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Tuesday
Jan012013

Most Popular Posts of 2012 and Introducing Must-Read Mondays

Putting 2012 in our rearview mirror (kidlet does this with a cape)Happy New Year!

First, before I get to today's post, I want to say thank you to everyone who helped me celebrate FALL INTO YOU's release yesterday even when you were busy doing your own holiday thing. *hugs* I hope those of you who bought it, enjoy it, and those of you who didn't--come on, get to it. Don't let those book gift certificates waste away! ;)  But seriously, I'm always indebted to each and every one of you who read my books. You rock. Thank you.

Now, on to today's post..

It's that time of the year to look back and evaluate what has gone right and wrong so we can decide how we want to move forward in the bright, shiny new year. So I thought it'd be interesting to see which posts were the most popular here on the blog in 2012. And though I knew which one would be number 1, the rest were a bit surprising. So here's what the numbers look like and what I'm going to do about it. :)

 

Top Posts of 2012

 

1.  Bloggers Beware: You CAN Get Sued For Using Pics on Your Blog - My Story - Yeah, this wasn't a fun situation, but the post went viral and seemed to resonate with a lot of people. So, though I'd prefer not to have gone through it, I'm very glad it helped all of us learn how to do the right thing with regards to pics on our blogs.

2.  What to Read If You've Read 50 Shades of Grey and Want More BDSM Romance - Not too surprising considering the 50 phenomenon, but I was surprised that people found their way here considering the glut of info about 50 out there.

3.  BDSM Romance: What To Read If You've Never Tried It Before - This one is probably here for the same reason as number 2.

4.  Want Private Inspiration Boards? Alternatives to Pinterest - I did this post before Pinterest implemented access to 3 private boards. Clearly, it was something a lot of people were looking for (especially after my photo debacle.)

5.  What Will Make An Agent Gong Your Pages - We all want to know, don't we? :)

6.  Zang...Best American Idol Performances Ever #atozchallenge - This one surprised me. It was kind of a random post.

7.  Readers Face the Slush Pile: A Few Hard Truths - This one talked about how readers are now going to have to sift through the slush since it's hard to tell what is good and what isn't now that the indie movement is so big. (I wrote this last May and since then, have read many indie books. I've discovered that how I sift through the slush is simple--I wait for recs from friends and reviewers I trust before I buy a book. And I read samples on occasion.)

8.  Author Websites: Layering Yours With Sticky Extras - I think this one was popular because sometimes we focus so much on our blogs that we forget that readers (especially non-blog-readers) might want a little more on your author website.

9.  Kink & BDSM 101 - What It Is & Why It's So Popular In Books  - I probably have to credit 50 Shades on this one too.

10.  Because Good Smut Should Be Shared...Book Recommendations

11.  The New Adult Genre: Here To Stay This Time? - This genre is on fire right now, so I'm not surprised a lot of people stopped by.

12.  Finding Your Novel's Theme and Your Universal Theme 

 

So what was pretty interesting to me in this list is how it's changed so much from years before. Usually, my writing posts have been the big winners each year. This year, after an effort to balance my site a bit more so that I could provide content to readers and not just writers, it seems to have shifted. I was surprised at how popular the book recommendation posts were. 

Therefore, since I love doing the book rec posts, and y'all seem to appreciate them, I'm going to continue those this year in a more structured way. I'm making Mondays - Must-Read Mondays. Now, if I don't have something to recommend, I won't do a post. But generally, I'm reading enough that I always have a good book to share. And this will NOT be a place for other authors to solicit me for reviews/guest posts/etc. I'm happy to host people on occasion on other days, but I don't accept books for review. Anything I review, I picked up on my own. Plus, I want y'all to know that if I'm recommending a book, it's with no ties or strings or author-is-my-buddy bias--it's just me loving a book as a reader and wanting to pass along the word.

Now for the rest of the days on the blog, I'm still going to cover writing and social media topics when I come across something I haven't covered before. And I'll continue Fill-Me-In Fridays where I round up all the best links. However, those round up posts may be spaced out instead of every Friday because I've been too busy with writing lately to surf the web and have enough links to share each week. Also, I'm not sure if people are still loving the round up, so let me know if it's something you want me to keep around. 

