After Ending A 15-Year-Old Website

A year-and-a-half ago I made the decision not to renew the *.ws domain name for my website, Once Upon An Albatross… (OUAA), that I got a decade earlier for five bucks a year when *.com domain names were way too expensive. With a $25 USD renewal fee due, and a domain name that didn’t reflect my identity as a writer, it was time for it to go. OUAA got moved to a subdomain on my author website.

That prompted another decision six months later to stop updating the blog, bringing a storied 15-year-old website to an end. I’ve gotten burnt out from blogging three days a week, felt like I was grasping at straws most of the time. When I surveyed the website to put together the first volume of the blog compilation ebooks, the website has taken so many twisty turns over the years that it had no unifying theme.

In short, my 15-year-old website reflected my somewhat messy life.

1995 – 1996

The namesake, OUAA, started life in 1995 as a dial-up Wildcat! Bulletin Board System (BBS), running on an ancient IBM AT computer with a 2400-baud modem. The beginnings of an online empire that got wiped out by something called the Internet in 1996. I also got kicked out of the university staying up in the wee hours playing Magic: The Gathering card games with my equally irresponsible roommates.

1997 – 2001

The website started life on a free website hosting service to show off my non-existent video game design talent after I got a testing job at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crisis). Being a tester sucked the life out of being a designer at home, but I did learn enough HTML and CSS to put together web pages.

2002 – 2007

Becoming a lead video game tester in 2001 prompted me to go back to school to learn computer programming in 2002. I ordered the *.ws domain name that became the website home for a decade. The website became an ongoing programming LAMP project for the five years that it took to get my second associate degree on a part-time basis. I also became serious about writing.

2008 – 2009

No longer going to school and working as a help desk support technician in 2008, I switched out my programming project for the Joomla! CMS. I also used Joomla for my author website. Although I written posts on the website from time to time, I started blogging on a semi-irregular basis.

2010 – 2012

When I started this writing blog in 2010, I switched to WordPress. Joomla didn’t have a native blogging component, and the blogging component I paid for was chunky at best. I switched the website to WordPress, reorganizing all the content as blog posts and renaming the website after my old Wildcat! BBS.

A year later, I haven’t done much with OUAA except poke at it. Setting up the ebook publication schedule for next year, I’m coming out with the five volumes of blog posting compilation ebooks. That’s 300+ blog posts and 120,000+ words. I’ll clean up the website, apply some spit polish and let it be the spam magnet that it always has been.

Five months after I stopped blogging for OUAA, I got a new *.com domain name and started a new WordPress blog, Kicking The Bit Bucket (KTBB), with the tag line, “One blog post at a time!” The wordplay between title and tag line suggests kicking a bad habit by doing less of it. I started blogging with multiple posts every Wednesday, if I had more than one item to blog about. Now it’s a single blog post every week. Like OUAA before it, KTBB will probably become a reflection of my somewhat messy life.

SPECIAL NOTE: You can now pre-order the annual blog compilation ebooks for A Silicon Valley Writer (01/11/2014) and Kicking The Bit Bucket (01/25/2014).

Author Website Disappears On April Fool’s Day

An email arrived from DirectNIC with a five-day notice that my web hosting was moving to a new server with upgraded hardware on April 1st. Of course, by the time I got around to reading the email, the five-day notice was really a two-day notice. The timing was bad—and not because the deadline fell on April Fool’s Day.

My newest essay ebook, “The Apple Store Job Fair: Don’t Drink The Water, Don’t Use The Restroom,” was finally being published on March 31st. As Stephen King once said, “Non-fiction is hard because you can’t make [crap] up.” Working on an 8,300-word essay was more difficult than editing my abandoned 120,000-word first novel. With all my efforts focused on getting this essay done on time, a number of website-related tasks got postpone until the first week of April.

I logged into my DirectNIC account to open a help desk ticket to protest moving my web hosting to a newer server at this time. The last time my web hosting got moved to a different server because I needed PHP 5.3 for the content management system (CMS) back in January, my websites were off the Internet for three days. That’s the last thing I needed after publishing a new ebook.

A response to my ticket indicated that my web hosting was already on a new server. That surprised me. Moving my web hosting has never been that smooth. I’m pleased that DirectNIC finally got that process worked out. I updated my email and FTP clients to the new server settings.

The essay ebook got published late Sunday night (3/31) and the new website page got put up on Monday morning (4/1). Although I still had other website tasks like putting up the ebook preview and a Plan B Magazine anthology announcement, I took a short break to recover from working on the essay.

I noticed something strange the next day with my websites. One website was working, two websites were displaying a message that my web hosting account was either suspended on the domain or misconfigured on the subdomains. I immediately opened a help desk ticket with DirectNIC.

