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Months after his step-father murdered his mother, Jessie Mendoza is still trying to come to terms with the memory of his mother’s body.  Living with a bickering father and a step-mother who are complete strangers, Jessie also has to worry about his little brother Eddie, who seems to be slipping farther away from reality.

The arrival of a circus breaks Eddie out of his shell, and, believing he is doing a good thing, Jessie agrees to a trip through the carney sideshows.  Then Eddie talks to a gorilla, and all hell breaks loose . . .

This Wednesday I’m reviewing a short story – Eddie’s First Circus by Zoe Whitten. I’m aware it’s only a couple of weeks since I last reviewed something of hers, but  I’ve been suffering from neck pain since Saturday and it’s been interfering with my reading so I needed something I’d already read and which would be quick to review. Eddie’s First Circus fitted the bill.

Likes:

  1. This is young adult dark fantasy done right. Serious when it needs to be serious and funny when it needs to be funny. There may be superpowers in this universe, but they don’t solve everything.
  2. At only three chapters long it’s a very good introduction to Zoe’s writing style without commiting to a longer work.
  3. As always her characters are finely drawn. The kids have real problems and seem real.
  4. The emotion really comes through – I empathised with the characters alot.
  5. It’s dark, but it’s also a great deal of fun.

Dislikes:

It’s actually hard to say what I dislike about this story. I could say that the character’s lack development, but it’s a short story and they develop as much as can be expected for that medium. I’ve said before that Zoe’s writing style isn’t for everyone, but I like it, so that’s not really a dislike. There are aspects of the plot that made me sad, but that’s not dislike either.

It’s a long time since I’ve read a story that I honestly couldn’t name one thing I disliked. I’m sure it’s not perfect, but there’s no major issues I can define with it.

Verdict:

As I said above this is a short story, and thus an excellent introduction to Zoe’s style. Given her idiosyncratic style this is the story of hers to sample if you are new to her work. Like marmite you’ll either love or hate it.

I give it 4.5 stars because while I hate marmite I love this story.

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Sorry this is late this week. My shoulder is playing up, and I wasn’t sure what to write at first.

I’ve recently started posting my own piece of original young adult fantasy web fiction – Dragon Wars – online. So of course I’d like it to do well in the search engines and draw in lots of fans. Unfortunately it’s apparent that SEO for online fiction poses certain challenges which non-fiction doesn’t face. In this series of articles I’m going to apply what little I’ve picked up about SEO to the site and chronicle it and my rankings here.

This series of articles will run weekly on a Saturday. You will be able to find a list of all articles in the series on the Weblit SEO Experiment page.

The Experiment Week 3 – Link Building

Or not as the case may be.

Don’t get me wrong Link Building is important. It is quite possibly the most important part of SEO, I’m just not very good at it.  So I haven’t really started yet, because I’m still trying to work up the courage to contact people and ask for a link.

Why is link building important? Links are the glue of the web, it’s not just that a link is taken as a vote for the site by the search engines, but people follow them too. A good quality link can drive traffic to your site directly as well as. This is just as important is not more so.

But like I said I haven’t done much yet. Still I haven’y been entirely idle.

What I have been doing is submitting to directories – not just web fiction directories (though mostly) but normal directories which have a section for online fiction. This includes a submission to the appropriate dmoz category but it’s dmoz. I’m not holding my breath, dmoz is notoriously slow and the category doesn’t have an editor (though the parent category does).  Not many people really use dmoz to find stuff, but it’s still good for link juice.

I’ve also been adding my link to my forum signature on forums where it isn’t considered spammy and been making relevant comments on blogs and similar. Oh and when link building don’t worry about follow and no follow links. Consensus is Google likes a mixture because if you only have follow links it doesn’t look natural. Google likes natural.

In a hint of desperation I’ve also put a link to me plea in the sidebar of the site.

But in all honesty this isn’t my forte. If I’m to be successful it’s something I’ve got to do, but I’m still learning.

So instead let me link you to an awesome article Link Building: The Key to Exploding Visibility. It’s aimed at small businesses not writers, but some of the advice stands for anyone and the rest is adaptable.

I’ll try and have a more comprehensive post about link building next week.

Position Update:

“Online Fantasy Stories” is showing second with the quotes (and the blog is showing 7th) and 35th without them. Not bad for three weeks, but it is a very uncompetative search term.

“Firebird Fiction” shows first with the quotes (with my twitter and blog coming in behind them) and 2nd without them (twitter and blog again make the top ten). And amazingly I’ve actually had someone arrive on the site after searching for firebird fiction!

