Melinda VanLone

Behind the Scenes: Elementals and Tricky Mother-Daughter Relationships

Melinda VanLoneToday I’d like you to welcome special guest Melinda VanLone. Melinda writes fantasy and science fiction, freelances as a graphic designer, and dabbles in photography. She currently lives in Rockville, Maryland, with her husband and furbabies. When she’s not playing with her imaginary friends you can find her playing World of Warcraft, wandering aimlessly through the streets taking photos, or hovered over coffee in Starbucks. And today she’s taking us behind the scenes into a world where people wield elemental magic.

Take it away Melinda…

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of elementals, probably because in the online game I play, World of Warcraft, my character is a mage who has a water elemental for a pet. He protects her by shooting at the enemy, and provides companionship just by always being there. Sort of like a dog, but without the messy business of poop removal. When I first toyed with the idea of elementals, nothing seemed right because they seemed more like pets than people. I had a hard time ascribing desires and goals to something like that.

For the Xannon series, I took my love of the elements and gave the ability to the people instead, letting them be human first, with the ability to harness elemental power second. Just as some people tap into a natural musical or athletic ability, the people in the Xannon world all tap into one element or the other to fuel their natural magical ability. Most humans tap into one main element and, to a lesser extent, one other element. Tarian taps into Water and Air very strongly, and to a lesser extent, Fire, which is what makes her so powerful. Controlling three elements is extremely rare. Her sister Calliope is mostly Air, with water as secondary. It’s all hereditary, like having blue eyes or blonde hair, which means they came by their skills because of their parents.

The twist, of course, is that in general nobody knows who the father of the Keeper (heir to the House of Xannon) is, because of the Succession Ritual. Multiple partners donate their abilities to the child, which means Tarian’s strength is a blend of several men, plus her mother (a fierce and strong power all by herself). The same will be true for any of Tarian’s children. In Stronger Than Magic, Tarian’s journey toward motherhood begins and the spark of possible magical abilities swirls around the conception. Air, Earth, Water, and Fire. Four elements. A child who could wield that might be the strongest magical user ever in existence. Stronger, perhaps, than the Ancients themselves.

I suspect raising such a child might be a bit…problematic. How do you teach a child to control their magic when they’re stronger than you are? And once she’s grown, what might she accomplish?

That is what the House of Xannon series is all about. The cycle of life, mother to daughter, over generations, and the power of love to bind, protect, energize, and strengthen.

Promise Of MagicTarian’s story begins in Stronger Than Magic. Tarian Xannon fights demons like the rest of us. This time, the demon just happens to be real.

When Tarian Xannon is attacked by a demon-like creature, she realizes her talent with water, air and fire, while strong, might not be enough to protect herself or her family. She also learns that some things are stronger than magic, and worth fighting for.

Finding Flame introduces Macari, an air daemon who can walk the Corsaerie, a manifestation of pure Air energy that contains every event that has ever taken place, both daemon and human. When Tarian’s exploits cause ripples that spread through the Corsairie into the daemon plane, Macari is sent to investigate the cause of the chaos. She must report her findings before the mark of Air fades from her hand or be banished from her home forever. But the journey seems impossible, the human plane full of danger, and the way home is not easy. All that has been is written on the Wind, but can the past show Macari the way to a better future?

Tarian’s story continues in Promise of Magic. Despite the advanced stage of her pregnancy, Tarian has some explaining to do. Fulfilling her Agreement with the Carraig was an issue of honor—but it led to complications. Tarian embarks on a dangerous mission which could cost her the life of her unborn daughter, end in disaster for all planes of existence—or save the world.

Some promises are deadly to keep. Will the promise of magic be one of them?

If you could wield one elemental power, which would you choose?

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How to Legally Use Your Own Photos on Your Blog

Using Your Own Photos on Your BlogAlongside the photos offered on free stock sites and through WANA Commons on Flickr, many people are opting to use their own photos on their blog. After all, you can’t get into trouble for using your own pictures, can you? Last week Melinda VanLone gave us 7 free and legal places to find stock photos and 7 places to inexpensively buy hard-to-find pictures. She’s back today to help us sort through what we can and can’t take pictures of. Please join me in welcoming and thanking Melinda for taking the time to help us stay out of trouble 🙂 (All the pictures in this post were also taken by her. Aren’t they gorgeous?)


How to Legally Take and Use Your Own Photos on Your Blog

By Melinda VanLone (@MelindaVan)

With all the talk of law suits and copyright, you might be wondering if it’s safer to not use any images at all. I’m happy to tell you there’s no need to go to extremes. We’ve already talked about places where you can find free, or inexpensive, images for your blog.

