an unusual way.

In An Unexpected Summer Breeze, Darlinda Hagens leads us through mystery, murder and long-awaited love. What could be better in a summer of showers and sizzling heat? And speaking of sizzling heat, we can thank the autumn season and Carla Guthrie’s Autumn Walk story to cool down that heat and give us a renewed appreciation for how this change of season begins one of rest, something we all need but fight against. As Carla puts it, “Human nature perhaps abhors idleness.” Yet, idleness helps to prepare us for “The Gifts of Winter,” and Changing Roles by E.H. McEachern, where taking time to reminisce and learn about the past grants the opportunity for you, too, to feel a sense of piece envelop you “like a warm well-worn and loved blanket.”

Although you can read each poem and story from start to finish in the book, I find that skipping ahead and going back again, is more than satisfying; it’s also effective at helping me prepare for the day ahead. Sometimes, I even reread my own story, Waterfalls, where a lonely young woman and an enterprising neighbor conspire to bring love (and more) to the protagonist’s life. So, read a poem or a short story whenever time permits, and then you can enjoy the changing of the seasons at any time of the year.

 

Benefits of a Writers’ Group

Benefits of a Writers’ Group

What Are the Benefits of Joining a Writers’ Group?

I’m not much of a “joiner.” So why would I join not just one writers’ group, but three? Pens, people, and publication. One benefit of membership in a writing group like Pen & Keyboard Writers is the opportunity to write, contribute to, edit, and develop an anthology. Our 2023 anthology, Celebrating the Seasons, is also our first, but we had so much fun with the project that it definitely won’t be our last. The most important benefit, though, is the chance to work with some our fellow writers who complement our strength and weaknesses, and to learn from one another.

Pens

Writers write. Many of us have a ridiculous collection of pens, notebooks, blank books, blogs. We write. I told someone last week that I “think and talk through my fingers.” Communication of what’s in our imaginations into our readers’ imaginations is the goal; publication is icing on the cake. Publishing an anthology is one way to ice the cake.

Key to a successful anthology project is that the members work well together and roll up their shirtsleeves, setting egos aside, to do whatever is needed. Pen & Keyboard Writers worked effectively together as a team from deciding on a theme to editing, revising, and editing again.

We chose “seasons” as our theme. It was broad enough to encompass stories about climate, weather, seasonal change – but also seasons as a metaphor for the stages of life. Our group is based in Oklahoma; the group is an affiliate member of Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc (OWFI). As Oklahoma’s famous native son, Will Rogers, supposedly said, “If you don’t like our Oklahoma weather, just wait a couple of hours and we’ll have it changed. We’ve got every kind of weather there is.” Next, we began to write.

I contributed two poems: “Longing for Four” and “verbum sap sapienti est,” that serve as “bookends” to all the stories and poems in the book. Each poem deals with the transition of one season into the next, as well as the capricious human whims and changing moods reflected in Nature, itself.

People

Some groups are for novice writers and some are geared towards those with more experience. Others, like Pen & Keyboard Writers, have a healthy mix of writers who span decades of life experience and writing expertise. And we help each other because we want to, not because it’s an “assignment” to do so.

May be an image of 9 people

Publication

Early in the process of developing an anthology for publication, we traded our stories to ensure that each submission had at least two fresh pairs of eyes reviewing them and providing initial feedback from “scrap it and start over” to “almost perfect.” It’s essential to realize that every editor will have different corrections and suggestions, and it’s important to consider all of them objectively – not necessarily to incorporate every suggestion, but to consider the advice. Each edit represents a reader’s opinion, a writer’s edits, and feedback from a fellow group member who wants to see us succeed both individually and as a group. And we all want to be proud of the final product – our book.

Once each contributor made their initial revisions, I formatted the book and sent a first draft to the group for review. This time, everyone reviewed every page, providing not only edits to the stories and poems contained within the book, but also their opinions on the typeface and layout. There were several more rounds of edits, since with each pass, there’s a chance of introducing fresh errors or spotting little ones we’d previously missed – be that in typing or formatting of headers and footers, or pagination.

It’s critical that everyone set aside their egos and their inner crises of confidence. There is nothing but the work and our respect for, our trust in, each other. That means giving honest feedback to ensure that no one’s “slip” is showing. Honest feedback, and the ability to receive it, is vitally important prior to publication. After publication, it’s too late for changes – the book is in the hands of readers.

Perfection?

Few published books, including textbooks, are perfect. But that’s always the end goal, and I think we polished our anthology till it shines! We all hope readers will agree.

Flier – Feel Free to Share!

Flier – Benefits of Joining Pen and Keyboard Writers