50th Post! Another Look Back at What I’ve Learned

It’s almost the end of December and with the year coming to a close, I’ve decided to do another post reflecting on what I’ve learned about blogging in the last year. I did something similar exactly 25 posts ago and it was a really rewarding experience. Anyway, A&A is now 25 posts older, and hopefully 25 posts wiser. Time to drop some knowledge! Here we go!

Don’t get super worked up over SEO

This topic could probably be an entire series of posts which would not even begin to scratch the surface of the complexity that is Search Engine Optimization. So don’t freak out. Also, remember that SEO is only one aspect of driving traffic to your website; it’s not the end all be all.

Ok, so what is Search Engine Optimization anyway? Well, simply put, it’s the visibility of your site as it appears in a search. Essentially, where does my site come up in the search rankings. There are countless strategies and methods on how to optimize a blog post or website. WordPress is really nice because it lets you write the keywords yourself in the form of ‘tags’. Otherwise, you’d have to add keywords to your website with coding.

Using SEO requires some strategy. You have to anticipate what users will search and tag your posts accordingly. You also want to vary your tags in a way that will have the most value. For instance, if I’ve written a post about iPhones, it might seem obvious to use the tag iPhones. And it is probably still a great idea to do this (not like there is a limit to how many tags you can make) but it may not be as effective as you might think. Lots of people search ‘iPhones’ and by that logic, your site should be viewed by billions of people using that search. However, billions of websites are also using the tag ‘iPhones’, so what is gonna place your site above all of the others? Another strategy you might consider, is adding some keywords for which your site will not have a lot of competition in the search rankings. These searches are probably less frequent but they will likely bring you more traffic. Some balance between high and low frequency searches seems to be the optimum strategy.

Blogging is a Social Medium. So be social!

This is one that I struggle with constantly. Remembering that your blog does not exist in a vacuum. I’m not the only blogger out there writing reviews about books and short fiction. Finding and engaging with some other like minded, and even competitive websites is  a great way to bring viewers to your own blog. This makes it extra important to stay active and aware of what is happening within your field. If your lucky, sometimes these other websites will even post links to similar material on your website (if you have any) or posts of yours they found interesting. This type of behavior is good for two reasons. The first is because it will send  viewers from their page back to your own (this is called a ‘back link’) which directly results in new views (if only a few). The second reason is because search engines count the number of back links you have when calculating your position in a search results. The more reputable the site, the better. However, a strategy involving a varied audience is again probably the best. Imagine the difficulty of getting a site like the New York Times to link to your website. Don’t avoid interactions with big sites like this but also don’t forget about the little guys. Your local paper might drive more traffic towards your site in the beginning than a huge conglomerate. Best build relationship across the spectrum. Make friends in high and low places 🙂

Content Coordination

This is the newest and most intriguing idea (at least for me) that I’ve learned. Above, I mentioned being social. Through interacting with other sites that I’m interested in and reaching out to them, I’ve started writing and creating content for some other websites as well as my own. I noticed that whenever I posted on one of these other sites, traffic (through back links etc) increased on my own site. However, not all instances of this phenomenon were created equal. During weeks where I posted similar content across all of the platforms that I’m writing for, the views on each platform were higher than if the platforms had little or no relevance to each other. I’ve had to think about series of posts instead of posts in single, isolated incidents. It’s more difficult sure, but I feel that it has also allowed me to produce more sophisticated content as well.

For example, I often post about zombies on this website. I enjoy zombie fiction and feel there is a great depth of discussion to be had on the subject. Being ‘social’ presented me with an opportunity to review an anthology of short fiction about zombies which was enjoyable as ever. The post has done pretty well in terms of page views which I know is in part because of the publisher’s promotion of my review, but I also think that some of the traffic was driven to the site because of a zombie post I did for Amazing Stories which I timed to release the day after my original anthology review. It is more difficult to coordinate posts in this manner, but I feel that it is also more rewarding.

Face time is still important

For me, this lesson seems the most obvious, but still the hardest to accomplish. I think about the ancients, going around, marketing their products without the internet, or social media (or even television if you want to go even further back). They met, they talked, maybe shook some hands and they built awareness of whatever it was they were interested in. Good old fashioned word-of-mouth. If you think about it, everything that we now accomplish through the internet is simply the same concept, only we can now do it a million times more quickly and more often. However, I wonder if it has the same effectiveness. I know that much the engagement I’ve received on my website is by telling people about it at lunch, over dinner, at conventions, during parties, during parties at conventions etc.

There is a study about snipers in the war. The study showed that sharpshooters were less traumatized by their kills then foot soldiers who were in close proximity to their victim during the attack. Something about the distance caused a lack of empathy between the soldier and his/her victim. Now think about that concept in a more positive manner. Instead of getting a kill we’re trying to engage a prospective reader. Social media and the internet are like snipers. Fast and effective but perhaps the long range fails to impact the reader like you would in person. I sincerely believe that one of the best ways I’ve brought traffic to the site is by networking face to face. It’s a thing!

Always be looking/ Never be afraid of trying new things

Content is always changing. People are getting information more ways than ever before. It’s easy to find a formula that works and stick to it. It’s hard to continue finding formulas. I hope that when I write this post again after my next 50 post (yikes!!) that I have a host of new things which I’ve tried. I hope a great many of them are successes but realize that for that to happen a great many more will need to be failures. We’ll see what the new year brings!

See ya laters!

Anthology Review: Appalachian Undead

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of reading Mountain Dead, a small anthology of [4] zombie stories put out by Apex Publications. It was a delight to read (you can read my praise of it here) and I was, of course, craving more when I finally finished devouring its 66 pages. I was in luck. Mountain Dead just so happened to be a companion work to a larger anthology entitled Appalachian Undead. You might consider Mountain Dead the appetizer and Appalachian Undead the main course. And I most certainly ate it up. Licked my plate clean in fact and am ready for dessert. It seems only fitting that I write some words as to why I found this title so . . . delicious . . .

First off, it’s a large helping of zombie goodness. 20 stories over 214 pages with a preface, introduction, and afterword that give the collection a framework/context/meaning. It also includes some snippet bios of each author/editor and their relevant contributions to the field. This was especially nice because it allows the reader to continue exploring different works and authors after they are finished with a particular story. Well played team, well played. I’m going to ‘review’ the three stories which stood out the most in my mind, and hopefully I’ll be able to communicate why. Here we go!

Cover!!

Cover!!

Hide and Seek – Tim Waggoner

For me, this story  felt so memorable because of its departure from convention. The first departure is the point of view; we get the events from the zombie’s perspective. I’ve seen this before in Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies, but Waggoner’s take still felt fresh and new. I remember struggling at points within Marion’s work because of the polarity of his tone. He seemed to swing widely between humor, cynicism, despair and hope (I think in the end, Warm Bodies is a pretty hopeful novel). Waggoner didn’t need all of that to represent the humanity of his zombies. He focused (as many zombie fictions do) on survival but on the survival of dead instead of the living. Very interesting.

There is also a scene where our leading boy (yes the zombie is a child!) contemplates suicide. I don’t believe that I’ve seen this anywhere else, but it seems so obvious now that I think about it. Why would a zombie want to continue on in what I can only imagine would be a pretty miserable existence? I feel most stories don’t consider this because the idea is that the undead are trapped in a cursed immortality, that having died once they can’t ‘die’ again. But Waggoner gets us asking whether or not a second life (or an undeath) would even be worth ‘living’. Woah!

Spoiled – Paul Moore

This one made my list because of how truly horrifying I found the ending to be. Poor girl has a miscarriage and the dead infant tries to eat its way out of the womb during birth. Like I said, horrifying. And in true zombie-short fashion, nobody wins at the end of this tale. Really reminds the reader that no matter how much we sit here and imagine what a zombie apocalypse might be like, how we might survive and rebuild etc. Truth is we really don’t want to be around if the dead ever start rising from grave.

Note* I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m using the term ‘horrifying’ to describe the technical aspects of the story. It’s very well written. Great pacing and even some development of character (which can be hard to do in a zombie novel let alone a short). And the imagery is . . . True. It was just the ideas which I found so terrifying. Which a good zombie story should do. Well done here. Well done.

Calling Death – Jonathan Maberry

To me, this story felt the most like Appalachia. Or at least the way that I’ve conceived ‘Appalachia’ in my mind. Really drove home the idea of the people’s attachment to the land, and the simplicity of their lives. Simple, not because they weren’t capable of more complexity but because it didn’t bring them closer to any worth or value. We can see the havoc that is rough through materialistic conceptions of worth and value in the tale of the greedy mine owners and the poor hard working miners. Even in death, they are made to struggle. I’ve always heard the expression: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”. Apparently in Appalachia, you can’t sleep then either.

Honorable Mentions –

Black Friday (Karin Fuller): This one was sort of silly but a really fun read. Read it about two days before going black Friday shopping myself so the timing was impeccable.

Watch out!

Watch out!

We Take Care of Our Own (John Everson): Liked the way this one felt almost like a detective mystery. I’m always down for a good detective story, especially if it has zombies in it!

Company’s Coming (Ronald Kelly): There was a really neat racial component to this story that I was not expecting, nor do I see very often in zombie fiction. Well done there.

Repent, Jessie Shimmer! (Lucy A. Snyder): Who is Jessie Shimmer?! She seems like a really neat character who lives in a somewhat crazy world. I am definitely going to read some of her other stories (novels maybe?).

This is the END!