I'm still working on some other features, but that's what I'm changing for now.

Now, go buy FALL INTO YOU, and enjoy your New Year's holiday! ;)

Are you making any changes to your blog this year? What posts are you most likely to stop by for here?

Friday
Aug242012

Fill-Me-In Friday: Best Writing Links of the Week

School bus

Kidlet goes back to school next week!

 So this week has continued to be crazy and my current WIP has changed a few times over again. Let's not even talk about deadlines. But I'm not going to complain because deadlines mean I have book contracts and that is always a good thing. :)

But can I say I'm SO happy kidlet goes back to school next week. He only goes for half a day in the afternoons so I'm not going to be getting much more time than I get now with him in daycare in the mornings, but afternoon time is so much more productive for me writing wise. AND a bus will pick up kidlet instead of me having to play taxi. So yay for that.

Oh, and for those of you who remember me asking about other programs to use to organize and save links like Delicious, I think I've found one that works for me. Zootool allows me to save a link with one click of a bookmark button and I can organize them into "packs" which is similar to when Delicious still had "stacks" (the feature I was missing in the new design). So then I can just make a pack for each week and save things throughout the week for this Friday post. :)

Now, on to the links...

On Writing/Publishing:

  

On Social Media/Promotion: 

 

Other Awesome Stuff:

  • Natalie Bahm: BIG News - My agency-mate Natalie is self-pubbing her first novel and ALL proceeds are going to help a family with a very sick child. How amazing is Natalie? She's going to stop by the blog next month to talk more about it, but go check out what she's doing and spread the word.
  • Dogshaming - This was making the rounds on Twitter this week, but in case you missed it, go check it out. HILARIOUS. 

 

What You May Have Missed Here:

  

That's all I've got this week. Hope everyone has a fabulous weekend! 

Thursday
Aug022012

FAQ on the Blog Photo Debacle 

Photo by Alexander Henning Drachmann (cc)So I'm still recovering from RWA this week. I have a fun combination of a sick child, a cold, and lingering jet lag. But I thought I'd pop in really quickly to answer a few questions. I've been getting a boat load of emails since my photography post. Most have been kind words--I appreciate that--but many have also had additional questions about the post and/or copyright.

I don't necessarily have definitive answers on some of these because I am NOT a lawyer and this is NOT legal advice. However, I can tell you what I've found in my own research during all of this.

 

FAQs from my inbox:

1. If I can't find out who owns the photo, can I use it?

No. Just because you don't know who owns it, doesn't mean it's not owned. Just find another photo that is creative commons or that you can pay or get permission for.

 

2. What about still shots from TV shows or movies?

This was one I really wanted to know. It *seems* like this is okay under Fair Use because you are only using a small part of a whole and not impacting the ability for the movie to sell. Jane at Dear Author spoke a little bit about this in a recent post.

 

3. What about YouTube videos?

If you are the one making the videos, then be careful. Don't use copyrighted material in your videos. However, if you want to say, embed someone else's YouTube video on your blog, is that okay? I haven't gotten a black and white answer on this. But here's what I've gathered. If it's a very short movie/TV clip, then it *probably* falls under Fair Use under the same logic as the movie still. If it's a music video/movie preview/clip hosted by that brand/artist/TV show/movie studio and there is an embed feature enabled, then it's *probably* fine. Like I said, don't take this as legal advice. But the nice thing about YouTube is that if you embed something on your blog and then You Tube finds out that the original person used copyrighted material, they take down the video and it will disappear anywhere it's embedded. So use with caution, but some particular uses are probably fine. (And obviously if a clip has the embed feature disabled, then don't use it at all.)

 

4. What about LOL Cats/Cheezburger photos or those funny e-cards?

For the e-cards, there are specific rules on how to use them. You can go to their terms of service and look, but it seems like the proper way to use them is via embed code NOT just cutting and pasting.

From SomeEcards TOS:

If you include or post any of the Content on another website, YOU MUST EITHER:

  1. use the sharing and embedding buttons on the Site for Tumblr, StumbleUpon, Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest; OR
  2. use the embed code or post the link of the Content ONLY.

