The Lost Writers

lost writers

Image Copyright laurast via 123rf.com

In 2007, the job market was not as dire as it would become, but it was already tumbleweeds in the tech sector in Southern Virginia. I relocated to Austin, Texas where tech was (and is) booming. I had a job within a week, but I had no friends in my new town. That’s where blogs filled a gap, giving me access to the intimacy of friendship without geographic constraints. I discovered several writers’ blogs, and anticipated their posts with the giddiness of afternoon coffee with a good friend.

It would be another four years before I started my own blog. In the intervening years, I lurked rather than commented because I felt weird with how lopsided our “relationship” would be, given I wasn’t blogging. I learned about the illnesses, the envies, the fears, and the joys of many writers I’ve never met. Sadly, none of continue to blog. I wonder what happened to them. Did life crush them with obligations, commitments, or depression? Did they move to a new blog with no backlinks to avoid a troll? Are they dead?

I had a writing mentor at that time. We met in Zoetrope’s Virtual Studio, a forum for writers to critique other writers, rank them, and possibly get a story picked up by Zoetrope for their lit magazine. Most of the writers were newer than I was to the craft, and I lucked into finding IJJ, who was a very experienced writer. At one point, he sent me a physical copy of a story of his published in The Paris Review. (Yes, mind=blown!) IJJ never wavered to tell me when I’d edited out the heart of my story. He called me on my BS and also told me where my writing shone. IJJ was in his sixties, and there were intimations of health issues. The last time I heard from him was in 2007, and he was moving to a new home in the country. He reminded me that while we put ourselves into our writing, strict adherence to our personal reality can diminish the impact of the story. I wrote back, and he never responded. I tried again last week, even knowing his email address has been disconnected for years. He hasn’t logged in at Zoetrope or any other known haunts in the last seven years. I think that he is dead. I am sorry that I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that my writing is better for having his influence. I hope that he knows that.

There are many other writers I’ve met that have disappeared. They stopped blogging, stopped commenting, stepped away from the community. I wonder where those lost writers are. I wonder if they are still writing, and if their silence means they are working on the next Great Novel. I hope they aren’t sick, dead, depressed, or utterly gone from writing. I miss them.

I understand disappearing. I disappeared physically from Virginia, choosing to start fresh without leaning on any of my former friendships. Later, I disappeared from the online writing community, not even connecting with the people in my writing guild. I know what happened to me. In both cases, I felt too raw to connect, too vulnerable. I retreated into isolation because I didn’t know how to cope with what felt like Really Big Things: job loss, shattered dreams (I wanted to be a philosopher of science, imagine that!), broken friendships, living in a new place, the fact that self-publishing wasn’t what I thought it would be, and later, that submission to traditional publishers was what I thought it would be.  There are a lot of situations in life that are overwhelming. My coping mechanisms were faulty, and they left me isolated. I’ve learned new ways to deal with life, and they’re working for me. I banished artist’s envy. I got out of the ambition room, and stopped striving for success that didn’t thrill my soul. I seek fellowship with others on my path. I embody gratitude. I’m entering into a more spiritual mode of coping. I’m no longer one of the lost writers.

I’m busy writing a guide explaining the precepts I followed to get to where I am now: happy, peaceful, excited about writing. It’s called Bring Your Joy: A Code for Creatives. I know it can’t bring back IJJ, RIP. I know it probably won’t ever reach the bloggers who pulled me through the loneliness of 2007, and have since disappeared. It might reach you, though, and be of some help. When it is ready, I’ll announce the release of Bring Your Joy. The guide will be offered as a free PDF download. Expect it within the month. If you’re in dire need now, though, leave me a comment, and I will get you a rough-draft. It’s that important to me to share the message.

If you are a writer or blogger who has gone away from the community, know that someone misses you. We wonder where you are. We hope you are okay.

Xoxo,

-aniko

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Brighter than a Technicolor Dream

Welcome to the launch jubilee for my surreal short story, MIXED MEDIA! This is the first in a series of posts to celebrate publication, and no celebration is complete without a door prize! Click the Rafflecoptor button to enter for a chance to win a $25 (USD) gift certificate redeemable at Art.com!

Click to enter!

Mari Biella, my friend and author of THE QUICKENING and LOVING IMOGEN,continues the launch festivities on her blog. In my guest post, I discuss the inspiration for MIXED MEDIA.

