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WordPress login problem solved

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As a digital publisher, one of the worst feelings in the world is losing control over some aspect of production. Maybe your laptop breaks, an employee or key freelancer leaves, or a vital tool disappears. In i30 Media I have built a lot of redundancy, so if something fails we can move to the backup … but what if the backup option has problems of its own? That’s what happened to me this week when one of our WordPress installations had a login problem. I am happy to report that the WordPress login problem was solved, with a relatively minimum level of effort to fix. This post will describe how I dealt with this particular WordPress problem. (Note that it may not be applicable to other situations involving hacked WordPress sites or corrupted databases. Consult the official WordPress resources cited in the post for guidance).

The site in question is the companion website for Genealogy Basics In 30 Minutes. The book launched in September, and since then we have been adding resources to the site including blog posts and free genealogy forms. This week, we launched a new product—a genealogy forms library. There is a digital version, which includes 15 PDF and Excel files, as well as a physical bundle of 50 genealogy forms that are made out of archival-quality acid-free paper.

However, yesterday when I attempted to log into the website to post information and links about the genealogy forms bundles, there was a problem. I got to the login screen OK and entered my password, but it redirected me to the home page of the website.

That’s odd, I thought. Why can’t I log into WordPress? I tried several times on different browsers, but it was the same result. I then checked my other WordPress sites, such as the sites for Excel Basics In 30 Minutes, LinkedIn In 30 Minutes, and Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes. There was no issue accessing the dashboard on these other sites.

Was I using the wrong password on the genealogy website? I initiated a WordPress password recovery. I was able to reset my password, but afterwards I still got the redirect problem after trying to log on to WordPress. This was concerning, because even though the site looked OK and people could still check out the book and other elements, I was apparently unable to access the WordPress dashboard to make changes.

The fact that the site was visibly working indicated that my WordPress login problem wasn’t a WordPress hack or security issue. In many cases, WordPress hacks will result in defacement or the creation of ads for porn or bogus pharmaceuticals, and I didn’t see anything like that. In addition, I use security plugins that control most common problems, and follow good security protocol for passwords and user access.

I had a backup for the site (using the Updraft plugin) but I could not even access the plugin screen to restore the backup because I could not log into the site. While it was possible to still make a backup and restore via cPanel or FTP, it would take some time and I feared that the bug or issue would be re-introduced. A third option: manually rebuild the site, which would take the better part of an afternoon.

So I did what everyone does when they encounter a WordPress login problem: I googled how to fix it. There were lots of random blogger solutions, but I paid most attention to what the official source had to say—and the official source is the WordPress Codex “Login Trouble” page. Under “Disable Plugins,” it said:

Some WordPress Plugins may interfere with the login process. Disable all of your WordPress Plugins, either through the admin panel or by removing them from the /wp-content/plugins/ folder, so they will not be recognized by the program.

Alternatively, you can rename the plugins folder to something else temporarily to something like /wp-content/pluginsXX/ and they will not be recognized. Rename the folder back to /wp-content/plugins/ once the base WordPress installation has been recovered.

Now, I don’t know what caused the WordPress login problem, but my suspicions fell on the theme (Salient) or an issue with one of my plugins. I was less inclined to believe the Salient theme was causing the login problem with WordPress, because I hadn’t made any changes to the theme since launch and had also not updated the WordPress installation itself for a few months.

Plugins were another story. I had a few that triggered certain behaviors when errors were encountered, such as a redirection plugin that sent people visiting certain pages or WordPress files to the home page. Maybe one of the redirects was inadvertently triggered, or there was a problem with plugin itself.

So I used the “pluginsXX” trick from the Codex to troubleshoot the WordPress login problem. I went into the cPanel “Files” area, which basically gives me an FTP view of the WordPress installation. I navigated to wp-content, selected the plugins folder, and appended “XX”:

Wordpress login problem solvedImmediately the front page and login page on the genealogy site changed as various visual plugins and security features (such as captcha) were disabled as the plugins were now turned off. But at least I could finally log into WordPress!

