26 December 2013

Merry Christmas!

(c) Graphic Stock
I hope everyone is having a warm and wonderful holiday season.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Belated Winter Solstice, Happy Belated Birthday Emperor Akihito, Happy Belated Day of Reconciliation, and Happy Festivus for the Rest of Us! 

I believe I've covered the major December holidays. If I missed any, I hope it was wonderful for all of you. 

And here's hoping the upcoming new year will be a great one!

17 December 2013

Author Online: Spiffing it Up with Images and Art

(c) Graphic Stock.
Here's the second article in my series Author Online, where I share with you what I've learned over the years as someone who's designed and maintained my own author website.

This is probably my favorite thing about blogging design--using images and artwork to spruce up the website as well as blog posts. I love playing around with these things and I'm happy to share with you some of my sources.

But first...

UNDERSTANDING IMAGES AND COPYRIGHT

I'm not a lawyer and I don't have any legal training whatsoever, so if you want 100% clearance and understanding on the subject of copyright, you must consult someone in the legal profession. What I can share with you is my own personal experience navigating copyright while securing images for my site. 

Some key things to know:
  • A work is automatically copyrighted upon its creation.
  • The creator of the work is the owner of the copyright.
  • You must have written permission from the copyright holder to use his or her work. 
  • If you do not have permission, YOU HAVE VIOLATED COPYRIGHT AND ARE SUBJECT TO LEGAL PENALTIES.   
"But wait," you say, "people on the internet do BLAH BLAH BLAH for images" or something to that effect. Let me press this upon you: Most of the people on the internet are breaking copyright laws on nearly every level. Some of them are unaware because they don't understand the rules, but most of them know they didn't bother to do the right thing. Just because they haven't been "caught" doesn't mean they won't.

(c) Graphic Stock
Content thieves can really destroy an artist or author's livelihood when they help themselves to someone else's creation. People who steal images are taking the hard work and hours the creator has spent and spitting in the face of that effort. It's how artists and writers are taken advantage of when they're told they have to work for free because there's a precedent of work being stolen or automatically assumed it is free to the public simply because it exists. 

Let's break this down further. You have your image and:
  • You downloaded it from Google Image search.  
  • You right-clicked on your mouse and "saved as" to use the image.
  • You couldn't right-click and save so you took a screen shot of the image.
  • You put the image on your site by using the "picture from URL" function (hotlinking).
  • You wrote "Image from ___" and credited the website where you found the picture.
  • You wrote "Artwork is not mine. Credit goes to original artist." 
  • You wrote, "Art by ____" and listed the original artist's name. (You should automatically be doing this no matter what, anyway!)
  • You wrote, "Image is Fair Use because I do not profit from this." 
Guess what: ALL OF THE ABOVE IS STILL STEALING!!!!!! Why? You did not get written permission from the artist to use his or her work.   

In some instances, the artist is easy to contact for permissions because they've provided direct information in order to do so. But for the most part, requesting copyright permission directly with the artist is perceived as being a challenge or inconvenience. 

Thank goodness for licenses, right? 

Licenses are the "written permission from the artist" you get to see right up front when you wish to secure images that aren't your own. Probably the most user-friendly licenses out there are Creative Commons Licenses.  Creative Commons is an actual nonprofit organization that decided to make the web a more accessible place for everyone by using plain-English licenses. These licenses permit the public to use certain works without having to financially compensate the people who created them. Or, in their own words, "Creative Commons is a non-profit that offers an alternative to full copyright."

Just because Creative Commons Licensing gives you the access to free images does not mean you can forgo the rules listed with each type of license. The license chosen will specify whether or not a work can be altered, commercialized, published, or transmitted, and you have to follow these rules. By using a CC-licensed work, you are making a legal agreement to adhere to the images' specific requirements. Failure to do so pretty much takes you right back to the level of stealing, for which there are consequences.

Probably a major item overlooked when using a CC-licensed work is that the artist maintains their original rights. Which means, even if you do 100% of what the license requires of you, the artist still has the right to order you to remove their content.

IN ALL CASES: As long as the artist owns the copyright, they can grant and revoke the rights to their images as they see fit.

The other type of image licensing is the kind you receive when you actually purchase an image from a resources like iStock, Getty Images, Shutterstock, etc. When you purchase an image from a royalty-free stock site, you pay a one-time fee to use the image per the rules listed in the license. There are licenses for commercial use as well as personal use, and there are licenses that dictate how often you can use an image in a work. The nice thing about these websites is you can pick and choose exactly what you need to do--the point is, know what you're looking for and what you plan to do with it.