Of the post I mean. I’ll conclude how I usually conclude, by telling you all to go read this anthology. It’s on Amazon here, so you have no excuse! If I didn’t mention your story in my post, I’m sorry. Know that I thoroughly enjoyed all of the shorts in this anthology, but I just needed a way to write about it without writing 214 pages myself.  Anyway, bye all!

Short Fiction Review: ‘Ramesses on the Frontier’ & ‘Bit-U-Men’

October 25th  saw the publishing of what I believe to be something of a unique work in our modern times. Namely, an anthology of Mummy Stories!! New Mummy Stories!! And some old ones too if you’re in to that sort of thing. Yup, Jurassic London (who I didn’t even know about until this) published Book of the Dead and a companion anthology called Unearthedwhich ‘resurrects’ some old mummy stories written by authors like Edgar Allen Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Louisa May Alcott!

Needless to say, I was very excited to get my paws on some of the stories inside these two epic tomes. My mind was racing with possibilities. Some of what I came up with can be found over at the Amazing Stories Blog, but of course I couldn’t keep everything under a reasonable post length so a lot got omitted. A lot! But, I’m not here to dazzle you all with my brilliant imagination, I’m here to write about books (and really anything else that pops into my brain, but books lately).

I’m also incredibly frugal. I think it comes with the territory. The more I write about books, the more I realize how time consuming it is to write about books. So, as not to waste both time and money on this somewhat risky, albeit exciting adventure, I decided to first search out and find some samples of the work for which I was contemplating a purchase. Also, I was able to link to two different stories from the website. What I found was . . . Well just keep reading.

Cover!!

Cover!!

Ramesses on the Frontier by Paul Cornell

This was the first story I read. It was posted on Tor’s website and advertised in their newsletter (indeed the news letter is how I found out about all of this). I didn’t have time to read the story immediately but had to postpone reading until a later date. As I had mentioned earlier, my mind was filling up with expectation. Mummies resurrecting,  collecting organs, turning into giant sand storms! I was absolutely giddy.

Unfortunately, upon sitting down to finally read Ramesses on the Frontier I found that my dreams of giant sand storms and ruthless pharaohs had been smashed to pieces like Canopic jars unable to stand the test of time (thankfully I still have all of my organs). What I received instead, was a POV ride along of some mummy trekking across America in an attempt to reach the afterlife. And not once did he turn into a giant sand storm.

All joking aside, I understand that Ancient Egypt has a rich history and there are likely endless possibilities to the stories you can tell. I suppose part of my negativity is that I didn’t get the one I was imagining (aka sand storms). I think the other part is that I really couldn’t understand what was going on within the story. Let me explain. In Ramesses on the Frontier we are (as mentioned earlier) POV Ramesses, waking up after something like 3,000 years of being a box of bandages. Somewhat humorously, he believes the world to exist as he knew it in ancient times. As he discovers modernity, he looks to ancient devices to describe new marvels of which he is not familiar. For instance, he describes what I assume are cell phones, as ‘spell jars’. He is pleased upon gazing into his ‘spell jar’ that all of the spells he cast before dying are still active. I assume he’s using apps? And that somehow these apps are to his liking? (I hope I’m not just missing the boat entirely and this is obviously something else) I guess what I’m feeling is a disconnect between what the author is trying to portray and what is actually written on the page. Like somehow Ancient Egypt is foreign to me (because it actually is) though through point-of-view it’s supposed to be my home, and the modern world is still foreign to me, as well as poor Ramesses. Obviously I need to just go watch Brendan Fraser scream at some mummies.

Bit-U-Men by Maria Davhana Headly

No sand storms in this one either, but I feel like I can write much more positively about this story than the other. Mostly because I enjoyed it more.

Other Cover!!

Other Cover!!

In order to understand what’s going on in this story, you have to understand something very important about history. Well, maybe it isn’t ‘very important’ to general history but . . . what you need to know is that back in the early 1900’s, people were chopping up mummies and making them in to all kinds of things. Ink, medicine, aphrodisiacs, the list goes on. In this story, they’re cutting up mummies (well only one) and making candy. Crazy right?! But also really cool.

There weren’t any narrative hiccups in this story to get bogged down in, which was a blessing after reading the last story. Everything seemed clearly written, and the parts that were supposed to be mysterious were well articulated and not in the least bit confusing. Just mysterious. This story also seems to cover a great deal of time in a relatively short amount of words. Lots of themes crammed in there too but they don’t seem to crowd. Just a pleasant story. Typically, this is where I’d delve into the details of the plot or characterization but I think it’s better if you read the story for yourself. It can be found here at Light Speed Magazine.

Conclusion

In all, I’m still super excited to finally purchase Book of the Dead, and likely it’s companion Unearthed. Despite the anthology’s seemingly rocky start, I feel that there are enough other stories contained within that I will be able to find at least a few that I enjoy. Maybe I’ll get some giant sandstorms afterall!

Laters!