ShortbreadStories: The Blog

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Archive for the category “Blogging”

How to Use ShortbreadStories

/by Rachel Marsh/

ShortbreadStories’s mission statement states that we are ‘an online community of writers’, but despite our own definition, I think we are actually quite difficult to classify. ShortbreadStories, in my opinion, is a gloriously wonderful hodgepodge of writing, advice, publishing and inspiration. It’s a community; it’s a mentor; it’s our writing desk. And since we’re a little bit of everything, sometimes the site can be a bit confusing. So, today’s blog is going to take the topic: ‘How to Use ShortbreadStories’.

There are five ShortbreadStories elements of which you should be aware:

  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Community
  • Inspiration
  • Guidance

Within each of these elements, we have implemented tools to promote specific outcomes, and these outcomes are motivated by aspects of our mission statement. The second part of this mission statement reads, ‘Besides providing a worldwide showcase for their work, Shortbread Stories aims to build self-confidence in writing ability through the mentoring, advice and encouragement forthcoming from both its writing and reading community.’

Below you will find a break down of how to use the site:

Element: Writing
Outcome: Get you to write
Tools: The writing desk and submission of stories
Motivation: We hope that by giving authors a place to share their work it will facilitate writing. (It’s as simple as that.)
How to Use the Writing Tools: Write a story and put it up on the site. (Yes, it’s that simple)

Element: Reading
Outcome: Provide a space for readers and writers of short stories to come together
Tools: The plethora of short stories and audio stories on the site.
Motivation: The original premise of ShortbreadStories was to provide a space for the public to read all types of new creative writing, especially short stories. So far, I think we’ve done that.
How to Use the Writing Tools: On the ShortbreadStories website, go to the navigation bar at the top and roll over ‘Read and Listen’. This will give you options to browse by genre, recent stories, popular stories, or just have a scroll through our catalog in alphabetical order. You can read the stories online or download them as a pdf. You can read them on a train, on a plane, on a beach or at home. Just read and share.

Element: Inspiration
Objective: To inspire and motive authors to write.
Tools: The newsletter, competitions, audio stories and writing tips.
Motivation: All authors need that little push now and then. We hope that by providing inspirational tips and writing goals through competitions, we can help Shortbreaders become stronger and more prolific authors.
How to Use the Writing Tools: You don’t need to enter every competition, tackle every writing tip, or answer every rhetorical question posted in the newsletter. However, when you feel like you just can’t get those words on the page, then it may be time to have a go at a themed competition or writing tip.

Element: Community
Objective: Support and encouragement for writers.
Tools: The comments section, the forum, and ShortbreadStories the blog
Motivation: We’ve probably said it 100 times, but it is worth repeating…what makes ShortbreadStories so wonderful is the community. Shortbreader interaction has caused the site to grow, and it is the friendly, supportive and inclusive nature of the site that drives many of the story submissions.
How to Use the Writing Tools: If you read a story, leave a comment. Or if you have a thought, question or topic of discussion, begin a forum thread or join one that’s already in existence. If you’re a blogger, follow the ShortbreadStories blog (shortbreadstories.wordpress.com) and link to us. And remember, ShortbreadStories isn’t only about interacting with those in the community who we have known for years, we’re also about welcoming new members.

Element: Guidance
Objective: Provide useful information on writing and publishing.
Motivation: Writing can be such a lonely process, as well as a very confusing one. Between the mechanics of writing and changes in the publishing industry, no one writer can keep up with all the information out there. ShortbreadStories hopes to provide its members with information, so that they can hone their craft to the best of their ability.
Tools: Blog posts and articles, courses, forums and community interaction.
How to Use the Writing Tools: Once again, you don’t have to join in every forum, read every article, or strike up a conversation with everyone on the site. However, we encourage Shortbreaders to use the site as and when they need it. Not every article on our front page is going to pertain to every member, but hopefully we will – at some point — tackle something that interests you.

Essentially, the best thing to remember about ShortbreadStories is that it can be whatever you want it to be. If you need someone to discuss an idea with, pop into a forum. If you want feedback on a story, ask the community. If you need a little inspiration, tackle a competition. If you need some one-on-one guidance, take a course. Just remember, we’re here to support you, and if we’re able to host some really fantastic fiction along the way, then that’s even better.

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Your Website and Your Book: A Necessary Relationship

/by Martin Young/

You would be amazed at the number of authors who view having a website as either an unnecessary luxury or a chore. Yet, a good website will be the single biggest marketing tool for your book. Therefore, it’s not only important that you have one, but that you get it right. And, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but ‘getting it right’ involves hiring a professional to work alongside your print designer to create a unique and engaging experience for your readers.