Story Blurb

Mario Santa Maria is an artist who has lost his dreams – literally. Insomnia, unemployment, and a failing relationship are his lot. Things are going badly, and then things get strange. On a visit to the Vos Modern Art Museum, Mario discovers he has the ability to intercept the communication between art and a viewer. MIXED MEDIA is a surreal tale of masterpieces, Delphic sugar cubes, and the promise of new perspectives.

What’s hidden by what we see?


Welcome to Vos Modern

Excerpt from MIXED MEDIA:

In this passage, Mario discovers that he can no longer see any art in the gallery when he is by himself. He has just emerged from the Visiting Exhibit, stunned by the nihilism of a display consisting of several canvases apparently painted black.

***

The Contemporary Art exhibit was in the next room; it was well-lit, and the floor creaked with familiar goodwill. Color exploded from the canvases, brighter than a Technicolor dream. O’Keefe’s southwest yellow-orange-red swelled near Rothko’s angular green-blue-brown. It was all as I remembered it, as colorful and mind-expanding as I remembered — and then it wasn’t. The encroaching black slid over the Contemporary masterpieces. The yellow-hued Ashley to my left went blank. There was no yellow on the canvas. No yellow, no red, no green-blue-brown, not even a pastel. Just black.

 

Blue, Green, and Brown by Mark Rothko via Art.com

Blue, Green, and Brown by Mark Rothko via Art.com

Mellow Yellow II by Erin Ashley, via Art.com

Mellow Yellow II by Erin Ashley, via Art.com

Red Amaryllis, by Georgia O'Keefe via Art.com

Red Amaryllis, by Georgia O’Keefe via Art.com

Author Commentary:

The Vos Modern Art Museum isn’t a real venue. This allowed me to  gather the pieces that spoke most deeply to my story under one (imaginary) roof. I chose the Rothko because there is something about the shading in the blue that leads me to imagine distant pine trees shrouded by a midwinter night. The brown and green beneath promise Earthy rebirth, and this symbolizes Mario Santa Maria’s situation. Mellow Yellow II invokes thoughts of ripe wheat fields, and the idea of harvest. This, too, represents Mario, specifically his quest to understand the purpose hidden in his strange new ability, which first manifests just after the passage included in this post. O’Keefe’s flower conveys a sensual richness that represents the flowering of Mario’s understanding.

 Read MIXED MEDIA for free here:

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Or, Pay for the Convienience of Amazon Electronic Delivery:

Amazon (.99 cents)


The images included in this post are courtesy of Art.com, where you can purchase prints of these works, and thousands of others.


 

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Is Fiction Frivolous?

Sometimes, I wonder if writing fiction is frivolous. In a world where animals are mistreated, and people are eating out of dumpsters, where does fiction fit? Stories don’t stop abuse. Stories don’t feed starving people. I am fairly sure the couple I saw taking turns wearing the one pair of shoes they had would prefer more sneakers, not a story. As a writer, it’s a bleak thought to wonder if storytelling might not just be a frivolous pastime.

I refuse to bow to bleak.

Art is a valuable expression of our humanity. Art transmits ideas, and fiction is the perfect vehicle for new modes of thinking. Stories are a way to put what is in my mind into your mind. The best art illuminates the mundane by refuting the very concept of “mundane.” Every moment is a revelation. Every experience is an opportunity to encounter the prosaic from a new perspective. Art gives us a way to share our revelations.

Do I think fiction is frivolous? No. I think we need more of it, and more of all other arts, too. I encourage everyone to create that which makes them excited about being alive. It will change the world. Your joy will spread to those closest to you, and your art will carry your message places you would never expect and could never plan. The seeds of changes are in your creative power. YOUR art is not inconsequential. It may bring a person out of the dark. It may bring you out of the dark.

I love the era of digital freedom. Now, more than ever, groups of like-minded individuals can “meet,” without leaving the comfort of their own continents. Ideas cross borders, and there is no reason for the masses to be homogenized into some manageable, marketable stereotypes. If there are seven people on the planet who LOVE making fake sausages out of textiles, and this brings them joy, those seven people can find the thousand people who want to support fake-sausage artists. We don’t have to understand what they see in it, but I believe we do have to encourage creative joy in all forms. The world is a better place when we are able to create and share. If small groups way out in the “long tail” of the creative markets bond and support one another, we stand a chance to solve those bigger societal problems, one situation at a time. The fake-sausage artists won’t let each other starve or go shoeless. They will have found their net, their way out of the dark, but it couldn’t happen if they didn’t reach out from their creative joy first.

