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One of the things I love most about blogging is the social aspect – receiving comments on my posts and leaving comments on others’.  For the next three weeks, however, I will not be able to read and comment on blogs.  I am leaving on Friday for a two-week business trip to Italy.  This week, all the time I have that is not spent on preparing for the trip will be spent with my family.  Then I’ll be on the ground in Italy, and when I return, the kids will be on Spring Break, so I’ll be catching up with them, recovering from jet-lag, closing out the March 12 x 12 giveaway and launching April’s.  So please don’t be offended if I normally comment on your blogs and you don’t see me for a while.  All will return to normal in April.  I will be checking my blog, however, and will do my best to respond to comments left on my posts.

What am I doing in Italy, besides eating pasta and gelato?  First I’ll be in Florence, working on a yet-to-be-revealed project.  Then I’m off to Bologna for the O’Reilly Tools of Change in Publishing Conference and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.  Some regular features on the blog, such as Tuesday 12 x 12, will continue to run while I am gone, and I have a couple of guest posts in store too.  I might be able to blog here and there, but I can’t promise.  I will, however, post short updates, photos and snippets on my Facebook Author Page if you want to follow along there or follow me on Twitter.

I will be thinking of you while I am here...

And here...

And eating this...

And this!

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Make it Stop!!!

You know those CAPTCHA’s / word verification tools that appear when you try to comment on a blog post?  Well, lately they have gotten all but impossible to read.  And I have better than 20/20 vision, so I know.  Often I have to try two or three times before I get it right, so lately I admit I sometimes abandon comments I’ve already written when that word verification comes up.

Here’s why you need to do away with word verification and CAPTCHAs.

  1. You don’t need them.  Both Blogger and WordPress have excellent spam filters.  Let the filters determine who is a real person.  Do not put that responsibility on your loyal readers.
  2. You will lose comments, if not readers.  Word verification never would have been a deal breaker for me in the past, but since the 12 x 12 challenge started, I now follow more than 1000 blogs.  I try to be an active follower and comment as often as I can.  Even if it only takes a few seconds to fill in that box, multiply that by hundreds and you can see why it becomes a drag.  Not only that, but now that they’ve made the letters and characters all but impossible to get right the first time, it takes even longer.
  3. It flags your blog as less professional.  Sorry.  I do not want to offend any of you lovely, lovely bloggers out there, but I challenge you to visit any blog that has a huge following that also uses word verification.  You won’t find one.  Why?  Because these bloggers do not want to create any friction between a reader and his/her comments.

I was hesitant to write this post even though I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot.  Then I read Leigh Covington’s post which inspired me to forge ahead.  She provided a link to JA Bennett’s post on How to Turn Off Word Verification on Blogger.  I was surprised to learn that some Blogger users don’t even know they have word verification activated, so I implore you to read the post and double-check.

Here it is again. How to Turn Off Word Verification on Blogger.

Here are a few more sources

Why I Hate CAPTCHA and How I Got Rid of It

Yet another blogger I follow, Clarissa Draper, agrees.

Here’s the scoop on Blogger’s spam filter

If you are a WordPress user, there is absolutely no reason to use CAPTCHA’s.  Just turn on the top-notch Akismet spam filter.  I think I’ve had one spam comment show up on a post in 2+ years of blogging.

I am not quite at the point of saying I’ll no longer comment on blogs with word verification, but the day is getting closer.  I would hate to do that, but with time being truly precious, filling in those boxes is not what I want to be doing.

Okay rant over.

Have you ever abandoned a comment you intended to leave on a blog because of word verification?  Also, I’d be curious to know if any of you Blogger users, after reading this post, discover you have word verification and didn’t know it.  

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When I was 20, I was thinner than I am now.  My body was leaner and tighter.  My eyes were perhaps a bit brighter, my hair a little blonder.

But I am more beautiful at 40 than I was at 20.  How can this be so?