With just a couple of clicks you can now have yourself a nice looking website on a service like WordPress.com or Blogger, but one major downside with these services is that you have limited control over the design and functionality of your website. For instance, if you want to change the colour scheme on WordPress.com you have to pay extra, and even then you have limited power to change the template in total. Moreover, the Blogger platform is very much geared towards blogging and can’t really be extended to provide a website worthy of your hard work as an author.

By hiring a professional you’ll have full control over how your site looks. You don’t have to use the limited number of templates on offer, so the only boundary is your imagination. You want your book to be unique and memorable, so having free reign over the website that represents that book is invaluable.

Some people feel that all they need is a Facebook page, and I’m regularly told by marketers that social media is the most powerful tool for advertising a product. While this is true, it’s also worthwhile considering that nearly half of the UK population DON’T use Facebook, and considerably fewer use Twitter. I won’t talk even mention Google Plus.

It’s therefore very important that you have an online presence to represent your book which doesn’t rely on people being a member of a social network. Facebook and Twitter not give you limited control over the appearance of your page (like many of the blogging platforms), but they also limit who can see our page. Having your own website allows you to consolidate your brand online, so that it can be viewed in one place, and then shared on social media platforms. It can be hard to get a feel for a product on Facebook when it looks like every other page but with a different header image, but a bespoke website can have multiple functionalities, which not only helps to sell your book but also helps to improve the search rankings of your website. Facebook and Twitter should only be additions to your marketing campaign, and social media should always lead people back to your website, where you can give your fans a clear picture of what you and your book are about.

Above all, your website is the public face of your book. By the time you come to publish your book, you’ll have put in hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of hard work into it, so you wouldn’t want a substandard website to advertise it. So, my advice is to hire a professional to build the site for you.

There are a few things to remember when hiring a web designer. Don’t be afraid to speak to a few different web designers so that you can make sure they understand your ideas. Ask to see samples of their work, and don’t be afraid to ask for references. Also, consider if they’re someone you’d enjoy working with, because you will most likely spend a lot of time on the phone or in person with this individual fleshing out the ideas for your site.

Once you’ve selected someone to build your site, put them in contact with your layout/print designer and make sure that you all stay in touch regularly – it’s soul destroying doing a week’s work only to have a client tell you it’s not what they wanted.

You will hopefully write many more books, so it’s important to choose the right person if you want a lasting working relationship – a good web designer should be a friend for life!

Martin Young is a web designer and online media consultant, and through Digital My Way he will be donating a website to the winner of the Self-Publish or Perish competition.

Blogging Identity: Anonymity or Transparency

/by Rachel Marsh/

So, you’re thinking about starting a blog. You’ve decided on a theme, and you’ve chosen between WordPress, Blogger and Tumblr. You’ve got your tagline and an idea for your first post all sorted. There’s just one thing left to decide: go anonymous or reveal your identity.

Before you can make this all important decision, you need to decide what is the intent of your blog?

Intent will be quite different than theme. You may have chosen to talk about food, raising children, writing or your career, but how you want to talk about that information will determine if you should reveal your identity or go anonymous.

I have a blog (marshrachel.wordpress.com) which I started for two purposes. The primary reason was to talk about being a creative writing teacher in a manner that may provide tips on teaching or even what to look for when taking a writing course. The second reason was to help promote myself as a private writing tutor. Obviously, I couldn’t have a blog with the latter purpose without revealing who I was; however, I could have started a subsequent anonymous blog where I felt free to rant about certain unsavoury students.

Yet, why didn’t I?

I didn’t want to get into that mindset. The ability to go home every day and have a good moan about people without repercussions is far too tempting. I would, indeed, go home and call people all manner of names just so that I can ‘get it all out’. (You see, I’m a terrible gossip.) And I didn’t want to encourage this sort of negativity in myself.

However, there are anonymous bloggers who are able to write cathartically without becoming a monster; I sincerely envy their control. They can really let loose, and they can write about their feelings without repercussion, but they don’t go to that ‘nasty’ place that anonymity can encourage.

Additionally, true anonymity is difficult to achieve. Someone, somewhere, can figure out who you are. So, even if you’re writing anonymously, you must be prepared to be ‘found out’. Just because your blog does not in any way reveal who you are (your name and photo are not attached, you’ve set up a separate email address for the blog, you’ve been careful to not list any identifying details such as where you live, work or any names of friends) this does not mean that you cannot be discovered.

