Friday, December 13, 2013

Excerpt from Mage's Rebellion, Book 4 of the Imperial Series, by LA Quill

Just released in December of 2013, Mage's Rebellion is a full-length novel and the fourth book of the popular Imperial Series. Written for all the fans who thought I didn't have enough strong female characters, this story follows the adventures of Emperor Damuk's youngest daughter Calinda. What starts out as an attempt to prove she's more than a marriage prize quickly turns into something darker. Mage's Rebellion is available as a trade paperback or as an ebook (in most formats, including Kindle, Kobo, and Nook)

Read on for an excerpt from the book:

The wind whipped through her midnight hair, blowing it out behind her like a dark nimbus. Her hands gripped the thick leather reins as she leaned forward and rocked her hips in time with the horse’s powerful movements. The sun kissed her face, warming her cheeks and bringing a smile to her face. A sense of bliss filled her as she gave the horse its head and they all but flew across the desert.

Calinda glanced over her shoulder at her companion. He was keeping pace with her, which was unusual. Most people, no matter how much time they spent in the saddle, simply did not ride as well as she did. But this man wasn’t typical, so she should not be surprised that he could keep up when very few others could. He was one of the most skilled warriors the Empire had ever produced. Currently, he was second only to her father.

Thoughts of her father were like a black cloud settling around her, so Calinda turned her face back to the sun. Its warmth was more than physical. It filled her very being as they raced across the desert. Her horse, a beautiful black mare given to her by her parents, thundered over the sand, never putting a foot wrong. With Sesi moving between her thighs, Calinda had no need to watch the path ahead. She could just give herself up to the brightness of the day and the serenity of the desert.

Finally, after galloping for what felt like the better part of a day, Calinda drew to a halt. The other horse came up beside her and Calinda smiled saucily at its rider. She had a plan, and this man was a part of that plan. If only he would cooperate…

“Don’t give me that look,” Payton drawled, determined not to be taken in by Callie’s bright smile and dancing eyes. “A ride. That’s it. That’s what you told your brother and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Calinda dismounted and laughed. “Why do you think I didn’t tell my father we were going for a ride?” His look of confusion had her laughing harder. “Because he’d have seen through the lie.”

“Get back on the horse, Your Highness.” She was his best friend’s sister, and he usually didn’t bother with the title, but he was trying not to strangle her. A little formality would help remind him that she was royalty. And Royal Guards did not strangle royalty. Usually.

“I’m not getting on. You’re getting off.” Her hand glowed a soft purple and she snapped a tiny bolt of energy through the air. Her magicks were powerful, but she also had more control than most mages her age. At eighteen, she could destroy a building or light a candle. It was all a matter of degrees.

She hadn’t hit Payton that hard, but he still went flying off his horse. Landing on his ass in the sand, Payton groaned. The sound made her smile as she skipped across the sand to his side. He didn’t stand, but he did rise up on his elbows to glare at her. Calinda flopped down on the ground beside him, trying not to laugh at his plight.

“That wasn’t very nice,” Payton complained. Then his eyes widened as Calinda began to unlace her gown. “Don’t do that!”

“Oh, relax.” She continued to work the laces. “It’s not like I’m naked underneath.” The gown slid down to her hips and Calinda rolled onto her back, kicking her feet in the air to throw the silk gown across the sand.

Payton’s eyes widened, though he was not surprised. Clad in black leather breeches and a grey leather tunic, Calinda reclined on the sandy ground. Her riding boots matched the breeches and she pulled a pair of grey gloves out of the belt that cinched her waist. Once the gloves encased her slim hands, the young princess jumped to her feet and struck a casual pose.

“How many blades are you carrying?” There was a twinkle in her eyes as she looked down at him.

Crawling slowly to his feet, Payton just shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. We’re not doing this.” If he didn’t keep some control of this situation, it was going to spiral out of control.

“We’ve done it before,” she reminded him with a slight singsong to her voice. “What makes today any different?”

Payton threw his hands up in the air. “It’s different because last time Tristan caught us. Your brother might have thought that it was a big joke, but he did promise to tell your father next time. And I, for one, do not want to have to deal with Emperor Damuk when he’s in protective father mode.” Just the thought made him shiver.

“Where is your sense of adventure? It’s not like I’m asking you to sleep with me.” She stubbornly planted her feet in the sand and stared up at him, willing him to obey her wishes.