I got to the WordPress dashboard and poked around to evaluate the situation. I didn’t see anything other than the warning about missing plugins. I made another backup with a specialized plugin called Updraft Plus, and exported the posts and other content from the WordPress Tools menu just in case.

I went back to cPanel and opened the pluginXX folder, which showed a list of all installed plugins. I deleted the plugin that handled redirections. Then I renamed pluginsXX to “plugins” which made the plugins once again visible to the WordPress software. I went back to my WordPress genealogy dashboard and reloaded the plugins menu. The remaining plugins reappeared, except for the one I had just deleted. However, they were completely deactivated. So I activated them all (save another security plugin) and loaded the site in another browser. It was back to normal. I logged out, logged in on the original browser, and reactivated the security plugin, then logged out again. Logging in was no problem — I could get back into WordPress.

I think the WordPress login problem was caused by the redirect plugin, possibly because of something in the settings that I messed up rather than the plugin itself. I will probably reactivate it again, but be more careful with which 404s I try to fix, especially with xml or php files.

If you can’t log in to WordPress, the first place you should go is the WordPress Codex “Login Trouble” page. Be careful trying to mess around with FTP, WordPress databases, or WordPress settings that can potentially cause bigger problems than the one described above!

Soulene wins IPNE book award

By Blog, News

Soulene: A Healer in Paris IPNE Book awardOn this blog, I have documented the ups and downs of running an experimental nonfiction publishing venture—i30 Media, which I founded four years ago to publish In 30 Minutes guides. But one thing I seldom mention on this blog or elsewhere is the fact that i30 Media is also a publisher of fiction. I am pleased to announce that one our fiction titles, Soulene: A Healer in Paris, recently received an award from the Independent Publishers of New England for young adult fiction. Congratulations go to author Ursula Pearson, who put in a lot of hard work over a period of several years to tell the story of Soulene, a young healer living in medieval France and England.

You may wonder how a publisher of utility nonfiction got involved in publishing YA fiction. I’ve learned that once you hang out your shingle as “publisher” all kinds of people will approach you for help with their work. As the self-publishing explosion has demonstrated, there is an incredible well of untapped writing talent out there. Unfortunately, the process of publishing a book can be difficult. Not only are the tools unwieldy, but also most prospective authors don’t want to deal with the work associated with editing, formatting, designing, and marketing a new book. So they turn to people with more experience to help them get their books published.

While I have said “no” to most prospective authors who have asked me to edit or publish their works of fiction, I made an exception for Ursula. At the heart of her stories was a strong character, a young woman pursuing a passion to help the sick and injured. Soulene lived in an unjust and cruel world, in which poverty, plagues, and war were a constant presence. Only a small class of educated men (most of them from noble families or the clergy) could ever hope to become doctors. Yet Soulene was able to find an alternate path through a religious order for women, the so-called Red Heart Healers, who specialized in working with the poor of France and parts of England.

Soulene also had a fascinating backstory. I won’t reveal it here, but suffice it to say that it rivals a Mexican soap opera for plot twists, villains, and vengeful plots. Ursula also paid close attention to important historical details, including the types of herbs and plants used for treating wounds and illness, the spread of plague in medieval towns, and even the layout of 13th-century Paris.

These qualities, along with the short length of the books, convinced me to take on Ursula’s trilogy. Book 1, Soulene: A Healer’s Tale, was released in 2013. The following year Soulene: The Art of the Red Heart Healers came out. Last year, Soulene: A Healer in Paris, was released. While the first book required a lot of rewrites and editing, by the third book Ursula had hit her stride. The characters were fleshed out, the dialogue was strong, and the pacing was just right. We found talented graphic artists—Steve Sauer and Malgorzata Godziuk—to handle the covers and interior maps. Reader feedback was great, but I also thought there might be an opportunity to get wider recognition.

award-winning Soulene trilogyEnter the IPNE Awards. Every year the Independent Publishers of New England holds an awards contest, the winners of which are announced at the annual conference. A panel of librarians handles the judging in more than a dozen categories, which include art, literary fiction, mystery, and several nonfiction categories. i30 Media entered Soulene: A Healer in Paris as well as two In 30 Minutes titles. Last month, Soulene was named a finalist in the YA category, and at the conference in Portsmouth New Hampshire it won the IPNE 2016 Book award for YA fiction. It was a pleasure to pick up the award on the author’s behalf.