I guess maybe it sounds a little Pollyanna (or Penny, from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog!) to advocate that creating even the strangest, niche art can change the world. But think about it: when I am a happy creative, I am not wallowing in self-pity. I’m engaging the world. I’m able to be aware of the plight of others because I am no longer wrapped tight in the winding-sheet of my own unfulfilled needs. When I’m creating, I’m engaged. When I’m engaged, I notice what others need. When I notice what someone else needs, I can do something to help. Small kindnesses, yes, but these are the foundation of a better, less painful world. I can’t fix everything wrong with the world, but I can make this moment better for someone, somewhere. I can do that in person if I am not wrapped up in selfishness. My stories allow me to be there for someone even when I am not there in person, and wow, isn’t that some powerful juju?!

Now that writers can go straight to readers, there is no reason for anyone to remained mired in that half-alive state of waiting for “acceptance.” They can share their stories NOW, and use the momentum of sharing to propel themselves into more empathetic modes of being. This means that some writers will, gasp!, publish things that aren’t as polished as you want. Personally, I like it that writers are able to make mistakes in front of readers. I like it, even though I’ve read several indie books that were huge disappointments in terms of craft. You know what? Despite the imperfection of their delivery, those stories are still with me. I love well-crafted prose, but even stumbling prose that tells me something new is a gift. I encourage those who are stumbling to keep on writing. If they are teachable, if they are willing to listen to their readers, if they keep following their bliss, they will improve. Their readers will love them for it, because they’ve been included in the journey. The world will be better because of those stories, and there’s nothing frivolous about it!

xoxo,

-aniko

 

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Modernists, Typewriter, and the Question of DONE

At least once a week, I make a point to visit Arts and Letters Daily. A&L is an aggregator site, gathering the most thought-provoking editorials on a variety of subjects. Recently, A&L linked to a piece entitled Revising Your Writing Again? Blame the Modernists. Revising Your Writing explores the Modernist origins of the revision philosophy, where works are torn down to be put back together with a goal of enhancing style. Prior to the Lost Generation, revisions were minor. Paper was a luxury, and without typewriters, revising an entire novel would mean rewriting the entire thing longhand. Then came Hemingway and T.S. Eliot, who took the philosophy of revision and raised it to an art. Their results were incredible, and wholly new – and wholly encouraged thenceforth as The Way to Write.

We’ve long since moved past paper as the medium for creative writing. Electrons for revision are ubiquitous, endless. This leads to its own dilemma: how does a writer know when to stop editing?

I’m a fan of revision. I love the psychological freedom of the first draft, and the covenant of editing that “first” implies. The problem is that writing a novel isn’t like building a house. There isn’t a blueprint or a city code or safety ordinances. The author alone is the arbiter of DONE, FINISHED, THE END. The general revision manifesto goes something like this:

  • Three self-revisions
  • Beta read revisions
  • Line-edit revision
  • Proofread revision
  • Final WOW, I’m sick of this! revision

This process works well for a given novel, over a finite span of time. If it takes a year for an author to get through the full revision cycle, there has only been a year for the writer to improve her craft, and what she can do now is only somewhat better than what she could do a year ago. If the author has a hopeless case of “being a writer,” she’ll keep writing. Five years, ten. And one day, she looks at that book that made it through the revision process years ago, and realize that she could do it better now. What was her best, is now only an intimation of her current skill.

Reading old works shows us how much, and in what ways, we have improved. It is encouraging. It also triggers the desire to revise.

As I bring forth my backlog of unpublished works, I’m dwelling in the hinterlands of the modernist: a revision is a revision is a revision. These works were deemed DONE at the time I wrote them; most are very far from what I would considered polished now, years later. I am putting them through the editing cycle as if they are brand new. The self-edits are rather extensive, which is both encouraging because I’ve improved and discouraging because the stories aren’t as DONE as I thought. Still, I believe this is a valid and appropriate application of revision. I believe a writer should make every piece she publishes the very best she can — at the time of publication.

In the age of author-publishing, it is possible to edit published works. I know I get the craving to take a red pen to STOLEN CLIMATES. In a technical sense, the novel would be better if I wrote it now. Of course, I’m not writing it now. It is published. It has been read and enjoyed, spawned conversations. It is no longer just mine, but something I have shared with many people. I’ve recently changed the licensing to creative commons, so anyone could edit it, including me.

And yet, I’ve decided not to edit STOLEN CLIMATES.

If I revise STOLEN CLIMATES now, I’ll have to go back and edit it again in some number of years. Taken to a logical extreme, there would come a point where all I would do is rewrite already published works. I would not have the time to create that which is not yet created. My forward progress in technique, style, mood, and dialog would falter. I would become a parody of a Modernist, hacking away at pieces until they are less than what they were. A clean room is perfectly perfect, sterile, nothing extra or unexpected. That’s great for building microprocessors. It sounds kind of horrible for a novel, though, doesn’t it?

We cannot revise our personal history, nor should we revise our literary history. We grow and change, and it is right that our work grows and changes, too. To me, a successful literary life is one where each book surpasses the previous one.

Ksenia Anske is a great example of bravery in revision and seeking early feedback. She posts the major drafts of each of her works as she completes them. She’s thrown open the door on the Modernist’s writing room, showing the world how stories are crafted in the age of the easy electron. I hope that more writers follow Ksenia’s lead. Storage is cheap, websites trivial to construct, and electronic PDFs shareable between people and across devices. There is no reason to produce and share only a final draft, other than to keep the writer’s process in a vault separate from the reader. Ksenia’s idea is inspiring, and I’ll be sharing a few drafts of MIXED MEDIA when I publish it. There is joy and learning to be had from looking at how a work changes throughout revision. If we each share what it means to us to be DONE, perhaps we will stop struggling with the question of DONE alone, and face it together, our own post-post-Modernist movement.

Does this mean you should wait to publish everything until you are at the peak of mastery? Setting aside the problem of knowing when you’ve peaked, does this feel like a right solution? I don’t think so. Neither we nor our writing will ever be perfect, but there is efficacy in feedback. Readers will teach you your strengths, but also point out your stylistic ticks and authorial failings. My suggestion is to do the best you can do now. Hire a great editor. Solicit beta readers. Slog through that march of revisions. And then – then! LET GO. Accept praise and criticism, but only insofar as either improves your writing. Hone your craft, and start all over with a new story. You are a storyteller: go forth and share your stories!

Xoxo,

-aniko

 

PS – If you haven’t already done so, please VOTE for the cover you’d like to see on my upcoming surreal short, MIXED MEDIA.

 

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My DIY Book Covers Win & a Poll!

My writing isn’t a business. The stories are gifts from my Muse that I pass on to you, the reader. This means there is no guarantee I will ever recoup any of the expenses I incur to edit, format, or provide a cover for my stories. I estimate hiring professionals for all aspects of publishing the seven works I plan to release would cost me between $7,000 and $9,000. That’s a lot of money to invest with no expectation of a return on that investment. Now, I won’t skip or penny pinch editing; that is a cost I must pay (and it’s worth it). Formatting is both a technical and a tedious effort, but I’m certain I can do that on my own. That leaves the expense of cover design. This is not something I can do without help. I am not a visual person. I’m in awe of those who can match fonts, understand proportions, and create stunning visual compositions. I can do none of those things. Lucky for me, Derek Murphy has the skills necessary to design effective, beautiful covers. Even luckier for me, he founded DIY Book Covers. He combined technical know-how with artistic sensibility to produce over one hundred book cover design templates. These templates are available at very reasonable price, and a one-time purchase gives you lifetime access to all current and future templates. The DIY Book Cover templates are:

  1. Editable in Word;
  2. Expertly designed for both font and layout;
  3. WAY cheaper than paying for individual cover designs.

This weekend, I took some time to get to know my DIY Book Covers. I was nervous, but I needn’t have been! In a very short time, I was able to craft multiple versions of a cover. The templates are easy to use, and the Cheat Sheet guided me through the steps to get started. I chose a template for my surreal short story, followed Derek’s Font List to determine the font to use, downloaded and installed the font and, voila! I was a cover designer! It really was that easy and way more fun than I expected. I spent hours sifting through images on my favorite stock photo site, 123rf.com. Replacing the image Derek chose in the template with comps from 123rf was simple: right-click the image, and pick “Change Image” from the menu. Friends, if I can do this – and I can’t even figure out how to match shoes to my outfits – YOU can do this, too!

 

Here is DIY Book Covers, Template #17 (the one I chose):

DIY Covers Template 17

 

In the poll, you can see a few of the options I tried during my play date with DIY Book Covers. The images I used are all comps. Comps contain a watermark and are of slightly lower resolution than the purchased images will be. The images in the poll are from the designer view of Word, and so you can see the grid lines. Bearing all of that in mind, I’d like your help choosing which of the covers I use for my surreal short story, MIXED MEDIA. Please take the poll. You can click the thumbnails to see larger versions of any book cover. If you have suggestions or feedback, leave a comment and let me know. Thanks for helping!

xoxo,

-aniko

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How to Add a Mailchimp Newsletter to WordPress.Com Blog – with Style!

EDIT!!!  Today is February 23, 2016. I published this post in May of 2014, and a lot of people have written to tell me how useful and helpful it was to them. That is awesome! Even more awesome, though, is that WordPress.com now offers a widget to embed a Mailchimp Subscriber Popup. Here are some excellent instructions on how to use it. I would recommend trying that first, and then using the instructions I have here as a back-up plan. Good luck!

< START OF ORIGINAL POST >

The true gift of having a clearly defined definition of success is that you begin to find exactly what you need to achieve that success. I discovered  YOUR FIRST 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl exactly when I needed a guide for book marketing. I want to get the word out about my books, and I want to do it without being subservient to a cumbersome system I neither understand nor enjoy. Grahl gives me a blueprint to achieve that, and having a newsletter is an integral element in his system. In this post, I share what I’ve learned about setting up a Mailchimp newsletter and integrating it into your (free) WordPress.com blog.

Here are the main points I will cover:

  • Getting started with Mailchimp
  • Customizing Your Mailchimp sign-up form to coordinate with your WordPress.com blog
    • Use Google’s built-in developer tools to find the hexidecimal code for colors on your site
    • Set the font or background in your Mailchimp sign-up form to match your blog
  • Add the Mailchimp sign-up form to your WordPress.com blog

I chose Mailchimp because I get newsletters from other authors using it, and those newsletters look nice. Plus, Mailchimp has stellar set up guides and knowledge base articles. They also offer a basic free account that meets my needs, allowing up to 12,000 emails to 2000 subscribers.

There are a couple of things to know before you set up your newsletter:

  1. CAN SPAM law requires you link your mass email campaigns to a physical address – if you don’t have this and you are reported to Mailchimp, your account can/will be suspended!
  2. Mailchimp’s free account doesn’t provide auto-responders to send automatic emails triggered by specific subscriber actions. This means you will not be able to easily send every new subscriber a series of emails, unless you set it up for each user yourself. It is something to consider when selecting a plan, as auto-responder “drip campaigns” are an effective marketing tool mentioned in Grahl’s book .

Ready to get started? 

STEP 1  Sign Up for Mailchimp

Sign up for a Mailchimp account

STEP 2 Define your First List

Follow the Mailchimp setup directions to Create and Import a List of Subscribers. This list is the “bucket” where all of your WordPress.com subscribers will go into once they sign up for the newsletter. The List Name you select is visible to subscribers, so take care to choose something descriptive and polite!

STEP 3 Build the Signup Form

Now the real fun begins! It’s time to build the signup form associated with your list! The signup form is your newsletter’s first contact with a potential lifetime supporter. As such, it should be clear on what is offered in return for signing up, and be respectful of the subscriber’s time. Remember that the more fields a person has to fill in, the more likely they are to decide not to subscribe. I started out with five fields, and have since altered my form to request only what I need (email and first name). I also left in the option to select Plain or HTML text, but if the subscriber is comfortable with the default (HTML), they need take no action.

The Signup form is located in the Navigation bar at the top of your List. Select the General Forms if you are going to link the subscription page to your WordPress.com blog. Here’s a picture of the Mailchimp Lists page, when Signup Forms is selected:

Mailchimp Signup Form

From the main Mailchimp page, select Lists in the left panel. Then select the list you created in Step One, and click Signup Forms (see image above). Click the General Forms button. Once you are on the Create Forms page, select the Build It tab.