My own investigation revealed that the working domain and all the email accounts were on the new server, and the non-working domains were on a different new server with an expired trail version of the CPanel web hosting software. Talk about a half-assed migration job from DirectNIC. I fumed as three days went by without a response to my ticket.

I had abandoned a one-man ISP in 2010 that had my business for 15 years because the primary and secondary Internet links to the servers went down for a week and the owner was too busy making alternative arrangements to respond to user inquires. By the time the ISP came back online and I got a response to my emails, I had already relocated my websites to DirectNIC that held my domain name registrations.

As a small business owner, I can’t allow another company to interfere with my business. I started looking at alternative web hosting providers. The timing was bad. With the $800 USD franchise tax for doing business as a California LLC due on April 15th, I couldn’t afford to switch to another web hosting provider and spend a week configuring all the website. Except for these infrequent three-day interruptions, I’m quite satisfied with DirectNIC.

So… I complained to DirectNIC on Twitter with my ticket number.

Within an hour of posting my complaint on Twitter, my ticket got resolved. All the websites were working again and I got a three-month credit to my account, except my web hosting was still split over two different servers. That took another day to get my websites back on the same server that was working just fine on the morning of April Fool’s Day.

Add Multiple Sales Links to Drive Your eBook Sales

Although my ebooks are available at multiple ebook retailers, I listed only two direct sales links—Amazon and Smashwords—for each ebook page on my author website. I never considered adding sales links for the other ebook retailers until I read “How to Sell eBooks at The Apple iBookstore” by Mark Coker on the Smashwords blog.

I’m always surprised how often I see authors complaining that all their sales are coming from Amazon, and then I look at their website or blog and see they’re only linking to a single retailer, Amazon. Support all your retailers. Not just Apple, but Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Diesel, every one. Your blog, website and social media promotions should provide direct hyperlinks to your book pages at every retailer, so your fans can purchase your book at their favorite retailer.

The easiest way to add multiple sales links is to create an HTML template with all the links for Amazon, Bibliocracy, Diesel, iBookstore (Apple), Kobo, Nook (Barnes & Noble), Scribd, Smashwords and Sony commented out (see the code snippet below). Copy and paste the template into each web page. Remove the comment code and paste the corresponding URL into the anchor code to “activate” each link as needed.

Multiple Sales Links Code

Multiple Sales Links

For a brand new ebook, the Amazon, Scribd and Smashwords sales links are immediately available as I publish on those ebook retailers first. Except for Bibliocracy (a new ebook retailer I’m experimenting with), I activate the remaining sales links when the ebook becomes available through the Smashwords third-party catalog in two months.

As for the graphical icons of each ebook retailer, I download the logo off the corresponding website and use Photoshop to create a uniform set of graphic files. (Be sure to read the affiliate guidelines before using the Apple iBookstore logo.) The CSS (cascading style sheet) code controls the spacing of the icons on the webpage.

With the multiple sales links set up, you can add affiliate codes to earn extra cash and track the clicks from your author website to the ebook retailer.

  • Amazon, Apple and Sony uses a tracking URL from their own website.
  • Diesel and Smashwords has a tracking code to add to the ebook URL.
  • Kobo and Nook uses tracking URLs from LinkShare.

The downside of being involved with so many affiliate programs is that reaching the minimum threshold for payment can take a long time. Writing a page per day will eventually turn into a novel, affiliate earnings will some day amount to real money in the bank.

After putting the multiple sales links on my author website two months ago, readers are clicking from my author website to their favorite ebook retailer and the affiliate-related sales are higher than usual.

Are You In The Writing Profession Or The Writing Business?

There’s a story in “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki about Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s, challenging a group of MBA students with a simple question, “What business am I in?”

Everyone laughed but didn’t answer him. He repeated the question. Finally, someone told him the obvious answer: the hamburger business.

Ray chuckled before announcing that he wasn’t in the hamburger business but the real estate business. Although his profession was selling hamburger franchises, his business was owning the real estate underneath those franchises. McDonald’s today owns more real estate than the Catholic Church, including the best street corners and thoroughfares in America.

The point that “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” made from this story was not to confuse your profession with your business. Your profession is something you do; your business is where you make your money. Most people don’t know the difference.

I thought my business was being a short story writer. I wrote short stories, sold them to the anthologies, and republished them as short story ebooks.

As ebook sales continued to outpace short story sales, I found myself spending more time on developing ebooks than writing short stories. This frustrated me. I started missing the “old days”—about six years ago—when I wrote short stories, dropped them in the mailbox and collected 300+ rejection slips before I sold my first short story. Since my ebook sales were dependent on my short stories and essays, I would never find the time to write a novel to earn bigger ebook sales. I saw a vicious circle forming in my life with no easy solution.

Are you in the writing profession or the writing business?