Now that you have (I hope!) a better understanding of copyright and licensing, let's dive into how and where you can secure images!

IMAGE RESOURCES 

Creative Commons Images

  • Creative Commons has a special search feature that allows you to choose CC-licensed images from a wide variety of internet sources, like Flickr, Fotopedia, and Google Images.
The licensing can be found in the right-hand
corner on the screen, near the comments.
  • Wikimedia Commons is another wonderful resource, containing both CC-licensed as well as public domain media files that anyone can use. 
  • Deviant Art is a great resource for original artwork and photography. Unfortunately there is no specific search option for CC-licensed content; you'll have to use their search engine only to look up content by topic. To see whether or not a work is under full copyright or a CC-license, you will have to click on the image, then look for the licensing information included in the Details and Stats section of the gallery. If it is CC-licensed, it'll look like the screenshot I've posted (source). If not, it will have a traditional (c) symbol with the phrase, All Rights Reserved. Which means, as awesome as the art is, you can't use it unless you contact the artist and ask for written permission.
Free Images

  • The Library of Congress offers the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog for scholars and artists. A quick word of note, though--the LOC cannot formally state that the images are public domain, but they are available free for use and for downloading. Here's where you can find their explanation on the rights to the works. 
  • Unsplash.com offers absolutely beautiful high-resolution photographs for free. Created by the Montreal design company ooomf, these images definitely add a bit of artsiness to your blog.

Royalty-Free Image Sites with Freebies

What do I mean by "with freebies"? Each of the sites listed below are ones of which I am a member (although I'm positive there are more stock companies out there who do this). Just for joining the website (no purchase necessary) and signing up for email notifications, I get FREE high-quality images sent to me, as frequently as once-a-week. I download every image they send to me just so I have it (they're only free for a limited time) because I never know when I might need to use one of them in a post. Once I download them, I have the licensed rights to them.

(c) Graphic Stock
The rest of the images on these sites can be purchased directly a la carte, as part of a monthly payment plan, or through a credit-purchase plan. It is fun to get free artwork from these websites, too, but I've also purchased the rights to many other images. The quality and selections on stock websites are tough to rival and they've published such beautiful content that I've had no qualms about spending a little money here and there. Sign up for the freebies, but stay and support your fellow artists. 

  • Graphic Stock is one of the newest kids on the block and I absolutely love them. Right now they're running a one-week trial membership where you can download 20 images a day for free for a full seven days. They usually offer special deals for new customers around the time the free trial is about to end that discounts a monthly or yearly membership. If you forget to cancel your membership, though, it's $49 a month for unlimited downloads and they auto-deduct it. Can you tell I'm speaking from experience? I forgot to cancel my free trial and when it expired, $49 flew from my account (I'm a part-time minimum wage worker who can't afford a $49 per month membership). But since the month was already paid for, I've been downloading images like crazy and I have to say, I love a lot of what they have to offer.  When you pay the normal membership fee, the downloads are absolutely, 100% unlimited. I'm loading up right before I cancel, and maybe when I can afford it, I'll rejoin.
  • Thinkstock by Getty Images pulls an arsenal of photos and illustrations from both the Getty Images and iStock sites (and affiliates) and offers them to you as part of a monthly plan or credit pack plan. Just for creating an account and signing up for emails, you get access to the free image of the week.
  • iStock is one of the major stock resources on the web, filled with tons of incredible images that are easily searchable by price range, topic, image type (photo, vector illustration, etc). Once again, when you create an account and get their emails, you get access to free media of the week
  • Shutterstock is another top-notch resource. I haven't spent any money with them (yet) but I think they've offered the best freebies out of all of the sites so far. You get one vector illustration and one photograph each week, and they're often variations of a specific theme, which is quite awesome. You have to have an account with them to even have access to see the freebies, but it's worth it. Their vector illustrations are some of my absolute favorites.
  • Creative Market is a bit like the "Etsy" of the graphics design world. It's an indie market that offers anything from fonts to web templates and more. If you create an account, you have access to their exclusive free downloads of the week, which can include images, fonts, web templates, and more. Because you're working with actual designers on these websites, there's often excellent pricing ($2 fonts! I'm in love!), very unique concepts, and you are directly helping out your fellow artists.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

Here are links to some excellent articles about copyright:

I hope you found this post helpful and that you've discovered some great resources for keeping your websites and blog posts interesting. If you have further recommendations or questions, feel free to comment below. Thank you!