This week I’d like to point out another method of dressing up your articles. By far the safest, and easiest, approach to the problem is simply to take your own images. Get a good camera, take it with you everywhere you go, and snap images of anything you think might come in handy someday. Use your imagination. Even a photo of a stop sign can be useful. 

Of course, there are some things you should keep in mind as a fledgling shutterbug. Even with your own photography, there are legal issues to consider. (Please note: I’m NOT a lawyer. This is NOT legal advice. I have to put this disclaimer to cover my own behind…which is something I’m trying to teach you to do.)

Public PlacesUsing your own photos on your blog

Taking photos in public places is, in general, legal. If you are on the sidewalk, and taking a picture of a street scene, a park, a house, or the people on the sidewalk or in the park, that’s ok. Those people have no expectation of privacy, so they are fair game. If you are getting random crowd shots, go ahead…snap away. If you would like a close up of someone, courtesy would dictate that you let them know or ask them if they mind. But you don’t have to. 

This includes children. Yes, it’s perfectly legal to take photos of children you don’t know in a public place. You might find yourself on the wrong end of an angry mother, or someone might call the police just to make sure you’re not a pedophile. But it’s legal both to take the photo and to use it on your blog. You don’t even need parental permission (unless you plan on selling the photo to a stock website–they’ll want a model release).

When I’m getting shots of people, I try to use a telephoto lens. Stay a good distance away and just zoom in on them. Chances are they’ll never know you took the photo.

What’s not ok is to take the shot if there’s an expectation of privacy. In general, this means restrooms, locker rooms, or other places like that. Just because your crazy neighbor always stands naked next to the open window in their bathroom doesn’t mean you have a right to stand on the street, take a photo, and blog about it. They have an expectation of privacy, even though they left that window open. Feel free to point and laugh, just not with your camera.

Private PropertyUsing your own photos in your blog

It’s off limits unless you have permission. Yes, you can stand on the sidewalk and take a photo of that beautiful house, no matter how much the property owner gives you the evil eye. No, you can’t stand in their driveway without permission to get the shot. It’s called trespassing, and it can get you arrested or, if you’re in Texas, shot. If you’re in a restaurant or bar, that’s private property that is open to the public, which is an odd mix. They can post a “no photography” sign and you must comply with it. If there’s no sign, you’re ok to take the photo. But they can ask you to stop, or leave. If you don’t, they can have you arrested for trespass.

Photos of Other Art

Someone else’s photo/artwork/poster/logo/etc. are protected by copyright. You taking a photo of it does not remove their copyright. You’ll need permission from the copyright owner to use your photo unless it falls under fair use. If you’re wondering about that museum trip you have scheduled, a lot of that artwork has passed out of copyright protection and is ok to photograph (see previously mentioned private property open to the public note).  

Photos Where You Might Endanger Others

In general, photographing accidents, fires, or public officials going about their jobs in a public place is legal. If you will block traffic or hinder them from doing their job in order to get that awesome shot, don’t. They have the right to arrest you if you get in the way.

Military Installations

Military installations are, in general, off limits. You can try to get a photo of those from the sidewalk or street but don’t be surprised if soldiers with guns show up. If there’s a fence, usually they’ll have a sign telling you to go away. I’d take their word for it.

(Marcy here: FBI buildings are also off limits for obvious reasons. They don’t know if you’re a tourist or a terrorist. Back when my husband lived in D.C., I reached for my camera to take a picture of the emblem on an FBI building, and he quickly informed me of my mistake before I got myself into trouble.)

Public Attractions

It’s usually legal to take a photo of tourist attractions, whether public or privately owned, unless they’ve posted signs to the contrary.

The Up-The-Skirt Cam

This should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. Please don’t photograph someone’s private body parts without their permission. Even if they are in a public place. In most states it’s illegal for you to stick your camera up a woman’s skirt and snap a photo, even if she is in the park and not wearing any underwear. Just…don’t. 

What’s This About Fair Use?

According to Wikipedia, fair use is “a doctrine that permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the rights holders. Examples of fair use include commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship.” I would add blogging to that list. If you’re doing a book, movie, or restaurant review, fair use would be using a shot of the book cover, movie poster, or image of the restaurant.  Please note, the idea that blogging is journalism is still being debated in the courts. Therefore, think about what you’re saying and/or doing. If in doubt, make friends with a lawyer you can hit up for advice.

I Got the Shot! Now What?

Once you have that great shot, be careful what you DO with the photo. Yes, you own it. Yes, you may use it on your blog or even sell it. However, be sure that when you use a photo with people that you aren’t disparaging them. Taking a random shot of someone sitting on a park bench, and then putting the photo with a blog post about drug users, is implying that they are a drug user. That leaves you right in the middle of something that could be considered slander.

Ask yourself: if that were me in the photo, would I be upset at how I’m using it? Would any reasonable person? If that were my child up there next to my blog post, would it upset me? If you are in the slightest doubt, don’t use it. This is a blog, and if you’re not making money from your blog it’s not worth the lawsuit if you’re wrong. Or simply use photos without people. It’s hard for a piece of fruit or a stop sign to sue you.

But I Don’t Know Anything About Photography!

A fantastic resource for photographers, whether you are a beginner or advanced professional, is They have tutorials for the basics, and assignments for the advanced, and a ton of advice. Don’t be afraid of it, just go for it! Who knows, you might stumble on a whole new hobby that will bring you joy.

What other questions do you have about using your own photos? Have you already been using photos you’ve taken yourself on your blog?

Melinda VanLoneMelinda VanLone is a science fiction/fantasy author with a Master’s degree in Publishing. She spent too many years to confess to working in graphic design and production before moving on to explore life as a writer. She’s a Photoshop expert, technology addict, and MMORPG lover. Melinda’s current work-in-progress, The Demon You Know, will be published in 2012. You can visit her website at

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7 Free and Legal Places to Find Photos

Roni Loren You Can Get Sued for Using Pictures on Your BlogLast Friday, when Roni Loren shared her personal experience story in her post Bloggers Beware: You CAN Get Sued for Using Pics on Your Blog, the blogosphere exploded in panic. Almost every blogger I know was pulling down pictures they’d found on Google Images or other places because they weren’t sure if those pictures violated copyright and they didn’t want to take the chance. Some writers with photo heavy posts found their blogs gutted.

I felt terrible for them, and so did the techie talented Melinda VanLone who offered to come by today and share an amazing list of places where we can legally get photos. And many of them are free!


Where Can We Find Pictures for Our Blogs?

By Melinda VanLone (@MelindaVan)

We have the power to get our words out to millions of people all over the world through our blogs. Naturally, we want to decorate those words with pretty pictures because studies show people pay more attention to images than they do words.

But just where do we get the images? One wrong step and we could wind up in court, facing costly litigation. It’s a scary thing to contemplate.  

What’s a blogger to do?

Stock photo websites to the rescue. There are hundreds of them out there, but they aren’t all created equal. Here are some I’ve personally used and can recommend…

Free Pictures Here!

Some sites offer free images, under a creative commons license. What does this mean? It means you can use the image on your blog or even your book cover. Most often you must credit the photographer (although some don’t demand that). A simple line somewhere on the page (or back of the book or inside flap) that says “photo courtesy of XXX XXXX” or whatever verbiage they give you to use is enough. It’s painless, and it helps support a fellow artist in their goal of getting their name out there. You can go one step further and put a link attached to the photo which directs people to the photographer’s website. We all like link-backs! It’s a scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours type of scenario. Not a bad price to pay.

Stock Exchange Photos provided free of charge for the greater good. There’s a link with each image detailing exactly what you may do with it, or not, as the case may be. The power behind this site is Getty images and iStockPhoto (both pay sites that are power houses in the stock photo industry), which means you can be sure they’ve done the best they can to make sure you don’t end up in trouble. 

Free Digital Photos This site offers photos both for free and for a fee, depending on what you want to do with the image. Some will be offered free but have a watermark (a light imprint indicating the photographer), or you can pay a small fee for a watermark-free version. They also let you pin most of their images to Pinterest, a bonus.

Morgue File They don’t have the biggest selection, and the quality is sometimes a bit dubious, but the price is right and the license is generous (you can use them on your website/book cover/business card, you can alter the image as you wish, etc.). Most don’t even require attribution. 

Open Photo The user interface is a bit clunky. To download the image, look for a tiny link below it. Each image explains what they’d like in return, such as attribution or a link. 

Flickr Not every image is available for use, of course, but there are plenty that are, and they are free with just an attribution. They have the best explanation of the Creative Commons license in easy to understand language: (Marcy here – Kristen Lamb, the WANA mama, has opened a WANACommons group on Flickr in response to Roni’s post. Contribute the photos you’re willing to share, and feel free to use any photos from this group without fear.)

StockVault I list this one with a caveat. The images are free, but the license is a bit…fuzzy. Basically you can use the images for your website or personal use (business card), but you can’t use them on anything you intend to sell (book cover) or in any way that might make the person in the image “look bad.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, and I suspect everyone has a different view of what “looks bad.” You can avoid the issue entirely by not using any image with people in it or by making sure your blog topic isn’t a controversial one.

Every Stock Photo This is a license-specific photo search engine. They index and search millions of freely licensed photos, from many sources, and present them in an integrated search. The license is listed with each image, and each is different, so be sure to read what you’re allowed to do. They do not host the images themselves. They simply help you search.

For a Few Dollars More

Some sites offer royalty free images for a fee or on a monthly/yearly subscription basis. This can range anywhere from a few pennies to several hundred dollars, depending on what you are going to do with the image. Most often, the price hinges on the size of the image you want to download. For a blog, you don’t need a big image so the price will be relatively small.

The license they give you allows you one time only use of the photo. That means you can use it on your blog but not on your book cover unless you pay another fee. The fee is “per instance.” Can you use it again in your blog at a later date? Yes. Can you use it on your business card also? Not without buying it again.

Why would you use one of these sites? Because the variety and scope of images is much larger and, in general, the quality is much higher. For hard to find things, sometimes this is the only option.

iStockPhoto One of my favorites. They have a wide variety of images and most are high quality. They have a standard license which covers just about anything a blogger would be using the image for, plus there’s an extended license available for purchase in case you need more. Be aware that some images are marked for “editorial use” only, which means you can use them for a blog but are limited in other applications. Purchase individually or in image packs or subscription. Great variety and quality, and they’re easy to search. 

Dreamstime You buy credits, then spend them on the image you want. Different size images will require different amounts of credits. They have a monthly subscription, but unless you plan on downloading 700 images in a month, the pay-as-you-go plan is probably the best for an occasional blog image. They also have a “free image” section. The license agreement is pretty liberal, which is what makes this a nice go-to site. You can alter the images, use them on everything from your blog to a book cover, etc. You can also buy exclusive rights if you want or need to (as in you want an image that only you can use forever). 

Jupiter Images A more professional website and a conglomerate of several sites in one. It’s also more expensive. If you’re looking for a unique image for a book cover, this is a great place to search because it hunts several places at once. Be sure to check the price of the image before you fall in love.  

Big Stock Photo You can pay as you go or save a bit by buying a package of credits. They also have a few free images available. The license is a bit more limited than others but nothing that should stop you from using them. Each instance requires you to purchase the image again (as in, once for your blog and once for your business card, etc.). They have a wide selection, and the quality is good.

123RF The subscription price on this site is one of the few I’ve thought might be worth it—if you don’t mind spending time every day for a month finding images to download. For one month, you can download up to 26 images a day. If you planned it right, you could end up with quite a stockpile of blog photos for a decent price. 

Shutterstock A little more expensive than some of the others, but they have images you might not find elsewhere. Go here for the hard-to-find thing you don’t mind paying for.

How did you react to Roni’s post? Did you have to take down photos from your blog or had you been using free stock photos prior to this?

Melinda VanLoneMelinda VanLone is a science fiction/fantasy author with a Master’s degree in Publishing. She spent too many years to confess to working in graphic design and production before moving on to explore life as a writer. She’s a Photoshop expert, technology addict, and MMORPG lover. Melinda’s current work-in-progress, The Demon You Know, will be published in 2012. You can visit her website at

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I hope you’ll check out the newly released mini-books in my Busy Writer’s Guides series–Strong Female Characters and How to Write Faster–both currently available for 99 cents.

The Ending Debate: Make Mine Hopeful

Ending of FictionBilbo: What about helping me with my book, and making a start on the next? Have you thought of an ending?
Frodo: Yes, several, and all are dark and unpleasant.
Bilbo: Oh, that won’t do! Books ought to have good endings. How would this do: and they all settled down and lived together happily ever after?
Frodo: It will do well, if it ever came to that.
Sam: Ah! And where will they live? That’s what I often wonder.”
—J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

How do you want the stories you read or the movies you watch to end? Should they always end happy? Is it alright if the end is sad? Is there something in between?

This week, I’m taking part in a cross-blog debate about endings.

On Monday, Lisa Hall-Wilson gave the reasons she wants her endings to be 100% realistic (even if that means they’re sad), and on Tuesday, Melinda VanLone explained why she doesn’t just think happy endings are the best way—she thinks they’re the only way. Today I’m picking up the debate.