I started thinking hard about that question since the beginning of the year. The answer I came up with is that I’m in the writing profession—when I’m not consoling hurt computers and broken users as an anonymous technician in Silicon Valley—but I’m also in the content producing business. Writing is central to everything I do, but not the only thing that I do.

Since I’m in between non-writing jobs at the moment, I’m in the process of revamping my family of websites. I spent the past three weeks updating my free open source software to get back into web programming, quadrupling web traffic and click-through for advertising. Updating the personal blog will be every week and this writing blog twice a month. (The key for writing multiple blog posts is to stay under 500 words for each one.) I’m still publishing two short ebooks every month. Writing new short stories are on hold until I can revise or spit polish a dozen short stories for submission.

If everything falls into place over the next year or two, I should  make enough money from my business to ditch the non-writing job and start writing novels as my profession.

Recovering From A Disappearing ISP

The ISP hosting my three websites and a dozen email accounts disappeared from the Internet for 36 hours last week, starting on Thursday morning at 10:00AM and ending Friday night at 9:30PM. If the outage was less than 24 hours, I would’ve shrugged my shoulders and went on with life. Internet outages do happen from time to time. When 24 hours came and went without a peep from my ISP, I started looking for a new website host.

I soon discovered that my domain registrar, DirectNIC, could host my websites for half the monthly fee I was paying. By the time the outage was over, all my websites got transferred over. This was purely a business decision. When you’re a writer who sends short stories and receive payments through email, being off the Internet for an extended period of time is bad for business.

What happen to the ISP? The separate data lines that the ISP had to the data center weren’t redundant and both went down at the same time. The ISP owner made alternative arrangements that was both expensive and time-consuming.

I’m sorry that I found it necessary to take my business elsewhere. I’ve been with this particular ISP for 15 years, starting with a shell account to view web pages in Lynx (a text-based web browser) over a dial-up modem back in 1995. The extended outage reminded me that this ISP was a successful one-man operation. That’s fine for hosting a personal website. Not so fine when you’re running a business with multiple websites and email accounts.

Fortunately, I had recent backups and retrieved the current data after the old ISP came back up. Since DirectNIC doesn’t offer a shell account for web hosting, I couldn’t upload and decompress the backup file on the server. Uploading all the files uncompressed took a long time with the DSL upload speed being slower than the download speed. Restoring the databases took a few minutes, chasing down the various glitches took a few hours. Having gone through a few of these backup transitions over the years, this was the smoothest to date.

I didn’t suffer too much from being off the Internet for 36 hours. My writing productivity was the biggest casualty: no blogging on any of the websites, no revisions on my first novel, and forget about writing short stories. All my time got focused on getting my websites up and running without any glitches. Queued email found its way home and web traffic soon resumed to normal levels.

The biggest benefits with the new web hosting are the reduced monthly cost, a finer control over the backend for each website, and a much more responsive support team. Otherwise, everything remains the same as it should be. If there is an outage next time, I don’t think it will take 36 hours to fix.

Adding A Blog to The Author Website

When I set up my author website two years ago, I kept it very simple by not adding a blog. At the time, I had only one publication credit and didn’t have enough experience to make a writer-centric blog a worthwhile effort. That was then. Now that I have a growing credit list and enough experience to blog once a week about being a fiction writer, it was time to add a blog to the author website.

Except I still had the same problem from two years ago: no money.

As fiction writers know too well, rejection slips don’t pay the bills and what does come in doesn’t amount to anything. My first published short story earned me $3.02 USD in cash—or 1/4 cent per word USD—that came in an envelope without a return address. These days I’m lucky to get $20 USD here and there. My monthly writing expenses come to $100 USD per month. Despite my best effort to break even, I’m still falling short every month. If I was going to add a blog to the website, the blogging software must be free (as in beer).

I used Joomla! CMS to manage the content of my family of websites, which doesn’t include a blog/comment component. When I set up my personal blog with Joomla in January 2008, I paid for the My Blog and JomComment components to get the blog functionality I needed. After looking through all the available free blog/comment components for Joomla this week, I remembered why I paid for those components in the first place. All the free stuff for Joomla wasn’t that good. If I had the money, I would have to get new licenses for my existing author website.

After looking around at blogging alternatives, WordPress became an obvious choice.

I created a new subdomain to install the blogging software on my author website. In effect, I’m running two websites side by side. If you ever set up a Joomla website before, setting up a WordPress website is relatively painless in comparison. The hardest part was picking a good theme. I went with the Minimalism theme after playing around with a half-dozen similar themes. That took only a few tweaks to get the colors and layout done. As I familiarize myself with all the available WordPress features and plugins, I’ll be making additional tweaks as needed.

My author website now has a writer-centric blog. For writing and putting up a blog, WordPress is really nice and in some ways better than what is available for a Joomla website. The only thing that hasn’t really changed is the fact that it still takes me about 90 minutes to pull together a blog post.