~*~

Additional articles in the Author Online series:

06 December 2013

Author Online: Choosing a Blog Site, Domain Name, and Favicon

(c) Graphic Stock.
CHOOSING A BLOG HOST

In 2010, I began my graduate studies at Seton Hill University in the Writing Popular Fiction program. One of the requirements for our classes was to set up a blog and post public essays regarding our class readings, and to also respond to our peers' websites by leaving comments.

When I set up this website (which became a .com in 2011), I didn't know anything about setting up websites. Ultimately I chose Blogger to host my blog simply because that was what most of my classmates chose to do. With most of us on the same blogging platform, it was very easy to leave comments, link our blogs (as followers), and stay connected.  Because the majority of students opted for Blogger, many of my other classmates who chose to make sites through Wordpress were left in the dust...which is really too bad, because Wordpress allows for the creation of some beautiful websites.

I mention the above to you not so much as to claim superiority of either blog hosting platform, but to illustrate a point that you want to consider when choosing to set up a blog: Who is your audience? Who do you want to connect with? If your site is meant for the general public, then it doesn't matter necessarily who you choose as your platform. But if networking between fellow authors or industry professionals is important to you, you should probably spend time researching who uses what. Each blogging site is designed to work best with another user on the same platform. If your professional peers are using Blogger, you may want to hop on that bandwagon. If your peers use Wordpress, perhaps you should consider setting up with them.

HOWEVER, that certainly isn't the only way to stay connected to your audience and peers. These websites offer widgets and enhancements that allow you to include your social media on your site--you can feature
Twitter followers, Facebook friends, etc. Since social media widgets can be added to any blog, it may not even matter to you if your friends use Blogger or Wordpress, because the connectivity you seek can come from social media that anyone and everyone uses.

One of the advantages I do find with Blogger, though, is the fact that it's a Google property. Which means it can seamlessly integrate with other Google properties--Google +, YouTube, AdSense, etc. Your site's pages will also be indexed, and therefore pop up on Google's search engines pretty quickly.

Blogger is also really easy to set up, and they offer some quality design choices, from backgrounds, templates, and fonts, which you can choose from when you play in the Design, Template, and Layout headings in your Settings.

BUT! As I've developed my skills over time and had greater ambitions for my website, I noticed Blogger has been harder to work with. Personalizing this website has been difficult because I don't think it allows a lot of options; and the site isn't image friendly--especially when you try to apply pictures to your posts. (I'm not a coder; I can't write in HTML or use CSS, so this is speaking directly from the experience of someone who relies on Blogger's interfaces to let me set things up).

Because of this desire to personalize the blog and really play with design, I decided to give Wordpress a try. I created my Writerlicious site (now defunct) with Wordpress, and although it was a huge change for me initially, I figured out posting and design in Wordpress quite easily.

Their selection of templates and designs Wordpress definitely knocks the socks off of Blogger. I also felt like I had tons more freedom with how I could design a post. And, overall, I've found that the majority of third-party widgets available online are designed to work with Wordpress, and many independent artists and designers can create Wordpress templates for you (Creative Market is a great source for this).

Downside: You have to pay more money for more customization.  Part of the reason why I shuttered my Writerlicious site had to do with upkeep--I couldn't keep up with posting, and I definitely couldn't keep up with the expense of running it.

My overall verdict: If you want plenty of creative control, choose Wordpress. If you prefer the social media and SEO advantage, choose Blogger.

If money is your overall qualifier, I can say from my personal experience and design goals (which may indeed vary from yours) that Blogger is really affordable compared to Wordpress. $10 a year is hard for me to walk away from.

If my opinion doesn't suffice, here is a well-written article chronicling the two blogging sites: Blogger vs Wordpress: The Best Blogging Platform. Author Tehmina Zaman breaks both sites down with specific examples and straightforward explanations.

SETTING UP YOUR DOMAIN NAME

When you sign up with Blogger or Wordpress, you get the domain XXX.blogspot.com or XXX.wordpress.com. Because the world of publishing has changed, not only is your writing a product, but you YOURSELF are a product. Which means you should take your author name and make it your domain. Not only does this convey professionalism and personal ownership, but it also helps to protect your name from being taken or abused by others on the web (by cybersquatters, for example).