Any other downloading of Content or dragging it to a third party site violates our rights to the Content.

As for the other, Jane at Dear Author contacted LOL Cats and it seems that they are okay if the embed code is present. Here's a quote from her site:

I emailed LOLCat about the embed codes and was told that some of the images don’t have embed codes for copyright images and that you needed to click through to the individual page of the LOLCat to see if there was an embed code but if there was one, it was there to be used.

 

5. What about recipes?

Recipes ARE copyrighted. You can copy a list of ingredients, but the directions on how to cook those ingredients are copyright protected. So no cutting and pasting someone else's recipes on your sites. (That obviously goes for the food pics that accompany them too.)

 

6. What about song lyrics or poetry?

Copyrighted. You can't use them in full. A small quote of a line or two would probably be fair use. The only exception would be things that have outlived their copyright term and are now in public domain.

 

7. If I post a link in Facebook and it adds that small pic from the original post to the link, is that breaking the rules?

Since that is a thumbnail sized pic and is a link to the original site, that appears to be fine. You didn't actually make a copy of the picture and paste it into Facebook.

 

8. Do these photo copyright laws apply across all the platforms: Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, blogs, etc.?

Yes.

 

9. What about celebrity photos?

Those are copyrighted just like anything else. Most of those big gossip sites probably pay a fee to certain companies to get a certain amount of access. They are not free to share. If you need to talk about a celebrity, a better option may be a screen shot from a movie with them in it.

 

10. If a site has a Pin It button, is it okay to pin?

Not necessarily. For instance, any blogger can put a Pin It button on their site, but if they are using other people's images (knowingly or unknowingly), you could be pinning copyrighted stuff. However, if a retail site has the Pin It button on their own product pages, you're *probably* okay. Never hurts to check their Terms.

 

11. What about book covers and movie posters?

Publishers get the rights to the book covers to use them for promotion, so bloggers using them to talk about the book is fine. However, you cannot take part of the image and use it for your own purposes (i.e. lifting off the text and using the photo on the cover for other purposes.) I'm assuming the same applies to movie posters since they are a promotional tool and when used in the context of commentary or review would probably fall under Fair Use. (Though like I said above, don't take my word as law. There are other ways you can't use movie posters and book covers. Here's a bit of an overview for movie posters.)

 

12. Can you release the name of the photographer or details of the case?

No. I wouldn't do that anyway, but there are confidentiality rules. So if you hear anything out there about what amount was paid or who was involved, it's probably not true because I haven't released any details and won't be doing so.

 

13. How do these apply internationally?

My research has been U.S. specific, but most countries have copyright laws. Things are going to be different from country to country so be sure to look up the rules that apply to you.

 

All right, I think those were the main ones. Hope that helps! 

 

Friday
Jul202012

Bloggers Beware: You CAN Get Sued For Using Pics on Your Blog - My Story

Photo is my ownSo today I'm forgoing the usual Fill-Me-In Friday post to talk about something that I've been wanting to blog about for a while but couldn't until the situation was wrapped up.

For those of you who are super observant, you may have noticed some changes on my blog over the last few months. Tumblr posts went away. Fiction Groupie disappeared. I deleted most of my Pinterest boards. The Boyfriend of the Week has changed format. And all my previous posts from the past three years--all 700 of them--now have new photos on them.

Why is that? What happened?

Well, you've probably figured it out from the title, but it's because I've been involved in a case regarding a photo I used on my blog. Like most of you, I'm a casual blogger and learned my way into blogging by watching others. And one of the things I learned early on was that a post with a photo always looked nicer than one with just text. So I looked at what other people were doing for pictures. And mostly it seemed that everyone was grabbing pics from Google Images and pasting them on their sites. Sometimes with attribution, most of the time without. And when I asked others (or looked at disclaimers on websites and Tumblrs), it seemed that everyone agreed using pics that way was okay under Fair Use standards. 

