My Favorite WordPress Plugins

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A couple of years ago I posted an article on my author blog with recommendations for WordPress plugins that have made my life easier. When I looked back on it the other day, I realized that my opinions have changed in some cases. Here are most of the plugins I currently use on all or most of my sites…and why.

Housekeeping

Akismet: the plugin that makes having a blog possible in this decade. Akismet is a comment spam filter that is more than 99% accurate (in my experience).
WordPress DB Backup: the plugin that emails you a backup of your site. You can set what all it backs up and how often it does so.
WP Super Cache: the plugin that optimizes your site’s loading speed, clearing cached pages.
WordPress SEO by Yoast: the plugin that makes SEO (search engine optimization) easy. It prompts you to choose keywords for each page and post then tells you, not only how well you score on the keywords, but how to improve until you score higher.
Google Analytics for WP: Access accurate analytics from your dashboard.
Ultimate Maintenance Mode: Sometimes you need to do some major work on your site and don’t want visitors poking around while you’re in the midst of it. A plugin like this one puts up a sign of your choice inviting people to return later. As a logged-in administrator, you can move around your site with everything visible to you, and disable the plugin when you’re ready to return your site to “live” position.
Redirection: If you do any rearranging or retitling of an older site, you will probably need a plugin like this. Capture the current URL and have it automatically redirect to your new one.

Simplify

Simple Social Icons: a great pack of clean media icons with a customizable hover color. See the header for this plugin in action.
Click to Tweet by Todaymade: It annoys me that this plugin is only available in visual mode, but it is so handy to be able to create quick click-to-tweets on the fly that I’m forcing myself to dip into visual to use it.
Jetpack is a terrific bundle of plugins that allows blog subscriptions, sharing buttons for posts/pages, a simple contact form you can place anywhere, allows likes, a variety of widgets, a clean commenting system, and more.

Specific Need

Blubrry Powerpress I love this one for embedding an audio player for quick clips.
Slideshow: This plugin can be configured for a bunch of different slideshows in various shapes and sizes. One example is my book widget in the sidebar.
Polldaddy Polls and Rating: Perfect for when you want to create polls for your readers.
Creative Clans Embed Script: A plugin like this is needed if you want to add javascript from a third party site. If you’ve copy/pasted script in and it seems invisible, check to see if its Java. If it is, here’s your answer.
Fast Secure Contact Form: While Jetpack comes with a fine basic contact form, you may want more. This plugin gives you programmable options and allows different forms for different uses throughout your site.
Testimonial Master: The newest addition to my site, this plugin allows a rotating “quotes” area from text you supply yourself. (A lot of random quote plugins come loaded with their own quotes, I found during my search.)
WP Calendar: This is a very clean calendar plugin if you don’t want clickable events. I use it for a group blog site, so everyone can see upcoming posting dates for each author.
My Book Table: A great plugin if you are an author but don’t want to sell books from your site, even though you know you need a page per book. This plugin allows you to set up your affiliate accounts once and have them appended to every book you add. To see it in action, check my Raspberries and Vinegar page.
Woo Commerce is great if you’re an author and DO want to sell books from your own site. It integrates a shopping cart, can be set to calculate shipping, and links up to assorted payment options.

Genesis Specific

Last week I talked about why I switched to Genesis Framework. If you’re a Genesiss convert, here are three of the many Genesis-specific plugins available.

Genesis Favicon Uploader: Yep, To Write a Story is finally rocking its own favicon. I have an aversion to FTP programs so kept putting off uploading one. This plugin made it a snap. (Don’t know what a favicon is? It’s the tiny square image that shows in the browser bar on each tab you have open. If there’s no favicon, it’s an empty box.)
Genesis Easy Columns: Sometimes you want all or parts of a page in columns. This plugin makes it simple to create 2-6 columns on any page.
Genesis Single Post Navigation: This plugin shows as the double arrows on the side of each post on this site. They allow you to arrow through the posts, including comments, without needing to return to the blog home page in between.

Group Specific

Social Author Bio: As I mentioned above, I’m webmaster for and participant in a group blog at Inspy Romance. This plugin helped make a tidy author page. Each author accesses their own bio in their profile and, when they change it there, it changes site wide. Love it!
Reveal IDs: the perfect counterpart to the above plugin, allowing the administrator to see each blogger’s identification numbers to create a page like above.
Display Authors Widget: There are dozens of ways to add a list of authors to a sidebar, but this one gave the simplest solution: a basic list that ties in with the social author bio plugin. Simple and elegant!

