What do you know about ignorance?

“Don't know much about history.
“Don't know much biology.
“Don't know much about a science book.
“Don't know much about the French I took.”

Okay, I get this litany of how ignorant the singer is contrasts with the fact that s/he “loves you,” and how reciprocation of such would engender a wonderful world. But singable though it is, the conceit behind it has always annoyed me. What we don't know is perfectly acceptable as long as we have a warm, fuzzy emotion to go along with that lack of knowledge.

I'm not really sure where or when the inherent anti-intellectualism in our society originated (sure, I could google it, but if you know, post a comment). I nearly entitled this post, “Ignorance is piss.” Why is ignorance a positive trait?

In this age of instant access (which I alluded to in the previous sentence, in fact), ignorance is inexcusable. Writers in particular need to combat ignorance. It's what we do, right? Create knowledge and/or information where none existed before? Knit up diverse strands of data into a coherent whole? (Hello? Is this thing on?)

(I feel quite curmudgeonly as I type this. I must've pushed one of my own buttons.) I'm frequently annoyed by writers who protest, “Oh, I just don't know how to use Twitter.” Why not? Find out! I can think of at least three e-books off the top of my head that explain in detail what Twitter is and how an author can use it in marketing her books. Can't afford the e-books? Ask! Independent author sites abound, with lots of free help available. Saying “I don't know” without proceeding to remedy the situation is just plain lazy.

The world is such an amazing place, full of intriguing and insane and annoying and wretched and intense and blissful and spiritual and stupid people. To my mind, writers fight ignorance with every paragraph, every sentence, every word, filling in the vast emptiness of ignorance with glittering webs of information, with new discoveries, with new ways of looking at existence. The creative writer enlivens dry facts, giving birth to brand new life. One of my greatest joys in reading is not necessarily the words on the page or the pixels on the Kindle, but the ideas for my own writing that spin off in little creative whorls. Usually these ideas have nothing to do with the words on the page. Something just clicks. Because the writer took the time to write.

Writers, don't be lazy. Before you type the words “I don't know” on Facebook or complain to someone about your ignorance, stop. Remedy that lack, fill in that lacuna, google it, and instead, share the knowledge with the rest of us.

You're lifting up the entire human race when you do.

Drop a comment below and let me know what you think of the subject.

5 Tips for a Professional-Looking Author Website

If you're an independently published author (or any kind of author, for that matter), it only makes sense to extend your marketing efforts with a website. Facebook, Twitter and Google + are useful tools, but don't substitute for an online reference location for all things you-the-author.

I created my first website in 1996, which is eons ago in electronic terms. My day job is web designer at a university, and I've taught web design to journalism and communication undergraduates. Here are some tips I've gleaned over these years to make sure your author site looks professional. I've written before about the need for establishing your credibility as an author; your website should reflect this credibility as well.

  1. Don't use your author website to learn web design. If you're keen to learn, create a practice site only you can see. If your website looks amateurish, you'll give critics of independent publishing still more ammunition for the idea that self-published works are amateurish. If you don't know how to create a website, hire it done or buy a pre-made template.
  2. If you're creating your own site, go for a cohesive look. All pages should use the same template. The site should look as though all the pages are part of the same site. If someone comes to  your site through Google, she might not come to your homepage first. Make every room of your web “house” reflect your author persona, so you won't cringe if someone turns up first in the back room where all the boxes are stacked. So to speak.
  3. Limit your color palette. A limited palette creates a more pleasing appearance and contributes to that professional look. One of my favorite sites for choosing color schemes is the Color Scheme Designer site.
  4. Limit font selection. Stick to various sizes of one font. Resist the temptation to use multiple colors and fonts–a sure sign of an amateur. And whatever you do, please don't use Comic Sans! That font is such a cliche. So is Papyrus. Typekit is a great source for web fonts.
  5. Eschew cheesy clip art and animation. Before you add any image to a page, ask yourself if it contributes to the cohesive look you want. Does it have a purpose? If not, don't use it.

When you've finished your site, have someone whose opinion you trust look it over. Just as you wouldn't take the word of only your friends and relatives about the editing of your book (at least I hope not), don't rely exclusively on the opinion of someone who doesn't want to offend you.

