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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

It's Time to Plan Your Writing Goals for 2015!

Feliz salida y entrada de Año ?????????? by jacilluch, on Flickr
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It may just be another date in the calendar, but the start of a new year is undoubtedly a great time for taking stock and setting goals for the year ahead.

I'm a great believer in the value of goal setting for writers. So today I thought I'd share a few tips for setting your goals for 2015 so as to gain maximum benefit from them.

I'm going to suggest a four-step process for your goal setting. The four steps are: (1) Visualize, (2) Set Goals, (3) Plan and (4) Take Action. Let's take these one at a time...

1. Visualize

If you just pluck goals out of thin air, perhaps because they are things you feel you "ought" to do, you are very likely to fail. For goals to be effective, you must be engaged with them on an emotional as well as a cognitive level. The more passionate you are about achieving your goals, the greater the likelihood you will succeed in doing so.

In my view it's much better to start with the end in mind. Imagine yourself a year from today, after having had your "ideal" year. What is different compared with how you are today? What have you accomplished? What are you most proud of in the year looking back? How does life look for you now?

Envisioning this desirable scenario will help you work out what things you most want to achieve in 2015 and prepare you for setting goals to achieve them. And yes, this applies equally to writing and other areas of your life as well!

2. Set Goals

Once you know what you want to achieve in 2015, you can start setting goals to make this happen.

Vast amounts have been written about goal setting, but my personal favorite advice is to make your goals SMART. If you haven't heard this acronym before, it stands for: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-Specific. I'll say a quick word about each of these.

Specific - Rather than "I want to boost my income from writing", a specific goal might be "I want to be earning $2,000 a month from writing by this time next year."

Measurable - This might be in financial terms, as in the last example, or simply in terms of numbers. For example, "By the end of this month I will have contacted fifty potential clients for my writing services."

Actionable - By this I mean that your goals should be expressed in a way that can be put into action. A goal such as "I want to be a successful author" is too vague to provide a useful target. A goal such as "I will complete five short stories by the end of next month" is actionable, and therefore much more helpful.

Realistic - Goals should be challenging, of course, but they must also be realistic. Only you will know what this means for you; but if you set goals that are simply impossible to achieve, you will only become discouraged when you fail to do so. Far better to set yourself more modest goals to start with, and make them more challenging if you find you are achieving them easily.

Time-specific - Always set yourself deadlines for achieving any particular goal, and do your best to meet those deadlines. If you fail to do so, it's not the end of the world - but immediately set yourself another deadline (maybe a more realistic one) and do all you can to ensure that this time you succeed in meeting it.

Long-term goals can be broken into short- and medium-term ones. For example, if your long-term goal is to become a successful Kindle author, your short-term goal might be to get your first Kindle e-book written and published within six weeks, and your medium-term goal to have six e-books published within six months.

3. Plan

Once you know what goals you wish to achieve, you can plan for how you will set about achieving them.

I have already talked about breaking down long-term goals into medium- and short-term ones. At the planning stage you can break these down further into specific action steps, each of which will (of course) have a deadline attached to it.

For example, if your first goal is to have a Kindle e-book completed by the end of January, your first action step might require planning and outlining your book by the end of the first week. Another term used for action steps is micro-goals. Whatever you call them, these are the building blocks you will use to ensure that every day you move another step closer to achieving your overall goals.

Write down your goals and action plans, and review them regularly to see how you are progressing toward achieving them. Inevitably, other events in your life can intervene from time to time, so try to retain an element of flexibility. It's important, though, to have at least a basic written plan to guide you. As I said earlier, you can always revise your plans if you need to. Just aim not to have to do so too often!

4. Take Action

Having set your goals and prepared your action plan, all you now have to do is follow through on it in 2015!

Some days, inevitably, you will do more toward reaching your goals than others, but try to ensure that every day you at least do something toward achieving your writing goals.

One other tip is to make yourself accountable to someone else, by sharing your goals with them. Some writers find it helps to have an accountability partner, with whom they exchange goals. They can then help and encourage each other to achieve them.