There you have it: my favorite WordPress plugins. What are some you feel you couldn’t live without? Maybe I’ll find some new favorites to meet needs I didn’t even know I had!

Why I Like Genesis Framework for WordPress

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I’ve been building websites using WordPress since spring 2009. To date, I’ve built 6 websites (which I still administer) and have helped build 2 others, all on self-hosted WordPress. While I’m definitely not a professional web guru, I have learned a few things through these experiences.

StudioPress Premium WordPress Themes: Modern Blogger ThemeFor most of that time, I used only free themes and plugins. In the last six months, I purchased a theme that I’ve now used on three of my sites.

You can get themes (free or paid) that look like just about anything you want, from a fenced in garden to a newspaper layout to a photo gallery. Generally speaking, cleaner and simpler is considered better in 2014, so you don’t need to go all out. Choose your theme carefully, even though it’s easy enough to change.

StudioPress Premium WordPress ThemesLook at:
• The layout. Do you want a right sidebar, left sidebar, or both? Can you choose to disable it completely for some pages? Do you want multiple columns? Where does the menu go? Can you pick what goes on it?
• Pages and Posts: You will need both!
• The default colors and fonts. Yes, they can be changed, but if you can pick one that has everything you want, why not?
• The header area. Do you want a logo as well as a header image? How tall a header? Interactive header?
• The blockquotes. You may not care as much how blockquotes look as I do, but some styles are seriously annoying or cutesy.
• Headers. What size, font, and weight does the theme give to h1, h2, h3…etc headers?
• Threaded comments. Always a plus, and can be added via plugin.
• Responsive mobile integration. A frill only a couple of years ago, this is now necessary. A responsive site will adapt to being viewed on smart phones and tablets with varying sizes of screens…and always look good.
• Advertising. If you want to add ads, how and where will the theme display them?
• Widgets. Widgets are the visual elements often found in a sidebar that allow the visitor to interact with an application and the operating system of the site. What areas are widgetized? How many options do you have?
• Shortcodes. Does the theme provide shortcode support? (Some add-on plugins come with shortcode capability.)
• Updates & Support: When was the theme last updated? Is it proven compatible with the latest WordPress installation?

Free or paid?

If you’re a beginning blogger on a budget, it’s more important to own yourname.com than it is to own a premium theme. Test out some free ones at first. My favorite free theme is twentytwelve. It is clean, simple, and works well on mobile. It’s what I used on this site until recently, as well as others I’ve built. There’s nothing unique about it as it’s been downloaded three-quarters of a million times, but that may not matter to you. Your header image will make it your own.

Some cons of free themes are lack of support, worry about losing your customizations when upgrading, and worry about security. At some time these concerns will probably weigh on you as they did on me, and you’ll go looking for answers, even if they cost something — but probably not as much as you think.

In November 2013 I purchased the rights to use Beautiful Pro Theme on the Genesis Framework. I initially installed it on a group blogging site, then on my author site, and then, finally, on this site.

Why did I choose Genesis Framework? Well, I’d heard good things about it and, when I dug through their site, I liked what I saw. I liked the idea of a solid foundation for the theme that would handle the security and upgrades automatically. I liked that the themes are all responsive and optimized for mobile devices. I liked that I could reuse my chosen theme on more than one site. I liked that my questions were answered quickly by a real person via email.

There are specific plugins designed for all the Genesis themes. I’ll be talking more about plugins in an upcoming post, so for now I’ll say I have made good use of three of these Genesis-specific plugins: the favicon uploader (a favicon is the tiny image that appears next to the site name in your browser tabs), a column creator (that I used for the book covers on farmlit.com, and the post navigation buttons allowing the reader to move from one post to the next.

On the website, they liken WordPress as the engine of your car, Genesis as the frame and body, and your theme as the paint job. Dozens and dozens of themes for various preferences and needs operate on the Genesis Framework. If you are a real estate agent, a photographer, a journalist, or the drummer in a rock band, there is a theme to suit you. I was looking for something clean and modern that worked well as both a website and a blog. I went through their many themes and kept coming back to Beautiful Pro Theme.

beautiful pro theme, wordpress, genesis, genesis frameworkWhat I specifically like about Beautiful:
• the social media links and search bar are in the header, so they’re present on every page or post, with or without a sidebar
• The short, wide header image doesn’t take up a lot of real estate above the fold
• The fonts are modern and easy to read on clean white
• The 3-column footer area
• The light gray menu bar is easily customized for the pages I want displayed
• It’s created for text more than images, perfect for a writer

If you’re on WordPress, what do you look for in a theme? How did you choose your current theme?

