#TestWriter: Using Mailchimp (or, What the Heck am I Doing?)

First of all, thanks to all of you who subscribe to my blog, whether you’re engaged and commenting or just passively looking at my posts. You’re here, so thanks so much for being here! However, most of you are WordPress members, which tells me I’m really not getting much traction outside of WordPress. Since I’d heard so much about Mailchimp (and services like it) and how it benefits indie authors and small businesses getting noticed, I thought I’d try it.

Um…What’s Mailchimp?

I will say up front: After creating an account and working with some of the features  for a couple of months, I had no idea what Mailchimp actually did. I needed to find more people who would be interested enough in my blog to subscribe. Mailchimp doesn’t do that. What it does is “help you share email and ad campaigns with clients, customers, and other interested parties.” So they do the back office work of marketing that most of us creative types don’t know how to do. How do we tell all our blog followers that they can get a new book of ours for free? How do we point them exactly to our product straight from their email? How do we let our fans know that the content they want from us is here? This is what Mailchimp helps you with. If you have no fans, (or if they are all on WordPress), Mailchimp is not going to be your scout. (And if I had read their “getting started” post about their service, I would have known that.)

So, how do you use it?

So think of Mailchimp as your online, digital marketing department.  You create campaigns–some just for one time or one event, some of them will be ongoing. A one time event for a writer would be like a book launch, or a giveaway; whereas, an ongoing campaign maybe sending out a weekly newsletter. An event may require one campaign or more than one depending on who you are trying to reach and what you’re trying to advertise.

For instance: I want to advertise the release of Volume 3 of my Owen & Makayla Trilogy.  I’m going to create several marketing campaigns, so I can reach all my potential customers: 1 giveaway using a landing page, 1 Facebook ad, 1 email notifying my blog subscribers of the release, and 1 Instagram ad. I can use Mailchimp to create each of these campaigns, send them to respected parties when I specify, and then gather statistics and present me with reports on how each of these are doing (effectiveness).

The Positives

  1. So now that I knew what Mailchimp was for, I found it to be pretty easy to use for the amount of customization I can do. The templates for email had a lot of customizable features to navigate. While I love that ability, that’s going to make it more difficult for people who really struggle with technology. But that’s the trade-off with all technology: either it is easy to use but has less customization, or has more customization and is harder to use. The only obstacle I found is the compatibility with Wordpress–but more on that later.
  2. Even if you’re operating on a small scale, you can use a lot of features for free. The account set-up is based on features you want, number of subscribers, and number of emails sent per month: (table from Mailchimp.com, Oct. 2018)
The Basics Free Grow Pro
Subscribers 2,000 Unlimited* Unlimited*
Emails per Month 12,000 Unlimited* Unlimited*

Since I only had 6 email subscribers at the time and didn’t really have a lot to promote, I customized and created an email ad campaign for free. So, you look pretty professional, which hopefully woos your “interested parties,” and gets you increased engagement.

The Negatives/Tips to help

  1. Like I said above, Mailchimp is pretty easy to use. That is, except with WordPress.com. Some of the features have to have a special script to engage with WordPress. Others can’t be customized like you want them, unless you have the WordPress business account. I wanted to add my WordPress users, but I can’t because I only have a premium membership–no plugins. But even with that, I see more negative reviews for the Mailchimp plugin on WordPress than positive. Bottom line: the platforms just don’t work well with each other.
  2. You have to find and read the guides and tutorials (which are better and more up-front now) to understand how to use some of the tools fully. Mailchimp has updated its site since I first started using it, so finding and understanding the tools and why you need them is better than when I first started. But you still really have to do your HW before you can jump in. In the example below, I created 3 drafts of an email campaign, because I thought it was ongoing. It wasn’t. None of them were.
  3. Prep your account before you need it, or you will have to find and create everything from scratch. Every time you need it. You really need to set up your account (lists, upload logos and brand identity stuff, create templates) before you even begin an actual campaign. Otherwise, you’re going to get frustrated trying to create every new piece of marketing collateral. I didn’t set my default logo, and even though I’ve used the email campaigns for a few months, it’s like starting from scratch when I decided to create a landing page. So now, I really need to go to my account and see how functional it really is. Otherwise creating my campaigns for the release of Owen & Makayla part 3 will be torturous.

Bottom Line

A Mailchimp account is a great asset to have for an author, but it doesn’t do everything.