I want my endings, both the ones I read and the ones I write, to be hopeful.

People don’t need to be shown more sadness and death and criminals escaping, never to be caught, “because that’s real life.” If I wanted that, I could watch the news, sit with a struggling friend, or volunteer at a food bank or cancer hospice. I don’t need a novel to tell me that sometimes things are dark and brutal. The world tells me that enough already.

When life seems to be falling to pieces, we need someone to tell us about how they’ve come through a rough time like this and things got better, or how they learned and grew through the experience, or how, in the end, their situation turned out to be for the best. We need them to remind us that even when we have no control over what’s going on around us, we still have control over ourselves, our reactions, and our emotions. We need them to remind us not to give up.

Because that’s just as real and much more powerful. People need hope.

Hopeful endings show life the way it is, but through them, we also make a choice about how we want to look at life. And about how we want to live it.

Rain is just rain. It’s all about what we do with it that counts.

When it rains on a day you had plans, the person who wants 100% realism tells you about how their plans were ruined. They talk about how damp, cold, and depressing things were. They leave you with tears in your eyes and a knot in your gut. It sucks. That’s life.

A person who only believes in happy endings pretends that the rain didn’t matter. Who cares that it rained? It didn’t really ruin anything. In fact, I didn’t really want to go anyway.

A hopeful ending acknowledges the disappointment in the ruined plans, it mourns for them, but then it grabs an umbrella and goes out and jumps in the puddles. It tosses the umbrella aside, turns a face up to the drops, and spins like a whirling dervish. And when it finishes, it goes inside to make a mug of hot chocolate, get some dry clothes, and create fresh plans for a new day. It moves forward.

You can focus on how sad it is that it rained. You can ignore the rain. Or you can hope for the rain to clear and find a way to make the best of it if it doesn’t.

Real Steel, starring Hugh Jackman and Evangeline Lilly, is a movie with a hopeful ending. Real Steel takes place in the future where robot boxing has replaced human boxing. Jackman’s character Charlie is an absentee father who ends up taking care of his eleven-year-old son during the worst time of Charlie’s life, when his last robot has been destroyed and he’s in enough debt that people want to kill him. The woman he loves won’t have anything to do with him because he’s immature and irresponsible, and Charlie doesn’t want anything to do with his son.

Charlie and his son pull a “sparring bot” from the junk yard and restore it just to earn a few hundred dollars in throwaway matches. At least, that’s Charlie’s plan. His son has a different idea. By the end of the movie, they’re taking on the top robot fighter in the world. Even though they don’t win, they come close.

Things aren’t unrealistically perfect at the end of the movie. Charlie doesn’t get back the custody he already signed away to his son’s aunt. They didn’t win the match. There’s no wedding or even proposal between Charlie and the woman he loves.

But you know that everything is going to be okay. Charlie’s a better man than he was when the movie began. He and his son reconcile, and he ends up with the woman he loves. You know that with all the endorsements and other support they receive, their robot will succeed the next time.

We got to see the value in love and sacrifice. We got to see courage and determination, honor and duty. We got to learn about the consequences of actions both good and bad. And we got to do it in a way that made us feel like the fight was worth it.   

Because learning about love and courage and honor mean nothing if you walk away feeling sad and defeated and like there’s sometimes nothing we can do. Lessons of love and courage and honor aren’t enough on their own. We need to also be inspired to act on them because we believe that we have a chance of success. That’s what a hopeful ending does.

Hopeful endings make you think just as much as a “100% realistic ending” where the bad guy wins and the good guy loses it all. They’re no less honest and no less true. What makes us assume a sad ending is the only true and real one? In a story, we have the ultimate control. We choose. Why not show how hard life can be and then show a character triumphing over it? Why not show people how they can make their lives better if they refuse to give up? How bullies only win if we let them? How they can choose to be happier and choose to make a difference?

Those are the stories I want to tell because those are the stories I want to live.

Join the four of us for a special Twitter chat about endings on Friday, June 29, at 5:00 pm EDT using the hashtag #storyend. And make sure you stop by Diane Capri’s blog tomorrow for her post “The Ending Debate: Make Mine Multiple.”

What’s one ending (book or movie) that you’ve always wished you could change? What would you have changed about it?

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Grammar for Fiction Writers is now available from Amazon, Kobo, or Smashwords. (You might also be interested in checking out Showing and Telling in Fiction or Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide.)

All three books are available in print and ebook forms.