Does the award mean that i30 Media will be developing more fiction titles? I am not sure, but I have told Ursula that when she starts work on another book I will be ready to read her manuscript.

To learn more about Soulene, check out the official Soulene.com website.

My lean publishing advice to a prospective guidebook author

By Blog

The essence of lean media is eliminating waste, focusing creativity, and bringing audiences closer to creators. So when a prospective guidebook author queried me about setting up a publishing company to publish a series of guides about state parks in his region, here’s what I advised:

If the demand is there, I would definitely consider doing such a series. I would first try to determine what the demand is, based on things like state park attendance (which is probably publicly available somewhere) and the competition … and creating a test book (as yourself, not through a company) to see how people react.

If there is already a popular book or state park brochure series that covers the state parks, and it is cheap, that would be something you would have to address as you will be competing with them. Maybe your book series could offer better maps or some other information that the competition doesn’t have. In other words, offer a premium feature (for a premium price).

On the other hand, if the competition is expensive and stands tall on quality, you will have to position yourself differently. Say the competition is a big photo book about state parks. Maybe you could price your series lower, or you could try sizing the paperbacks to be able to fit in someone’s pocket, which is a selling point the photo book can’t match.

Keep in mind that setting up a company comes with real costs … I pay $1500 a year to my accountant to maintain my books, plus $500 to the state government as a corporation fee, not to mention various legal costs (trademarks, agreements, copyright applications) which usually run a few thousand per year. My sales are able to support those costs, but if my series was struggling it would probably be better just to sell them on my own or as a “DBA” entity (doing business as) or sole proprietor.

Because of the potential for higher costs, running a test to see if the demand is there is a good idea. If you get some steady sales and reviews you could then start up a publishing company to take things to the next level.

Note that determining audience demand through a test edition and some other market-sizing activities (such as evaluating state park attendance) is a critical first step. Otherwise, there is a real risk of spending a lot of time, money, and effort on something that not enough people are interested in.

Dropbox In 30 MinutesThis is in fact how I started the IN 30 MINUTES series, with a DIY first edition of Dropbox In 30 Minutes back in 2012. It started selling a few copies per day, as did the next book in the series, Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes. Once I knew the demand was there, I went ahead and created the corporate entity in early 2013. Now we sell thousands of copies every year of our most popular titles!

The other element that I touched upon in my reply was Positioning. I have blogged about the concept of positioning in the past after reading the book Positioning. It’s a really helpful way to think about creating and marketing products in a crowded marketplace.  According to the lead author of the book Positioning (Al Ries), it makes sense to work with what customers already know. Marketing strategy for a new product should be built from the perspective of the “prospect”, rather than the perspective of the company (and the ego of company executives). Often, this involves finding the hole that the market leaders have neglected or don’t serve well. Hence, my advice to the guidebook author to do his book in a different way than the existing competition.

Lean media and books: Which cover works for you?

By Blog

When it comes to Lean Media and books, there are a few approaches for creators to tap test audiences for insights.

One involves the use of beta readers. As recounted in On Writing and elsewhere, author Stephen King turns to a small group of beta readers (including his wife and “ideal reader,” the novelist Tabitha King) and listens very carefully to what they have to say:

In addition to Tabby’s first read, I usually send manuscripts to between four and eight other people who have critiqued my stories over the years.