  1. First, have your marketing plan together,
  2. then read up on how to use Mailchimp,
  3. then set up your account so it’s ready to help implement that plan.

Follow these steps in order to get the most out of this service.

DIY…Writer?

Isn’t that redundant? Well… kind of and emphatically not.  There are a lot of tools, services, and companies offering products to writers, specifically to indie authors.  But most are new not tested, and some even border on scamming hopeful authors.

So I guess the term I’m looking for is more like Beta Tester. In any case, my next themed blog adventure will be researching, testing, and reviewing products and services that writers want to know about. If you have a product, service, or writing tool that you want me to review, please put it in the comments below. If my budget can handle it, I may test it, if it looks/breathes/acts like a scam; I’m not going to even attempt it.  My first services/products I’ll be trying out are book Marketing, but feel free to comment with any other writing-related software/service/hardware that you have been curious about. Find these posts here or on my social media feeds with the #TestWriter

Looking forward to testing what’s out there!

Review of “Accidents Happen” by Kassie Ward

Review’s first appearance was on Goodreads.

Accidents Happen: A Biggest Small Town Ever NovelAccidents Happen: A Biggest Small Town Ever Novel by Kassie Ward
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Really… 3.5 stars.

*Full Disclosure: While this is an honest review, I am friends with the author.*

The premise: Julian Fursey, writer with a day job, is coming back from a writer’s convention when she rescues 2 guys from a car wreck: Drake Salvatore, a Marine, and Amerigo, his little brother. She thinks that’s it–good Samaritan deed done–but the Salvatore family has other plans. Especially Drake, who can’t stop thinking about or checking up on her. So when a stalker starts harassing Julian, Drake feels it’s his duty to protect her. But will he be able to keep her from falling into the stalker’s trap?

The story: What I love about this novel is the story. This dual POV romance is a page turner that I devoured mostly in one day, and when I got near the end, I kept bookmarking because I wanted to savor the ending. The characters feel very real, even if the circumstances may be a little surrealistic (TV drama) at times. I love Hannah’s excitement and advice as Julian’s BFF! I can almost hear my BFF’s voice through Hannah’s words. Ward doesn’t bog us down with the insecurities of Drake and Julian when she could have–and like other authors do in this genre–and that’s a delight. Julian is a curvy girl who likes to eat, and is unapologetic about it. And while she’s unsure if Drake is seeing her out of duty or because he has feelings for her, Julian doesn’t seem hung up on WHY he would stick around. (There’s no annoying questions like: will my curves turn him off? what will he think of my body? does he think I’m pretty?) She does have moments, but they don’t go on annoyingly for several paragraphs.

Genre: This is a sweet romance, which means no gratuitous sex scenes. And there are religious (we assume Protestant Christianity) references from characters that make you think that’s the reason. However, these people have been around–both Julian and Drake are divorcees–and there is making out. I wanted to be annoyed with the tameness (I like my romances a little hotter), but I can’t be. For one thing, I love that Drake is not a reformed man-whore. So many romances, no matter the heat level, write the woman as virginal and pining and the man as a man-whore and settling. Not here. Drake is a guy who’s had his heart broken, been around the block, and maybe in a dry spell sexually. Julian is abstaining from sex because that’s what she wants to do at this point in her life. It’s a spiritual decision, not a sexual one. She has hormones like everyone else. I love that about this couple. And though I’m not the biggest fan of a sweet-level romance, this is a great example of how one should be done IMO.

Sweet but not so sweet? One thing I noticed that’s different in other novels of this subgenre is the level of violence. The scenes involving the stalker, particularly toward the end, seem more violent for something labeled “sweet” romance. In the grand scheme of everything, it’s probably  10:00 PM-cop drama-level violence, so the violence itself is not really an issue. It’s just that this is not as tame as you may think.

Writing: So why not 4 or 5 stars? Well, there are some detail mistakes and some writing errors. As a writer, I’m probably more sensitive to some of the writing errors than the average reader. A few of the detail issues may stick out to anyone. Drake calls Julia a nickname a couple of times early in the story, but near the end when Drake uses the name fondly, Julian says that was the first time he’d ever called her that nickname. When Julian and Drake first go out on a real date, and he describes how she looks, he lists the clothes she has on. Most guys would talk about how good she looks in the clothes. They wouldn’t be “she wore a pencil skirt”–most straight guys wouldn’t know what that is. There’s some weird confusion when they plan a date near p. 90 (Saturday v. Friday). Something doesn’t read right there.

