I’m working on a Science Fiction category, starting with Star Trek: The Original Series

I’m watching all the episodes of the original series for the first time in a long time, taking note of my thoughts as I go along. I plan to do this with all my favorite TV shows that are up on Netflix, and create new categories for them too.

At this rate, this one will end up as a 7500 word whopper of a post, so I’m probably going to break it up into multiple posts with 3-5 episodes each.

Unless you don’t mind reading one giant post. Let me know in the comments

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Review of Bing Rewards: Worth trying, but maybe not for the long term

Bing has a reward program (yes, they reward me if you go and get enough points after signing up with my link) that gives you stuff for using it. I set the $5 Amazon gift card as my target. I’ll use it to buy some books. Probably the next book from the guy who wrote the Book of Deacon trilogy. It’s amazing, and the prequel really rounded it out nicely.

It must have taken a thousand searches to reach that point. Is Bing bad? I wouldn’t say that. It’s usually close enough. But I kept finding situations where it failed miserably, in places Google never fails. I had to switch back half the time. I switched back to Google for the foreseeable future the moment I cashed out.

The bribe to get me to use it for a thousand searches was a great idea! Don’t get me wrong. As someone with an interest in marketing, it impressed me. It smoothed over the rough edges long enough for me to give it a fair shot.

But here we are, with Google sitting in my quick search box. Bing has been weighed. It has been measured. And it has been found wanting. Do you know how many pages I had to dig through on Bing to find the movie to go with that quote? I gave up at three. Google nailed it on the first try. The IMDB entry was the fifth result. Not perfect, but more than good enough.

Here’s what I would tell Microsoft to do: give me a reason to keep using it. I don’t mind giving them data and feedback. I want Google to have competition just as much as anyone else. So cut the cost on the card for the next one. Make it take 260 points on the second, 130 on the third, 65 on the fourth, and 30 on the fifth. Then thank me for my time and tell me there are no more $5 gift cards for me. The data and feedback from so many searches is worth at least $25.

How to start a blog the right way

1. Platform. I covered this briefly, but the gist is:

  • Get as many of the people who visit your blog as possible to sign up to a mailing list and follow you on social media. This way, you only need to find them once, and you always have a dependable source of traffic.
  • Get personal with your service providers and make sure they’re there when you need them. You don’t want to find out your mailing list provider–the backbone of any serious commercial internet enterprise–is asleep at the wheel when something goes wrong.
  • Make sure you know how you’re going to make money. If you’re a writer, then that’s probably with an ebook. You can link it in the sidebar, menu, or footer, but nothing gets clicks like a relevant link in a post.

2. Write great posts. I already covered this with a 2000 word ebook. If you’re serious about starting a blog and giving it a good shot at going the distance, you should read it.

3. Figure out who you’re writing for. I used to chase “niches.” Niches are, roughly speaking, extremely narrow segments of a market no one is competing for. I read a post recently that solidified and clarified where my thinking has moved over the last few years. If you’ll look over to the sidebar, you’ll see that my categories are in line with that.

My focus is on writers who are struggling to find the most basic spark of success. Helping these people is more than tips on writing, or guides to formatting books for Smashwords. It’s life stuff, and others things not directly tied to writing. I make a point of keeping it interesting both to writers who are at that stage and writers who have moved past it. Without that, I’d lose my audience as quickly as I gained it!

Closing thoughts

The biggest killer of new blogs is the tendency to fidget. People who kill their blogs this way will spend more time tinkering with widgets, buying themes, reading about their business instead of doing business, and other things. Rarely does it occur to them that a blog actually needs content.

You don’t have to sit there and flood your blog with 40 posts a day, but you do need something. In general, longer posts get more traffic. This is because there’s more for search engines to chew on, and so more searchers to send to you. In general, the more content you produce, the more traffic you’ll get. But you need to put your best work into each post. If you can only produce one good post a month, then that’s what you need to do.

If you don’t want to do search engine optimization, this is probably your best bet. However, search engine optimization–especially today–is not much different from market research. You’ll get better results if you know what your prospective readers are actually searching for.

Which is, not coincidentally, how this post got its title. :)

Three ways to face your past and move beyond it

We all have some thing in our past that keeps running circles in our heads. They weigh on our decisions, control the way we interact with others, and often have a negative impact on our thinking. I had so many that I couldn’t think straight, and this state went on for over a decade before I started unraveling it. Here are several things I learned in the process.

1. Forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t really about absolving someone else for what they’ve done. You’re not saying “you didn’t do anything wrong.” You’re saying “I waste too much time thinking about this, and I intend to move on.” You don’t have to tell the person you’re forgiving them, but it helps. I forgave everyone who wronged me in the past, and I felt better for it.

2. Mapping. My brain was a frazzled mess. I only had a few vague memories, and very little of it made sense. I took the few I could remember and started laying them out in a spreadsheet. My troubles were mostly in school, so I started off with columns for grades, the year I was in it, and how old I was. I don’t need this anymore since I’ve worked through enough to feel good about my past, but I keep it around for when I need to look back. The goal here is to give structure to your memories so more will emerge, allowing you to deal with them.

3. Facing. Facing is both physical and mental. If someone from your past did something wrong, tell them about it. There’s a very good chance they think about it too, and will be happy to have you bring it up so they can apologize. Otherwise, talk in your head. Don’t do this with the real person if you think they might become violent or vindictive.

Three things blogging advice bloggers tell you, and three things you should do instead

1. “You need a paid theme.” Every single one of these people either sells a theme or works for someone who does. This isn’t to say they’re lying, but their thoughts aren’t clear of bias. A paid theme might help, but you can go a long way on a default theme. I use some free theme from the WordPress.com theme database.

2. “You need a paid host.” This is somewhere that we need caution. Yes, you need a good host. But you don’t need whatever VPS or shared hosting company the blogger is running an affiliate campaign for. The company behind WordPress hosts this blog. It’s $13 a year to point my domain, and I’ve never had a problem. The limited customization keeps me focused on what matters: producing new high quality stuff. You do need a domain and a competent host, but there are plenty of options other than a VPS or shared host.

3. “Post every day.” Without fail, these are people who can afford to pay someone else to blog for them. That, or they almost exclusively publish guest posts. Quality will always beat volume. If you can crack quality and volume, you can spin gold. Volume will never make up for poor quality.

There are countless things you can do to improve your margins, but you can’t increase margins on nothing. Focus on producing and promoting, and you can figure out what you need once you have traffic.

So what do you need before you have traffic? It would be awfully rude of me to tell you what not to do without giving you some better guidance.

1. Start collecting email addresses. I use MailChimp, which is local to me. I get free credit if you sign up through my link and buy one of their paid services. Personally, I only link to my mailing list in my ebooks. In general, I don’t want people to sign up unless I know they’re willing to pay for something I’ve written. It costs money to send these emails, after all. I’ll loosen up on this once I get my income up enough to support unpaying people who might buy something some day.

People often recommend against MailChimp because they take a hard line on affiliate marketing. If you plan to use affiliate links, you should email MailChimp support first and tell them what you plan to do. I have a note on my account telling anyone investigating my links that I have clearance, so the worst I’ll get if I break a rule is an email letting me know about the violation. Which brings us to #2…

2. Talk to your service providers. I talk to MailChimp. I talk to Paypal. I can send a DM straight to them on Twitter if I have an issue. Automattic–the company that runs the service that powers my blog–always gets back to my emails on time. This is something everyone does in physical business, but no one seems to bother with it once the business is online. Don’t you think your town butcher talks to the farmer? The only service provider I don’t talk to is Google, but the world knows about it when they burp, so I don’t generally need to contact them.

3. Don’t depend on ads to make money. Seriously. A sale of one of my ebooks is equal to the ad revenue from 1000 impressions. Then you realize only about half the visitors count for impressions, meaning that’s 2000 visits for one book sale. I sell about 3 books a week. That means I would need over 26,000 page views to cover a month of e-book sales! I get between 3000 and 10,000 page views in a month, depending on how much experimentation I’ve done.

So what do you do? Well, look over on the sidebar at my ebooks. Or the MailChimp referral link. Send people to things that earn. This is why it’s so important to build a mailing list. If you build a list of 2000 people and get 10% of them to give you $3 every month, you’ll make $600 a month. Now imagine you have a list of 20,000. The goal is to turn as many of those monthly visitors into mailing list subscribers as possible. Social media is good, but fewer people will click your links.