Thursday, May 31, 2012

Thursday Review—5 Reasons Your Blog isn’t Growing

Today I’d like to propose a challenge—review your own blog. 
It’s easy to get into a blogging rut and now that we’re almost into summer, it’s a good time to see how you’re doing this year. Below are 5 reasons your blog may not be growing. These things are critical to the success of ANY blog, no matter what the focus. Take a few minutes to see how your site holds up to review.
#1. Keeping a Regular Schedule. This is one of the first stumbling blocks to blog growth. If you’re not a big name in your industry, you need to be blogging on a schedule. We want our blog followers to stop by on a regular basis to visit and leave comments, they should be able to expect the same kind of regular commitment from us.
#2. Answering Your Reader’s Comments. If someone is willing to take the time to leave a comment on our blogs, the least we can do is acknowledge them. Reader comments don’t always have to be answered, but we can thank them from stopping by. If your blogging platform doesn’t allow you to reply to individual comments, or even if it does, it’s fine to group several acknowledgements together in one reply from you. 
#3. Social Media Interaction. Do your readers know how to follow you on Twitter and interact with you on Facebook? How easy are these buttons to find? I can’t tell you the time I spend looking for your Twitter names when I want to give you a shout out on social media. Most people won’t bother and you’ll have lost meeting new and potential readers.
#4. Do Your Blog Followers Have a Way to...Well...Follow? Most of the blogs I visit are much better at this than in the past, but I still see a sizable number that miss this critical component. Every blog needs a Follow by Email and Follow by RSS option. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know what RSS is, those who use it to read blogs are passionate about it and won’t cross over to receive blog updates by email.
#5. Are the Components Above EASY to Find? The way you organize the sidebar of your blog is vitally important to blog growth. You should have things in the order of importance. For example, if you look to the left of this you’ll see the first option for readers to take action is Follow by Email and Follow by RSS. After this is my Follow me on Twitter button, etc. People are much more likely to spend money than time, so you have to make this easy for them to come back and visit regularly.
Now I’d like to know how your blog stacks up. Just to be honest, while I was writing this I realized my Follow me on Facebook button had migrated to the bottom and I had to make a few changes to get my own site up to standard. 

If you’re still not sure about your own site’s growth, stay tuned for my next post, Reasonable Expectations for Blog Growth.
Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Motivation Malaise gives this definition for malaise, a vague or unfocused feeling of mental uneasiness, lethargy or discomfort.
That totally describes my feeling today. As you know, I spent most of last week at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. Then, this past weekend was a holiday weekend. So it feels like a long time since I’ve kept regular working hours. Because of this, I’m finding it hard to get motivated.
Now I’ve written about this subject before, and I always try to build in some recovery time after Blue Ridge, but for some reason this year has left me floundering more than usual (please, no one remind me it’s because I’m getting older). Definitely NOT a good thing, I have deadlines looming and I need to be on the top of my game. I looked more closely at my situation and even those it’s slightly different, the same three issues are the root of my problem.
  • Disrupted Routine: I’ve discovered writing takes a certain set of mental muscles—and mine are woefully out of practice.
  • Insecurity: yep, you read that right. I’m the poster child for low self-confidence when it comes to writing. I find myself fighting against that voice in my head which insists everything up to now was blind luck and I’ll never write another publishable word again. You’d think coming off the high of being with other writers would give me confidence. Not me, instead it feeds the you’ll never be that good with this kind of competition voice that lives inside my head.
Having ferreted out what I think are the root problems, I immediately put my previous plan into action. Here are the steps I’m working through to get back into my regular routine:
  • Mental Fatigue: I’ll be watching the clock and taking frequent breaks during my workday to stretch and walk around my house or neighborhood. I’m convinced exercise is the key to breaking through this roadblock. 
  • Disrupted Routine: for this, I’ll be very dogmatic with my schedule. Watching the time I spend on specific tasks will help me make up lost ground in the quickest way possible. This kind of discipline will also help build back up my writing muscles.
  • Insecurity: this one is a little trickier. I’ll be building in rewards for accomplishments—like lunch or coffee with a writing buddy or a trip to the local bookstore. This will help me begin looking for my successes, as well as easing me back into a regular routine. 