You might also choose to share your goals via social media, or even in a comment on this blog post (see below). Knowing that other people are aware of your goals and are rooting for you to achieve them will help spur you on when the going gets tough.

Before I close, I'd just like to mention a few resources available from my sponsors/publishers, The WCCL Network. These can help you achieve your writing goals in 2015 by providing practical, step-by-step methods and action plans to follow.

Write Any Book in Under 28 Days - This is my original CD-based course which many thousands of students have used to help create their first book.

Novel in a Month - As you will gather, this course by my colleague Dan Strauss focuses specifically on creating a novel (my course covers both fiction and nonfiction book writing).

How to Write a Children's Book - I'm a big fan of this popular course by Mel McIntyre. If writing for children is something that appeals to you, you'll find plenty of inspiration here.

Kindle Kash - Publishing your own work on Kindle presents some amazing opportunities for writers. My Kindle Kash course will take you through everything you need to know to get started.

Blogging for Writers - Or if 2015 is to be the year you launch your own blog, my very latest course will guide you through it, step by step.

Those are just a few possibilities, incidentally. To see a full list of the writing courses published by WCCL (also known as the Self Development Network), check out this recent blog post.

* So what are YOUR writing goals for 2015? Share them below, and come back in a year's time to reveal to the world whether or not you achieved them!

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Monday, December 29, 2014

Good News for Non-US-based Kindle Authors!

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A few days ago I got an email from Kindle Direct Publishing, asking me to retake their 'Tax Interview'. I've copied the relevant part of the message below...
To avoid delays in receiving your year-end tax forms at your address, make sure to update or correct your contact information in your Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) account by re-taking the tax interview on the website by December 31, 2014. 
To launch the interview and update your contact information, please follow these steps: 
1. Sign into your KDP Account: http://kdp.amazon.com
2. Click on "(Your Name)’s Account" on the top right corner of page

3. Scroll to the "Tax Information" section

4. Click on the button to "Complete Tax Information"
I wasn't sure at first whether to bother doing this, as none of my circumstances had changed. I decided it couldn't do any harm, however, so went ahead and followed the steps set out above.

An important function of the tax interview is to determine whether Amazon will deduct US tax from your royalties (the so-called "withholding tax"). People living in countries that have tax treaties with the US, such as the UK (where I live) and South Africa, shouldn't have US tax deducted from their KDP earnings, as potentially this means they could end up paying tax twice over. Unless you can provide a US Tax Information Number (either an EIN or an ITIN), however, Amazon have previously deducted 30 percent tax from all such earnings.

Getting a US TIN typically involves phoning up or faxing the IRS in America, and appears to be rather a hit-or-miss procedure, surrounded by confusion even within the IRS itself. As I don't earn a great deal from my Kindle e-book sales in the US, I have never got around to applying for one.

So I was a little surprised to discover that the KDP Tax Interview now allows you to enter your own national tax reference if you don't have a US TIN. I duly entered my ten-figure UK self-assessment reference number, and at the end of the interview the withholding-tax rate displayed was immediately reduced to zero (see below).


So if you live in a country with a tax treaty with the US, it appears Amazon will now accept your own national tax reference number as proof of your non-US taxpayer status, and your withholding tax rate will be adjusted accordingly (for most countries with treaties it will be reduced to zero, though in some cases it will lowered, e.g. to 10%, rather than cancelled completely).

If you've previously put off applying for a US TIN because of the hassle involved, therefore, I highly recommend completing the tax interview now and providing your national tax reference number instead. Even if, like me, your earnings from Kindle are fairly modest, it is clearly far better that the 30 percent taken by the IRS goes into your pocket instead!

If you have any comments or questions (though do remember that I am not a tax expert and can only speak on the basis of my own experiences), please do post them below.


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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Christmas to All My Readers!


I just wanted to take this opportunity to wish all my readers a Very Happy Christmas!

Even if you don't celebrate the religious festival, I hope you enjoy the festive period. Thank you for reading at least some of my blog posts this year, and contributing to some interesting discussions.

Naturally, many people at this time are fully occupied with family celebrations. If you have any time on your hands over the holiday period, though - or you just need a break from the festivities - my forum at www.mywriterscircle.com is always open for discussions about writing, or any subject you choose in The Coffee Shop.