“What happened to the sweet young girl we used to know?” he retorted, more than a little appalled by her words. Ladies did not discuss such things. Ever.

To that question she had a ready answer. “Squashed by my father.”

“That’s not fair. Your father is a good man.” One of the few things he was proud of was his loyalty to the Emperor. He couldn’t let anyone besmirch the man, even if that anyone was his youngest daughter.

“It’s fair enough.” Realizing that Payton wouldn’t respond to demands, she changed her tactics. “Please, Pay. How am I ever supposed to prove myself if you don’t help me learn?” She put her hands on his chest and smiled sweetly up at him. Few men could resist that smile.

And Payton wasn’t one of them. “Fine.” He rolled his eyes as he drew the sword at his hip. He tossed it to her and noticed the ease with which she caught it. “But only for a candlemark. Then we go back before we get caught.” The sword across his back made a hissing sound as he pulled it free and twirled it in his right hand.

Calinda flexed her calves, stretched her shoulders, and made sure her grip on the sword was secure. Then she waited for him to come at her, anticipation rushing through her. 

***

“I don’t know. I think William can handle it.” Tristan pushed his jet-black hair out of his eyes as he reined in his horse. This one was young and jumpy and not fully gentled yet. It took all his concentration to keep the steed under control.

Damuk glanced at his eldest son out of the corner of his eye. “It’s far too much for a former thief to take on.” Tristan might be Crown Prince, Commander in Chief of the Imperial army, and a father in his own right, but the young man was still naïve in many ways.

Since he was quite fond of Marella’s husband, Tristan might have defended his brother-in-law. But he saw his father’s concentration drift and immediately came alert. “What?”

The Emperor pierced his son with his icy blue gaze. “Why is your sister outside the city?”

He couldn’t outright lie to those eyes. “She wanted to go for a ride. Payton took her. They… might be around here.”

“That wasn’t what you were going to say.” Something was happening with Calinda and he was quite sure he wasn’t going to like it. For just a moment he considered using his magick to look into Tristan’s mind, but ultimately dismissed the idea. He was too moral a man to invade his son’s thoughts, but it was a near thing. Especially when it concerned his youngest daughter. His errant youngest daughter.

Tristan wanted to tell him. He didn’t exactly approve of what Calinda was doing, even if all she was doing was wandering outside the city without their father’s permission. He suspected there was much more to it, and he should immediately tell his father. But she was his sister and he’d promised he would say nothing unless he caught her a second time. Finally he said only, “I can’t tell you. But we could… wander in that direction.”

Damuk raised an eyebrow. “You want me to find her.” It was a statement, not a question. But Tristan nodded, encouraging Damuk to guide his horse toward his youngest daughter’s aura. He shielded his own aura, and that of his son, so that Calinda would not sense their approach.

But Calinda was more than a mage. She had excellent hearing. So he held his steed to a fast walk in an effort to muffle the hoof beats. Phoenix moved like a ghost, hardly disturbing the sand as he walked. The roan was young, barely two years old, but he’d proven himself in battle more than once. It was unusual to see the Emperor mounted on a horse that wasn’t black, but Phoenix was singularly intelligent, loyal, and steadfast. Besides, the horse had been a gift from his wife. He’d have ridden the roan if the beast had been a ragged nag. He was only glad the beast had proven to be so much more. His wife had excellent taste.

Tristan came up beside him and Damuk held up a hand. His son slowed his pace and together they moved in silence. The sound of swords clashing echoed through the air and Damuk reached for his sword. But Tristan shook his head and Damuk eased the blade back into its sheath. His son might be naïve, but he knew his little sister. Possibly better than her own parents did.

They crested the sand dune a moment later and Damuk’s eyes widened. There was his youngest daughter, but she wasn’t going for a scenic ride through the desert. No, she was grasping a sword and sparring with Payton. More than that, she was dressed in leather and scrambling across the sand like a trainee. And she was not a trainee.

Anger darted through him at her blatant disobedience. Weeks ago, when she’d asked if she could join the guard, he’d clearly refused to entertain the idea. Women did not wield weapons, especially not women in his family, with the sole exception of his daughter-in-law. There had never been a woman in the guard, and his daughter would not be the first.

And yet here she was, scuttling around in the sand. He urged Phoenix forward, no longer caring if the pair heard him. And hear him they did, for they sprang apart as if they’d been burned. When Payton caught sight of both the Emperor and the Crown Prince, he stood immediately at attention but said nothing. He did, however, drop his sword in the sand.

Calinda also stood, but she was slower about it and she didn’t drop the sword she held. Instead, she stood glaring at her father, defiant and angry. But Damuk could tell that she was also uncertain and afraid. Good, he thought to himself, let her fear what I will do. He was angry enough to beat her, but this wasn’t the time or the place. He’d never struck one of his children in anger. It was his belief that if he was going to strike one of them, it would be only for discipline. And discipline and anger were never a good pair. No, discipline could wait. After he got her back to Crown City and had managed to control his burning rage.

But his anger was fresh and ready for a target. It found one in Payton. “Tristan,” he said over his shoulder, “Take your friend into custody.” His voice was quiet and controlled, almost calm. But anyone who knew him would also know this was when he was at his most dangerous.

Tristan shifted uncomfortably in the saddle. “On what charge?” He and Payton had been friends for almost twenty years, since they were just six years old. They’d been through a lot together, nearly died together. Arresting him just didn’t seem right. Especially when he’d not really done anything to deserve it.

“Treason. Lock him up.” His gaze shifted to his daughter, still so defiant. “And you will get on that horse and accompany me to Crown City.”

“I will not!” she snapped, clearly not willing to give in.

Damuk dismounted in one quick motion and advanced on her. He stopped when he saw her gown lying in the sand. It was the yellow silk riding habit that looked so stunning against her black hair and sun-kissed skin. Her mother had bought it on the other side of the mountains, deep in the Yarian Republic. And Calinda had just thrown it in the sand like a piece of trash. He picked it up and flung it toward her.

“Put it on!” Instead of waiting to see if she complied, he strode over to her horse. Sesi was high-strung and pulled away from him, but Damuk simply grabbed the reins and tied them to the pommel of Phoenix’s saddle. The roan would keep the mare in line. When he glanced over his shoulder, Calinda was clutching the gown to her chest. A single raised eyebrow had her scrambling to pull the yellow silk over her head.

When she’d tied the laces, he grabbed her elbow and almost tossed her on her horse. He considered having her ride pillion behind him, but he wasn’t entirely certain he wouldn’t throttle her if she was that close. Calinda opened her mouth to say something, but a sharp look silenced her. He wasn’t in the mood for her excuses.

Remounting Phoenix, Damuk shifted his gaze to Tristan. “I’ll see you back in Crown City. After I’ve dealt with your sister.” He didn’t so much as glance at Payton.

Tristan just nodded and watched as the pair rode off toward the capital. As they disappeared over the nearest sand dune, he urged his own horse closer to Payton. “That was stupid, Pay.”

“She said she just wanted to go for a ride,” he protested. “How was I to know she’d pull this again?”

“You could have refused. She can’t be doing this.” Tristan ran a frustrated hand through his hair, looking and sounding remarkably like his father in that moment.

Payton moved to pick up both swords. “Why can’t she? Your wife isn’t exactly the prim and proper lady.”

In that, Payton was certainly correct. Jewel, Tristan’s wife, wore breeches more often than not, had her hair cut short, and carried several small blades at all times. Still, Tristan shook his head. “Jewel is Kin. She was born and bred to be… well, not a lady. Callie is a lady and should act that way.”

“All she wants to do is serve in the guard.” Sheathing both swords, he gathered his own horse. “You’d let Jewel serve if she asked.”

“I would not,” Tristan said sharply. “Women don’t serve in the guard. Doesn’t matter who they are.” He firmly believed that. Women and men just… shouldn’t serve together. At all.

“But she’s good, Trist,” Payton insisted as he mounted his horse. “She moves like… well, like your father. She could maybe be as good as he is with a little training. She could certainly be as good as you are.”

“It doesn’t matter. And now she’s going to pay for your serious lack of judgment.” He set off toward Crown City, Payton slowly following behind him. After several long moments of silence, Tristan glanced over his shoulder. “She’s really that good?”

Payton just nodded, thoughts elsewhere. “Are you going to arrest me?”

Tristan snorted. “Of course not. But do yourself a favor and stay out of my father’s line of sight for a few days. Give him time to cool down.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Payton had already decided that it was better if he and Emperor Damuk didn’t cross paths for a while.

Silence reigned until Tristan quipped, “It was still stupid.”
Payton had to agree.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Advantages of Guest Blogging

Blogging has become a popular way to share information, opinions, and ideas with readers from all over the world. But creating blog posts on a regular basis can be exhausting and difficult. One newer approach to blogging is ‘guest blogging.’ The idea behind guest blogging is to allow others who do not regularly contribute to your blog, but may be considered experts in their chosen field, to write a post that will appear on your blog. You get great content for your blog, the expert gets some exposure by posting in a place they normally would not.

There are several advantages to guest blogging. The first is simply the exposure factor. For the most part, you’ll be asking experts to guest blog, and those experts will have recognizable names and possibly even a following of their own. Not only will you have your regular readers, but you’ll be able to attract readers who would perhaps not read your blog but are attracted by the expert name. In the case of monetized blogs, more readers usually equals more money.

A quality blog needs quality content, and guest bloggers can give you that. An expert in a given field can create something readable, friendly, and unique. And your blog will take on an air of authority if you involve more than one guest blogger. Search out experts in your field and have them contribute quality content. It will increase your traffic and your blog’s visibility.

The best way of attracting traffic is through quality backlinks, and having a guest blogger post something informative and fun is a great way to generate some backlinks. If the guest blogger has a reputation and is searched regularly, you’ll soon find that other sites, some with excellent page rank (PR) are linking back to the post, and so to your blog. This will help to increase your own PR, though this happens slowly.

Having quest bloggers with recognizable and respected names will help your blog get a reputation for quality. It will also brand blog as a destination, a place for the reader to find what they’re looking for when they’re looking for it. Never underestimate the power of branding. Take the time to select guest bloggers who will truly enhance the reputation of your blog.

Instead of having a guest blogger post on your blog, or perhaps in addition to it, you might choose to be a guest blogger yourself. This will allow you to gain exposure by getting your name out there. You can engage with readers you may not have otherwise reached, and you can simply have fun doing it. Of course, your motivation for guest blogging might be to sell a product. In this case, you’d usually place a link back to the product or service you’re promoting. Affiliate marketing through guest blogging has become popular in recent years and is an effective way to increase your own sales.

As a guest blogger, you’ll probably have to supply a post that is thoughtful and well written. This gives you the opportunity to stretch your wings as a writer, gaining a better understanding of blogging techniques, keywords, and search engine optimization (SEO). You will also develop your own ‘voice,’ if you haven’t already. This will attract additional readers, both to your guest posts and your own blog.

Guest blogging is a fun and effective way to get your name, promote your own products and services, and increase the PR of your own blog. When hiring a guest blogger, look for someone who has a thorough understanding of their area of expertise, understands your needs, and is excited about the idea. Everything else will follow in time.

First published at Helium: Advantages of Guest Blogging

Friday, November 8, 2013

How to Identify Blog Comment Spam

There are many great things about blogging. It allows you to interact with the online community and you can share your thoughts and feelings about many issues. However, not everything about blogging is fun. In fact, most bloggers will tell you that there is one particular thing about blogging that they would rather not have to deal with – blog comment spam.

Blog comment spam is insidious and annoying. These are comments left on your blog that are only designed to lead your readers to an outside website. Usually these websites are commercial in nature, but sometimes they are dangerous, leading your readers to download viruses that could destroy a computer. Not only are these a problem for your readers, but they make you look unprofessional. And while something they are easy to spot, some of these comments will be more difficult to ferret out.

The first thing you should do to keep your blog free of spam is to enable comment moderation. Most blogging platforms allow you to keep comments from posting until you have had a chance to review and approve of them. This is definitely a feature you should be using. In addition, if your blogging platform has an automatic filter to help identify spam, you should use this as well.

It is sometimes tempting to turn off comment moderation if there’s a conversation going on between your readers and you have to leave the computer for an extended period of time. Don’t do it. Disabling comment moderation only allows spam to fill up your comment boxes. If you do have to go away and cannot moderate your comments at all, turn all comments off until you return. It will save you a great deal of hassle in the long run.

Some blog platforms offer a ‘blacklist’ option. You can ban certain words without ever having to moderate those comments. While this is a great option for some words, there are other words that you might want to add but shouldn’t. For example, adding the word ‘financial’ to your blacklist will mean that any comment, even a legitimate comment, will be completely removed. Instead, choose comment verification, which forces users to prove that they are a real person, not some robot posting automatic comments.

Now that you’ve started moderating the comments your blog receives, you’ll have to decide if the comments you are getting are legitimate. As a general rule, legitimate comments will be relevant to your original post. Spam comments are often unrelated and include a link to an external, usually unrelated, website. These should be deleted immediately. Legitimate comments can sometimes have a link embedded, but this link will always be relevant.

Check the handles of readers posting comments. The handle might have a link embedded, but a legitimate link will always lead to either the commenter’s blog or a home page. They will not lead to commercial websites or anything selling Viagra or offering to check your computer for viruses. These are spam. You should also be wary of allowing anonymous comment. Most spam will be posted by the dreaded anonymous user.

Some spam comments are more difficult to recognize. However, if you see a comment with horribly bad grammar or a post that is so generic that it could apply to almost any blog post on the Internet, then the comment is probably spam. For example, “Great post … visit my blog” doesn’t usually lend anything to your blog at all.

If it looks like spam, it’s probably spam, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. If you think it’s spam, delete it anyway. At worst, the commenter will have to repost it later, and then you’ll be closer to knowing for certain that it isn’t spam. Err on the side of caution and your blog will have a clean look that is free of spam.

First published at Helium: Easy Ways to Identify Blog Comment Spam

Friday, November 1, 2013

Keeping Your Private Life Safe While Blogging

Blogging has become something of a phenomenon in recent years. It seems that everyone is starting a blog, and for many different reasons. Some people are blogging to have fun and connect with other people of similar interests. Others decide to start a blog to promote a particular business. There are also those who wish to make money from blogging. All of these goals can be met thought starting your own blog, perhaps more than one.

However, starting a blog almost invites an invasion of your personal life. You are broadcasting yourself, or at least a part of yourself, to the entire online community. Anyone can find and read your blog, and this can lead to some problems when it comes to protecting your personal life and identity. You might even find yourself the victim of cyber-bullying or Internet stalkers.

Even bloggers who use their blogs as a personal journal expect some degree of anonymity. No one wants their telephone published so that scammers and telemarketers can find it. Nor does anyone want to have their address broadcast for all to see. And certainly no one out there wants to have their identity stolen, leading to possibly years of hassle.

But the Internet, and some of the people using it, has little respect for these personal boundaries. The Web gives people the ability to invade the personal lives of almost anyone connected to the Internet, and bloggers are especially vulnerable to this since bloggers tend to reveal more personal information than is wise. While the invasion of your personal life is not necessarily a problem that can be eliminated, it is something that can be guarded against to a certain degree.

The ways in which the Internet can help others invade your privacy are numerous. If your e-mail address is published, it is possible that you will receive hundreds of pieces of spam a day in your Inbox. This could eventually force you to secure a new e-mail, abandoning the old as unsecure. While this is annoying, it is more a nuisance than anything.

Other information is not nearly so harmless. With a name, address, phone number, and some other minor pieces of information, someone could steal your identity. You might find yourself on the hook for credit cards you did not obtain or use. You might be subjected to harassing telephone calls, threatening letters, or perhaps even an unwelcome visitor.

Avoiding these problems means forethought and planning. Before you hit ‘post’ on your blog, consider what you’re posting and remember that the Internet is interconnected. Check to see if you’ve linked your blog to your Facebook, Twitter, or other social networking sites. Then check to see if you have information on these social networking sites that you’d rather your readers not have access to. If there is too much information on your profiles (such as a cell phone number), unlink the social networking sites from your blog as a precaution. Your readers don’t need that much information.

A ‘Contact Me’ page is a wonderful addition to any blog. However, it is also a great way for people to start spamming you. Consider setting up a new, separate e-mail address to associate with your blogs. That way, your readers can contact you through e-mail but you are not exposing your own personal e-mail to anyone who might want to constantly spam you.

Examine your ‘Contact Me’ page thoroughly. There is no reason to post information here that could be used to track you down. Avoid any mention of your home address or phone number, and certainly remove your social security number. There have been hundreds of people who have mistakenly added their social security number only to have their identities stolen later. It might be a good idea to identify yourself only by your first name, and if you have to refer to your location, be generic. It’s okay to identify yourself as ‘Sarah from Ohio’ if it protects your privacy.

Be mindful of your content when blogging. Certain subjects are more controversial than others, and so attract people who might wish you invade your privacy. If you blog on politics, religion, stem cell research, gun control, or any other suitably controversial topic, make sure you have your privacy settings sufficiently high on whichever blog platform you choose. This should be done before you set up the blog itself to avoid have any information unintentionally exposed.