Photo Credit: Renate Kalloch (obtained via

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The 9 Steps to Switching from to Part 2

Today we finish up our series by my phenomenal guest poster Melinda VanLone on how to switch from If you missed her previous posts on Should You Move from to and the first five steps in switching from to you can find them by clicking the links. Next Wednesday, I’m taking part in a really cool cross-blog discussion about endings, and then I’ll finally be continuing on with my series on using the five senses in fiction.


How to Switch from to Part 2

Last week we covered the first five steps:

1. Advertise the move.

2. Export your data.

3. Get a domain name.

4. Locate a host for your new website.

5. Install WordPress.

And now it’s time to…

Move In

6. Create a log in.

This will be different from your .com log in. The trick here is to use a different email for your website than you did for the free account. If you try to use the same email, you’ll end up with a lot of grief over “this email is not associated with this account” anytime you want to comment on a blog. Your host can provide email along with your website, you can sign up for a gmail account, or you can ask your Internet provider.

Why do you need a different log in? Well, the is NOT the same as Similar names, very different locations. On .org, you’re a webmaster. You’ll create an “admin” log in. On .com, they’re the webmaster. You’re a visitor with special access to your room but no keys to all the other rooms. 

Once you’re logged in as the admin on your site, head on over to the dashboard. You’ll notice it looks a lot like the .com side.

At this point, your site isn’t live. The only way anyone will see it is if you send them a link with the IP address, so don’t be afraid to play around with it. Make sure you write down this address! (Hint: It’s in the admin panel of your web host.)

7. Import your data.

Remember that file you saved to your desktop? It’s time to put that to use.

Go to your dashboard, and select Plug Ins > Add New. Do a search for “Wordpress Importer.” Install it, and activate it.

Now go to the Dashboard and select Tools > Import > WordPress. Then select “choose file” and select your saved file. The plug-in will take all the data and import it to your new site.

This won’t be perfect, but it’ll be close enough. Some issues will most likely arise based on the theme you select and whether you had designated Featured Images. Take a deep breathe, and realize it’s better than starting from scratch.

Once the file import is done, view your site. You should see the Twenty Eleven default theme populated by your blog data. It probably doesn’t look perfect. If your data isn’t there, be sure to refresh your browser by pressing CTRL + F5. If it’s still not there, verify that you imported the right file. If all else fails, contact your web host for assistance. They can look on their side and see if your files made it. You can too, if you know FTP, but sometimes it’s worth it to ask for help.

Decorate Your New Digs

8. Pick a theme.

This is one of the biggest reasons you switched from .com to .org, so that you can frolic in all that the .org world has to offer in the way of themes and customization. Picking a theme sounds simple, but will probably take the longest amount of time. There are so many options! Unlike .com, themes don’t come pre-loaded for you. You can search from within your dashboard, or head out to the internet to find one.

Don’t be cheap. Buy a good quality template from a company who offers complete themes. Some to look at are,, and These sites let you see the whole theme and even a live demo so you can really get to know what they offer.

Choosing a theme is serious business. It’s time to take a step back and really think about what it is you need and want on your website. You didn’t have that many options on .com, so this will feel a bit overwhelming. Or a bit like a kid in a candy store, depending on your view of technology in general. Either way, be patient with the process.

Download the ones you like to your desktop, and then install them onto your new site via the Appearance > Theme dashboard menu item. You’ll see a “Manage Themes” and an “Install Themes” tab. Click “Install Themes,” and then either search for a new one from this page or click “upload” if you have some on your hard drive you want to use. WordPress will unpack and install the theme files for you.

View your site. It’s perfect right? No?

A common problem you’ll run in to is a lot of themes require that you designate a “featured image” per post. If your old theme didn’t, then you’ll see blank boxes where you should see images. It’s an easy but time-consuming fix. Simply go to each post and select a “featured image.” Yes, it’s a pain. But in the end, it’s what makes a great theme stand out.

Remember, all of these themes are customizable. If something isn’t landing or flowing like you wanted, first check the theme options and play with everything they give you to play with.

Tweak. View site. Tweak. View site. Drink. Tweak. View site. Tweak. View site.

If it’s still not working, you can select a new theme and try again or delve into the wonderful world of CSS.

House Warming Party!

9. Assign your domain name.

On the dashboard, go to Settings > General. There are two options called “WordPress Address (URL)” and “Site Address (URL).” Right now, they are most likely populated with an IP address. It’s the address your web host gave you for your website. Now is the time to point your domain name to this particular address. In both fields, put in your domain name. For example, mine is

Then wait. It takes awhile to populate the servers around the world with the new instructions. Be sure to refresh your own browser or you won’t see it update. Eventually it should make the rounds and you should then be able to type in and see your shiny new site!