So how well does this work? In the past it’s worked well, although not as quickly as I want. Truthfully, it will take me at least until next Monday before I’m one hundred percent. But, if I don’t start taking action I know from experience it’ll take even longer.
What about you? Have you ever dealt with a similar issue? If so, how did you ease back into the real world? Any advice . . . warnings? I’d love to hear from you.
Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Weekend Worship—Righteous Prayers

The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. James 5:16b-18 NASB

I fought so many fears while our son was deployed to the Middle East. Probably the greatest was that somehow my prayers wouldn’t be enough to keep him safe. I remember one night in particular. I awoke from an unknown dream, screaming in my mind. I was drenched with sweat and had tears running down my cheeks. I couldn’t remember the dream—only the terror, that horrible feeling of helplessness. I looked over and saw 2:52am blinking on the clock. I could hear my husband’s soft snores and they reassured me I hadn’t disturbed him. Too often he lost sleep because of my fears.

I knew sleep wouldn’t return anytime soon, so I grabbed my Bible and once again headed downstairs. I settled into my chair in the den and began to thumb through the pages, searching for comfort. I tried to focus enough to pray for my son, but my prayers seemed common, not good enough to inspire God to go great lengths to keep him safe.

In my page turning, I found myself reading these verses in James. As I read I felt even worse. Did I have to be Elijah to pray effectively? I would never consider myself in the same category of righteousness as him. Even more discouraged I thought about these verses. As I did, God brought something to mind that I’d never considered. I remembered that early on in Israel’s history God had warned them that if they didn’t obey Him, He’d withhold blessings, specifically the blessing of rain. I felt hope begin to blossom. I immediately turned to Deuteronomy 11 and there it was—God’s warning that He would shut up the heavens if they turned from Him.

My heart leapt. Righteous prayer wasn’t based on my goodness, but on God’s! Elijah’s prayer was effective because he knew God and he just prayed God’s own words back to Him. God would always be true to His word. I felt a floodgate of possibilities open up. I could pray scripture over my son and know that God would hear and answer.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Clash of the Titles—Five New Releases You Gotta See

*guest post by April W Gardner

This week, Clash of the Titles is featuring five novels new to bookstore shelves. You don't want to miss a single one! They're already getting great reviews. Check them out on Amazon by clicking the cover images. You can also use the survey below to let us know which you're most likely to read first. Which one is going to the top of your TBR pile?

COWGIRL TRAIL by Susan Page Davis
Alex Bright is torn between supporting the cowboys who want to strike or the rancher who gave him his start. The boss’s beautiful daughter complicates matters when she organizes an all-woman outfit to replace the striking men.

THE RESTORER'S SON by Sharon Hinck
Cast out by those he trusts and preferring to cross swords with the One rather than yield to His will, Kieran flees to enemy Hazor, only to find that the One knows no borders. Pursued by his calling, Kieran finds a boy without a home, a king with burning questions, and a nation torn by darkness. 

THE CHASE by DiAnn Mills
To FBI Special Agent Tigo Harris, it's a cold case, but to writer Kariss Walker it's a story that she has to write despite the danger. 
When Holly Fisher's mother reveals a long-kept secret, that Holly's mother abandoned her Amish community where relatives still live, will Holly's yearning for family be strong enough to overtake her conflicted feelings of betrayal? Set in the heart of contemporary Amish country, Leaving Lancaster explores the power of forgiveness, reconciliation, and love where least expected.

THE IRISH HEALER by Nancy Herriman
Accused of murdering a child under her care, Irish healer Rachel Dunne flees the ensuing scandal while vowing to never sit at another sickbed. When a cholera epidemic sweeps through London, she feels compelled to nurse the dying daughter of the enigmatic physician she has come to love. 

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Thursday Review—Fact or Fiction: Know the Truth to Protect Yourself Online

I’ve been giving out information about  how to stay safe online and today I want to share some of the top myths I’ve run across. First take the short quiz, then I’ll give you the information.
True or False Online Safety Quiz
  1. I’m not on a public network, so my computer isn’t at risk.
  2. Dial-up connections are just as vulnerable as wireless connections.
  3. The best anti-virus software is the one you pay for.
  4. No hacker would bother with my computer because I don’t have anything on it worth stealing.
  5. With all the online security it takes a lot of technical know-how to hack a computer, site or network.
  6. Macs are just as vulnerable as PCs to hacking.
  7. My password is secure.
  8. I should never use the same password for different sites.
  9. I know a link is safe because a friend sent it or posted it on Facebook.
  10. If my browser displays the locked padlock icon I know the website is safe.
Here are the Answers:
  1. False: the Internet is a public network. If you’re on the Internet you need to take precautions.
  2. True: unless you have a permanent IP address (and homes don’t, usually) you're just as much at risk as someone using a wireless connection.
  3. False: according to the June 2012 issue of Consumer Reports one of the highest rated anti-virus software is free. (Avira
  4. False: personal computers are much easier to hack and contain lots of info that’s worth stealing.
  5. False: yes there are some things that are hard to hack, but most don’t take as much knowledge as you would think.
  6. True: I’m a Mac user and this one surprised me. The only difference is that there are fewer Macs in use so there aren’t as many viruses out there.
  7. Only you can answer this, but you might be surprised. I’m a frequent visitor to friends homes and you’d be amazed at the number of them who don’t know the password to their home’s wireless system...and how often I can get in by just a few guesses.
  8. True: and if you’ve been following this series you know this. Did you miss the first post? Catch up on What to do if You've Been Hacked here.
  9. False: again, if you’ve been keeping up, you know this was a gimme question. Not sure what I mean? Here’s the link to Steps You Can take to Prevent Yourself Online.
  10. What you want to look for is ‘https://’ not just ‘http://’. The padlock icon is easy to duplicate and it takes an experienced hacker (with lots of knowledge) to duplicate the ‘s’ in the URL.
Now it’s your turn. What questions or tips do you have for online security?
Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Steps to Protect Yourself from Online Hackers

Last week I shared What to do if You’ve been Hacked. This week I want to give you some tips to help prevent it from happening. Unfortunately, nothing is foolproof. Inevitably, the more wise we become at protecting ourselves, the more cunning those wishing us harm become. 
The majority of times we get hacked it’s because we clicked a link that uploaded a virus which opened us up to hackers. 
This is the bad news, but there’s also good news. This kind of hacking is preventable, and here are some steps to take to stay safe online.

  • Be wise. This seems basic, but so many times we just ignore our better judgement. How many of us have been sucked in by direct messages like these? “Have you heard the rumors your fiend is spreading about you?” or “This is a hilarious video just uploaded about you.” Stop. Think. Then DON’T click that link!
  • Assume it’s a lie. About six months ago I got an email from an online company confirming a large purchase with my credit card. I knew I hadn’t made any purchases, but still had to fight the urge to panic. I took a step back and looked more closely at the email. I noticed several things that made me suspicious. I immediately did an online search for scams involving that company and came up with pages of recent victims. I contacted the company directly (not through the info in their email) and confirmed the email was a ruse.
  • Never give out sensitive information. Let me repeat, NEVER GIVE OUT SENSITIVE INFORMATION! Companies don’t ask for bank account info, passwords or other information over the internet. First, if you’re a customer, they already have all of your information they need. Keeping up with personal passwords is a liability for companies. 
Now, a quick word about passwords. I know you don’t want to hear it, but your password should be different for every account you have. If you’re like me you probably have dozens of accounts, so how can you keep up with all those passwords? Trust me, it’s not with sticky notes or a file on your computer. 
Instead, take advantage of some wonderful programs. Some charge a small fee, others are free—all have the highest security rating available. 
Keepass X (for Mac) and Keepass (for PC)
There are also blank booklets available for those of you who are old school and want something you can hold in your hand. I’ve seen them at local discount stores, as well as high end specialty stores.
Now it’s your turn, what are some tricks you use to stay safe online? Be sure to check back on Thursday when I’ll debunk some of the online safety myths we all have fallen for.
Don’t forget to join the conversation!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Clash of the Titles


**Guest post by Michelle Massaro

In the recent Leading Ladies Clash, Life on the Edge by Jennifer Comeaux and High Desert Haven by Lynnette Bonner  went into the ring on Clash of the Titles.

After the public vote, the winning title was....

 HIGH DESERT HAVEN by Lynnette Bonner!!  

 We're happy to announce that High Desert Haven has been added to the list of COTT Champ titles! And we also want to extend our congratulations to the author. I'm sure we're all eager to add this book to our summer to-be-read pile! 

 In response to her win, author Lynnette Bonner said:

It was an honor just to have been chosen as a clasher, in the first place, and then to have won… wow, I’m totally blessed by that. I’m still fairly new at this, and putting my stories out to the public is, to say the least, a daunting experience. So every little bit of encouragement and affirmation gets tucked away for days ahead when I will need to draw strength from them. I so appreciate COTT for giving me this opportunity to interact and connect with their readers.