And if Santa has brought you (or left you with) a little spare cash, don't forget that my blog sponsors, The WCCL Network, offer a wide range of high-quality writing resources that can help you get the new year off to the best possible start. Visit their Write Street portal for a selection, or see this blog post in which I listed all of the WCCL writers' resources. Many of these are available as instant downloads, so you can get started immediately.

Once again, I do hope you have a wonderful Christmas, and a happy and creative new year. Thank you for being a valued reader of My Writing Blog.

Photo by Laura Favrow on Flickr. Shared under a Creative Commons License.

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Monday, December 22, 2014

The myWritersCircle Forum Passes One Million Posts!

Celebrate by Furryscaly, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Furryscaly

It was a red letter day on my forum at www.myWritersCircle.com last week, when we reached and then passed our one millionth post!

As a matter of interest, the post in question was by long-term member (and moderator) Amie. I'd like to tell you we will be giving her a luxury sports car as a prize, but I'm afraid that wouldn't be true!

I know many readers of this blog are members of my forum also - but in case not, I thought I should take this opportunity to tell you a bit more about it.

myWritersCircle is a free, open-access message-board for writers. It was founded in 2005, and has just celebrated its ninth anniversary. I manage it on behalf of the blog owners and sponsors The WCCL Network (who also sponsor this blog, incidentally).

Anyone is welcome to join MWC – it only takes a couple of minutes to sign up. You will then be able to take part in discussions, post extracts of your work for feedback and constructive criticism, and ask any questions you may have about writing.

Members use myWritersCircle in many different ways. In this topic, for example, a writer looks for (and gets) advice on how to write good dialogue. And in this topic, another member requests suggestions for a name for the detective agency in her children's book.

myWritersCircle also has a market information board, Writers Wanted, where writing jobs and opportunities are regularly posted. Members can also advertise for collaborators and interviewees on this board.

If you need a challenge to get your writing muscles into shape, check out our Writing Games and Challenges board. Mostly these are just for fun, but occasionally we hold prize competitions as well.

And finally, if you want to chat about non-writing-related matters from time to time, myWritersCircle has a board for that also. I have to admit that The Coffee Shop is actually one of the busiest boards on the forum!

I'm very proud of the reputation myWritersCircle has built as the web's friendliest writing forum. If you haven't yet experienced all the benefits it can offer, why not take the plunge and join up today?

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What Writers Can Learn From the Success of Disney's Frozen


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Have you seen the Disney film Frozen yet? If not, it's probably only a matter of time!

This (very loose) adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale "The Snow Queen" has broken just about every record for an animated feature. And it has also been spectacularly successful in its merchandising, with little girls (in particular) desperate to get their hands on anything Frozen-related, from costumes and jewellery to singalong DVDs.

I saw Frozen for the first time under rather unusual circumstances. I was on a cruise holiday in the summer, and was confined to my cabin for 24 hours after suffering a bout of food poisoning (thankfully not the dreaded Norovirus). It happened that Frozen was on the list of movies on offer that day on the ship's TV, so with few other alternatives I decided to tune in. Rather to my surprise, I genuinely enjoyed it.

It struck me as well that there was a lot that writers could learn from the success of Frozen, so I thought in this blog post I'd set out a few things. Note that I'll be giving away some plot points, so if you haven't yet seen the film and want to retain an element of surprise, you may prefer to stop reading now!

1. With Frozen, Disney actively encouraged social media involvement

In the past Disney haven't exactly embraced social media. Indeed, they were more likely to let their legal department loose on anyone sharing anything to do with their carefully protected "intellectual property".

With Frozen, that all changed, however. Rather than going after anyone who (for example) posted a video of themselves singing a song from the film, they actively encouraged fans to get involved. The result was a torrent (or maybe snowball would be a more appropriate metaphor) of enthusiastic publicity for the film, which helped spread the word in double-quick time.

Takeaway: Writers need to encourage people not just to buy their book but to interact with it in other ways as well. Facebook pages, fan sites, newsletters and even reader forums can all help build the buzz around your story and help bring it to the attention of a wider readership. And obviously, if the nature of your book lends itself to merchandising as well, don't hold back!