As you may or may not know, each time you log into the internet you are accessing a server through your Internet Service Provider (ISP), and you have a unique IP address which is based on several factors including your location. Whenever you access a website your IP address is recorded.  If you click through from your blog to another website that journey may be recorded in ‘referrer’ information that your web browser automatically sends every time it asks for a web page from a web site.

Now, before you worry too much, this IP address does not read ‘Chris Smith’s computer, 457 Broken Lane, WI USA, third house to the right, basement computer, typing with one hand.’ When an IP address is traced, usually, only the city and Internet Service Provider is recognized. However, if you are accessing the Internet from a large company or public sector organisation it is possible that your IP address will be linked to the company or organisation and someone familiar with IP addressing may be able to work this information out.
Problematic if you wish to blog anonymously.

In fact, last summer, the ‘Gay Girl in Damascus’ story broke by someone tracing an IP address. In said blog, an anonymous lesbian living in Damascus posted about her life as a homosexual in a Muslim country. Her blog was often quoted by the press, and she was even interviewed by major media organisations. Until one clever individual traced her IP address to discover that she was in fact a he. And, he was a straight married American PhD student living in Edinburgh, not Damascus.

Theoretically, to minimize IP address tracing, you could always access your blog from public computers (for example using public wireless networks or different internet cafes) however this is often not practical. So, in order to minimise the possibility of someone being able to work out your IP address by looking at ‘referrer’ information you should turn on your browsers ‘privacy’ or ‘safe browsing’ functionality and make sure you close all web browser windows after writing updates on your blog.

Additionally, you could never link to anyone else’s website on your blog, comment on anyone else’s blog, nor respond to comments others have made. But, if you did all of this to hide your anonymity, wouldn’t the fun of blogging be lost? One of the best things about writing a blog is the interaction with others. (Also, I must confess that my knowledge of tracing IP addresses is limited, so if anyone would like to leave a comment with more detailed information, please feel free.)

Likewise, at the 2011 Aye Writes Festival I heard a talk by Brooke Magnanti (the author of the ‘Belle de Jour’ blogs and subsequent books) about digital identity. She said that despite being clever about her IP address, changing all personal information mentioned in the blog, and keeping her identity close to her heart, a clever bleader (a blog reader) sussed her out. She was also publishing a blog about forensic science (she is a forensic scientist) under her own name and the bleader noticed that both blogs were being updated at the same time. This person then kept an eye on the two blogs and sussed it out. Luckily, he kept Brooke’s secret but not everyone is that lucky. (She was almost ‘outted’ by a scored ex-boyfriend, so she decided to reveal herself before he did it for her.)

In fact, one way to have an your anonymous blog outted is to post about work, which not only causes embarrassment but can also get you fired — especially if you’ve signed any sort of a disclosure agreement. You may think that unless you work for MI6, it’s not likely that someone from you work is going to stumble across your blog, track your IP address, suss out who you are, tell your boss, and have you fired. But it does happen. And it may not be IP address tracking that causes you to lose your identity. Instead, it’s forgetting to hide details about your identity and employment that can cause a co-worker to figure things out. (Or in the case of Brooke Magnanti, you might tell someone who can’t keep a secret.) Monster.com has published a revealing article on just this topic.

Yet, despite all of this, you may still want to blog anonymously. You feel that it will provide you with a bit of freedom. You can reinvent yourself so that your online identity is someone you’d never be in real life. You may even prefer to blog anonymously because you feel it’s safer. This may be one of the biggest reasons women don’t reveal their blogging identity. Many aren’t comfortable talking about their personal life on the internet, because they’re afraid of stalkers or other unsavoury characters trolling the web. After all, you never know who’s out there reading your posts.

Some of my favourite blogs are anonymous. I feel like these authors truly speak their mind. Their posts are lively and prone to debate.

However, I also know several bloggers who abandon anonymity after a few months. Simply, keeping up the pretence became too difficult. They wanted to talk about the town they lived in, their lives and their work (all in a positive manner), and constantly hiding these type of identifying marks became too tiresome. Luckily, they didn’t begin their blog with any negativity, so switching over from anonymity to transparency was easy. In fact, one blogger I follow never officially revealed herself, she just stopped deleting the identifying content from her posts.

Making that decision about your identity is important in blogging. It helps you decide the nature of your posts and can even foster your writing voice. However, do remember that even if you decide to write anonymously, someone can find out who you are. So, never say something you’ll one day regret. 

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