If this doesn’t work, and you end up with an error, give your web host a call. You probably need to change a DNS (domain name server) instruction somewhere, and this is definitely something they can help you with. It’s an easy fix, but it’s not always easy to find.

I can’t stress enough to be patient with all of this. Set aside time to focus on it. Plan to spend a few days getting it all just right. Once you have it set up, it will be pretty much maintenance free. I haven’t visited the dashboard in months now, other than to add content. Which, after all, is why you went through all this pain.

Put out the welcome mat! Invite people to come see your new site. Sit back, have a glass of wine, and enjoy the satisfaction. You did it!

Any questions?

Melinda VanLone Fantasy AuthorMelinda VanLone is a science fiction/fantasy author with a Master’s degree in Publishing. She spent too many years to confess to working in graphic design and production before moving on to explore life as a writer. She’s a Photoshop expert, technology addict, and MMORPG lover. Melinda’s current work-in-progress, The Demon You Know, will be published in 2012. You can visit her website at

REMINDER FROM MARCY: My first class with WANA International kicks off on June 30th. Register for Get Rid of Boring Blog Titles Once and For All by clicking here.

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The 9 Steps to Switching From to Part 1

Two weeks ago I had the generous Melinda VanLone by to help answer the question Should You Move from to Not only was Melinda’s post fantastic but so were the comments. For those of you who decided to make the change, Melinda’s broken it down into nine easy-to-follow steps for you. This week she’ll go through the first five, and next week you’ll get the remaining four.

If you entered last week’s critique giveaway, winners are announced at the end.

So, without further ado, take it away Melinda…


How to Switch from to

If you started out on, and have now decided you are a professional with a need for your own hosted website, it’s time to move. The sooner you do it the easier it will be in the long run. Don’t worry, I just went through this myself and I’ll hold your hand. We can do this together!

Moving from your blog to a website is like moving from an apartment to a house you’ve built.

Pack Up

1. Advertise the move.

Write a blog post explaining that your blog will be moving to a hosted site in the near future, and include a reminder in every blog post leading up to the move. Unfortunately, subscribers won’t automatically travel with you. You will lose subscribers in the switch no matter what you do, but the more you tell them, the more likely they will be to remember to subscribe to your new blog location.

2. Export your data.

Log in to your dashboard. Look along the admin panel until you find Tools > Export. Using this handy plug-in will make a file that combines all of your posts, pages, comments, custom fields, categories, and tags.

Click on Export. It will bring up a page that gives you the option of paying a lot of money for a “guided transfer.” You don’t need that. Click Export again. Select “all content.”  Click “Download Export File.” WordPress will then create a file containing your data in one handy package. Be sure to save it somewhere you will remember later. You’ll need it.

Buy the Land

3. Get a domain name.

On the internet, it’s all about location—your web address. Your domain name is how people will find you. This isn’t something to dash off without thought. See Kristen Lamb’s We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There Blog? It’s Me Writer or Dan Blank’s We Grow Media website for help with choosing the right domain name for your author platform. You’ll notice that both Marcy and I have chosen our names for our domain because as fiction writers our names are part of our brand.

Some web hosts offer domain names as well as hosting services. If you like things simple, take them up on their offer. If you don’t like putting all of your eggs in one basket, use a service like or to buy your domain name, and look for a web host elsewhere.

If you already own your domain name and are using it for your site, then you can skip right over this and start building.

Lay the Foundation

4. Locate a host for your new website.

There are thousands of options. Don’t go with the cheapest. Instead, look for one that has been in business for awhile, seems stable, is compatible with WordPress, does daily and weekly back-ups, and has 24/7 tech support. If your site goes down, it’s nice if someone answers the phone. Find a host that is friendly, not afraid to walk you through the steps, can prove nearly 100% up-time, and gets great reviews. Research this just like you would a building contractor or any other big purchase. It might not cost a lot, but this will be a big deal in the long run. Just ask anyone who’s had host problems.

WordPress recommends Bluehost (among others). This is the one I chose because they have one-button installation of the WordPress infrastructure. I’m all about easy installs. You should be able to find a host for less than $10/month.

Frame the House

5. Install WordPress.

If you’re using Bluehost or something similar, there is a one-button installation right on the admin page. If you use another host, give them a call and ask them if they have WordPress installation set up. They will walk you through it. If they won’t, find another host. You pay these people to support you.

You can also install WordPress yourself following their instructions. It looks intimidating, but it’s not overly difficult. Try not to let the technical terms scare you, and just follow the instructions step by step.

Any questions so far?

Melinda VanLone Fantasy AuthorMelinda VanLone is a science fiction/fantasy author with a Master’s degree in Publishing. She spent too many years to confess to working in graphic design and production before moving on to explore life as a writer. She’s a Photoshop expert, technology addict, and MMORPG lover. Melinda’s current work-in-progress, The Demon You Know, will be published in 2012. You can visit her website at

SPECIAL NOTE FROM MARCY: The winners of 1,500-word critique offered last week in my post on Is Now Really the Best Time Ever for Writers? are Rebecca Enzor and Bonnie Way. Lisa and I will be in touch. Also, registration is now open for my Get Rid of Boring Blog Titles Once and For All class, with a special offer for the first 10 people who sign up.

Be sure to subscribe by email so you don’t miss the rest of Melinda’s series.

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Should You Move from to

Differences between and WordPress.orgIf you’re on a site, you’ve probably visited another blog and wished you could make your blog look like theirs, get the add-on they have, or create a portfolio to display or sell your books. Maybe you’ve just gotten tired of running across other blogs that look exactly like yours. The solution is simple, but not for everyone.

Because so many of you asked about switching from to in the comments of my post on the Four Little-Known Factors that Could Destroy Your Blog’s Chances of Success, I asked Melinda VanLone, who recently made the switch, to write a series on whether you should transfer your blog and to walk you through the steps. I’m very excited to welcome her here today!

Decision Time: Should You Move from to

So you’re building your author platform and have decided a website/blog is the way to go. Good idea! You’ve probably noticed a lot of free services out there for blog hosting—Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr, just to name a few. Free is an awesome word, but in this case, free actually comes with a price.

If you’re on the fence about whether to go with a free service or to ante up and pay for a hosted website, here are some things to consider:

1. Is this a career or a hobby?

Professional writers have a professional face to show the world. This is a business, and you are an entrepreneur. A free or blogger blog doesn’t look professional. If this is a hobby for you, and that book you’re writing is just something you do for fun, then go with a free blog. If this is a career, and you hope to one day make a living from your writing, then go ahead and pretend you are the author you hope to someday be. Paying for a hosted website isn’t that expensive, and it’s worth it to start out looking professional vs. trying to fake it later. 

If you’re serious about your platform, change from your free site to a hosted site as soon as you possibly can. The earlier you do this, the less angst there will be.

2. Are you tech savvy, or do you have friends who are?

Everyone wants to keep costs down, and when you’re just starting out there’s probably not a big budget to spend on website development. That’s okay. There are many ways to have a professional website that don’t cost an arm and a leg.

If you are tech savvy, you can always design your own with software like Dreamweaver. If not, there are thousands (literally) of templates available free or for low cost that will make you look like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t. It’s nothing to be afraid of. Embrace the madness and dive in. Having a friend who knows HTML is always a bonus, but it’s not required. You can do this.

3. Do you like having control over your stuff, or are you okay with someone else owning it?

If you go with a free host, the downside is they have limited options for customization, limited plug-ins, limited space (although they will sell you more), limited templates, limited…everything. That’s why it’s free. I’m not complaining. If you are a hobbyist and just doing a personal blog for family and friends, I’d definitely go with the free stuff.

If you are a professional, then sooner or later you’ll run into that brick wall. You’ll want to add a neat analytics plug in, or a calendar thing, or the latest gadget, and you’ll find that you can’t. Or you’ll see a fun website template, and discover you can’t use it because it’s not supported by the free platform you’ve chosen. Or you’ll love everything but the font. Guess what? You can’t change it. Unless, of course, you pay a small fee, and even then you’re stuck with a very limited list of options. If you like having control over how your site and brand looks, then paying for a host is the way to go.

What other concerns do you have about switching from a to a site? What do those of you who are already on love about it?

Melinda VanLone Fantasy AuthorMelinda VanLone is a science fiction/fantasy author with a Master’s degree in Publishing. She spent too many years to confess to working in graphic design and production before moving on to explore life as a writer. She’s a Photoshop expert, technology addict, and MMORPG lover. Melinda’s current work-in-progress, The Demon You Know, will be published in 2012. You can visit her website at

Be sure to subscribe by email so you don’t miss the rest of Melinda’s series.

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Make sure you read Kristen Lamb’s blog on June 1st for something really cool, and then come back here next Wednesday to find out how I’m involved. I’m incredibly excited about what Kristen has planned and what it will provide for writers and other creatives.

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