If you check out my personal site, you'll find that I purchased the template. I was concerned that I have a professional appearance, despite my years of experience, and didn't have the time to fuss with designing it myself.

Let me know if you have questions about this topic. Post them below.

Five Challenges Indie Writers Face (and How to Overcome Them)

Independent publishing is not easy. Oh, it may seem that way at first. Kindle and Smashwords make the process quick, but quick and easy aren't the same. I know I'm appreciative for any advice on self-publishing I find; maybe you're the same. I offer these challenges and some ways to deal with them.

Challenge 1. The Donna Syndrome (aka IWIAIWIN)

I'm known among my family and friends for developing obsessions about particular consumer goods and wanting instant gratification of said obsessions. I saw a cool netbook last year. No, I couldn't wait for Christmas. “I want it and I want it now.” I don't really say those words, although my husband ascribes them to me, but the effect is much the same. Let's just call it the “Donna Syndrome” for short.

How does the Donna Syndrome affect indie authors? I upload a manuscript to Smashwords. Why is it taking so long? Now I wait for it to go into the Premium Catalog. Why is it taking so long? I WANT IT AND I WANT IT NOW. Smashwords is an amazingly fast system of publishing, given what it does. Think about the number of formats the “Meatgrinder” produces your work in. How much the system has improved just in the past five months I've been using them. The responsive customer service. But I see complaints all the time about how slow it is, or indirect complaints about how it “finally” is ready.

How to deal with the Donna Syndrome? Be patient. Spend the time while you're waiting working on your marketing plan, so that by the time your manuscript is ready for sale, you'll know exactly what your next steps are.

Challenge 2. Marketing

And speaking of  your marketing plan, do you have one? I read recently the wise observation that the skills required of a marketer are not generally those of a writer. Marketing doesn't come naturally to most writers. Even traditionally published authors have to market their own works these days. Marketing your book is an overwhelming prospect, and there's no shortage of advice online.

How to deal with marketing? Create a plan. Make a list of all the “chores” you see in various blogs and e-publications that seem reasonable to you: Blog about your book, blog about a related topic, guest blog, promote another author on your blog (see Challenge 4). Assign a frequency to them, then arrange them into a schedule. That way you stay on track and hold yourself accountable. This idea isn't original with me. Tony Eldridge wrote about it in an excellent blog post.

Challenge 3. Exclusionary Thinking

E-publishing opened up the world to people who wouldn't have had the chance in the past. Traditional publishers are casting about, often aimlessly, trying to figure out what the future holds for them. Don't fall into the trap of exclusionary thinking, though. By that I mean the idea that “E-publishing is only THIS,” or “You can't do both e-publishing and traditional publishing,” or “Anyone who accepts a traditional contract after e-publishing is selling out.” Thinking this way limits your options, and reduces your mindset to an unhelpful “us versus them” mentality.

How to deal with exclusionary thinking? Remember that each author comes to publishing in her (or his) own way. Your path isn't the only one. Gather up great ideas from both worlds.

Challenge 4. Isolation

Writing is usually a solitary activity. Even with a co-author, you put your own words down in pixels or ink. The problem with isolation is you miss out on other opinions and perspectives. Relying only on  yourself skews  your perspective as much as challenge 3 does.

How to deal with isolation? Join a group, in person or online. Read blogs about writing. Improve your craft at every opportunity. The Indie Book Collective has some great tutorials on publishing and marketing. Promote other authors on your blog to develop collaborative relationships.

Challenge 5. Good Enough

By “good enough,” I mean the temptation to publish your manuscript whether it's really ready or not. You fall prey to the Donna Syndrome (see Challenge 1). Publishing is so quick that you may “want it and want it now.” I've read many comments lately about e-publishing to effect that “readers don't care about editing, they just want a good story.” E-publishing suffers criticism because of this attitude. Careful editing and grammatical sentence structure enhance the reading experience.

How to deal with good enough? As I said in Challenge 1, be patient. Edit your manuscript, then have someone else edit it who knows editing. Spend the time and effort to make it the best it can be. I talked about that in another post.

All of these challenges are about your mental state. Improving your craft, approaching it as a professional, seeking the camaraderie and advice of others: these activities don't just improve you and your writing. They contribute to a strong and vibrant independent writing community.

Please let me hear from you in the comments. What challenges that you face have I left out?