And in general, the book is very plot-heavy, and sometimes you actually miss description: scene setting details, sounds, tastes, smells. Julian loves food and coffee, but we don’t get to enjoy that vicariously through her because there are no descriptions of the smells of her favorite coffee shop or the tastes of her favorite meal. I think with some more description/showing in places, this would elevate the plot and engage the reader even further.

Overall: This is an entertaining romance, with humor and a touch of mystery. Its subtitle is “A Biggest Small Town Ever novel”, so I am looking forward to the next in what I assume is a series of these books.

View all my reviews

 

#MyTinderSeries: Was it Worth it?

So, here’s my Tinder experience by the numbers.

  • Weeks on Tinder: 12
  • Total number of matches: approximately 30-35
    • Super likes: 1 (and that was an accident)
    • Highest number of matches at one time: 17
    • Matches who talked with me: 8
      • Matches who “yelled” at me at some point during conversation: 2
      • Matches who outright asked for sex/something sexual (and were refused, FYI): 2
    • Matches I met: 2
    • Dates had so far: 3
    • Matches I met that I liked: 1

These numbers are pretty dismal if you take them at face value.  I was unmatched by almost half the guys I was initially matched with, most of my matches did not even speak to me (from reading profiles, I found this to be a trend on Tinder–people don’t talk to you even if they match with you. Yes, that is weird and defeats the purpose of Tinder), and a couple had the nerve to be rude.

But then, today I received the cutest text from Tinder Guy B, we’ll call him TGB. It was a little gif of a guy making a list and TGB saying “Lemme add that to the list of things I like about you…” and I thought, this whole experiment on Tinder might actually be something more than a waste of my time. I might have actually found a new friend out of all of this. I may not have found love, but that was questionable, anyway.  What I did find was that I’m still a great match, and I can create a spark. And that was worth knowing.

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#MyTinderSeries was not endorsed by Tinder or its affiliates. #MyTinderSeries represented 1 heterosexual woman’s experience (me) using Tinder to meet guys for approximately 12 weeks. Everyone’s experience, while it may contain similar elements, is different. This in no way has to do with Tinder itself, the app, or its affiliates. For a happier ending in love, check out my first 2 installments of the Owen & Makayla Trilogy.

Review of “More From Dreams” by Bethanie F. Devors

Review’s first appearance was on Goodreads. If you want to read the hidden spoiler content go to:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2486990388

More From Dreams: Book Two: The Seodrassian ChroniclesMore From Dreams: Book Two: The Seodrassian Chronicles by Bethanie F. DeVors
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

*Full DISCLOSURE: While this is an honest review, the author is a longtime friend of mine.
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THIS REVIEW CONTAINS AT LEAST ONE VIEWABLE SPOILER OF BOOK ONE
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Rhys and Daeg are now king and queen of Seodrass and have defeated Malmuir and most of her army. All that’s left are a few harmless remnants here and there…or are there? And what’s this dream Rhys is having about her former world? This is the second installment of the Seodrassian Chronicles, and this made me change my mind about the first installment. I like this one better.

The positives: Story/Plot
A lot of times, a book sequel is usually better than the 1st because of the way a book has to build characters, a setting, set up conflict, etc. It’s very much that way here. (It’s almost the opposite with movies where part 2 is a letdown.) Now that we’re familiar with these characters and Seodrass, the plot takes us to more familiar territory: modern-day Columbia, SC in the US, a southern city with a small-town feel after you get out of the range of the city lights. Great backdrop for major drama to ensue. Also, great backdrop to see our Seodrassians as comical fish-out-of-water and meet new characters with characteristic southern charm. Strong and entertaining plot here. Love Jeff and Charlie!