Here is an example of a disclaimer I found on a bigger site (name of blog removed):

THIS BLOG claims no credit for any images posted on this site unless otherwise noted. Images on this blog are copyright to its respectful owners. If there is an image appearing on this blog that belongs to you and do not wish for it appear on this site, please E-mail with a link to said image and it will be promptly removed.

And site after site had the same kind of thing. Just look on Tumblr, that same type of disclaimer is on a ton of them. And I'm thinking--well, that must mean it's okay because if that weren't true, sites like Tumblr and Pinterest couldn't even exist because reposting pics is the whole POINT of those sites. So off I went doing what everyone else does--using pics from Google Images, putting a disclaimer on my site, etc. 

Well on one random post, I grabbed one random picture off of google and then a few weeks later I got contacted by the photographer who owned that photo. He sent me a takedown notice, which I responded to immediately because I felt awful that I had unknowingly used a copyrighted pic. The pic was down within minutes. But that wasn't going to cut it. He wanted compensation for the pic. A significant chunk of money that I couldn't afford. I'm not going to go into the details but know that it was a lot of stress, lawyers had to get involved, and I had to pay money that I didn't have for a use of a photo I didn't need.

It wasn't fun. But the fact of the matter is, I was in the wrong. Unknowingly. But that doesn't matter. And my guess is that many, many of you are doing the same thing I was doing without realizing it's a copyright violation. So I wanted to share my experience so that you can learn from my mistake.

Here's what I learned about Fair Use:

It DOESN'T MATTER...

  • if you link back to the source and list the photographer's name
  • if the picture is not full-sized (only thumbnail size is okay)
  • if you did it innocently
  • if your site is non-commercial and you made no money from the use of the photo
  • if you didn't claim the photo was yours
  • if you've added commentary in addition to having the pic in the post
  • if the picture is embedded and not saved on your server
  • if you have a disclaimer on your site.
  • if you immediately take down a pic if someone sends you a DMCA notice (you do have to take it down, but it doesn't absolve you.)

NONE OF THAT releases you from liability. You are violating copyright if you have not gotten express PERMISSION from the copyright holder OR are using pics that are public domain, creative commons, etc. (more on that below.)

I didn't know better and I had to learn the hard way. So I want to let you all know now so that you don't have to be a cautionary tale as well.

Plus, beyond not wanting to be sued, most of you who are reading this are writers. Our livelihood depends on the rights to our work. I've already had to send my own DMCAs to sites that have pirated my books. So I definitely don't want to be someone who infringes on someone else's copyright. A photo is someone else's art and unless they tell me it's okay, I don't have the right to use it.

So what can you do?

1. If you've been using images without approval from the internet on your blogs, know that you are probably violating copyright and could be sued for it.

Is the chance high? Probably not. Is it possible? I'm proof that it is. So you may want to consider going through your posts and delete pics that aren't yours.

2. Search for photos that are approved for use.

3. Take your own photos and share the love.

Almost all of us have camera phones these days. Instead of just taking photos of our family, think of images you could use on posts. See a stop sign. Snap a picture and save it. Whatever. And if you want to give back and not just take--open up a Flickr account (here's mine) and list your own images as creative commons so that you can share the love. (You can set it up to where whatever pic you load from you camera is under that license.)

4. Use sites like Pinterest and Tumblr with caution.

I have read way too many terms of service over the last two months. And I'm not a lawyer, so the legalspeak can be confusing and I am NOT giving legal advice. BUT both Pinterest and Tumblr (and most other social sites) say that if you load something into their site (i.e. Pin It or Tumble it) YOU are claiming that YOU have a legal right to that picture. And if the owner of that photo comes after the company, you will be the responsible party. And Pinterest goes so far as to say if you REpin something, you're saying you have the right to that photo. Yes, if that's enforced, it would mean that 99% of people on Pinterest are doing something illegal. Will that ever come up? Maybe. Maybe not. But I'm leaning on the paranoid side now. I don't want to be the test case. And I don't want to pin something the owner of the photo wouldn't want pinned. 

So pin your own photos, pin things from sites that have a Pin It button (see discussion in comments about the Pin It button, it's not always a safe bet either.) I pin book covers and movie posters because I figure that it's advertisement for said movies or books. But other stuff? All those pretty mancandy photos? I'm going to look but not touch.

