Since I self-published my book Odin’s Eye in March this year, I’ve been scrambling up a rather steep learning curve. I knew it would be a learning experience, and I’m not surprised that I am still scrambling and learning. I’m learning to use social media to promote my work and connect with readers and other authors. I’m learning about creating and maintaining a website. I’m learning about creating graphics for social media, and learning how to use apps and software to make it easier and less time-consuming to post content to all my assorted websites, profiles, pages, and so on and so forth. (Some days I wonder if I’m insane, having so many online “places”. Other days I know I’m insane.)
Here are some of the tools I’ve found helpful while I keep scrambling up that learning curve:
(Disclaimer: I am in no way shape or form an expert when it comes to online tools, social media tools, or any of those things. This post is just based on my limited experience with some of the many tools available out there.)
Canva is an online tool that helps you create graphics to use on the web and elsewhere. For example, the Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Rollins quotes above were created using the Canva layout called “social media”, and then playing around with backgrounds and fonts. Canva also lets you do photo editing, and has a lot of illustrations, photos, fonts, and layouts you can use and customize. I find it particularly useful for creating header images and banners for my various social media profiles: Facebook, Google, Twitter, and so on. Canva provides layouts that are automatically sized right for each profile, and makes it easy to add your own images, photos, and text. If you know, and have access to Photoshop you probably don’t need Canva, but if you’re a graphics-newbie like me, trying to create something halfway decent for cheap, then this is a real help.
I love Tweetdeck. If you follow a lot of people on Twitter, you know that it can be a confusing and extremely fast-moving place where its easy to miss things. Tweetdeck lets you organize the twitter-stream so that it’s easier to follow people and conversations. For example, I follow a lot of people who are into music, books, movies, science, parenting and computer games: this makes for a rich and varied twitter-flow. I’ve tried to sort everyone I follow into various twitter-lists, and then Tweetdeck shows me each list in a different column on the same page. You can also add separate columns for searches, notifications,and hashtags.
Tweetdeck can also be used to schedule tweets, and I do use that feature occasionally, but for me, the best thing about Tweetdeck is that it makes Twitter manageable.
Buffer allows you to schedule posts ahead of time for social media like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Google+ Pages (not personal profiles). I’ve been dipping my toe in the waters with Buffer for a couple of weeks now, and I really like it. The interface is easy to use, you can easily see what you’ve scheduled, and you can easily set posts to repeat. Right now, Buffer is my favourite thing to use for scheduling posts. I’m terribly cheap when it comes to anything like this, but I am seriously considering upgrading to the paid version of Buffer, called ‘Awesome’. The free version allows you to schedule up to 10 posts for each social media account, the paid version allows you to schedule 100. A year ago that would have sounded insane to me, but at this point I know I could really use that.
With the free version, you can only link Buffer to one profile per social media account (for example, right now, I only have it linked to my author-page on Facebook). The paid version allows you to link Buffer to multiple profiles on the same social media, meaning you can link it to multiple Twitter accounts, and any and all of your Facebook profiles, pages, and groups .
Like Buffer, Hootsuite allows you to schedule posts ahead of time for your various social media accounts. I really like Hootsuite, and have used it for a couple of years for posts to Twitter from my travel blog Traveling With Kids. Right now I prefer Buffer because I find it more intuitive and easy to use, but Hootsuite is very close behind. Hootsuite also makes it easy to monitor your social media flow (sort of like Tweetdeck). Another plus: with Hootsuite you can schedule tweets with up to four images attached. Buffer will only allow you to schedule a post with one image.
I’ve only used the free Hootsuite version so far, but if you upgrade to the paid version, you get a lot more functionality as well.
At its most basic, Crowdfire lets you track who follows you on Twitter and who unfollows you. If you use all its various features, it can also help suggest people to follow, and help you maximize the number of followers you have. I pretty much only use it to a) see who has followed me that I didn’t follow back, yet; and b) see who has unfollowed me. I also use it to unfollow inactive accounts.
This website was created on WordPress.com, using the free theme ‘Sight’. (Beware: WordPress.org is something else. This is rather confusing, but important to know).
I really like the look and feel and interface of WordPress: you can easily (or pretty easily, at least) create a good-looking website and keep it up and running for free. There are limitations on what you can do, but for the amount of traffic I’m getting, and for what I’m doing with my two WordPress sites (this one for my writing and translating endeavours, and my music site Rock And Roll), WordPress works just fine.
Blogger is another easy way to create a website or blog, and I really like Blogger, too. My very first serious blog, Traveling With Kids, is a Blogger site, and it’s been a great place for me. There are less restrictions on what you can do on a Blogger site than on a WordPress site, at least when it comes to selling things and using advertising. For example, Blogger allows you to easily incorporate ads, links, images, and other content from Amazon Associates (see below).
The look and feel is different than WordPress, and Blogger is (as the name shows) mainly geared towards sites in a “blog format”, rather than a more static website. I like both platforms. Which one you choose mainly depends on what you prefer, visually, and what you’re using your website or blog for.
If you set up an Amazon Associates account, you can generate clickable images, links, and ads that are hooked up to Amazon. If someone clicks on a link on your site, and then buys something from Amazon, you earn a percentage of the sales.
I started using Amazon Associates’ links on my travel blog some years ago, mainly because it was an easy way to generate images for posts: just go to Amazon, generate an image link, and voilá: now I had a clickable picture of, say, a suitcase for my blog. After some time (at least a year, I believe) it started generating some minor revenue. I don’t make tons of money on it (I wish!), but it does give me some pocket money. I get paid in gift certificates from Amazon, and it’s been helping support my ebook habit ever since I got my Kindle.
You will have to provide some personal- and tax information to Amazon when you set up your Amazon Associates account, and any income you earn is taxable in your country of residence. It’s a bit of work to get it all set up (especially if you’re not in the US), but Amazon has streamlined the process quite well, and once you’re done, it is very easy to generate links and ad-banners.
Windows Movie Maker
If you want to make a promo video, a book trailer, or some-such thing, then Windows Movie Maker is a pretty good product. I haven’t tried a lot of these kinds of programs, but I do find Movie Maker pretty easy and intuitive to use. You can use video or photos to create the visuals, and then add various effects to the content: subtitles, zoom, fades, different colour-effects, music, narration… and so on. Warning: it’s almost too much fun to play around with if you really start getting into it!
One example of my newbie skills at this is this video for Odin’s Eye: