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#BloggerTip: Using GravityForms to automate formatting of blog posts

gravity form iconIf you couldn’t tell by the last couple of weeks’ posts about Automator and Belvedere, I am a big fan of automating repetitive tasks in my life. This way I can spend more time creating content, reading or just laying about the house. I’ve been telling everyone how much I enjoyed Charles Duhigg’s book “The Power of Habit” ( A | BN | K | S ) because the book is essentially Automator for your life. (Seriously, this is one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in years. I guess I’ll have to do a proper review of it. For bloggers who went to BEA, this was in your Random House Power Reader swag bag. Yellow cover. Red circles. Stick figures).

Gravity Forms, a paid plugin, is essentially automator for blog posts. In almost every blog post there is a repetitive task that is time consuming and tedious. What if you could create a form that would generate all that formatting automatically?

For reviews, for example, every post has this format:

Dear {Author’s Last Name}:

Blah blah blah

{Cover Image Left Align} more bla bla

Valediction

{Buy Links}

For debut author questionnaires, authors are asked a number of questions. The questions are bolded and the answers are not. How tedious, right?  Not with gravity forms.

For both reviews and for questionnaires and almost every blog post that is created, I use a gravity form.  The form then feeds the inputted information into the body of the post and creates a draft for editing. Take a look at the debut author questionnaire form here.  The form asks for things like the author’s name, book title, year of release, website along with images for the blog post as well as all the standard questions in the interview.

Now look at the back end.  (Click for the entire image)   Each question is either a single text line or a paragraph text. No magic here.  The magic ensues when you use the Post Fields.  The Post Fields match the post fields in wordpress.

Gravity Forms Post Fields

 

None of these fields contain content that I’ve created.  Instead it is based on a text entry made by the person filling out the form.  For example, title is based on the {book name} by {author name}.

Gravity Forms Title Example

The post body is this:

I’ve had some concerns by readers who are primarily print readers that the coverage at Dear Author has been too focused on ebooks. When I asked the readers what they were interested in seeing, they responded that they would like to know more about print debut authors. We developed a little questionnaire and every Wednesday at 10:00 AM CST (as long as we have content) we’ll post the questionnaire answers along with links to the author’s site and a buy link to her book. I hope this helps people discovery new books. Now, on to the answers.

{Upload a high resolution image of your book:18:medium:center}

<strong>Name of debut release:</strong> {Name of debut release:1}

<strong>Release date:</strong> {Release date::2}

<strong>Publisher:</strong> {Publisher::3}

<strong>2 sentence summary:</strong> {2 sentence summary::4}

<strong>Genre:</strong> {Genre::5}

<strong>Characters:</strong> {Characters::6}

<strong>What makes this story different:</strong> {What makes this story different::7}

<strong>Is this a series?:</strong> {Name of the Series:9}

<strong>Why you wrote this book:</strong> {Why you wrote this book::10}

<strong>Why is this your first published book? How many did you write before?</strong> {Why is this your first published book? How many did you write before?:11}

<strong>What’s your writing process?</strong> {What’s your writing process?:12}

<strong>Your next published book.</strong> {Your next published book.:13}

<strong>The last book you read that you loved.</strong> {The last book you read that you loved.:15}

<strong>The last book you read for research.</strong> {The last book you read for research.:16}

<strong>The romance book character you most identify with.</strong> {The romance book character you most identify with.:17}

{Author Image:19:medium:center}

You can check out more about {Author Name:23} and her books at <a href=”{Website:27}”>{Website:27}</a>

<p style=”text-align:center”>AmazonBNSonyKobo]</p>

Thus these debut author questionnaires are built by the inputs of the individuals filling out the form. I even have the images correctly placed and correctly sized in the post body so I don’t need to go back and do that later.

Look at this line here:

You can check out more about {Author Name:23} and her books at <a href=”{Website:27}”>{Website:27}</a>

 As you can see, you can really harness the power of Gravity Forms to create nearly any type of  blog post.  Let’s look at the Review Form.  There are a few things I am doing here.  The Author’s Name is being used several times. First in the title:
REVIEW:  {Book Title:4} by {Author Name:12}
And then in the custom taxonomy (or custom tag) “Book Authors”:
Book Author Gravity Form
Finally, in the buy links:

As you can see, I already have the short code button styling there as well.  The image has already been set to be a “featured image” and I’ve coded in what size of image I want (medium) and where I want it (left aligned).  The book title, like the author name, is reused several places as well. When it is time to publish the review, it’s a quick check to see that everything is in place and then “publish.”