Blogger and Wordpress both offer assistance with the creation your own personal domain name--in other words, you'll continue to use their platform and have them host your site, but you'll be your own dot-com on the web.

Blogger used to allow the purchase of domain names directly through them, but have recently changed their policy and you'll have to use a third-party site to create a domain name. Luckily they offer information in their Help section about how to do this. Get started!

If you use Wordpress, it costs $18 a year to create and maintain your own domain name. They offer it as part of a website upgrade, so you'll actually work with them directly to secure your domain.  Get started!

When you set up a domain name, there are some things to consider...particularly the end of the website address. Domain name setups allow you to choose whatever you want, and here are the most common options:

  • .com = commercial website 
  • .edu = for institutions of higher education
  • .net = network  
  • .org = for nonprofit as well as for-profit organizations
  • .gov = official government websites (local, state, and federal levels)
You need to consider the above when making your decisions about your domain name. For example, if your domain name has been taken already, the hosting site may suggest you use another name besides .com in order to keep the original website title. I strongly suggest you find another way to stick with .com. It's the most popular domain, and even though you're a writer and artist, you are still marketing yourself and creating works for commercial purposes. If for whatever reason you don't want to use .com, tread very carefully when you consider other domains. You do not want to mislead the public by choosing a domain (.edu or .org, for example) that communicates something you are not. If you can't use a .com for whatever reason, .net is a suitable runner-up.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE: FAVICONS!

What the heck are favicons, you ask? In the screenshot I took on my computer, I've circled various favicons that pop up on the tabs and browsers for various websites. A favicon is basically a tiny visual stamp you can put on your website and broadcast across the web through someone's Internet browser.

If you have a website through Blogger or Wordpress (or any other site),  usually the favicon that pops up will be the company's logo or their own favicon. But if you own your own domain, you can create your own favicon to go with your website! **Update: The awesome +Kitsune Hazard has pointed out that you can still use favicons in Blogger without having to create your own domain name. So, fellow .blogspot.com users, feel free to favicon away!***

Favicons are a fun way to personalize your site!
But first, how do you make a favicon? Here's an article you can read if you like...but before I had Photoshop or any nifty software, I had to rely on a third-party website to create my own favicon. The website IconJ is a free site in which you can create, download, and/or host your own personal favicons. I have several different images I use (especially if I do site redesigns) and I've made all of them through IconJ. They're really simple to make...my only recommendations are to pick a simple image and to experiment and preview with multiple images for your site to see what looks best in terms of size, and how well the favicon conveys your website or author personality to others.

DO NOT USE COPYRIGHTED IMAGES FOR FAVICONS. Do NOT do a Google image search and then download an image you find and reuse it as a favicon. Do NOT hotlink an image you found (pull the image from another website by having your blog use the site's URL). FINDING IMAGES AND EVEN GIVING CREDIT FOR THEM DOES NOT MEAN YOU HAVE LEGAL RIGHTS TO THE IMAGE. 

Getting images the legal way:

Once you've chosen your image and have created your favicon, installing it into your website is easy-peasy. In Blogger, all you have to do is go to the Layout section, and the upper right-hand corner of the screen will include a place for favicons--simply upload the file. Wordpress will let you download one of their plugins, allowing you to install your own favicon on their site.Ta-da!

~*~

Check out the other entries of Author Online, your guide to creating an author website and your internet personality:

05 December 2013

80,000 Views!

(c) Graphic Stock
Maintaining a personal author website is certainly tricky, as I've mentioned many times before.

But today is a special day, because today the site has cracked 80,000 page views, coinciding with my umpteenth website redesign.

I'm utterly gobsmacked!

I've been on quite the web journey and  to coincide with the two-year anniversary of KristinaElyseButke.com and the 80,000 pageview milestone, over the next few journals I'm going to specifically focus on what I've learned about creating and maintaining a website. Hopefully these nuggets of information help you out in some way.

Stay tuned!

02 December 2013

I'm having a hell of a time redoing this blog!

I felt like I wanted to change the image of this website again (I know, what's wrong with me?) to better reflect what I write (as opposed to my own personality).

I spent HOURS creating custom art from images I legally obtained from Graphic Stock...and at last, when I tried to upload them to this website, Blogger punches me in the face. Redesigning on this site is SOOO difficult.

I thought I'd do this quick post to let you know that I'm likely to change the layout of this site five more times since this post until I have it the way I want it.

Thanks for your patience!