“Dragon Wars” 59 with the quotes, and 60 without them. Going in the right direction. 🙂

“Young Adult Fantasy” Not yet in top 100.

“Fantasy Stories” Not yet in top 100.

“Online Fiction” Not yet in top 100.

Next week I may not be able to post as I have a guest, but I’ll try.

Though pompous with its modern advancements, Sybar City has always fostered a seedy underbelly stretching back millennia. Glory, a humble scholar with a talent for occult research, is unwillingly thrust into this world of ancient malevolent races and scientific exploitation. A girl with issues, she would just as soon crawl into a bookshelf and never come back out, leaving a world which alienated her in childhood to tear itself apart in her absence. But when her psychotic twin sister steals a book representing all of Glory’s amassed occult research, she is forced to step out of her comfort zone and take responsibility for the potential damage her work could cause. The need to find her book and put an end to her sister’s malevolence becomes even more imperative when others learn of Glory’s research and begin seeking the book themselves. Worse yet, she seems incapable of saying no to anyone in need, a distraction she doesn’t need and doesn’t want.

Will Glory find her book before it’s too late? And will random people stop insisting they need her help? How the heck are they tracking her down anyway when she’s slapped enough spells up on her house to deter a stampede of bison.

So far I have only read as far as the end of Chapter Six of  Tattoo by Candace McBride. This isn’t because I don’t like it, but simply that I haven’t had chance to read Chapter Seven yet. Tattoo bills itself as Horror with science fiction and fantasy elements, but I find it’s more Dark Fantasy with Horror elements so far.

Likes:

  1. The characters. Glory is an awesome, magically protected, ass-kicking nerd. Yes, you read that right. She’s a nerd and she kicks ass. She’s also has a past which makes her socially awkward. Glory is the protagonist and the rest of the characters get much less screen time. But they are beautifully rounded (the non-antagonist ones anyway).
  2. The Episodic format. So far each Chapter is a single sub-story posted over several updates. This really works well. You could start at the beginning of any chapter with minimal confusion. Whether thus changes after the main plot about Lori’s theft of Glory’s book comes back in remains to be seen, but as of Chapter Six it’s true.
  3. Chapter Six – Supernatural Horror meets Welsh Myth as Glory tries to save a group of people from the Otherworld. I adore this chapter. It’s a fantastic story in its own right. If you read nothing else from Tattoo read this one.
  4. Especially in Chapter Six the writing is evocative.

Dislikes:

  1. The start does not work for me. It seems unlikely that someone as intelligent and socially awkward as Glory would agree to go with Aaron on a date when he comes across as a stalker. Her brains should have warned her off even if her social anxiety didn’t make her run a mile from his forwardness. Then there’s the evil twin stealing the magic book (yeah an evil twin). That’s pretty corny as well. Once you get past chapter two though the story starts to work much better.
  2. Cliche Antagonists – I mean an evil twin? Really? The same goes for the other antagonists – none of them seem to have any sort of personality. Even the cop causing trouble for Glory because he thinks she’s up to something nefarious is a thoroughly unpleasant person who’s colleague’s dislike him. Perhaps it doesn’t matter so much in Horror, but I like antagonists who also develop as characters.

Verdict:

Tattoo is well worth a look in spite of the flaws of the first two chapter. I really enjoyed it. I would have given it 3.5 stars, but Chapter Six raises it to 4 (and chapter six on its own rates 4.5).

3.5 stars

I’ve recently started posting my own piece of original young adult fantasy web fiction – Dragon Wars – online. So of course I’d like it to do well in the search engines and draw in lots of fans. Unfortunately it’s apparent that SEO for online fiction poses certain challenges which non-fiction doesn’t face.  In this series of articles I’m going to apply what little I’ve picked up about SEO to the site and chronicle it and my rankings here.

This series of articles will run weekly on a Saturday. You will be able to find a list of all articles in the series on the Weblit SEO Experiment page.

The Experiment Week 2 – Beginning the On-Page Optimisation

On page optimisation is defined as what can be done on the actual pages of a website to improve your search engine rankings. For authors of Online Fiction this constitutes a unique challenge. By its very nature our content rarely contains the keywords people looking for it type in.

My solution to this problem is to try and optimise my landing page. So it is this page I will use as an example.