Some of the comments left by readers were:
  • Great job!!
  • Both excerpts make me want to read the rest of the story. It was hard to choose!
  • I think they both did a good job of presenting their books.
  • Both leading ladies were believable and presented with skill.
  • Looks like a whole lotta fun!
  • I found it very hard to select only ONE excerpt. They were both great! Keep up the great work!
  • Both excerpts have great leads! Would like to read both books!

Curious to read the winning excerpt? You can both contenders' entries here.
An interview with the winning author can be found here.  

Want to congratulate the author? Leave a message in the comments. Have a question about future Clashes on COTT? Email them at

Thank you! 

**Michelle Massaro is the Assistant Editor for Clash of the Titles, a mother of four, and a wife of nearly 17 years. She bakes, crochets, cross-stitches, sings, writes, and cries during movies. She champions for Biblical authority, leads a Jr. High girls' Bible study, and plays a mean game of backgammon. She spends way too much time on the computer, but makes it up to her family (she hopes) with prayer coverings and chocolate chip cookies. The best place to connect with her is on Facebook, naturally.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Thursday Review—A Review of What to Take to a Writers Conference Part 2

A Guest Post by Lynn Huggins Blackburn

Last week we covered my personal list of must have items for all writers conferences. This week, I’m going to share with you my list of really want to have items, especially for the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference

These are optional, but if you’re driving and space isn’t an issue, you might want to pack some of this in your car. 

(Or, if space is an issue, you could always sweet talk one of your new friends who will be driving her own car and will have plenty of room, to help you out. I’m pretty sure she’ll say yes.)

  • Bottled water. I tend to be a bit thrifty. Yes, there are vending machines. But bringing bottled water from home leaves me more cash to spend on mochas. (Priorities!)
  • Favorite soft drinks. If you are headed to Blue Ridge this year you should know that a recent call to a helpful registration clerk confirmed that Ridgecrest is still a Pepsi product facility. (My helpful informant is a Coke drinker and shared my frustration. She also earned my life-long gratitude for not making me feel like a goober for being concerned by this). Anyway, if you have a Diet Coke addiction—as many writers do—bring your own. You need to be at your best. This is not the time to try to go cold turkey.
  • Gym clothes. You may not have time for a workout, but if you do, it might make you feel better, help you burn off stress, etc. Pack a pair of tennis shoes and go for a quick walk each day. You’ll be glad you did.
  • Coffee/tea maker. Depending on your accommodations and preferences, this might make your stay more enjoyable. (It also might make you very popular with the people who need a cup of coffee to get their eyes open in the morning). Blue Ridge note: “Deluxe” accommodations do have coffee makers. “Standard” accommodations do not.
  • Pillows. I’m the kind of girl who sleeps best with my own pillow. So mine will be making the trip, even if I have to smuggle it in under the cover of darkness to avoid being laughed at.
  • Sewing Kit/Hem tape. Buttons do pop off. Hems do rip. (I’ll have mine in my bag in case of emergencies).

  • iPod. Have you ever seen professional athletes before a big game? They almost always have earbuds in as they tune out the rest of the world and focus on what’s ahead. If you think you may have a panic attack before your critique, maybe some praise and worship or Scripture would soothe your soul. Or, if you worry that your roommate may not realize that she snores like an elephant seal, an iPod could save your relationship!  
  • A map. Find your classes before you need to go to them. If you can plan to arrive early, do so. Give yourself time to acclimate to the hotel/conference center so you aren’t panicked trying to find a restroom. And if you get lost, don’t worry about it. I got completely turned around on my first day at Blue Ridge. Wandered hallways for fifteen minutes while trying to act like I was just “exploring the facility” rather than what I really was, which was “hopelessly lost and hyperventilating.” If I’d quit telling people about it, no one would have ever known.
  • New friends. You can make these before you arrive. Sign up for the Yahoo! Group. Participate on email lists. Comment on blog posts. These new friends are going to make your conference experience unforgettable. You can get through the week without them, but you’ll cherish the week if you find them and hang on tight!
Lynn Huggins Blackburn has been telling herself stories since she was five and finally started writing them down. She blogs about faith, family, and her writing journey on her blog Out of the Boat. Lynn is a member of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild and the Word Weavers, Greenville. She lives in South Carolina where she hangs out with three lively children, one fabulous man, and a cast of imaginary characters who find their way onto the pages of her still unpublished novels. She drinks a lot of coffee.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Help, I’ve Been Hacked, Now What?