*ADDED: Also see discussion in comments about posting and sharing pics on Facebook. Same rules apply.

5. Assume that something is copyrighted until proven otherwise.

That's your safest bet. If you're not 100% sure it's okay to use, don't. This includes things like celebrity photos. Someone owns those. There are enough free pics out there that you don't need to risk violating someone's copyright.

6. Spread the word to your fellow bloggers.

It was KILLING me not to be able to go tell everyone about all of this because I didn't want anyone else to get into this kind of mess. So if you know someone who is using photos in the wrong way, let them know. I wish someone had told me.

So I know many of you are probably thinking--she's being paranoid or that the likelihood of this ever happening to you is slim. Well, maybe. But it happened to me. And now that I know better, I'm going to do better (from the Maya Angelou quote Oprah always used.) And yes, it does kill me a little bit that I can't go on posting boyfriends of the week and mancandy, but instead I'll just post links to it so you can see it elsewhere. :)

So lesson learned: protect yourself and respect the rights of other artists. 

*This post is not intended as legal advice. God knows I have no background in law. This is just my experience and what I learned working these past few weeks with people who are experts at copyright.

So what are your thoughts? Anyone surprised by this? Or was I the only one blissfully unaware that using pics on blogs wasn't protected? Anyone have any other recommendations on where to find approved photos?

Will post on Thursday on Blog Her

Monday
Jul022012

5 Signs You're Having a Blog Identity Crisis & 8 Ways To Fix It

Hats, hats, hats...

Photo by Bob Mical

 


First of all, before I get into today's topic, I should probably let y'all know that I have a book coming out TOMORROW! Eek! MELT INTO YOU, Jace's story, will be out in print and ebook everywhere. I loved writing this story, and it has two of my most favorite heroes I've ever written in it. So, ya know, if you like this blog and want to help me keep up my iced tea fund, go buy it and stuff. :) 

CONTEST ALERT: And if you want to see an exclusive excerpt and enter for a chance to WIN one of my backlist books, stop by Lauren Dane's blog today.

BLOG TOUR ALERT: I'm also at Novel Reflections today with an interview, excerpt, and a separate contest. And there is an early review for MELT INTO YOU over there as well. :)


 

Alright so onto today's topic--my deep, dark admission that I may be in the middle of a blogging identity crisis. Feel free to insert a shocked gasp here. It's no secret that I love to blog. Even though I know I'm "supposed" to be doing this, that's not why I do it. I just like talking, apparently, because I can't seem to stop doing it here.

But after three years of blogging and shifting from pre-published to published, there's been a lot of evaluating and re-evaluating of what this blog should look like. How do I connect with readers? Who is my audience? Should I stop talking about writing and blogging (clearly, as you can tell from this post, the answer so far on that has been no.) Is it even possible to reach potential readers who are not writers? Am I interesting enough for people to continue to want to show up? Why are my hits going up but my comments going down?

And on and on the questions go.

I'm not going to tell you I know the answers. But I can tell you that blogging is a moving target and that you have to sometimes rearrange the furniture to keep things fresh for yourself and your readers.

So first, let's go over some signs of how I knew I was in a blogging identity crisis:

1. Your current theme days start to seem like prison bars. - Ugh, I don't want to be in this box today.

2. You start to develop blog envy. - Man, look how cool and interesting this person is. I'm not even cool enough to comment on this blog much less write one as full of awesome.

 3. You get all existential and "What does it all mean? Do my words even matter?" (Or maybe that's just me. I do err on the dramatic side when it comes to these things.)

4. You consume posts about blogging and platform like an addict going for their next hit. - What is the secret/magic bullet that is going to make my blog sparkly and special?

5. You start to feel like every new idea is lame, so you don't try anything new. (And some ideas probably are doomed, but you can't tell the difference anymore.)

Part of my own crisis is no doubt tied to the fact that I had/have two releases within a month of each other. There is a lot of extra stress and work that goes into preparing for a release, so when one thing becomes stressful, everything does.