2. The Story Subverts Viewer Expectations at Every Turn

As you may know, the film's central characters are two sisters, Anna and Elsa. The older sister, Elsa, is the Snow Queen, either blessed or cursed with the ability to turn anything she touches to ice and snow. After accidentally almost killing her sister and plunging her kingdom into eternal winter, she flees from the Royal Palace in shame. Her sister then embarks on a quest to find Elsa and persuade her to return and bring back summer.

The story subverts our expectations in many ways. For example, Anna is newly engaged to Prince Hans, who it initially appears will save the day in time-honoured fairytale style. However, he turns out to be a treacherous cad, whose cruel and selfish actions almost lead to Anna's death. And at the end, both Anna and Elsa's lives are saved by an "act of true love", not from a man, as one might traditionally expect, but by the love of one sister for another.

Takeaway: Modern audiences are highly sophisticated and familiar with all the traditional plot devices. To attract readers (or viewers), writers need to seek out different plots and resolutions that are attuned to modern-day values. One aspect of that is (of course) that women can be just as strong and heroic - or more so - as men.

3. The Characters Avoid Stereotyping

In a way this follows from the item above. All of the main characters in Frozen defy conventional stereotyping. Although Elsa's actions are often misguided, she is not at heart evil, simply trying to protect her sister and others from her unwanted powers. And Anna, while heroic in many ways, has her shortcomings as well, for example in her naive inability to see her suitor's duplicity.

Anna is also helped in her quest by Kristoff, an ice hunter. He turns out to be another rare character in fairytales, a genuinely nice bloke (albeit one who has some strange friends!).

And even the comic relief, Olaf the snowman, is more than just a slapstick figure. He comments on events with sly wit, and also has a more wistful side.

Takeaway: Just as modern readers are familiar with all the usual plot twists, so they can recognize flat, two-dimensional characters. Writers today need to go beyond the standard stereotypes of hero, villain, accomplice, and so on, and seek to build genuinely unique and surprising characters.

So those are just a few things I believe writers today can learn from the success of Disney's Frozen and build into their own writing and marketing. But what do you think? Are there any other lessons we can draw from the film's popularity? I'd love to hear your comments!

Note: I shan't be around much from 12 to 19 December, but please do still leave any comments, and I'll approve them as soon as I get back.




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Friday, December 05, 2014

Seven Top Kindle Writing Guides That Are Free Today

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Today is known in some quarters as Freebie Friday, so I thought I would share with you seven top Kindle e-books about writing that are currently available free of charge from Amazon.

Some of these e-books appear to be permanently free, while others may only be so for a day or two (e.g. if they are on KDP Select free promos). I can only promise that all the titles listed are available to download free of charge today!

1. Reader Magnets - Build Your Author Platform And Sell More Books on Kindle by Nick Stephenson

This highly rated guide to marketing a Kindle e-book is part of a series about book marketing titled Reader Magnets. As well as the e-book itself, you also get access to Nick's course "Find Your First 10,000 Readers" for free. That looks like a good marketing tactic in itself to me!

2. Building Your Book for Kindle by Kindle Direct Publishing

This is a free guide to formatting and publishing your own e-book for Kindle from the Amazon KDP team. It's an essential download for any aspiring Kindle author.

3. Smashwords Style Guide by Mark Coker

KDP isn't the only game in town, of course. If you want to distribute your e-book via the iStore, Kobo, Sony Reader, and so on, Smashwords provides a simple and cost-effective means for doing so. The 130-page Smashwords Style Guide by its founder tells you everything you need to know.

4. How to Write a Novel The Easy Way Using the Pulp Fiction Method by Jim Driver and Jack Davies

If writing a novel is something that interests you, this guide will give you plenty of ideas. It focuses on saving time by carefully planning and outlining your novel.

5. Make Your Book Work Harder by Nancy Hendrickson and Michelle Campbell-Scott.

This is a comprehensive (almost 200-page) guide for any self-publishing author who wants to boost their profits by publishing to multiple platforms, including audiobooks, CreateSpace, Nook/Kobo, Udemy, and more. There is also a long section setting out multiple ways to promote your book.