Be especially careful when using names. Many bloggers keep all their personal information hidden only to expose the names of their children, spouses, teachers, and coworkers. This is typically information hackers and stalkers look for. Information about your family and friends can be used to track you down (and your boss might be reading your blog). Create fake names for everyone in your life if you’re going to write about them in your blog.

If you are going to post information about other people (including photos), get their permission first. If they don’t want their names or pictures posted online, respect that. Protecting their privacy is just as important as protecting your own.

If you are really worried about who might read your blog, consider creating a blog that only those you invite may read. Most blogging platforms have optional privacy settings. These typically allow you to limit readership to those who are on your friend or contact list. You should also ensure that you protect the username and password of your account when you’re blogging. Your account has certain information that you wouldn’t want others to see, so make sure you have a secure password and change it often.

It is impossible to be completely protected as a blogger, but you can still be aware of what you post. Read everything before you hot ‘post’ and make sure there is no identifying information. There is very little room for error when it comes to protecting your privacy online. Once something exists in cyberspace, it is out there forever. So think long and hard before you put any piece of information online.

First published at Helium as Blogging Pitfalls: Keeping Your Private Life Private

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Do's And Don'ts of Blog Comments

Blogging is a truly unique medium for sharing the written word. In the past, once something was written, that was it. There was virtually no communication with the writer, and what communication there was could take months and weeks to reach the readers. Blogging has changed all that. Now, an internet writer or blogger can post an article or other piece on a blog, a reader can comment, and the writer can immediately respond, if they so choose. Blogging allows readers and writers to interact on a level never really seen before.

However, with this interaction sometimes come problems. Blog comment boxes are a prime target for spam, abuse, and just plain bad manners. But you can take some steps to help ensure the integrity of blog comment boxes with a few simple tips, whether you’re commenting on someone else’s blog or responding to a comment left on your own blog.

Leaving Comments on Another Blog

As a general rule, don’t comment unless you have something to say. Constantly posting “Nice!” after each post you enjoy can get annoying, and you’ll probably have your posts deleted by the blog owner or moderator. You also shouldn’t post “Boring!” after a post.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t post. Just make sure you have something constructive to add. It’s even acceptable to disagree with the post, but do it in a respectful manner. Present your case and the reasons for disagreeing with the post and move one. Don’t insult anyone or anything, simply express your point of view. “With all due respect, John is an idiot,” is generally not considered an acceptable comment. If you can’t think of anything to add, then add nothing.

Don’t troll. Trolling is searching out places to place provocative comments designed to illicit a desired response, usually anger. If you’re going to disagree, do it politely. Just because everyone else seems to be trolling for places to irritate people doesn’t me you should do the same.

You’ll also want to avoid excessive self-promotion. For the most part, don’t post links back to your own blogs. If you have a blog that is relevant to the content your reading, then it might be an interesting addition to the comments section, but otherwise you’re simply drawing traffic away from the current blog, and that’s just not polite.

Of course, you should comment on blog posts you enjoyed, or even those you disagreed with. That’s what the comments box is there for. You get to decide what to say and how to say, but don’t be drawn into long arguments with other posters. Make your point and move on. You probably don’t need to comment three times on the same blog post.

Comments on Your Blog

Before you even think about how to respond to comments, consider adding a comment policy section to your own blog. Detail exactly what is and is not acceptable by posters. You could ban things such as swearing, defamatory language, racism, or any comments that attack any group of people. You’ll also want to enable comment moderation so that you can approve each comment before it’s posted. This will help eliminate spam and comment abuse.

Don’t delete a comment simply because it expressed an alternate point of view. If someone disagrees with you and does it well, it can be the starting point for a great debate on the issue. Engage with those who disagree with you, ask their opinion, and don’t be afraid to correct your post if you got your facts wrong. As long as a comment isn’t abusive or disrespectful, and it contributes something to the conversation, you should probably approve it.

However, there are some comments that you should delete. Among these are: “Boring,” “What?” “Cool,” and anything that really doesn’t add to the comment section. Anything posted by someone just trying to get attention should also be ignored. If you get a great many comments, you may have to exercise some discretion when it comes to approving comments. It will generally be the one-word posts that you’ll decide to delete.

Anything off-topic or excessively self-promotional should be deleted immediately. Someone who posts a link to their political blog on your dog training blog is only looking for traffic to their own site. However, if one of your readers posts a link to a sled dog training blog after a post that concerns winter activities for training dogs is adding a relevant and interesting link. That you should let stand.

Remember to engage with your readers. If someone posts a question, you should take the time to answer it, either in your own comment or by modifying the original post. Readers enjoy being able to contact the writer, so add a “Contact Me” page as well. While you probably can’t be online twenty-four hours a day, check your comments at least every two days for comments to deserve a reply.  Comment boxes are what make blogs unique. They should be used frequently and appropriately. Comment frequently, do so with respect, and always respond to engaging comments left on your own blog. If you do these things, you are truly participating in an online community.

First published at Helium: Blog Comments Do's and Don'ts

Friday, October 18, 2013

How to Receive Quality Inbound Links

Blogs are a fun and creative way to interact with the online community. You can express your thoughts and feelings on an issue, receive feedback, and eventually attract followers. However, for these things to happen, people have to be able to find your blog. For the most part, this will happen through search engines such as Bing or Google. And the search engines will give more weight to blogs that can boast many quality inbound links.

Inbound links exist when someone else links to your blog. Not only is this flattering, but it lets search engines know that someone out there considers you an authority in your niche. Some of these links will be developed over time as you deliver unique and relevant content to your readers. Hopefully, some of your readers will find your content so valuable or entertaining that they’ll share your blog through a popular social networking site, such as Twitter or Facebook. But if you want to create a successful blog, you’ll have to spend some time generating these inbound links.

As a blogger, you can take advantage of social networking to generate some quality inbound links. Join as many social networking sites as you can. However, be prepared to participate in these sites. Some of them, such as Digg or Stumbleupon, will label you as a spammer and delete your account if all you do is post links to your blog. Take the time to make friends and follow their posts, and they will likely return the favor.  Building a loyal following on Twitter, Facebook, Stumbleupon, or any other social networking site does take time, but if you’re willing to do the work, you’ll soon find your social networking friends are generating some of your inbound links for you.

Inbound links will carry more weight with search engines if the links are relevant to the content of your blog. A link from a site about global politics to your dog training blog might be ignored by the search engines simply because the two subjects have very little in common. If you want relevant links, you’ll need to spend some time reading other blogs first. Search out those with content that complements yours. When you find something suitable, leave an insightful and useful comment, including a link back to your own blog. Some blog owners might even be open to the idea of link exchange. This means that they place a link to your blog on their site, and you return the favor. It never hurts to ask. But remember to keep it relevant or you might be penalized by search engines.

Guest blogging is a powerful way to generate inbound links. Guest blogging is when you post on a blog that isn’t your own. You might do this because you have been asked to by the owner of the other blog, or you might have approached the owner about the idea. When you guest blog, make sure it’s on a blog that has similar content to yours and post a link to your own blog at the end of your guest post. This generates at least one more quality inbound link.

If you’re an avid writer, you might want to consider article marketing. The idea here is that you produce quality content that is related to your blog and post in online (but not on your own blog). Make sure to include a relevant link back to your own site. This can help not only with the page rank (PR) of your site, but it can help drive readers from your articles to your blogs. Just make sure that every article you choose to link to your blog is relevant is some way. Also remember to check the terms of service at each site you post your articles on. Some of them will have rules about linking to your own blog directly from an article. However, most of them will allow you to place a link in your profile, which still serves as a valuable backlink.

Consider adding a review page to your blog. On this page you can review other blogs of similar content and post this review on your site. When you’ve completed a positive review, send a note to the owner of the blog you’ve finished reviewing. Let them know how much you’ve enjoyed their site, and that you wanted to share their site with your readers. If your review is well written and flattering, the site owner will usually include it on their own site, complete with a backlink.

Search out those directories that allow you to list your site. These should be quality sites with a review process, not simply a post-and-run approach. Sites that have humans reviewing submissions tend to have a higher PR than automated directories, and so will actually help your blog. Once your link has been approved, search engines will consider the backlink to be one of quality. Don't get impatient and submit your site to an automated directory, as your PR will likely drop in the long run.

There are sites out there that promise to provide incoming links for a fee. Don’t even consider these websites as a viable option for generating quality inbound links. Building links takes time and effort, and your blog will attract links as your content grows. Remember that search engines often reward a blog for quality incoming links, but penalize these same blogs for irrelevant links. Purchasing inbound links is not only a waste of money, but it can damage the PR of your site in the eyes of the major search engines.