But even so, I know there is probably more to it than that. So what am I going to do about it? Or more importantly...

What can you do about it if you find yourself in the same position?

1. Refresh and rearrange

Blogs can get stale, even if you're posting regularly. Consider shaking things up every now and then. I'm going to adhere less to theme days and maybe just having recurring features that I do when the inspiration strikes. (This, btw, does not mean only blogging when the inspiration strikes. All I mean is  that I won't be tied to a certain type of post on a given day.)

2. Take that blog envy and study the blogs/bloggers that you admire.

What are they doing that draws you in? What can you learn from them? This doesn't mean copy their ideas, but look for inspiration.

3. Evaluate what you can do better.

Sit back and see where you can push yourself more. When I looked at bloggers I liked, I realized that they were good at telling personal stories while still conveying a message that readers can relate to. I know that I can be better at opening up a bit more on here. A lot of times I've stuck to things like theme days and that inadvertently has meant I share less of myself. I rarely talk about my life or things outside of writing going on in it. Now, I have no intention for this to become some journal type thing, but an occasional personal story (with a point) could be good.

4. Venture out of your comfort zone.

Sometimes we paint ourselves into a niche corner. I know I did on my old writing blog Fiction Groupie. Teaching and sharing information are my comfort zones, so it was easy to let my blog become one-dimensional. You have to remind yourself that you are more than just *insert niche*. If your goal is to have a niche blog, that's one thing. But for the most part, authors (particularly fiction authors) need something a bit more well-rounded, especially once you're published.

5. Have enough structure to keep you on track but not so much that you lock down your creative wiggle room.

I love having a plan and a structure (despite the fact that I'm a panster when writing.) Having theme days was one way to lower the what-to-blog-about anxiety because there was a plan in place. But it also stifled me at times because maybe I wanted to write about A on Monday, but it was a B theme day. So if you are going to have themes, make them broad. Or, don't even tell your readers what the theme days are. You just use them as a loose guideline. Then if you veer off that path, no one even realizes you've taken a detour.

6. Write down a long list of (I think Kristen Lamb says 100) blog topics so that you have a go-to on days you just can't think of something.

I haven't done this yet, but it's own my agenda. If I'm not going to have as structured of a weekly plan, I need an emergency kit for back up. But beyond using this as a back up device, it also can help you hone in on what you want your blog to look like, what topics/themes recur and inspire you.

7. If some post/angle/theme flops, don't worry, just move on and try something else. 

We have to be willing to try some things and take some risks. If we're afraid of doing something different because it might not work, things will get stagnant. The beauty about a blog is that each day is a new day. If yesterday's post bombed and got no hits, you've got a brand new day the next day to try something else.

8. Rediscover your blogging confidence.

Only you have your voice. If you make sure you're being authentically you on your blog, then no one else can duplicate that. Figure out what makes you unique and special and mine that for your blog. If a reader can connect with your blogging voice, then they'll probably connect with your novels. So show them a piece of what they will get between the covers of your books. (For instance, no, I don't write R-rated stuff here on the blog even though I write erotic romance. But I guarantee you if you like my blog and pick up one of my books, you'll probably recognize a lot--my sarcasm, the way I put words together, my occasional shamelessness, my obsession with mancandy--you know, the important stuff.) My voice is my voice. 

So, I'm going to take my own advice and go through this process of blog revampization (<--spellcheck didn't immediately highlight that word and for a second, I got all excited that it was a word. Alas, it's not. But it should be.) So anyway, you'll see some changes coming up. Hopefully, you all will like them. If not, feel free to let me know. I'm open to feedback.

*And remember, the only salient point you need to pull from this entire post is: BUY MY BOOK TOMORROW or pre-order it today. ;)

Her first love has returned, and he's brought a friend...

You can buy MELT INTO YOU in print of ebook from any of these retailers: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | BAM | Indie Bound | Powell’s | Chapters

QUESTIONS FOR YOU: Alright, so am I the only one who has had a blog identity crisis? Do you feel stagnant sometimes on your blog? How did you find your blogging mojo? What do you wish you could be better at on your blog?