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Monday, August 28, 2006

Free personalized notepads

A few months ago in Mywritingblog I mentioned an offer of 250 free business cards from the Internet printing company Vistaprint. This offer is still open, by the way, and you can read more about it by following this link.

Well, Vistaprint now has a special offer of free personalized notepads. You can have whatever text you want on your notes, and choose from a wide range of full-colour designs (see the illustration above for some examples). There are 50 sheets per pad, and all you pay is a small sum for post and packing. Vistaprint are using this as a "loss leader" to introduce you to their services.

I've already placed my order, and plan to use my notes as a less formal version of a 'with compliments' slip yet more professional-looking than a post-it sticker. They should be ideal for sending articles and such like to editors I know well, when a full covering letter is not required.

For more details about this special offer, just visit and click through the ad to get to the information page. Note that if you simply go to the Vistaprint site directly, you will not see the free special offer.

Incidentally, the link above takes you to the UK site, but Vistaprint operates in many other countries as well, including Australia, Canada and the US - just scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the appropriate link.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Review: The 24-Hour E-Book Writing System

Recently several members of my forum at have asked me about this manual, which is being promoted quite widely across the Internet. So I bought a copy myself to find out what all the fuss was about.

The 24-Hour EBook Writing System is by Melanie Mendelson. The author claims that by following her methods you can research and write a complete, money-making e-book in just 24 hours - a bold promise!

The manual is sold as an instant download in the form of a PDF file. The ordering process went smoothly, and my first impressions were favourable. The manual is well written, and clearly illustrated with screen grabs where appropriate. It is quite concise, being just 38 pages in total.

Melanie sets out a tightly structured method for researching and writing an e-book, which she claims will take 24 hours from start to finish. Thankfully, she doesn't recommend doing the whole job in one 24-hour marathon! Rather, she breaks the process down into a series of 30-minute sessions, which you can complete at whatever times suit you best. This is somewhat similar to the method I advocate in my course Write Any Book in Under 28 Days.

The manual starts by taking you through the process of generating and evaluating ideas for e-books (again, some of the methods here are similar to those set out in my course). From there, Melanie goes on to discuss preparing an outline for your e-book. She recommends a free program to help with this process that I hadn't seen before, and explains in detail (with screen-grabs) how to use it. I was particularly impressed by this section of the manual, and will definitely be trying out the software concerned myself.

Melanie then goes on to discuss how to expand your outline into a full e-book, and then turn it into a PDF file with the aid of another piece of free software. Indeed, I was quite impressed that, unlike other manuals I have seen, Melanie's guide does not try to make you buy any other software in order to put her advice into practice.

Unfortunately the manual does not say anything about how you should then go about marketing and selling your finished e-book. This is perhaps its one weakness.

There are, however, many ways of doing this. One of the easiest is to join up with the popular Clickbank service. A useful guide to selling e-books on Clickbank is Harvey Segal's ClickBank Vendor Super Tips, which tells you pretty much everything you need to know. One particular attraction of using ClickBank is that you get instant access to a huge pool of ClickBank affiliates who will sell your e-book on your behalf in exchange for a commission on sales. Using Melanie's manual to write your e-book plus Harvey's to sell it on Clickbank would be a winning recipe, I'd have thought.

Finally, The 24-Hour E-book Writing System is all about writing e-books, and it's important to understand that these are normally shorter than printed books. Also, the sort of e-books that sell online are information products that help people achieve something specific. The method would not really be relevant to fiction writers, screenplay writers or those who hope to crack the non-fiction book market. For those, you really do need my course Write Any Book in Under 28 Days!


Monday, August 21, 2006

Capitalizing names

One query that keeps cropping up at my forum at is how to capitalize names and titles. For example, when should you write Dad and when dad?

I can't do better here than to quote one of my favourite websites, the Guide to Grammar and Writing. Here's what it says in its article on capitalization:

Capitalize names of relationships only when they are a part of or a substitute for a person's name. (Often this means that when there is a modifier, such as a possessive pronoun, in front of such a word, we do not capitalize it.)

* Let's go visit Grandmother today. Let's go visit my grandmother today.
* I remember Uncle Arthur. I remember my Uncle Arthur. My uncle is unforgettable.

This also means that we don't normally capitalize the name of a "vocative" or term of endearment:

* Can you get the paper for me, hon?
* Drop the gun, sweetie. I didn't mean it.

To read the full article, click here.

So in the case of Dad, you would capitalize it in this sentence:

Ask Dad what he wants for his tea.

But not in this one:

My dad is one in a million.

In the first case, the word Dad is being used as a direct substitute for his actual name, so you could substitute a name - say, Jack - and the sentence would still make perfect sense. But in the second example, it is merely a method of referring to the person concerned. "My Jack is one in a million" doesn't work if the speaker is talking about his father.

I hope that will clear up at least some of the confusion!

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A trip to North Wales

Jayne and I just came back from a mini-break to North Wales. We stayed at the Tremeifion Vegetarian Hotel, a place we have been to several times before. It's a small hotel with just four guest bedrooms. It's a great place for relaxing and exploring the beautiful countryside of Snowdonia (even if, like us, you're not strictly vegetarian).

Tremeifion is run by a delightful couple called John and Maureen Jackson. Maureen is possibly the world's best vegetarian cook, and the food is simply stunning (if only I could persuade her to write a book of her recipes...). The hotel isn't really suitable for children - no TVs for a start - but dogs are always welcome.

One of the (many) good things about Tremeifion is the beautiful views it offers. As you sit in the conservatory savouring your after-dinner coffee, you can watch the sun setting over the estuary and the Italianate village of Portmeirion on the opposite shore. The mountains of Snowdonia are on the right, while to the left Porthmadog and the Lleyn Peninula vanish into the distance.

