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Are News Sites Allergic to External Links?

This happens all the time, and it annoys me all the time: A big news site (in this case, The Christian Science Monitor) has an article about a specific thing (in this case, the guy who has raised $70K in a Kickstarter to make potato salad). But there’s NO LINK TO THE KICKSTARTER. (Yes, I’m shouting.) What is this, 1999? (Here’s the link to the Kickstarter.)

The CSM article includes a link to other CSM articles about Kickstarter, which is what you get when you click on the “Kickstarter” link that an apparently naive person might expect to lead to the actual Kickstarter they are discussing. But no. It’s just to a list of other articles on their site that mention Kickstarter. I wonder how many page views they get from that misleading link, and I wonder how short the time-on-site is for that page. I’m guessing it’s less than a couple of seconds from each person like me who clicked and then cursed and left.

Perhaps even more strangely, the article links the words “The Columbia Dispatch” to a page of other articles on their site about The Columbus Dispatch. They seem to realize this is odd or unhelpful, so they put in a bit.ly link to the actual Dispatch site, but here’s the kicker—that link isn’t active. No, reader, if you want to actually visit that link, you have to cut and paste it into your browser. (Kudos to The Columbus Dispatch for including a link to the Kickstarter in the first paragraph of their article.)

The CSM obviously can link to other sites because the last paragraph contains a normal link to a related Slate article. I’m not specifically picking on The Christian Science Monitor. It seems downright hostile to readers to omit a link to the thing that is the main topic of an article, but I still see it happen far too often on news sites, especially sites from publications that started out as print newspapers or magazines. What is the problem? Do they think that if they include a link it will seem like an advertisement for this guy’s Kickstarter? That’s the only remotely logical reason I can think of not to include a link, but if that’s the reason, it’s antiquated.

Give readers links to the things you are covering.

Peeve Wars: Just Waiting for the Decks

Almost everything is here! The posters, bookmarks, postcards, individual cards, cool tokens, instruction manuals, and shipping materials are all sitting in my living room; I’m just waiting for the decks to arrive to start assembling the packages for shipping.

The company printing the decks gave me an estimated ship date of June 17, but obviously, they missed that date. Apparently, they didn’t have enough blank deck boxes for printing when they got my order. They now tell me they expect to ship the decks to me early next week.

One thing I’ve learned through all this is that getting games printed is complicated. On the other hand, I’ve been wildly happy with the company that printed the instructions, posters, bookmarks, and postcards: smartpress. I’ve looked at somewhere between 5 and 10 printers while pulling this all together, and SmartPress was the easiest to work with. You can get accurate quotes online, order online, and see your proofs online; but if you need personal help, a real person answers the phone, and you can also get hard proofs for a small additional fee (which I did). Their automated system also kept me informed at every step of process. They even contacted me when I ordered the bookmarks to let me know that if I placed the order in a different way, I could save about 40%. This is an unsolicited endorsement and they aren’t paying me or giving me discounts—I just love them, especially after all the problems I’ve had with playing card printers. If you need the kind of products they print, check out smartpress.com.

Here are the pictures of the items I have so far:

POSTERS

The picture doesn’t do them justice. They’re big: poster-size.

POSTCARDS

They looks tiny compared to the posters. They’re like cute little mini-posters!

INSTRUCTION MANUAL

I’m glad I redid the manual; it turned out much nicer than the original manual, and because it’s a different size, you’ll be able to fold it to fit inside the box for storage.

BOOKMARKS AND COOL TOKENS

I’m sorting the cool markers into plastic bags for shipping so they don’t get lost, but you’ll be able to store them in the box with the deck and instructions.

I wrote funny text for each of the bookmarks—a tiny story about the peeve or hero.

The box that contains one of the mystery-box rewards is also in this picture. It’s still a secret, but I think you’re going to like it!

COLLECTIBLE CARD SETS

The game printer did send the individual cards for people who ordered a collectible set, and I’ve started placing them in their protective holders. This picture doesn’t do them justice; they look fantastic! Seeing the whole set laid out like this was another “wow” moment in which I got that amazing feeling that we have made something real.

Thanks again for your support!