The biggest drawback for Gravity Forms is that the paid support you supposedly get is kind of non existent. I posted a question on the forums and it was never answered. I’ve read a few other complaints about the slowness of the Gravity Form support system so don’t expect to get a great customer service experience when you buy the plugin.  However, I think the plugin itself is amazing and a huge time saver for me.

Why do I share this information? Because I like to think that the blogging community is about sharing great ideas. The content of Dear Author determines whether people want to visit, not what tools I use to make it easier to blog. However, if you use Gravity Forms, you can use my affiliate link.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

10 Comments

  1. Holly
    Jul 07, 2012 @ 23:27:56

    I’d kiss you right now if I could. Thank you for this.

  2. Ann Somerville
    Jul 08, 2012 @ 03:19:19

    That’s a plugin which really puts the power of templating into the non-technical blog owners hands. I don’t have a use for it right now, but there have been times when I was setting up blogs for clients and friends and it would have been damn useful.

    On the paid support issue, this is sadly a problem for so many plugins, paid or otherwise – there’s a very popular ecommerce plugin which is the most useless thing as far as customer support is concerned, and yet it still manages to sell paid upgrades and plugins (which also offer no damn support.) They survive because there’s no alternative that works as well.

    I can only suggest that you put out a call among your numerous readers for a PHP literate person to assist. I’d offer but I would be ::cough:: stunned if you accepted. The good news is that I suspect this plugin isn’t all that complicated to tweak, based on how I suspect it works, so it should be simple enough to fix any issues you’re having with it.

  3. JayHJay
    Jul 08, 2012 @ 06:39:10

    Jane, Another great recommendation! This looks amazing. I can only imagine how much time it saves for a complicated post like those author forms. Thanks for the information.

    FWIW, for much more simplistic blog posts with standard formatting, I have found a really useful free template plugin (Easy Content Template). It is not as powerful as Gravity Forms, but it works really well if you frequently run simple posts with standard formatting. Basically you build a template, inserting your images, standard text, and formatting then save it as a template. Then when you are ready to create a new post, you load the template into your new post and all that stuff is prepopulated. I use it for my review posts and it inserts my standard heading text, a short code for a line break, a blank space for the review, and then standard footer stuff, all formatted already. I also use it for some standard posts like my Coming This Week post. It is set up to insert a thumbnail image, days of the week with bullets (size and font preset), footer image, etc. Then I just add the details for that week. So it’s much more basic than what you are using, but works really well and is a HUGE timesaver for simple posts.

    The other template tool I use a lot I know you know b/c I got it from you, but it is AddQuicktag. It is basically a mini version of the post template plug in just for small pieces of code (rather than a full post format). I use it a lot with my contest rules since that is something I repeat a lot. I just click a button and the code for the text pops in where I want it.

    Anyway, just wanted to pass those along for users doing more basic stuff. And I will definitely check out Gravity Forms. Thanks for the great information.

  4. Jane
    Jul 08, 2012 @ 08:23:16

    @Ann Somerville: I appreciate your offer. There is a function that allows you to pre populate fields and I didn’t really understand it. Gravity Forms instructions are really weak. (Again, their weakness is customer service) In the end, I didn’t need it. I was really wondering if there were easier ways to do buy links but the way I’ve done it seems to work out.

  5. Jane
    Jul 08, 2012 @ 08:23:55

    @JayHJay: Thanks Jay for mentioning those two plugins. They are free and anything a blogger can do to reduce formatting time, it’s a great thing.

  6. Abigail
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 18:52:58

    So I’ve just started to play around more with Gravity Forms, and the idea of automating more posts is very appealing. I’m stuck on one part of this process though. How exactly does “The form then feeds the inputted information into the body of the post and creates a draft for editing.”? I can’t figure out how to do that. Thanks!

  7. Jane
    Mar 05, 2013 @ 19:14:23

    @Abigail: Look to the right hand column and “Post Fields”. Use to create the post.

  8. Abigail
    Mar 06, 2013 @ 12:18:39

    Of course it was something so simple :) Thanks!

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