The negatives: Details
Here’s one area that I think could be improved. A few of the details don’t seem consistent when they go from Seodrass to the other world and back. At one point Daeg calls cars “horseless carriages”–not when he first gets into one but later–but then a few pages later Guinnen calls it a car. It’s like the only time they use that term, and it’s in the middle of their time in the other world.
Daeg and Guinnen lose the way they form sentences in places. In Seodrass, words in sentences are arranged to sound like Old English or The Queen’s English, which is very different from Americans’ sentence structure.
The biggest detail that actually threw me for a loop happened after the group returns to Seodrass near the end. (view spoiler)

Part of the detail confusion may have to do with POV. There are alternating internal POVs, in an effort to achieve an overall omniscient third person (we get to see through almost everyone’s eyes in different points throughout the novel), so sometimes people’s voices get mixed up, which in turn gets what they know and how they talk mixed up. It’s a lot to ask of an author to do this perfectly, unless they have a team of editors working on this around the clock until final publication. As a writer, I probably notice it more than most readers would.

You decide: Tastes/ genre
I’m giving this a separate section because the heat level in a novel is a reader’s preference. If sweet/cozy romantic fantasy is your thing, this is right up your alley. If you like the very “adult proclivities” of A Game of Thrones or Outlander (like me), then this is going to be a little too “sweet” for you. I found at times Daeg’s forehead kisses annoyed the crap out of me, because I just imagine Daeg and his big alpha-male self all over Rhys. They’re basically still newlyweds! She calls him “Big Dog” for goodness sakes! What do big dogs do? They jump on you! I mean this man is so in love with her he would die for her, so I was like “get it on already!” Instead, (view spoiler) .Don’t get me wrong, they do have marital relations, but it is definitely closed door. You know from Book One, though, The Seodrassians are pious to a fault, which is why you will never see them do more than kiss–and chastely at that. Guinnen gets maybe a tad racy at the hotel pool, and p. 62 (paperback vers.) showed Daeg’s potential for being wickedly funny, but no one will walk around naked if this gets to screen. But again, this is my bag! In this aspect, I realize I’m not the target audience for this, but I know lots of people who are. Not everyone wants all the nakedness of a GOT or Outlander, which is why this genre is so vast!

Overall
Great plot, entertaining read, and an action-packed escape into a fantasyland! Check it out!

View all my reviews

#MyTinderSeries: Signs That it’s Not a Match

Now that I’ve “sampled” some of the Tinder offerings, I realize that sometimes people don’t know when it’s not a match. They keep attempting to make a connection for whatever reason, but it’s getting nowhere. Here’s how to tell it’s not a match:

  • If they say “you aren’t listening.” For most people, just being heard is a win, and when you remember what your match has said it’s an even bigger win for you. On the flipside, if your match has told you that you aren’t listening to him or her, then they are already disinterested, because they don’t want to invest in you if you’re not investing in them.
  • If you have no common interests. This isn’t going to work on so many levels: you have nothing to talk about, nothing to do together, so what would you do on dates? And if you have nothing to do on dates, where could this possibly go?
  • If you are angered or annoyed whenever they IM you. This is your sane mind telling you, get out now.
  • You love something that they hate (or vice versa). If it’s a big enough, it will break you up in the long run. People don’t really “learn to live with” things they don’t like. They simply learn how to tamp down their resentment/annoyance/anger until they can’t anymore.
  • If you want a different type of relationship than the other person. Again this is another sure breakup in the future, so ending it now is logical and leaves no hurt feelings. One of my matches asked me if I would consider being friends with benefits. I told him no. He unmatched us. No harm, no foul.
  • If your match keeps telling you “no.” If you keep getting a negative response to your suggestions, it’s probably because they want you to get the hint–stop suggesting that stuff. It’s not because they want you to wear them down until they say yes. It’s because they do not want to do whatever you are suggesting. It could also be for any of the reasons above–not listening, not something they’re interested in, etc.
  • If you feel you are being verbally abused. Verbal abuse is more than enough reason to stop talking to someone. But if for some reason you aren’t sure:  Verbal abuse leads to physical abuse. Unmatch. Now.
  • If they say any of the following: “wyd”, “send me a pic”, “let’s chill”, “where u at”, “don’t tell my [wife, husband, gf, bf, etc]” Um… yeah. That person is just straight up trash. Unmatch with a quickness and never look back.

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For some happier endings, check out my first 2 installments of the Owen & Makayla Trilogy

Podcast Confusion–Explained

So, everyone these days is talking about podcasts. Listen to my podcast, did you hear this podcast, I want to start a podcast… if you are (still) wondering what a podcast actually is and how to get it, here’s a great article. It’s a little over a year old at this point, but still relevant.

The Beginner’s Guide to Podcasts on “Wired”