If more than one of them brings up something that doesn’t quite work, such as a plot twist or a piece of dialogue, he is apt to change or even remove it in the next revision. I think this is a very effective way to catch potential problems before they make it into print, and also to create a work that is more likely to click with readers.

Another approach involves cover design. At IBPA’s Publishing University conference in 2015, I saw how several New York publishing houses use focus groups and A/B testing to generate actionable metrics that they can use to decide which cover design or design elements will resonate the most with readers post-launch.

But you don’t need to be a big publishing house to do this type of test. Right now, I would like you to take a look at the following test covers for Genealogy Basics In 30 Minutes, which will be released later this year. Which cover works for you? Leave your choice in the comments, as well as any other feedback that you think may be helpful!

Genealogy Basics book by Shannon Combs-Bennett

Working with Photos and iCloud Photo Library on macOS/OS X

By Blog

When it comes to photos, the digital revolution has been a blessing and a curse. It is so darned easy to take photos, yet it’s so *&^$% hard to organize them. A lot of people either don’t know how to transfer photos from their smartphones and cameras to computers and tablets — or they can’t be bothered. Who wants to deal with cables, import settings, albums, and all of the other details? Apple has tried to take away some of the pain with Photos, the photo organizing application for OS X (soon to be renamed macOS?), as well as iCloud Photo Library, a cloud-based photo storage service.

Photos for macOS/OS X is closely integrated with the Photos app on iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad (the mobile version of the app is described in more detail in our iPhone In 30 Minutes book):

photos app iPhone

The Photos app on an iPhone.

Photos replaces iPhoto, an older Apple photo editing app for Macs. If you are using an older Mac and upgrade to the latest version of OS X, Photos will be installed and old iPhoto collections will be migrated to the new application, along with any albums created in iPhoto. Here’s what you need to know when it comes to using Photos:

  • Select the Photos tab to see all photos and videos organized by date taken and location (if location data has been added). If you use an iPhone or iPad, you may also see Photo Stream images, a free service which automatically uploads to iCloud up to 1,000 photos taken on your mobile devices and then shares them on any other Mac, iPhone, or iPad connected to the same iCloud account.
  • Shared is part of iCloud Photo Sharing, an optional service that lets you share photos and videos with friends and relatives, including people who do not have Apple devices — albums are visible on the Web, and people can leave comments. As iCloud Photo Sharing is similar to photo-sharing features found in Facebook, Line, and other social networks, it may not be worth activating. On the other hand, it lets you work with existing photos without having to upload them to a separate service.      
  • Under the Albums tab are photo albums you have created (press the “+” symbol to make a new album), as well as views of videos, the most recent import, and Photo Stream.
  • Projects is an underappreciated paid service that lets users create photo books, cards, calendars, and prints. Select photos in the Photos or Albums view, and then click the “+” button. The cost varies, but the quality is good. The books and prints are an excellent way to preserve the best photos in your albums.
  • iCloud Photo Library is a service that syncs photos and videos on all devices using iCloud. So, if you take a photo on your iPhone, a copy of the photo will be uploaded to iCloud and then distributed to your Mac, your iPad, and any other device connected to the same iCloud account. If you edit the photo on one device, the changes will be reflected on all other connected devices.

Photo Stream vs. iCloud Photo Library

Unlike Photo Stream, which stores only a limited number of photos, iCloud Photo Library can store all the photos and videos you add to the account, up to the storage levels you have paid for in your iCloud account. While every iCloud account comes with a limited amount of free storage, it’s not enough to hold a lot of photos or videos, especially if you are constantly taking photos with an iPhone camera.

To activate iCloud Photo Library on your Mac, go to Photos > Preferences > iCloud and check the box for iCloud Photo Library. To add more storage space, open Apple Menu > System Preferences > iCloud and select iCloud Drive. There are several paid tiers:

iCloud Photo Library paid tiers

iCloud Photo Library: Paid tiers

Once activated, photos taken on your iPhone or uploaded or transferred to your Mac will be accessible on every other connected device.