What are the most important plugins for WordPress?

I’ve had a bit of experience with WordPress in my professional life, and it can be a little hit and miss. In particular, the way that plugins and themes interact can be unpredictable, to say the least. I’ve seen sites really, really slow down to the point of losing visitors because of bloated code, so when I built this one, I deliberately kept it quite light. However, there are a couple of ‘must-have’ plugins that I did install:

  • Yoast. As a struggling writer, SEO is your battleground. Any form of self-promotion needs to be jumped on and SEO is a long-term war for attention. Yoast is the best SEO plugin for WordPress that I’ve found to date – it’s both comprehensible and powerful.
  • Captcha by BestWebSoft. I’ve never found that the native WordPress anti-spam plugin, Akismet, catches that much spam, so I use Captcha to stop it. It drops spam rates by at least 95%
  • Google Analytics. GA is a must for any website owner, telling you how many visitors came and from where. To be honest, some of the acquisition data is always quite hazy – a lot of searches and web traffic is encrypted, so the power is dropping, but it does show you the general direction you’re going in. There are loads of different GA plugins, but any one which makes it easy and straightforward to verify your site ownership and still works is pretty good in my opinion!

I’d give honourable mentions to the Mailchimp plugin and the Embed Any Document plugin as well – I’ve not gotten around to setting up either yet, but they’re really useful for giving people a preview of books, and helping them stay in touch.

And that’s what I’ve restricted myself to; first and foremost, the site has to load, so that’s been front and centre when I’ve been working on this (simple) site. But I’d love to hear about any other great ones I’m missing!

Lessons from self-publishing

I came to self-publishing as a bit of an experiment – I’d submitted Parasites to a number of publishers and hadn’t been accepted, so whilst I worked on book number three, I thought I’d experiment. After all, if it’s good enough for Rocky Flintstone (of My Dad Wrote a Porno fame) then how hard could it be?

Ok, so I wasn’t quite that cocky, but nonetheless, it’s in a platform’s interest to make it easy to self-publish.

But – and it’s a big but – it’s hard to do it well. I read a lot of blogs that say ‘get it right first time because it counts’ and I honestly think that unless you’re some kind of publishing prodigy, that’s going to be impossible. I would say to take it slowly, explore the platforms and bear the following in mind my number one lesson that kindle is easy, print is hard. Your kindle makes it really, really easy to email yourself a pdf and lo and behold, it appears on your kindle. You can check for typos, get your layouts sorted, and generally, Kindle is more forgiving. When I first published Parasites on Kindle, Amazon found two typos in just over a hundred thousand words because I’d been able to edit it a lot.

Print on the other hand, is tougher. You can order author and proof copies, but the option is slightly hidden away! Once you’ve set the size and printing options of your book, you can’t go back. Well, you can ‘unpublish’ but it won’t ever really vanish from the Amazon store. You can, thankfully, change the contents and the cover easily enough – which is just as well because cover art is hard. But again, there are people who will do this for you semi-professionally for a small sum (between £8 and £40) which is something I explored with Fiverr to reasonable success.

I’d also heartily recommend that you download the templates for print that Amazon gives you, which vary depending on your book size, and then go back and reformat your book. The first time I messed this up and ended up with a large book with tiny font. It looked ok, but when I got it right it looked much, much better!

And perhaps most importantly – be forgiving of yourself. You’ll mess up. You’ll learn. You’ll recover. And that’s ok.

Naming Conventions

I feel a lot of pressure when naming things. In the early stages of writing, I tend to change names quite a bit until they really ‘take root’. Characters are particularly bad; if I make a mistake, I’ll have to write this character’s name for another 100,000 words. What if it doesn’t suit them? What if it just sounds silly?

Thankfully, Kael and Alessia (from Parasites) seemed to ‘fit’ quite nicely. Alhambro sounds suitably respectable (and vaguely piratical) and Basteel is such a solid-sounding name that I was happy with it straightaway. I generally felt that the Lyrans were a pretty straightforward people, so that (in general) shorter names were pretty practical. There aren’t a lot of them left, so why bother with long, flowery names (none of them have middle names, for example).

I initially had a few issues with naming the characters in Wild Court – more on this closer to release. I find places a bit easier and take inspiration from a lot of different sources; the logic-defying space station in Parasites, Carthusian, is from the wonderfully named Carthusian Street near the Barbican in London (and does originally refer to a religious order, rather fittingly).

The ‘dull’ planet names in Parasites were something of a relief to me – it’s terribly convenient that the explorers of Lyra chose such boring labels! But again, they work and make sense to me and perhaps more importantly, to the wider plot of a very logical, time-poor people.

I guess all writers have hang-ups; I’ve always found the first paragraph of anything the hardest, so will sometimes skip it, write the second onwards and take the pressure off (and then come back to write it once I’m in the flow). It sounds bizarre, but sometimes that first paragraph just gets stuck in your head and doesn’t quite want to come out!

Parasites is now available in the Amazon store

Parasites, a YA science fiction exploration novel, is now available on the Amazon store in ebook and paperback format! Full disclosure – I’m still making some tweaks to the paperback format. The words are all there, but I’m not completely happy with how the format looks; Amazon’s self-publishing is a bit of a baptism of fire when it comes to physical printing. But it’s there!

Parasites is my first published novel; a sci-fi exploration set at the end of the universe, when suns are cooling, galaxies are starting to contract and the start of the ‘big crunch’ is looming. The people of a small, late-blooming world, Lyra, have discovered a way to traverse multiple universes through ‘thinnings’, setting up colony worlds where they can and mining resources where they can’t. But despite the best efforts of the Lyrans, despair is mounting as habitable worlds prove to be few and far between.

Alessia, a botanist-medic and Kael, a scientist-engineer, are two such explorers, desperately hunting for the resources that will keep their homeworld up and running. Stumbling across a clue in an abandoned city, they begin a hunt for a solution to Lyra’s problems and an answer to the much more personal question of Alessia’s missing father.