  • At 20, I had no idea what I wanted to do or be in my life.  At 40, I have finally not only found my path, I am walking on it.
  • At 20, I was self-conscious and plagued by self-doubt.  At 40, I am comfortable in my own skin and happy with who and what I am.
  • At 20, I stuffed my body into multiple layers of baggy clothes because I thought I was too heavy.  At 40, I do not hide my body in oversized clothes, but wear things that accentuate its strengths – curves and all!
  • At 20, I couldn’t run a mile.  At 40, I can run 10.
  • At 20, I thought my body was weak.  At 40, I know it’s power, for I have borne two children (one without benefit of drugs!), fattened them from my breasts, and have gone on to run a half marathon, take up yoga, ski better than I ever have, hike, gallop a horse, and so on.  And I can STILL do the splits! 🙂
  • At 20, I concerned myself with what others thought of me.  At 40, I concern myself with what I think of me.
  • At 20, I saw things in black and white.  At 40, I see things in a thousand shades of gray.

I do not mean to criticize my 20 year-old self.  She did the best she could with what she had at the time.  She had her strengths and her moments of greatness.  But I now know that beauty is rooted in confidence, and confidence is something I have in far greater abundance at 40 than I did at 20.  True beauty does come from within and radiates out.  Beauty that goes in the opposite direction is at best, fleeting and at worst, false.

Me at age 20

I participated in this blogfest to celebrate the many beautiful women I am blessed to call family and friends.  It seems appropriate that in February, the month of love, we turn that love toward ourselves and rejoice in the beauty we are.

One of those beautiful friends is August McLaughlin, the creator of the blogfest.  She recently shared one of the most incredible, touching and brave stories I’ve ever read, and it was that story which inspired me to take part in this blogfest.  It’s called, Does Dirt Have Calories? Read it.

Also, be sure to go to August’s blog tomorrow to read many more inspiring stories of the Beauty of a Woman.

 

Me on my 40th birthday

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If you blink on the Internet, you’ll miss a million blog posts that you wanted to read.

Okay, maybe that’s an extreme statistic, but many lonely blog posts go unread and unloved.  Enter the Deja Vu blogfest, brainchild of bloggers Katie Mills, DL Hammons, Lydia Kang and Nicole Ducleroir.  On December 16th participants will re-post their favorite blog offering, or one that didn’t get a lot of exposure – maybe because it was early blogging days or a holiday – whatever.  So I’m taking the opportunity to re-post one I wrote a little over a year ago for a contest in the Writer’s Platform-Building Crusade.  After a week of serious blogging, I was in the mood for light.  So here it is, for your reading (or re-reading) pleasure.

Julie: An American Girl

You may not know this about me, but they’ve created an American Girl doll and written six books based upon me and my life.*  Yes, you read that correctly.  The worst part is, I only discovered this a few days ago when I came across the boxed set of books and the doll in Costco.  Imagine my shock!  Here I was, innocently looking for the 60-count package of kartoffelpuffers when I saw myself looking back at me in doll form.

Don’t believe me?  Consider the evidence.  American Girl Julie grew up in the 70s.  I grew up in the 70s.  Julie’s parents got a divorce.  My parents got a divorce (albeit not in the 70s, but still…).  Julie has a pet rock.  I had a pet rock.  If that is not enough to convince you, let’s take a look at the photographic evidence.  Here is a picture of the doll and a picture of me circa the mid-seventies.  I rest my case.

The Doll
The Model

Okay, so AG Julie lives in San Francisco and I lived in Northern Michigan.  Obviously the author (the fabulously talented Megan McDonald) had to change some of the details in order to avoid paying me my fair share of the significant proceeds of this series.  Honestly, if I find out that AG Julie has a toy skeleton that glows in the dark after you hold it up to a light bulb, a Lite Brite, Weebles (they wobble, but they don’t fall down), and/or Shrinky Dinks, I might consider a lawsuit.

I just feel so violated…  Lately, I’ve taken to walking down the street under an umbrella wearing sunglasses with plate-sized lenses just to avoid recognition.  Now that they are filming the “Julie” story (out in 2012), I can’t get any peace.  You’d think they would have at least given me a part in the movie – but no.  Apparently I’m now too old for the title role.  American Girl actually dares to put this series in the historical fiction category.  First of all, it’s not fiction – it’s my life.  Secondly, I am most definitely not old enough to be considered historical in any way, right?  Right????

On that note, I’ve often told my mother that the name Julie is so seventies that by the time I get to be 80 years old, it will be the equivalent of Maude or Gertrude or Betty today.  So for all of you fellow Julies out there, we need to stage a comeback for the name.  They’ve done it with names like Olivia and Sophia, so why not Julie?  Who’s got some pull with the Top 100 Baby Names Book publisher? Best get on it.