Take the time to interact with your readers. Answer questions left in your comments section, read their blogs, and consider creating a forum section on your blog for readers to interact with each other. These are all valuable ways to ensure your readers remember your site, and this increases the chance that they will generate backlinks for you. A good blog with strong content almost generates links on its own.

Remember, most search engines ranks websites and blogs to determine who shows up first in search results. The higher your PR, the higher your site will be on the long list of results, and the more visitors you will have to your blog. Taking the time to explore possible inbound link ideas is never a waste, and just might help you generate additional traffic to your blog.

First Published at Helium: Best Ways to Receive Quality Inbound Links

Friday, October 11, 2013

Tips for Choosing a Blog Topic

The art of blogging has become quite popular in recent years. It seems like everyone is starting a blog, and on every topic. But creating a successful blog that has at least the hope of longevity is not always easy. And though there are many factors to consider, such as blog platform, content, and design, the most important decision to make before starting a blog is the overall topic. There are several tips to consider when deciding on a blog topic.

Make Sure You’re Passionate About Your Topic

One of the keys to a successful blog is in frequent posts and updates. The frequency of these posts can range from once a week to several times a day. That’s a lot of writing about a single topic, especially if you want your blog to last for more than a few months. Think about all the topics you might blog about, and narrow it down to those topics you can truly see yourself writing about for months on end. If you know that you’ll get bored three months in, you might want to select another topic.

Choose a Topic You Enjoy Discussing

Think about the topics you discuss often with your friends and family. Do you find yourself often turning the conversation to politics? Then maybe a political blog might be for you. Can you discuss pets for hours on end? Consider starting a pet blog. Whatever you pick, make sure it’s something you actually enjoy talking about.

At the same time, you’ll want to ensure that you don’t mind if people disagree with you about your chosen topic. A blog is out there for everyone to read, and it’s impossible to please everyone all of the time. As your blog grows and expands, more and more people will read what you write. And some of them will disagree with you. If you can appreciate a healthy debate on your chosen topic, it might be the blog topic for you.

Is There Enough Content on the Topic to Sustain a Blog?

If you’re going to start a successful blog, you’re going to have to continue to produce fresh and unique content for a sustained period of time. If you run out of things to say, your blog will end up floating in the furthest corner of cyberspace where no one will ever see it.

When considering whether there is enough content to support your blog, evaluate your resources. Think about yourself as an author and decide if you can put up fresh content on a consistent basis for more than just a few weeks. Are there enough books, websites, and other resources to provide you with inspiration when you run out of ideas? If you’re passionate about your topic, you probably already have websites bookmarked or books on your shelf that relate to your blog. But it wouldn’t hurt to do a quick Google or Bing search to discover exactly what kind of resources there are in cyberspace.

This serves two purposes. First, it allows you to locate additional references. Second, you’ll get the opportunity to see what other people are writing about. And while you should not copy another writer’s ideas, searching for inspiration is something every writer does.

Don’t Have Too Narrow a Focus

While all blogs should have a clear focus, if your focus is too narrow you’ll find you quickly run out of things to say. For example, a blog on the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show will be fairly limited. It only happens once a year, and there’s only so much to talk about. If, on the other hand, you blog about dog shows in general, or about breed conformation, you will be able to blog all year long and still cover the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show every year. In this way, you’ll have a focused blog that will rarely, if ever, run out of fresh topics.

Is the Topic Popular?

Despite how much you may love your topic, the success of a blog is determined by the people willing to read your blog. If you’re the only person in the world who is interested in your topic (unlikely, but remotely possible), you might have a difficult time attracting followers. If you want to create a blog that is frequently read, you’ll need to select your topic carefully.

That being said, you don’t need to appeal to everyone. Your blog only has to be about a topic that some people are interested it. Search out a topic that has active readers, people who will want to revisit your blog frequently to read your latest posts. You may have to tweak your chosen topic a little before you come up with something that your readers will enjoy.

Blogs are a fun and creative way to spend your time. However, choosing a topic that suits both your own needs and the desires of your audience can take some time and consideration. Choose your topic carefully and you’ll find you can blog for many years without losing focus.

First published at Helium: 5 Tips to Choosing a Blog Topic