Many of us have experienced the sinking feeling that comes with the realization that one (or more) of our social media profiles have been hacked. It's nothing to be ashamed of, but it can sure wreck an otherwise blissful day. 

The easiest way to get hacked is to click on a link that contains a virus allowing hackers access to your accounts. When you click on the link, you may see a message telling you the link is broken. That doesn’t mean you’ve dodged the bullet. If your firewall or virus software doesn’t catch it, you’ll still be infected. 
Some of the most common messages that spread viruses and allow hackers access are:
“Did you know your friends are spreading nasty rumors about you?” 
“This is a hilarious video of you.”
So what’s a social media professional to do, cancel all accounts and slink away in shame?
In this post I'll give you the steps to repair the damage. In the next post I'll give you some tips to keep it from happening again.
First, change your password for the social media profile that’s been compromised. 
  • Go to your home page and click on VIEW MY PROFILE PAGE under your name in the top left of the screen.
  • Then click on PASSWORD and follow the directions to change your password.

  • Go to your home page and click on the arrow to the right of your profile name in the solid blue header.
  • You should land on General Account Settings. From here click PASSWORD and change your password.

Next, you need to check and make certain the damage hasn't spread. Changing your password is just the first step. For this, you’ll need to visit the app section for Twitter and Facebook. Here’s how:
  • Go to your home page and click on VIEW MY PROFILE PAGE under your name in the top left of the screen.
  • Then click on APPS. Here you’ll see a list of apps that have access to your Twitter account. I recommend you revoke access to any you don’t recognize or haven’t used in a while.

  • Go to your home page and click on the arrow to the right of your profile name in the solid blue header.
  • Click on APPS. Here, too, you’ll see a list of apps that have access to your Facebook account. Again, I recommend you revoke access to any you don’t recognize or haven’t used in a while.
The fear of getting hacked shouldn't keep us from exploring social networking, anymore than the fear of identity theft should keep us from using a debit or credit card. But we all need to play smart. 

How about you, have you ever been hacked? 
Don't forget to join the conversation!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Clash of the Titles—Soul Gripping Heroines

*Guest post by Jennifer Slattery

When our daughter was young, I was very cautious of the television shows and movies she watched. It wasn’t just the language or violence that concerned me, but the image of women they portrayed. The media seemed to convey a constant message: “Women’s value is only skin deep.” I was probably overly cautious, but the discussion still holds merit. What do our choice of heroine’s say about our values as a society?
At the risk of sounding clichĂ©, we’ve come a long way … in but a short period of time. The other day my daughter showed me a page from her magazine. On it, there were five models, each with different skin tones and body types.


I believe the heroine’s in Christian fiction are changing, too. I’ve read novels of women with disabilities, vices they need to overcome, backgrounds they’re not fond of. I’ve read of women doctors, single moms, those facing divorce. To me, a sinner saved by grace, it’s encouraging to read of women just like me—imperfect, yet strong. Struggling, yet overcoming. Imperfect women living in an imperfect world, embraced and loved by a perfect God.

I believe our cardboard heroines from the past arose out of honorable intentions. There was a general desire to set forth perfection in the hopes that we, as readers, would strive for it. And there is much wisdom to that theory, and yet, the Bible presents a different kind of hero and heroine.

Those like Abraham, who lied, thus betraying his wife.

And Moses, a prince turned murderer turned liberator.

Those like Ruth, who had to beg, well, glean, for her next meal.

Paul, a religious tyrant who watched as Stephen the first martyr was stoned.

A sinful woman with an alabaster jar who was willing to surrender something so costly when she found something of higher value—Jesus.

Each of these characters taught us something about grace and something about ourselves. Through their struggles, God reveals our own. More than that, through their triumphs, God stirs us toward victory.

I’d love to hear from you. Has there been a heroine—in a novel, movie, or the Bible—that God used to tap deep into your heart, revealing an area of weakness He wanted to change? Tell me about her, and what God revealed through her.
*Clash of the Titles’ hostess, Jennifer Slattery, lives in the Midwest with her husband and their teenage. She writes for the ACFW Journal, Internet CafĂ© Devotions, Jewels of Encouragement, and the Christian Pulse. Her work has placed in various contests and appeared in numerous publications and compilation works. Visit her online at her devotional blog, Jennifer Slattery Lives Out Loud ( or on Facebook at “Living by Grace,” a modern-day meet-at-the-well community.