A landing page is a good thing for more than just SEO reasons. Maybe it’s just me but I find being dumped into the first chapter with no preamble offputting. So for Online Fiction a good landing page is like a book cover, and will entice the reader to click onwards and read the story. It’s also a place where keywords can be used naturally. The keyword phrase I am optimising this page for is “young adult fantasy”

So what are the factors in On page optimisation?

  1. Title tags – Title tags should contain you keywords but still human readable. Sadly many of us find this hard as we use WordPress and it uses post title as page title. I use the Headspace 2 plugin to get round this as it allows me to change the title and certain meta tags (see below). If you are using plain html then this is what goes between the <title> and </title> tags in the header. As you can see I made the title of my landing page “Dragon Wars – Online Young Adult Fantasy Serial :: Firebird Fiction” (the :: Firebird Fiction is added by WordPress and I can’t get rid of it). (Note plugins can only be used with self-hosted wordpress installations – wordpress.com sites like this blog can’t use them.)
  2. Meta Description Tag – Sometimes you’ll hear that Google ignores meta tags. This isn’t entirely true. Google ignores the Keywords meta tag (discussed below), but Google doesn’t ignore the Description tag.  Indeed here is some good advice from Google on tuning up your description and explaining why it’s important. I used this advice in creating the description for the page. My Description tag reads: “Story: Dragon Wars, Genre: young adult fantasy, Format: online fiction, Author: Becka Sutton”. Once again I used Headspace 2 to  do this.
  3. Meta Keywords Tag – Just to reiterate what I said above: Google ignores the keyword meta tags. And that’s straight from the horse’s mouth. It’s my understanding that Bing and the other larger players do the same. However ignoring isn’t the same as punishing, and some small search engines still use them. It doesn’t do to ignore any potential source of traffic, so I did put some keywords into them. I’d be cautious though, Google doesn’t use them, but I suspect it might punish you if you tried to stuff them anyway. Once again I used Headspace 2 for this.
  4. Heading Tags – Especially the H1 tag. Search Engines give extra weight to text in heading tags. They favour H1 over H2 and so on but any “H” tag will be favoured over body text. Hence the On Page Title text in <h2> as done by wordpress itself. I’ve amended this to include “young adult fantasy” as well.
  5. Keyword Density – Received wisdom is to try for between 2 and 5% Keyword density – with 3-4% being ideal.  Here is a nice article on checking this manually and here is a good keyword density checker. Sadly I’m still working on getting my keyword density over 2%. It currently stands at about 1.5% and I’m trying to think of some way to fit more in without stuffing.
  6. Navigation – This one affects more than just the landing page. Both users and spiders need to be able to get round your site easily. I’ve tried to make the site as easy to navigate as possible.
  7. Image Alt Text – I only have the header image on the site so far. But it does have an alt tag with the “online fantasy stories” key phrase included. If you have an image always use the alt tag and try and fit a key phrase into it.
  8. Content – We have plenty of content (as long as we post regularly), but as I said above it rarely includes our key phrases. Conventional advice is that you should optimise one page each for one key phrase. I have therefore also done some optimisation on the site’s front page aimed at the “online fantasy stories”. I am currently considering ways of having pages targetting other keywords without going off-brand. An about online/web fiction page for example.

And the results so far?

After one week “Online fantasy stories” ranks 12 for an internal page. I expect Google will pick up on the front page as a better match soon. Not yet in top 200 for a search without the quotes. None of the other key phrases are ranking yet – but SEO is a game requiring patience and perseverance.

Firebird Fiction ranks 2 without the quotes and 1 with the quotes (though this is a vanity thing – unless my brand really takes off no one will search for firebird fiction in all likelyhood).

Dragon Wars ranks 74 without the quotes and 68 with them. Again this is mostly vanity – I will not be defeated by an old computer game or a crappy movie. However anyone searching for either of those is likely a fantasy fan, so it has a touch more chance of bringing in the web equivalent of passing foot traffic.

End Notes for Week Two

Although I have focused on the landing page (as a page where I can actually get the keywords into the content) I have been using Headspace 2 to amend the titles, meta desciption and meta keyword tags on the individual posts as well. Most on-page SEO can only be applied to landing and front pages, but what can be applied elsewhere should be.

Next week I will be thinking about off page optimisation and link building, but I’m sure I’ll be back to the on-page stuff again.

Amber McKenzie considers herself a normal, if somewhat bland-looking college student.  Then one morning, she feels the touch of something cold and evil, something she can’t see or explain.