6. Freelance Writing Revealed by Emile Joy.

This is a well-written and inspirational guide that focuses mainly on writing for online markets. The subtitle is "How To Make Money At Home By Ghostwriting And Freelance Writing". It also has some excellent tips and advice on building your reputation, creating a good work environment, accepting payment, and so on.

7. Smashwords Book Marketing Guide - How to Market any Book for Free by Mark Coker

This is another excellent guide from Smashwords founder Mark Coker. At about 52 pages it is quite concise, but it is packed with tips and ideas for promoting your e-book, whether it is published on Kindle, Smashwords, or elsewhere.

If you download any of these e-books free of charge, it is of course a courtesy to leave a review on Amazon for the author if you enjoyed it.

Finally, all of the above are of course Kindle e-books, but that doesn't mean you must have a Kindle device in order to read them. Amazon has free apps available for smartphones, computers (Mac and PC) and tablets, meaning that the great majority of popular platforms today are catered for.

Even though I'm a Kindle owner myself, I also have the Kindle for PC app on my desktop computer. Although I do mostly read Kindle e-books on my Kindle, sometimes with non-fiction books in particular I like to see them on a full-sized monitor.

You may like to read this blog post for more information and advice about reading Kindle e-books without a Kindle.

As ever, if you have any comments or questions about this article, please do post them below.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Writers: Beware of Identity Spoofing!


I read an interesting article by Victoria Strauss on the Writer Beware blog this week.

It concerns a writer named Heather Boerner, who discovered that her identity had been spoofed on a popular job auction site. The account was then used for fraudulent purposes by the perpetrator.

I've copied the opening of Victoria's article below:
This week, freelance writer Heather Boerner (who has published with such well-known venues as The Atlantic and The Washington Post) alerted me to her experience with a scammer.

Heather discovered the scam when she was contacted, out of the blue, by an individual who claimed to have hired her through a freelance jobs bidding website called oDesk. From an article about the scam by one of Heather's colleagues, Paul Raeburn:

[Heather] quickly realized that she had been the victim of identity theft. Somebody--a fake Heather--had gone to Boerner's website, copied her resume, downloaded her photo, linked to her website, and created an oDesk account offering services as a writer....
It's an eye-opening article, and I strongly recommend clicking through to read the rest of it, and the comments as well.

The article struck a chord with me, as it made me realize that I may have become a victim of this type of fraud as well. A couple of weeks ago I was puzzled to receive this comment on one of my blog posts:
"Nick ------ please refund me or complete the job. You agreed to turn my word doc into a kindle version. All I have seen is a poorly formatted mobi. I hope you don't consider that doing the job????? I would like my money back if you are unable to complete the work you agreed to."
As I have no knowledge of the person concerned, and anyway do not offer a Kindle formatting service, I initially assumed she had confused me with someone else. I posted a polite reply suggesting that this might be the case, and asking her to check again who it was she hired to perform this task.

Having read Victoria's article, however, I am wondering if my identity has been spoofed as well. I did a quick search on Elance, oDesk and Guru but couldn't find anything (although it is of course possible that the account has since been deleted).

Anyway, I thought I should alert readers of my blog to the fact that this type of scam is now going on. If you have any sort of online presence as a freelance writer, there is a risk that you too could become a victim.

There is clearly no way you can guarantee it won't happen, but it is important to keep your eyes and ears open - and if you receive any odd messages such as the one I had, don't just ignore them but follow them up.

In addition, as recommended in the article above, it is a good idea to Google yourself regularly, and also set up a Google Alert in your name.

And equally, if you are hiring a writer or editor via a job auction site, check carefully to ensure that they really are who they claim to be. Don't rely on the information on the website, but contact them via their blog or homepage as well.

I am still waiting to hear again from the woman who sent me the complaint, so if she sees this I do hope she will get back to me. That aside, if you see anyone claiming to be me and offering Kindle formatting (or any other services) via a job auction site, I'd be most grateful if you could let me know.

If you have any comments or questions, as ever, please feel free to post them below.


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