**Yes, I am an affiliate for Genesis Framework!

Genesis Framework for WordPress

Plotting Resources with Julie Arduini

Guest Post by Julie Arduini

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One of the many things I enjoy about a writing community like ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) is learning the various ways my peers work on a novel. Even within the contemporary romance genre, I haven’t seen two conversations that are exactly the same when it comes to plotting.

Plotting generally falls into two camps: Actual plotting and SOTP, Seat of the Pants. The plotters might have charts, character interviews, index cards lined up, and outlines. They might have a general idea where the story is going, or, know to the word count how every single sentence is going to lay out. The SOTP writers might sketch a few lines of what they want to see happen in the story, but they let the characters drive them. For them, they are along for the ride, writing as they go. It’s an individual decision that really has no right or wrong answer.

I definitely fall into the plotting camp. One year for NaNoWriMo I decided to try writing 50k in a month without plotting. I couldn’t do it. I love writing lists and outlines even for house goals, so it didn’t surprise me that I require the same organization for writing.

My plotting method involves a few resources. First, the best investment I made for my writing life was Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck’s From the Inside Out: Discover, Create, and Publish the Novel in You and the companion workbook, The Book Buddy. With each manuscript I go through the two and refresh key points in plotting and jot the ideas down. It’s usually here a good flow comes together in how I see the story starting, going, and finishing. Key events take shape. I also recommend the site from Susan May Warren, My Book Therapy. It’s a great community filled with writing resources, especially during the NaNoWriMo season.

Then, I open yWriter.

From Spacejock.com:

yWriter is a word processor which breaks your novel into chapters and scenes, helping you keep track of your work while leaving your mind free to create.

It’s a free download I use to put my character and plot notes in. I summarize chapters and write the scenes, and then export it when I’m ready to send to critique groups for revision and editing. I also have character pictures included, and yWriter allows notes for location, items, and I can choose POV for each scene. I tried the Scrivener trial and found it too much for me. yWriter is a good alternative without overwhelming me. I’ve used it to plot and write the first draft of three novels and the story I’m sending throughout 2014 to my newsletter subscribers.

I’m a visual person so the last resource I use is Pinterest. I create a board for each project that includes what I think characters look like, facts about the area, and items of interest that help me land in the story. It’s also a way for potential readers to join the process and create a good buzz about my work.

I encourage anyone with a story shaping in their mind to give plotting a try through the resources at My Book Therapy and yWriter. I’d love to hear what plotting techniques you utilize. Do you go through The Book Buddy to find the conflict, noble cause, and dark moment? Have you downloaded yWriter? Is Pinterest something on your plotting and writing checklist?

Julie Arduini is an award-winning writer and speaker who writes contemporary romance with personal themes of surrender, chocolate, and Upstate NY settings. She loves to encourage and mentor women of all ages. Her heart is to see everyone live free in Christ through surrender. Join Julie as she surrenders the good, the bad, and —maybe one day—the chocolate.

How to Be a Good Fan

6 Levels of Fandom, how to be a good fan, to write a story, valerie comer

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How to Be a Good Fan

FANS: I’m not talking about sports teams, rock bands, or the latest-and-greatest TV show or movie. I’m talking about books. If you love to read and have a favorite author or two, are you being a good fan?

1. Casual. A casual fan is one who reads a book and say, “hey, that was a pretty good book.” They may loan the book to a friend or two, but then forget all about it. The author’s name doesn’t register.

2. Interested. This person, upon reading a book, checks out the author’s name and what else they’ve written, especially if the one they enjoyed was part of a series. They may visit the author’s website, make a list, and borrow the books through the library.

3. Curious. The reader realizes they like everything they’ve read from this author and become curious about the author. They begin to check out the author’s blog periodically, and buy an additional book or two.

4. Follower
. The reader subscribes to the author’s blog, begins to follow them on Twitter or Pinterest and/or likes their Facebook author page. They want regular updates and begin to see the author as a person, not just a book-writer, and eagerly await new novels.

5. Avid.
The reader signs up for the author’s newsletters and may travel to a book signing if it’s in a nearby city. They may suggest these books to a book club they’re part of, buy them for gifts, and post reviews around the internet.

6. Tribe member: The reader aligns herself with that author and seeks out opportunities to tell others about the awesome books she’s read and can spend hours talking to other fans. She may hang out at the author’s forum for readers.

What kind of a fan are you?

It is an inverted triangle. Readers have many authors whose work they like, a few less whose work they love, and very few whose work they avidly seek out.

Many times readers don’t know how much it means to an author if you kick your fandom up a notch or two.

What can YOU do to encourage your favorite authors?



1. Subscribe to their blog
and post comments. (Yes, comments!!)

2. Buy books.
That ought to go without saying, but in this day and age of free, it still needs to be said.

3. Write reviews and place them on Amazon, Goodreads, and/or other online sites. Each one counts! While you’re on Amazon, feel free to click the LIKE button on the book page as well as the one on the author page. There’s also a link on the author page (right sidebar, high up) that says Stay Up To Date: E-mail me when there are new releases by Valerie Comer.

4. Subscribe to their newsletter. While it’s great to be a Facebook fan, many fans don’t see a fraction of the posts anyone puts up there, so don’t count on hearing big news on Facebook. Subscribing to the newsletter is the only way to be certain you’ll be kept up on breaking news.

What other ways can you show your support? Can you kick it up a notch for a few special authors in your life? Authors, feel free to share this post with your readers using the buttons below.

5 Plotting Methods for Fiction

In truth, there are probably as many plotting methods as there are writers on the planet. Still, I believe there are five major boxes within which most writers fit. I’ve talked about some of them here on the blog before.

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Plotter
Many writers prefer to think through the entire story before they start writing. They may write character bios, do a lot of research, create extensive worldbuilding, and lay out the plot from start to finish in some sort of outline. Here’s how one writer plots.

Pantser
Seat-of-the-pants writers prefer to be surprised as they write. They figure if they know the whole story in advance, there’s little appeal to writing it all down. They write to discover what happens.

Others say that pantsing is an elaborate form of plotting. Instead of piecing together small bits of information to create a whole, pantsers write out everything they know. Their first draft acts as a very detailed outline from which they can write the next draft, adding, subtracting, and tweaking scenes as required.

Tweener
Some writers fall in between plotting and pantsing, and do a simplified amount of plotting before turning their muse loose to fill in the blanks during first draft. Different writers will find differing amounts of plotting useful, depending on where they are in the plotting-to-pantsing spectrum.

Tweening (tweenering?) is my method as described here. Note that I didn’t choose this method—it chose me.

Headlighter
Writing by your headlights simply means that you plan the first part of your story then write it. When you get that section written, you’ll be able to see what happens next and can plot out the next few scenes or chapters. Once you’ve written those, you’ll be able to determine what comes next, section by section, all the way to the end.

Looking back, I wrote my first novel this way. I’d done some planning, but quickly realized I didn’t have enough plot to run for 80-100K (the length of an average novel). Once I ran out of plot, I thought up some more stuff to happen then wrote it. Rinse and repeat.

Because I never had a good grip on the end result, I felt as though the whole story was a failure (other than achieving my word count goal, no mean feat in itself). And therefore the method was a failure for me. Since then I’ve discovered that with a few minor (tweener) modifications, this is exactly my best process. It took me ten more novels to figure that out, much longer than it needed to.

E. L. Doctorow summarized the headlighting method this way: “It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Tweetables

  • FIVE plotting methods for fiction? And you thought if you weren’t a plotter, you were a pantser. click to tweet
  • What do these have in common? Plotter, pantser, tweener, headlighter, polisher? click to tweet

Polisher
Although I believe few writers land in this camp, it’s a valid method for those who need it. It’s doubtless the slowest method of getting to the end of a first draft but, in theory, subsequent drafts are quick and relatively painfree.

A polisher tests the story with every step. Unlike a pantser who gives over to the freedom to write whatever comes to mind or a plotter who decides it all ahead of time, a polisher will write a scene then analyze it. Is it good enough? Does it work with the previous scene(s)? How can it be made better? What needs adding or changing in previous chapters to facilitate this new revelation? Only when everything previously written is polished and perfect is this writer ready to move to the next scene.

At a glance, it seems this type of writer is a perfectionist and may be keeping their intuitive right brain on a short leash. However, all directions remain viable at any given time, so the polisher can move the story wherever feels right on the solid foundation she’s already built. It’s a more methodical way of pantsing, with fewer big issues to deal with at the other end. An editing pass, and it’s probably good to go.

Embrace the way that seems to work for you and tweak it rather than throwing out the entire plotting method and experimenting with its opposite. You can learn to write effectively with fewer wasted novels than I did.

What is your plotting method? Does this list open your eyes to new possibilities?