Goin’ South and Other Colloquial Expressions

It is 1997.

I am a technical instructor based in SoCal. I’m teaching in Hong Kong 75 days before Kiss, Bow, or Shake Handsthe British return it to China. I am told the students all speak English.

We have a book called ‘Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands’. The book explains issues that can affect business communications, whether they be cultural, behavioral, or linguistic. I learn, for example, that in China one presents one’s business card with both hands, by the edges. I also learn that, while the students and I may speak the same language, there will be another issue that will affect my training.

The Chinese have a sociological concept Westerners know as ‘face’, referring to one’s sense of dignity or prestige. I learn that students in China do not ask questions of their instructors. Questions imply the instructor has not done a good job of teaching.

There is a certification test given at the end of the course and none of my students have ever failed it. I am committed to making sure my Chinese students don’t either. I develop a rigorous system of daily reviews in which I grill them on each concept covered in the preceding days.

On Friday morning, we assemble in the classroom. Their manager joins us for what will be their final review before taking the test. By Friday the review takes 45 minutes. Every student answers every question posed correctly. I am thrilled. So is their manager, who stands in the back grinning.

It is 1999.

I am conducting the same training in The Great White North, Toronto, Canada. As I cover the section on database maintenance I explain that if the components of the system get out of synch the system would ‘Go South’.

I realize that this is a colloquial expression and remember what the book said about avoiding them when doing business abroad. I apologize to my students for using such an expression.

“‘Going South’ probably doesn’t mean the same thing here as it does where I come from,” I tell them.

They look at each other, then they look at me. They smile and nod.

“Yes, it does”.


Five Suggested Plugins to Make Your WordPress Site More Discoverable on Social Media

Social MediaOnce you have your basic WordPress install up and running, you’ve chosen a theme, and maybe even started posting to your blog. There are some things you can do to improve the User Experience (UX) of your site, make your posts more discoverable to search engines, and to make your posts easier to share by people who read them.

Plugins are pieces of software that extend the features and functionality of your WordPress site. The plugins available from within WordPress are tested to make sure that they work before they are made available to you for downloading. Use other plugins at your own risk.

Before Adding Plugins to Your Site

Before you add a bunch of plugins at once, let me give you a word of advice. Any time you add plugins, you change the operating environment of your site. WordPress tells you when you are trying to download a plugin that is old, or has not been tested against the version of WordPress you are running. But even if you are downloading the latest and the greatest, sometimes things don’t work right.

Most plugin developers want your feedback, so they’ll have a mechanism for you to tell them about issues. And plugins can interfere with each other. So the best thing to do is install them one at a time. Activate them and then do a quick check of your site to make sure nothing has changed. I recently installed a translator plugin that altered things on my website I could not account for. But clicking the Deactivate button brought it back to normal.

Five Plugins to Add to Your WordPress Site

Here, in no particular order, are five plug-ins that will quickly and easily improve your site.

Plugin #1: Follow Buttons by Add This

Provides configurable buttons that float on your pages/posts linked to your social media accounts. Clicking the button likes/follows said account(s). The buttons can be positioned on the top or sides of the pages/posts.

Plugin #12 All in One SEO Pack

This is a free Search Engine Optimization (SEO) plugin that can be upgraded to a pay version. It helps make your pages and posts more visible to search engines. It provides SEO Title, SEO Description, including suggested character counts and a built-in counter.

Plugin #3: Contact Form 7

I have heard this time and again. “I didn’t think it was important to capture people’s email addresses.” This is a simple way to do it. This plugin enables you to add a contact form easily.

Plugin #4: Share Buttons by Add This

Like their Follow Buttons plugin, these are configurable, floating buttons that enable your visitors to share your posts directly to their social media. Buttons can be configured to float along right or left margins or top/bottom of screen.

Plugin #5: Yet Another Related Posts Plug In

If you’ve managed to get someone to your site to read one of your posts, wouldn’t it be great to give them a list of other posts that have similar qualities? This plugin uses your titles, body copy, categories and tags to set thresholds based on several levels/factors. Displays a list of related posts following any given post. Related posts are rated based on your thresholds and best match is displayed first. For the administrator, each match also displays a number showing the percentage match rating.