Mailchimp Build It

On the Build It tab, drag and drop items from the right onto the designer area on the left.

Mailchimp Build It

Don’t worry about the looks, we’ll take care of that in the next step. For now, just arrange the fields you want the user to enter the introductory text.

STEP 4 Customize the Signup Form to Match Your Blog

Now that you have the content and fields defined, it’s time to make the signup form look like it belongs on your WordPress.com blog. To do this, I am going to show you how to use the Google Chrome developer tools to locate the hexidecimal value for the colors on your blog. You can use another browser, as they all have Developer tools, but my video will show how to use Chrome. The first step is to open your blog in Chrome, then follow the video.

The video shows you these steps:

  • From the Settings, select Tools -> Developer Tools
  • The Developer Tools open by default at the bottom of the browser. The left pane shows the elements on the page (links, titles, images) and the right pane shows the attributes associated with each element.
  • By default, the background color for the page is displayed at the top of the left pane; go ahead and copy that value (or memorize it, if such appeals to you!).
  • You can discover the hexidecimal color value for any element on the page by clicking the magnifying glass on the Developer Toolbar (far left). Click the element you want to know about on the blog page, and scroll down in the right pane of the Developer Tool until you see the “Color” section. You will know it is correct because there is a tiny square of color in the Developer tool that tells you the color associated with the hex value.

Here’s the screencast video: Use Chrome Developer Tools to Get Hex Values

The screen cast may be slow to load! If you click PLAY and the screen goes blank, please wait. When the entire video buffers,  you will be able to play it without experiencing lag. Thank you!

Now you can match the background color of the Mailchimp Newsletter to the background of your WordPress.com blog!  This will give a seamless appearance to the experience of clicking from your blog to the newsletter signup. The background color for the Mailchimp signup form is located on the Design It tab of Create Forms:

Mailchimp_DesignIt

You can repeat the process to match the signup form font with the color of the font on your blog.

Finally, if you want to discover a complementary color to use in your signup form design, the Color Hexa site is amazing. I used the complementary purple color to my green font to color the asterisk that indicates required fields. It’s a small detail, but remember: newsletters are where you get and keep loyal supporters!

Complementary Color

Not only does Color Hexa show you complementary colors (and their hex or RGB values!), but it will also show you the values to use to get a darker or lighter tinted version of the same color.

Shades and Tints

In my newsletter form, I used a darker tint of the background color to fill in the fields on the form to make them more visually pleasing.

Complement and Tint

 

STEP 5 Link the Mailchimp Signup Form to Your WordPress.com Blog

You are ready to go live with your newsletter sign up form! The final step is to add a widget to your WordPress.com blog and provide it with the URL for your newsletter. This will provide your potential subscribers an easy way to access the signup form, which is hosted by Mailchimp.

  •  First, copy the URL from the Lists -> Signup Forms page on Mailchimp. Mailchimp URL
  • Open your WordPress.com blog dashboard.
  • Go to the Appearance -> Widgets page.
  • Drag a new TEXT widget into the Sidebar at the right.
  • Enter a Title for the Widget (at the moment, mine is “Be a VIP!”)
  • Enter the following HTML into the free-form text area:

  <a href=”http://YOURMAILCHIMPURL“>The link text people will see!</a>

For example, mine would be:

<a href=”http://eepurl.com/SxxLn”>Subscribe to Aniko’s Newsletter!</a>

Remember, the text inside of the href will be displayed as the link users will click. Here’s what mine looks like:

Newsletter Widget

The green font “Subscribe to Aniko’s Newsletter” is the portion that was in the HTML added to the text widget. Note that if you copy and paste my example, to replace the “smart” quotes around the URL – the way they are rendered in WordPress will break your link if you do not replace them!

Reload your blog, and verify that the link to the Mailchimp signup page works. Go through the sign up process, adjusting anything that feels strange or awkward about the setup. You are now the proud owner of your very own Mailchimp Newsletter, linked to your WordPress.com blog!

Congratulations!

xoxo,

-aniko

 

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Tweet This: The journey of a thousand publications begins with one short story.

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I learned how to add a stylish Mailchimp newsletter to my WordPress.com blog!