Mignon

Peeve Wars Update: The First Deck is Here

We’ve hit a big milestone! I received one test deck from the printer, and Joe and I have done three separate test-play sessions with people who have never played before.

The cards look great and the testing went well. The testing also served its purpose of finding previously undiscovered problems, and I’m making minor tweaks to a couple of cards and to the instruction manual before I order the final decks to eliminate wording that was confusing people. I’m also going to make a video showing how to play for people who would rather watch a video than read an instruction manual.

I’ve also been hard at work on the secret prizes for people who got the Mystery Box.

Here are pictures of me unboxing the deck and of one of our test-play sessions. It’s been exciting to hold the game in my hands and watch people play. I can’t wait for all of you to be able to feel the same thing!

MY FIRST PEEK AT THE DECK IN THE BOX. (Imagine me squealing with delight and anticipation.)

OPENING THE BOX (The extra room is for the cool chips you’ll get and the folded instruction manual.)

THE BOX, RULE BOOK, AND PILE OF CARDS. (I wasn’t happy with the rule book, so it is going to look very different in the final version.)

THE FIRST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD TO PLAY THE PRINTED GAME. (It was difficult for me not to play myself first, but to thank the test players for their time, I wanted to give them the honor of being first. They were incredibly helpful and played for hours.)

If this is the first time you’ve heard of Peeve Wars, you can see more about the whole project here, and if you want to be notified when it becomes commercially available, please send an e-mail to feedback [at] quickanddirtytips [dot] com and ask to be put on my Peeve Wars notification list.

Thanks again to all the backers. It’s been amazing to hold the cards in my hands and know that the game is a real thing and to watch people play and have fun. You made that possible. You.

LAST CHANCE: Peeve Wars Ordering Ends Sunday Night

Peeve Wars is now bigger: 72 cards!

Peeve Wars is now better: 3 new hero cards and 5 new peeve cards!

Thanks to everyone who backed the project, I’ve been able to expand the deck. To get the word out and give people who may have been on the fence a chance to order, I’ve extended the deadline to Sunday night. You have only about 24 hours left to get a deck of cards! If you want one, get it now at http://FundAnything.com/peevewars. (See the “Two Decks” reward for a discount.)

What Is Peeve Wars?

Peeve Wars is a card game based on pet peeves: Amass an army of peeve cards to annoy your opponent(s) to death. Start with 3 cool points, and each time an opponent successfully annoys you, you lose a cool. When you completely lose your cool, you lose the game. Peeves have powers or rules related to their name. For example, only one “Very Unique” can be in play at a time, “Could Care Less” lets you ignore an attempt to annoy, and “Gone Missing” lets you steal a card. Hero cards, such as the “Librarian,” give you patience to help resist the power of the peeves—but each hero has a nemesis.

Order your Peeve Wars deck of card today.

Peeve Wars Is Funded! Get Your Deck Today

In case you haven’t heard, I’m crowd funding a card game called Peeve Wars. It’s fully funded, and you have only a few more days left to reserve a deck before we shut down ordering and start printing cards. Get your deck now while you’re thinking about it. You’re going to want to play this game!

Here are more details:

In Peeve Wars, you amass an army of peeve cards to annoy your opponent(s) to death. Start with 3 cool points, and each time an opponent successfully annoys you, you lose a cool. When you completely lose your cool, you lose the game. Peeves have powers or rules related to their name. For example, only one “Very Unique” can be in play at a time, “Could Care Less” lets you ignore an attempt to annoy, and “Gone Missing” lets you steal a card. Hero cards, such as the “Librarian” and “Teacher,” give you patience to help you resist the power of the peeves—but each hero has a nemesis.

Peeve wars is fully funded and you only have a few days left to get a deck or send in a photo to be an inspiration for a peeve. (See the Immortal Peeve reward.) We’ve already started making the final art, so see the “Updates” tab for more card examples.

Get Peeve Wars on Fund Anything today!

BTG025 Peeve Wars, Cambridge Talk, and Great Podcasters

Yes, believe it or not, it’s a new Behind the Grammar podcast and video.

I’m making a card game called Peeve Wars. If you’d like to play an amazing card game based on pet peeves illustrated as little monsters, visit http://FundAnything.com/peevewars to learn more and help me make it happen.

I also tell you about a talk I’m giving at the Bridging the Unbridgeable: linguists, prescriptivists and the general public conference in Cambridge (UK) in June, and recommend some podcasters I talked with this week:

Wine for Normal People
Purpose Rockstar
Newbie Writers
Todd-Cast
Podcasters’ Roundtable

Grammar Pop: The Power of Community

Grammar Pop

Hello to anyone still reading this blog! “Where the heck has she been for more than a year?” you may ask. I’ve been making a word game—an iPad app—called Grammar Pop, and since I made the app myself, I had to learn to make apps, which took awhile.

It took longer than I thought it would, but it was still completely doable, and I’m here not only to tell you about my app, but also to share my excitement about a tool called GameSalad. Because of GameSalad, you can make apps too if you want to. Yes, YOU.

How GameSalad Works

GameSalad is a drag-and-drop tool for making apps (for many platforms), which means that although you need to learn some basic programming logic, you don’t have to learn a coding language. Instead, you combine intuitive commands such as “When the player makes a mistake, subtract 10 points from the score.”

The Community Makes It Possible

This post is subtitled “The Power of Community” because it’s the GameSalad community that truly makes this product shine. It reminds me of the early days of podcasting: Everyone hung out on the forums at Podcast Pickle and was happy to answer technical questions. GameSalad also has active forums with friendly people who are happy to answer technical questions. I’m not sure I could have made Grammar Pop without help from that community. It certainly would have been more frustrating.

Also like podcasting, a whole community of experts and consultants have sprung up around GameSalad. You can find hundreds of YouTube videos with tips about how to use the software. In fact, you can get quite far in developing a simple game just by piecing together the tips in these videos. If you would rather buy an affordable game template and customize it yourself, you can do that, and if you get stuck or just don’t want to spend the time searching for an answer, it’s easy to find an independent paid consultant.

During the past year, I’ve thought a lot about the difference a strong community can make in the success or failure of a technical product or even a whole industry. Without the support of a strong community, I doubt I would have started podcasting and I doubt I would be releasing an awesome game. The Grammar Girl Facebook page is also more vibrant and interesting because of the regular contributors, and a Superstars Writing Seminar I attended a few years ago continues to be valuable because of its thriving private writers community. Start-ups, take heed and foster your community!

You Can Make an App

Starting with no major coding experience and no experience at all making apps, it took me about a year to make Grammar Pop, but Grammar Pop is actually quite complex and about half of that year was spent just writing all the sentences and categorizing each word with its part of speech. If you wanted to make a simpler game or a tip-a-day app or perhaps an interactive e-book, I believe you could do it a lot faster.

You can start by downloading the free version of GameSalad Creator and following along with a few of the “Getting Started” videos in the GameSalad Cookbook at YouTube. I watched nearly all of the videos by a power-user called tshirtbooth (whose account has now been taken over by a GameSalad consulting company called GS Helper), and if you search YouTube for “Game Salad,” you’ll find many more videos.

And now, let me tell you about Grammar Pop.

All About Grammar Pop

Fun Is a Priority

It started as a game I wanted to play myself but couldn’t find. It’s a simple idea—match words with their parts of speech—but the existing iPad and iPhone games I found were far too simple and babyish for me. Making it fun was my first priority. That it is educational and lots of teachers loved it during beta testing was just a huge bonus.

Easy or Hard

The game starts simply with three-word sentences and three parts of speech, but it goes all the way up to 12-words sentences and 11 parts of speech. When you match a word with its part of speech, the cloud pops and makes a happy sound, and sometimes you reveal its silver lining which gives you coins that add to your score. At each level, you’re ranked as a professor, tutor, or student. You can play each level multiple times because the game has more than 14,000 words in the database.

Get the Whole Game Upfront

Deciding on a business model was tough. These days, lots of people are offering apps free but then loading them up with in-app purchases. I find those annoying and also have friends whose kids have racked up hundreds of dollars in in-app purchases, and we don’t want that! So for now, you get the whole robust game for a single $1.99 price up front.

Learn more at GrammarPop.com or go to the App Store and buy Grammar Pop today.

Does “Free” Mean “Worthless”?

free app cardI just threw away yet another card from Starbucks that offered me something free. This time it was for an app, but often it’s for a song, and sometimes it’s for a book. This time, I didn’t even bother getting the app.

Between the Starbucks offers and the iTunes free song of the week, I’ve probably downloaded at least 100 songs that I’ve never listened to. My tablet is loaded with free e-books I’ve downloaded and have never read—and likely never will read.

Free: It’s Almost Too Easy

When something is free, it’s insanely easy to click the “download” link or put the card in your pocket, but it also means that you have no investment in consuming the media. No commitment to reading the book or listening to the song. I hesitate to go so far as to say that when I get something free, it’s worthless to me, but I’ll always try the thing I paid for first. If I’ve exchanged money for a book, I’ll feel like I wasted that money if I don’t read the book. If I didn’t pay for a book, nothing is lost if I don’t read it.

Two Success Stories

And yet, there have been times when I actually did read a free book, loved it, and did things that helped the author: I bought more of her books or wrote a glowing review.

I finally started reading The Night Circus when I got a long, free excerpt from Starbucks. “Long” is important. The excerpt was about 1/3 of the book, and I’m nearly certain I wouldn’t have read it if it had been just a single chapter. Certainly, the PR juggernaut around that book also compelled me to actually read the free excerpt. It was at least in part the huge PR campaign that made the free excerpt compelling.

In a more serendipitous example, when I was on vacation this summer, I finally read Apocalypsis, Book 1 from Elle Casey, which I had downloaded free from Amazon at some point. I don’t remember how I heard about it or when I downloaded it, but when I finally had time to read a book, there it was. I loved it, wrote a review, and bought the rest of the books in the series.

What Do You Do?

I can’t be the only person who collects free books, songs, and app and never looks at them. What is your ratio? How many of the things you get free do you actually read, listen to, or use? If anyone knows of a study showing how many books that are downloaded free actually get read, I’d love to see that too. Also, if you’re an author who has tried the “first book free” route, I’d love to hear about your experience. Do you think it helped you get reviews or sell more books?

—–

Mignon Fogarty is better known as Grammar Girl and the author of 101 MISUSED WORDS YOU’LL NEVER CONFUSE AGAIN. Follow her on Twitter: GrammarGirl.

Phoenix E-Publishing Workshop Discount

My friend Evo Terra is putting on an e-publishing workshop in Phoenix on September 17, 2011 (next Saturday!) and is offering a $30 discount to the first 12 people to sign up using the code APOSTROPHE (not case sensitive), making the final price $99. Here is their description of the conference:

This full-day workshop will be held in Phoenix on Saturday, September 17th, and is chock full of information ranging from ePublishing trends to copyright issues to using social media for promoting your work. Yes, you’ll walk away with detailed steps on how to successfully epublish your book. But you’ll also learn how to select the right service provider, what ebook formats to ignore, how to make sure people find your book, as well as proven strategies to build your fan base while still finding time to keep writing!

This isn’t a conference on developing your characters or making your plot more engaging. There are plenty of writing-focused conferences already. Instead, we’re teaching you the the technology, techniques and tactics required to become a self-publisher in the evolving digital world.

Sign up at EventBrite and remember to use the code APOSTROPHE for the discount.

Evo Terra is the founder of Podiobooks.com and co-founder of FarPoint Media. Co-organizer Jeff Moriarty is the co-founder of ePublish Unum and leader of the Phoenix Social Media Club.

Well Used: Maudlin

I love finding examples of words used in particularly appropriate ways. In this case, “maudlin” is well used because it was uttered by a nun: “We can’t be maudlin about this.”

“Maudlin” was first used in the early 1500s, and we get the word from the biblical character Mary Magdalene. In medieval art, Magdalene was almost always shown weeping, either washing Jesus’ feet with her tears or weeping outside his empty tomb. People of the time referred to anyone who had a similar weepy look or disposition as “Magdalene.” Over time, the pronunciation became slurred and the spelling changed to “maudlin.”

Mary Magdalene. Maudlin. Nuns. Nice word choice.

“Maudlin” is one of the words in my forthcoming book, 101 WORDS TO SOUND SMART, due out in November. (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-MillionIndieboundPowell’s)