Toast the Victors, to Whom the Spoils Go

French ToastIt is 1984.

I am in Fresno at a journalism conference with The Viking, student newspaper of Long Beach City College. It is the morning after the awards ceremony and we are in bad shape.

We had been informed we couldn’t use our Macintosh 512s in the competition. No other schools had them. It wouldn’t be fair.

But there was nothing in the rules stipulating we use typewriters, let alone prohibiting computers. And the industry has begun using computers.

They decided we could use the Macs.

They may not have helped us write better, but they enabled us to rewrite faster. Regardless, the result was the same:

We. Kicked. Ass.

We stumble into breakfast late. Most of the others have eaten and are packing. We walk the line of near-empty chafing dishes for the last scraps of sausages and eggs. Dr. Richard Gordon joins us. Dr. Gordon is a real doctor – a Ph.D. in PoliSci. He joined the staff hoping to make a living writing about political science instead of teaching all over Southern California at three different schools.

He is brilliant. We co-wrote an editorial about the U.S. bombing of Libya that was echoed detail by detail in the New York Times’ the following Sunday. Not bad.

He sits down and slathers butter on a stack of toast. He douses the pile with syrup as he listens to us bragging about our win. He cuts into the stack and forks a couple of pieces into his mouth. In about two seconds they reappear, accompanied by retching. Conversation stops. All eyes turn to Dr. Gordon, who looks like he’s about to spew all over the table.

He gestures at his plate. “That is the worst French toast I’ve ever had in my life!” He gulps water.

“There wasn’t…any…French – “

He points towards a group of now-empty chaffing dishes. “It was in one of those over there. I took the last pieces.”

Coming in late, Richard took the pieces of toast remaining in the dish that had held the bacon – the slices that had soaked up the grease.

Victory tastes sweet, but even butter and syrup can’t make THAT breakfast taste good.

Literary Agents on Author Platform

Author PlatformA few years ago I was writing my first novel, Persistence of Vision’. I started thinking about what I was going to do with it once finished. A friend who’d taken a shot at publishing told me that if you can’t get one of the top-tier literary agents, it wasn’t worth it. I decided to do some research to see what agents wanted.

I pulled out my most-current copy of Writer’s Market (I have three at any point in time). There is an entire section on literary agents, including a detailed listing of agents and agencies. I marked that place in the book, thinking that with the advent of the Internet it had to be easier than going through a listing that looked like the white pages (Dating myself, I know). I went to bed that night resolved that I was going to learn what it takes to get a literary agent.

I had been doing video production on ‘Hollywood-style’ book trailers and writing screenplay treatments for vanity publishing house Author Solutions. The next day I was part of a video production team. I had taken the gig without knowing what it was, as a favor to a producing partner. What it was…we drove around Southern California interviewing LITERARY AGENTS about what they were looking for. Seriously, I couldn’t believe it. What I was hearing was from their own lips.

My friend’s comment about top-tier literary agents referred to the fact that it is their contacts in the publishing houses that make them valuable to authors. They know people, they have lunch with people, and that is how literary agents make their percentage.

At the time, they collectively downplayed self-publishing, which was in its infancy. I don’t think Amazon had CreateSpace yet. Of course self-publishing cuts agents out of their commission, along with the percentage taken by publishing houses. Circumventing the establishment in publishing was a one-way ticket to Remainderville, according to these literary agents.

And yet every one of those same agents explained in no uncertain terms how the changing economics of the publishing industry was putting more and more weight on the author for promoting their books. This was the first time I heard the term ‘author platform’ and I heard it all day long.

Author platform was taking up the slack in promoting books that publishing companies could (or would) no longer underwrite. So, instead of that glamorous ten-city book tour, you blog. You blog and post to social media. Maybe you’re on Facebook. Maybe Twitter. Maybe you do Skype readings. This is how authors can interact with their fans. Without the travel expenses.

So here’s the thing: Everything those literary agents told us authors need to be doing now that publishing companies have cut their marketing budgets? Well, those are the same things an author who self publishes needs to do to promote their book. So it only makes sense to build your platform, no matter whether you are seeking an agent or you are self-publishing. The fact you have a platform and that you understand how to use social media to interact with your readers is what they want to see.

There’s no excuse. Start building your author platform!