Amber barely has time to reflect on it before she attacked in the bathroom by her best friend.  She comes home and finds her family slaughtered, forcing her to rely on the dubious protection of a D&D “mage” and a woman who may, or may not be a real vampire.

Is Amber losing her mind, or is she really being stalked by a daemon?  And if it is real, will the help of her unusual new friends be enough to save Amber from the cold clutches of her invisible enemy?

Touched by Zoe E. Whitten was one of the first Novellas the author posted on her website back in 2007. I read and enjoyed it at that time. Since then she has edited it, and the revisions have only served to improve it.

The story is tense and exciting as Amber tries to fight a supernatural enemy who, quite part from being evil, is targeting her because she’s immune to being possessed. An enemy who has already slaughtered her family. Fortunately she has help from a transvestite D&D mage, and his vampire flatmate – which is a lot less silly than it sounds. It’s not a comedy, though it does have some darkly comic moments – especially when Vicky the Vampire is on-screen. This is a good thing since the story could easily be too grim without moments of humour.

The story has a great sense of time and place. I love the bit where Amber is researching the danger on the internet and uses Gopher, because I remember doing the same thing at that time (though it was never life or death for me). The web has become so entwined with the net in our minds that it would be easy for an author to make the mistake of having her use the web. But that would have been anachronistic – the paint was barely dry on Mosaic at the time. The fact that Amber uses the net to research at all marks her as slightly nerdy. That’s probably why I like her so much.

Which brings me to the characters. They are well drawn, three-dimensional and immensely enjoyable. The characters drive the plot as much as they are driven by it. Always good. 🙂

I do need to mention point of view. Zoe uses a form of omniscient third person where you sometimes see the thoughts of more than one character in a single scene. It’s a stylistic choice which some readers may find off-putting. Omniscient is hard to pull off (this is why writing books say to avoid it, it’s not wrong unless it’s done badly but it’s usually done badly) but she seems to have managed it, since it doesn’t annoy me here, and I’m usually the first person to shriek about “head-hopping”. However I mention it here because some readers find omniscient confusing even when done well.

On the whole I found Touched to be an excellent story back in 2007 and the editing has only served to improve it.

4 stars!

prolific blogger award

errr....

Anna over at QuillsandZebras has tagged me for the Prolific Blogger Award. Which is nice of her, but I’m not sure it’s a way I’d describe myself. I do nom the extra traffic it’s brought my way however. 🙂

Anyway this seems to be some sort of chain-award. Which is like a chain letter only less obnoxious. Links are, after all, the glue of the internet, so this is a good idea.

Except now I have to nominate seven bloggers I read for the same award.

Oh good grief…

I’m not a huge blog reader so this is hard.

  1. Wyld Dandelyon because I love Fireborn.
  2. Zoe Whitten because while we don’t agree on everything (who does) I admire her courage in the face of MS (the same disease my mother had) and the vageries of life. She writes some nifty stories too.
  3. theladyisugly because while I don’t have time to join SEAL is an awesome idea.
  4. Miladysa because anyone  who’s webfiction wins a blog of note award deserves to have their personal blog tagged. 🙂
  5. Inventrix because she’s my beta reader, a fellow catholic, and well steampunk!
  6. Kessbird because Starwalker is an awesome idea.
  7. Cartoonmoney – I have one thing to say. Doctor Who.

Okay, peeps, it’s your turns now – pass the link love on. And don’t forget to read the rules.

I’ve recently started posting my own piece of original young adult fantasy web fiction – Dragon Wars – online. So of course I’d like it to do well in the search engines and draw in lots of fans. Unfortunately it’s apparent that SEO for online fiction poses certain challenges which non-fiction doesn’t face.  In this series of articles I’m going to apply what little I’ve picked up about SEO to the site and chronicle it and my rankings here.
This series of articles will run weekly on a Saturday.

The Experiment Week 1 – Researching Keywords

The thing about successful SEO is it’s not just dependent on you optimising for your chosen keywords and topping the search engine rankings. That’s one part of the procedure, but it’s equally important that your chosen keywords are what people who want to find what you’re offering search for. It’s no good topping the search engines for ‘viridian automobiles’ if everyone is searching for ‘green cars’.

So you need to find out what people search for. Never assume you know what they’ll search for – in all probability they don’t. People are strange that way.

A few years ago I had a little website in a fandom I liked. It had decent content, but it wasn’t the best website on the subject. All the same it did well in the search engine rankings until the internet ate it (don’t ask). This was because I spent some time on various sites using free tools to investigate what other fans searched for and optimised for them. Sadly when I started my research for this site I discovered most of them had gone or now required my money to use them.

But I needed to research keywords somewhere so I fired up Google and typed in “free keyword research tool”.  Most of the results were not useful, but the top result was for the Google AdWords Keyword Tool – and while it’s aimed at helping advertisers pick good keywords it did provide the information needed. Some of the numbers seem a little odd, but I’m pretty sure the overall proportions are correct. On the other hand I’d like to find another place to double-check the results, so if you have any suggestions please comment.

Here I’d better note that my research was not as thorough as I’d have liked. When I working on my little website I was not employed and had plenty of time on my hands. Now that I’m working full-time and having my hands full writing the actual story it’s just not possible to spend hours researching keywords.

Anyway I divided the research into two kinds of keywords. Those relating to online fiction and those relating to the story genre and researched them.

The first chart below shows the results of the research on web fiction related terms. The second shows the same for genre terms. The Global Monthly Search Volume is what the Keyword Tool says is the average number of searches a month for that term. The competition column lists the number of websites Google says exist if you search for the exact phrase. We’ll get to the other columns in a minute.

Phrase GMS Competition Google One Google Ten
Online Fiction 1300 311000 9 10
Web Fiction 170 35900 352 0
Weblit 73 21000 0 0
Webfiction 46 45400 352 0

Phrase GMS Competition Google One Google Ten
fantasy fiction 9900 1540000 1280 382
fantasy stories 8100 497000 0 25
young adult fantasy 1000 123000 1 0
online fantasy stories 390 16600 0 0
young adult fiction 260 5610000 229 0
ya fantasy 210 98700 237 0
young adult fantasy fiction 73 237000 1 0
online fantasy fiction 46 16300 0 2

What does this mean?

There’s something called the Keyword Effectiveness Index (KEI) which a lot of people swear by. The KEI equation is search volume^2 / competition = KEI. The higher the KEI the better the search term apparently. It can be an okay guide, but it has a problem.

It doesn’t tell you anything about competition quality. It’s easier to get past many poor quality sites than a few good quality ones. For this reason I’m not going to do the calculation at all.

Looking at the list of search terms your research has bought up and assessing their quality is the next step. I’ve got a quick and dirty way of doing this. I look at the top ten and see if all the pages are relevent to the search. If they aren’t then that’s a good sign. Then I look at the first (column google one) and tenth (column google ten) sites in the listing and count the backlinks by searching for link:url (eg link:http://webfictionguide.com/ to see backlinks for the Web Fiction Guide).

In the charts I’ve only done this with Google. Ideally I’d have done it with Bing and Yahoo as well, since Google only list backlinks it considers important so the numbers tend to be artificially low, but this should be a reasonable guide. It’s probably best to check the backlinks on the rest of the top ten as well.

At this point less backlinks is good since one of the key things we’ll need are more quality backlinks than the competition. If sites on the first page of a well searched term only have a handful of backlinks and aren’t entirely relevent to the search that’s a good search term.

And the results?

Well among the web fiction related search terms it’s “online fiction” which is the obvious winner. This will probably come as a surprise to some people since inside the web fiction authors community “web fiction” webfiction and weblit are the common terms. Fortunately the Web Fiction Guide does make it on to the first page of search results for this term now . It wasn’t there 3 days ago when I initially made the list and still doesn’t top the rankings as it does for “web fiction” and “webfiction”

Among the genre terms “Fantasy Fiction” looks good until you check out the top ten. High quality with commensurately high numbers of backlinks. The top ten is almost certainly unassailable. “Fantasy Stories”, “Young Adult Fantasy” and “Online Fantasy Stories” all look much more promising. They still have reasonable search volumes and far few backlinks to contend with.

So the terms I’m choosing for this experiment are:

  • Online Fiction (whether I stand a chance on this one is another matter – everyone is going to be after it)
  • Fantasy Stories
  • Online Fantasy Stories (these 2 will work well together as one includes the other)
  • Young Adult Fantasy

Next week I will discuss how I am going to handle the on page optimisation for these terms – something that is a unique challenge for online fiction sites.

Future posts will also note any improvement in my ranking for the search terms (obviously I’m not in the top 100 for any of them yet). I will also be noting my rankings for the search terms “Dragon Wars” (69th currently) and “Firebird Fiction” (1st currently) – because if the site suddenly disappears from Google it means I’ve mistepped somehow and been banned. Something it will be useful for others to know anyway, so they can avoid it.