Otherwise, we’ll all soon be known as Julie: An American Old Lady.

*Some or all of this post may or may not be true…

This post was written as part of Rachael Harrie’s Writers’ Platform-Building Crusade.  She is 100% to blame for the kartoffelpuffer reference.

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If you’ve been on my blog at all this week, you know I’m in the middle of an impromptu blog tour to promote my MeeGenius Author’s Challenge story, A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS.  As such, I’m taking a week hiatus from posting on The Artist’s Way.  I am still doing my morning pages to keep the consistency, but I just didn’t have the mental or emotional bandwidth to take on Chapter 5 in the midst of this contest.  So I’ll be back with that next week.

In the meantime, I’m honored to be guest posting over at Jumping The Candlestick today – blog of Michigan picture book author Debbie Diesen.  This is particularly special because my kids love her book, THE POUT-POUT FISH so much that she is a true-blue celebrity to them.  So now they think I’m really hot stuff.  I’m sure that will last for about 2 whole minutes.  Anyway, drop by and say hi if you can!

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VOTE FOR MY STORY HERE!

If you read yesterday’s post, you’ll know I’m running a contest to promote my entry for the MeeGenius Children’s Author Challenge, and that marketing guru Laura Barnes gave me some great advice.  Today I am implementing another one of her suggestions, which was to try to do a last minute mini blog tour. Please stop by and visit these wonderful bloggers who took me on at the very last minute!

A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS: Blog Tour Schedule

Monday: Laura Barnes at Laura B. Writer shares the details and rationale behind the marketing and promotion advice she gave me.  GREAT stuff there folks!

Tuesday: Posting at Spirit Lights the Way, blog of Nancy Hatch, a freelance writer and free spirit who shares insights of all kinds

Wednesday: Posting at Jumping the Candlestick, blog of PB author Debbie Diesen (The Pout-Pout Fish, The Barefooted, Bad-Tempered Baby Brigade)

Thursday: Posting at C.B. Wentworth’s blog, fellow creative seeker and writer.

Looking forward to seeing you on the tour! 🙂

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CLICK HERE TO VOTE

Special post today.  Gratitude Sunday will be back next week.

ETA: IMPORTANT! PLEASE LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS IF YOU ARE ENTERING THE CONTEST. Some people may vote just to vote (not to enter), so I want to make sure I count everyone who does.  Thank you!

Alright everyone, I may not know a ton about marketing, but I do know when to pull out the big guns.  Luckily I have one of those in my arsenal.  Her name is Laura Barnes at Laura B Writer.  Laura is a marketing consultant and children’s book writer who helps authors build their online media presence.  A while back, I signed up for one of her blog critiques through her Monday series From A Marketing Perspective, and she scheduled it for this week.  While evaluating my blog, Laura noticed that I was in the middle of promoting my entry for the MeeGenius Children’s Author contest, and offered to help with that instead.  I’m sure she could see me sweating, struggling and even floundering straight through the Internets.  Needless to say, I jumped on her offer.

Be sure to visit Laura’s blog tomorrow because she’s providing the juicy details behind all of the suggestions she gave me (awesome).  Meanwhile, I am using this post to implement one of her suggestions – to run a contest to help me spread the word about my story. (For background on the MeeGenius contest, please visit the How It Works page.  For background on my entry, please read this post).

Why I Need to Reach Out

People within my own Network, both offline (friends and family) and online (blog followers, Facebook friends and Twitter followers), have been immensely supportive, and a great percentage of them have voted for my story.  I’ve been in the Top 50 (out of 400+) since the contest began on November 28th.  While this is fantastic (THANK YOU), Laura pointed out that for marketing to be truly effective, you need to reach beyond your own network.  In other words, you need people to help spread the word to their networks.  One way to do that is to run a contest with prizes that are of value to the people you are asking to help.  I wouldn’t want to ask for help without offering something in return, so that works perfectly for me. Here goes.

The Contest: What’s In It For You?

Grand Prizes

I know that many of my blog followers are writers, so I am offering up what I call the Big Kahuna.  For the past 18 months, I have kept a spreadsheet to track children’s book agents, especially those who represent picture books.  On this spreadsheet, I have the agent’s name, company name, website (both personal and corporate), email address, Twitter, Facebook and blog information (if applicable), submission guidelines, which genres they accept and any notes I’ve taken on who they represent, specific interests, etc.  There are more than 100 agents on this list who are currently accepting submissions.  This will be one of the Grand Prizes.

I also wanted to have a Grand Prize for non-writer followers and/or writers who already have agents and therefore would not benefit from my spreadsheet.  So the second Grand Prize is a brand-new iPod shuffle.  I figure everyone could either use one or find someone on their list to give it to this holiday season.  If not, it would make a great donation to a Toys for Tots-type organization.

Note: If both Grand Prize winners want the spreadsheet, I am willing to give two of them.  I can only provide one iPod shuffle, however.  The first GP winner will get first choice.  If that winner chooses the iPod shuffle and the second GP winner also wanted that, they can be moved to a First Prize position and I’ll draw another GP winner.  To speed this process along, if you plan to participate in the contest, it would be helpful (although not mandatory) to leave me a note in your comment letting me know which GP you would prefer if you win.  Make sense?

First Prizes

I will give away two first prizes, which will be the winners’ choice between a critique (of a complete Picture Book manuscript or the first 10 pages of a manuscript in any other genre) OR a $25 IndieBound gift certificate.

Second Prizes

Three lucky winners will get a brand new picture book of their choice.  That’s right. ANY picture book the winner wants will be theirs.

I will ship any prize internationally.

What is the Timeline?

The contest starts today – GO! – and will end when the MeeGenius contest ends, at midnight EST on Sunday, December 18th.  I will give myself a day to sort out the winners (selected from Random.org), and will announce them on Tuesday, December 20th.  Happy Holidays! 🙂

How to Enter

You may pick and choose from the following activities to enter the contest.

  1. Vote for my story on the MeeGenius contest page. (2 points – one time only).  You do need a Facebook account in order to vote, but even if you don’t have one, you can do any or all of the other activities.  I know many of you have done this already, and I am aware of most of them.  If you left a comment with your vote and I replied to you (via Facebook), you do not need to take any additional step.  I will be able to count your vote.  If you simply “liked” without leaving a comment, please let me know that you voted in the comments of this post.
  2. Promote my entry via Facebook. (2 points – one time only) Note that this step can be combined with #1.  If you leave a comment with your vote promoting the story, that comment will appear on your Facebook Wall.  I am checking these regularly, and I will reply to each and every one.  That way, you will know your FB promotion has been counted toward the contest.  Same for those of you who have already taken this step.  There is no need to repeat it (unless you want to of course!).  If you voted anonymously and would now like to promote via Facebook for the points, you can do so by sharing a link to my entry and urging people to visit and vote.  Here is an example of the type of comment that’s most effective, left on my entry from my daughter’s teacher.  “Please “like” this story to help a parent in my class get her phenomenal children’s book published.”  If you are promoting separately from your entry vote and we are not connected on Facebook in any way, please leave a link in the comments section of this post.
  3. Tweet to your followers asking them to vote.  (1 point per day, starting today, for a total of 8 possible points) In order for these points to be counted, you MUST use the hashtag #JHMeeGenius with your tweet.  That is how I will track and count them.  You must also provide a link to my entry in each tweet.
  4. Blog about the contest. (3 points – one time only) In your post, you must provide a link to this post, a link to my entry, and a link to my post providing background on the story.  In order to receive the points, you must leave a link to your blog post in the comments.

Comments on this post should be used for letting me know you are entering, your Grand Prize preference, informing me of previous MeeGenius votes you need counted, and/or providing links to blog posts or Facebook promos.  The comments section can also be used to ask any questions you may have about the contest.  However, comments on this post do not count as points for the contest.  In order to enter, you must take at least one of the steps outlined above.

In Conclusion

Laura refers to her blog as an “experiment in author marketing.”  I think this blog contest is also an experiment to see how much of a difference social media can make in marketing and promotion within a tight time-frame.  As of this writing, I have 186 votes and my entry is ranked #48 overall.  It will be fascinating to see what happens to those numbers over the course of this week.  Of course I realize that if nothing much happens, it will be a bit embarrassing for me.  But it’s a chance I am more than willing to take.  Regardless of the contest outcome, I will write a post next week detailing my “lessons learned” from marketing and promoting for my MeeGenius entry.  Hopefully we can all gain from that.

So followers, start your engines!  Off we go!

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