I completely forgot to take any photos of Tremeifion or the views from the hotel, but above is a picture I took of Portmeirion, which we visited on our second day.

Portmeirion is known principally for two things. One of these is the cult 1960s TV series The Prisoner, which used Portmeirion as the mysterious village in which Patrick McGoohan's character was confined. And the other is the beautifully decorated Portmeirion pottery (which is actually produced in my home county of Staffordshire!). As well as admiring the gardens and the quirky architecture, you can walk through the extensive woodlands around the village, and also on the estuary sands if you like (though don't forget to check when it's high tide!).

Anyway, we had a great break, and returned refreshed and revitalised. If anyone is thinking of taking a short holiday in the UK, I highly recommend the Portmeirion area, and the Tremefion Hotel in particular!


Friday, August 11, 2006

There's something about Suzie...

The population of Wales has increased by four (plus one dog). Dr Suzanne Harris - known as Suzie to her friends - has just relocated with her young family from the industrial West Midlands to the mid-Wales coast.

For those who don't know, Suzie is a moderator on my forum at She is also one of my best customers (grin), having bought both my writing courses, Quick Cash Writing and Write Any Book in Under 28 Days, the latter not only in CD form but also the printed and audio versions!

By following the advice in my courses, Suzie and her husband Mark have been able to give up their old jobs and start a new life in an idyllic location as full-time freelance writers. I can't claim all the credit, though, as most of this must go to Suzie and Mark themselves for taking the advice in my courses and working very hard to apply it. Naturally, I want to wish them every success in their new lives and freelance writing careers.

If you'd like to find out more about Suzie and her publications, check out her website at and her blog at You might also want to subscribe to her brand new e-mail newsletter for writers. To do so, just click on Newsletter in the left-hand menu on her homepage and follow the on-screen instructions. Knowing Suzie, I'm sure it will be well worth reading!


Thursday, August 03, 2006

Changes in the UK postal system

Apologies in advance if you're not UK-based, as this post (no pun intended) is unlikely to be relevant to you. If you are a UK writer, however, this is very important to know about.

From 21 August, the way that mail in the UK is priced is going to change. Out goes the old system of payment by weight, and in comes a more complex system based on a combination of weight and size, including thickness.

I shan't set out the exact rules here, as they are freely available elsewhere. The Royal Mail website has detailed information, and there is also a free 'Size Guide' leaflet you can obtain from any Post Office. This includes a fold-out section you can use to check which size category any particular envelope falls into.

The main thing to note is that from 21 August, standard mail will fall into one of three size categories: Letter, Large Letter and Packet.

The Letter category will cover items up to about C5 envelope size, i.e. a little larger than a sheet of A4 paper folded once. This is like the old-style standard letter, but it can weigh up to 100g (the old limit was 60g), so you may be able to squeeze a few extra pages in your envelope compared with before and still pay the basic price. Watch the thickness, however - the envelope must be no thicker than 5mm to be allowed in this category.

If your item weighs over 100g, is thicker than 5mm and/or bigger than C5 size, it will either go in the Large Letter or Packet category, which are more expensive (especially the Packet category).

If you want to submit a manuscript without folding it in two, in an ordinary C4-sized envelope it should fit easily into the Large Letter category. If you want to protect it from creasing or folding, however, you may henceforth be better sending it in a board-backed envelope rather than a padded bag. That's because board-backed envelopes large enough to hold A4 paper unfolded should go at the Large Letter rate, but the equivalent padded envelopes because of their larger dimensions are likely to find themselves in the more expensive Packet category.

If you're posting your manuscript off to a publisher, it is likely to have to go as a Packet, since the maximum thickness of a Large Letter is 25mm. If it weighs between 501g and 750g, it will cost £2.20 to send first class. The good news is that this is actually a bit cheaper than the £2.89 it would have cost before.

The Royal Mail say these changes are needed to ensure that postal costs more accurately reflect the cost of handling non-standard sized items. In the short term at least, however, I expect there to be considerable confusion, long queues at Post Offices, and large numbers of letters being delayed due to the sender paying insufficient postage.

For UK writers, here's my advice in a nutshell for keeping your postage costs down and avoiding problems with the new system.

* Wherever possible, fold your short-story and article manuscripts so that they will fit into envelopes no larger than C5 size.

* If sending scripts unfolded and requiring protection from creasing, consider using board-backed envelopes rather than padded bags, as these are likely to fall into the Large Letter rather than the Packet category.

* Watch the thickness of your envelopes, especially if you hope they will fit into the Letter category, which has a maximum 5mm thickness. 5mm is not very thick at all!

* And, of course, wherever possible use electronic communications instead!

Finally, if you'd like to read more about the changes and see the comments ordinary members of the public have been making about them, you might like to check out the following BBC News page:

Happy mailing!


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A pleasant surprise

In the August issue of the UK magazine Writers News (page 30) I was pleased to see an advertisement for my course Write Any Book in Under 28 Days.

It was a little bit of a surprise, as I hadn't booked the ad, and neither had my publishers, WCCL. The advert was in fact placed by an affiliate - someone who has signed up to promote my course on their website, and gets a (generous) commission for every sale resulting from someone following the link on their site.

So I thought I would just remind you that, if you have a website, you too are very welcome to become a WCCL affiliate and help advertise my writing courses. Not only that, you can also (if you wish) promote WCCL's other courses and software, and get commission of up to 40 per cent of the sale price paid to you by Paypal.

Becoming an affiliate is free of charge, and it's easy to get started. Please click on the following link for more information: WCCL Affiliate Sign-Up Page.

Finally, here's the URL that was published in the Writers News advert: Not only can you get information about my course here, you can also find out more about buying your very own writer's retreat in County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland!