April asked me a number of interesting questions, including how the Internet is influencing writing and publishing, how the 'new media' are affecting print media, and whether I saw any future for printed newspapers. I had to think quite hard before answering these questions in particular. Check out my replies and see if you agree with me.
Incidentally, A. Brewster Smythe is the creator of the Blog Writers and Artists Network, a social networking site for writers and artists who blog. New members are always welcome, so if you fit the above description, do visit the site and sign up!
I was reminded of this again a few days ago, when my colleague (and purchaser of my Write Any Book in Under 28 Days course) Dr Suzanne Harris told me that she has a publisher interested in her new blog at http://dresstokillonebay.blogspot.com. The blog is described as 'A woman's guide to buying clothes on a budget'. It's a great-looking blog - do check it out - but perhaps the most impressive thing is that it has only been going for a few weeks.
So if you have a blog, it's worth thinking about approaching a few publishers to see if they are interested in turning it into a book. And even if you don't have a blog, there's nothing to stop you starting one. Use the free Blogger service, for example, and you could have a blog up and running in ten minutes - no programming skills required.
Finally, if you're wondering where to start in the quest to find a publisher for your blog, one company you could consider is the UK-based Friday Project. They are actively looking for books based on blogs or websites, and say they will consider both fiction and non-fiction.
As usual on WritersFM, the interviewer is Karl Moore. He asks Syd a range of questions, some of which were sent in by members of my forum. I was pleased that I also got two of my own questions answered!
Syd comes up with with some great advice for would-be screenwriters. One thing that particularly interested me is where (quite early on in the interview) he talks about the most common mistake made by aspiring screenwriters. This may not be what you think, and it really is essential knowledge for screenwriters.
Listeners also get to hear some very interesting information about trends in the movie-writing business - in particular, how these days several writers are often engaged to produce their own versions of a movie script before yet another writer is engaged to cobble the best bits together to create the final 'Frankenstein script'. I'm not sure if the latter is an official term or not, but it might explain the variable quality of some recent Hollywood releases!
The whole interview is about half an hour long. The sound quality isn't quite as good as some other recent WritersFM interviews, but as Syd himself points out, he and Karl were about 5,000 miles apart at the time. It's still perfectly listenable, and you can either wait for it to be broadcast on the station's normal rotation, download it as a podcast, or (probably the easiest option) stream it from the Podcasts page.
If you would like to find out more about Syd, the best place is his web page at www.sydfield.com. Finally, if you're interested in screenwriting, don't forget that WCCL produce the unique 'Write a Movie in a Month' course. More info about this, including how you can get a $20 discount and three extra bonus items from me, can be obtained from this post on my blog.
I've mentioned my colleague and publisher Karl Moore a few times in this blog. In particular, I'm a fan of his self-development blog at www.karlblog.com, from which I freely admit stealing a few ideas!
Well, the good news is that Karl has recently started a forum at www.karlforum.com (what else?) for readers of his blog. The new forum is a place where members can discuss discuss self-development issues generally, as well as popular features from the blog, including Random Acts of Kindness and the Friday Factoid.
Joining Karl Forum is free of charge. It's also quick and easy - just click on Register near the top right of the page, and follow the on-screen instructions. Members of Mywriterscircle.com should feel at home, as Karl Forum uses exactly the same message board software (albeit with a different design and colour scheme).
There are already some interesting discussions in progress, so do drop by and see what's going on. I've just registered myself, so maybe I'll see you there!
If you're interested in screenwriting for TV or film, here are two blogs you really ought to have on your Favorites list...
As you might guess, JohnAugust.com is the blog of Hollywood scriptwriter John August. In it John answers questions about working as a movie scriptwriter (and occasionally covers other topics as well). In a recent post, he talked about how to introduce a character. Here's a brief extract to illustrate the quality of advice on offer:
Just how early can you tell a script isn't going to work? To me, it's as the first few characters are introduced. If character introductions are not done artfully, the odds of anything else in the script being great are slim.
The visitor sits beside the bed and Ripley finally notices him. He is thirtyish and handsome, in a suit that looks executive or legal, the tie loosened with studied casualness. A smile referred to as 'winning.'
Nice room. I'm Burke. Carter Burke. I work for the company, but other than that I'm an okay guy. Glad to see you're feeling better.
That's James Cameron's terrific script for Aliens, page 3, the introduction of Paul Reiser's character. Even before Burke speaks, let's look at what Mr. Cameron told us:
Burke's rough age. That he's decent-looking. He's a "suit," but trying not to look like a suit. He seems friendly - but there's something possibly false about it.
Burke's first lines of dialogue reinforce our expectation from the character description. "Yes, I work for the company, but I want you to think I'm on your side."
Apologies that the script sample I've reproduced above isn't as neatly formatted as on Mr August's blog, but I'm sure you get the idea. Please see the post in question for the full, properly set out version!
If TV scriptwriting is more your thing, Jane Espenson's blog should be high on your list. Jane has written episodes for many top-rated US TV series, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Gilmore Girls, Ellen, The O.C., Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Dinosaurs, Andy Barker PI, and so on.
Jane says that her blog is intended 'to help new writers tackle the job of writing those all-important spec scripts - from picking the right show to spec, to developing an idea, to getting that dialogue exactly right, to giving the script that professional look.'
Here she is talking about writing specimen scripts:
Your spec script, even if it is for a show that is predominately arc-driven, will need to have at least some stand-alone elements. In fact, it should probably have as many stand-alone elements as you can get away with. So when you're looking at produced scripts, using them to try to put together a template for the structure of your spec, try to use stand-alone episodes as your examples as much as possible. If you're purchasing your scripts and can only afford a few, make them the most highly regarded episodes plus the stand-alone episodes.
As with John August's blog, Jane Espenson's is packed with helpful advice for aspiring screenwriters. Not only that, you even get to find out what she had for lunch each day!
Finally, just a quick reminder that if you're interested in screenwriting, my special offer on WCCL's Write a Movie in a Month course is still open. Not only do you get 20 dollars off the normal price, you also get three unique bonus items from me that are unavailable elsewhere. Just click on this link for full details.
I'm going off-topic today, but I hope you will understand my reasons. As you may have heard, four-year-old Madeleine McCann was abducted from the holiday resort of Praia Da Luz in Portugal on 3 May 2007. Since then, despite a massive police hunt and Europe-wide publicity, there has been no sign of her.
As this blog is read by people from all over the world, I thought it might just help to mention Madeleine here and reproduce her picture. If you have any idea of Madeleine's whereabouts, or even the slightest suspicion, please contact the local police as soon as possible. Though I'm sure it will make no difference to most people, there are also rewards totalling several million pounds for information leading to her safe return.
One distinctive feature of Madeleine's appearance is the 'black flash' in her eye, where the pupil runs into the iris. You can see this quite clearly in the photo above. Even if her abductors have changed Madeleine's appearance in other ways, this very unusual mark should help to identify her.
In the last few weeks I've been exploring a new - and free - service called Squidoo. I say new, but it's actually been around since March 2006. I've only just discovered it myself!
Squidoo makes it easy for anyone to set up a single page website on any topic they wish. These one-page sites are referred to as lenses. Lenses can be about anything, including people and places, hobbies and sports, jobs and activities, and so on. As single page sites, lenses aren't intended to hold huge amounts of content; more emphasis is placed on recommending and then pointing to content on the web.
Users who create lenses are called 'lensmasters'. Lensmasters build up their lenses from a range of modules provided by Squidoo. There is a biography module, an introduction module, a 'Write' module for text, a poll module for incorporating opinion polls, a guestbook module, a links module, and so on. You simply choose the modules you want, fill in the necessary content, and click to publish.
There are two aspects of Squidoo that make it of particular interest to writers. First, no technical expertise is needed to build your lens. You don't need to know any HTML (although if you know a little, it will help you add some extra bells and whistles). You simply build up your lens by adding modules and arranging them as required.
The other attraction of Squidoo is that it gives writers the opportunity to earn from their expertise. All lenses have Google AdSense ads on their pages, and lensmasters get a share of the income generated from this. Of course, that's similar to Suite101, which I discussed here recently.
In addition, however, it is possible to incorporate a range of other money-making modules into your lenses. For example, the Amazon.com module will display books and other products relevant to your chosen topic. If anyone buys a book from Amazon via your link, the commission is split between you and Squidoo. There are also money-making modules for eBay, CafePress and other online stores.
I'm a beginner at Squidoo (and not particularly technical), but in a very short time I was able to build my first two lenses. Greece Travel Tips is a lens containing tips for anyone planning on going to Greece for the first time. This was done mainly for fun, to see how easy (or otherwise) it would be. My other lens is called How to Write a Book, and as you might guess is promoting my course Write Any Book in Under 28 Days. I'd estimate that each lens took me no more than two hours to create.
Based on my experience so far, I'd definitely recommend Squidoo as worthy of your attention if you're looking for ways to make money writing for the web. If you decide to give it a go, click on this referral link to get started and you will receive an extra $5 bonus from Squidoo once you have earned your first $15 (and so will I!).
If you'd like more info about Squidoo, there are a couple of guides I'd recommend. First of all, those of you who took my recommendation and joined The Marketing Pond can download a free guide called 'How to Use Squidoo' from the Products section. A more comprehensive guide called SquidooBlueprint is available for just $9.97 (around 5 UK pounds) from this website. SquidooBlueprint goes into much more detail about making money from Squidoo, and I recommend buying it if you hope to earn an income from the site. You can even sell the guide yourself once you've bought it and get 100% commission on every sale.
Two of the biggest-name writers yet are about to be interviewed on WritersFM - and YOU can help choose the questions they are asked!
First up is Syd Field, an American writer who has become one of the most popular screenwriting gurus in the movie industry. Syd has written several books on the art of screenwriting (see, for example, the link below), and holds workshops that help aspiring screenwriters to produce the kinds of screenplays that will sell in Hollywood. Syd's ideas about what makes a good script have become highly influential on Hollywood producers, who have increasingly used his ideas on structure as a guide to a proposed screenplay's potential.
If your interests include screenwriting, you MUST listen out for this interview. And if you have any suggestions for questions that WritersFM host Karl Moore should put to Syd, you can raise them via this topic on my forum.
The other forthcoming interviewee is Bernard Cornwell, the prolific and popular British historical novelist. Bernard's best known books feature the adventures of Richard Sharpe, an English soldier, and are set in the Napoleonic era. Many of the books were filmed for a television series starring Sean Bean as Sharpe, produced by Central Independent Television for the ITV network. Other series written by Bernard Cornwell include 'The Starbuck Chronicles', set during the American Civil War, and his latest series 'The Saxon Stories', set in 9th century England.
This interview should be essential listening for any aspiring novelists, and historical novelists in particular. Again, if there are any questions you would like Karl to put to Bernard, you can suggest them via this topic on my forum.
Finally, just a reminder that you can listen online to the most recent WritersFM interviews (including my own!) via the new LivePlay feature on the WritersFM Podcasts page. You can also download podcasts of all past interviews from this page.
If listening to my recent interview on WritersFM wasn't enough for you, you might like to know that I was recently interviewed by Mauritius-based Alfa King for his blog. If you click on the following link, it will take you straight to the interview page.
Alfa asked me some interesting questions. In particular, he wanted to know if I had to give advice to a new writer/beginner, what would I tell them?
I had to think quite hard about this, as there is obviously so much that I could say. In the end I offered three pieces of advice that I hoped would be useful and not too obvious. Take a look at the interview and see what you think.
Alfa promises that he will be running a series of interviews with writers on his blog, so it's worth checking back soon to see whom he talks to next!
And if you're not sure where Mauritius is, clicking on this link should enlighten you. It's an island nation off the coast of Africa in the southwest Indian Ocean, about 900 kilometers east of Madagascar. It's somewhere I'd definitely like to visit one day!
From the stats for my blog, I know that a post I wrote a few months ago about opportunities for subject guides on the giant About.com website has generated more interest than almost any other. Incidentally, there are still opportunities at About.com, and if you click on the following link you can read my original post about this.
Today I thought I'd mention another opportunity that is similar in some ways to About.com. Suite101 is looking for freelances to write articles about a huge range of topics (3,000, in fact). On their website they say they require:
* Entertaining, aspiring, and ahead-of-the-curve non-fiction freelance writers, veteran print journalists/authors republishing work online to build Web portfolios. * Insiders, aficionados, enthusiasts, experts, opinion-makers. * Freelance writers willing to publish a minimum of 10 articles over 3 months and granting exclusive electronic rights for 1 year, shared rights thereafter.
The not-so-good news about Suite101 is that, unlike About.com, there are no minimum income guarantees. Writers get paid a share of the income generated by the Google AdSense ads on the web pages where their articles are hosted. For those who don't know, these are the small 'ads by Google' you will see on many sites, including this blog and my forum. When someone clicks on an ad, the advertiser pays a fee to Google, which Google then shares with the owner of the site concerned. So in the case of Suite101, the fees deriving from any click will be split three ways, between Google, Suite101 and the author. Don't expect to earn a fortune, therefore!
On the other hand, it is probably easier to get accepted by Suite101, and the commitment required is less. In addition, if your articles are well received you can apply for promotion to Feature Writer status, which earns you a revenue bonus of up to 30% plus various other privileges (explained on the Suite101 website).
If you decide to try writing for Suite101, one tip would be to concentrate on business-related topics such as insurance, real estate, finance, and so on. More advertisers want to advertise on pages devoted to these topics, so the fees paid per click on AdSense ads can be much higher. Clicks on ads related to freelance writing, as I can testify from personal experience, pay the site owner very little!
Good luck if you decide to apply for this opportunity.
In my post last week you may remember I mentioned a website called The Marketing Pond. This had been recommended to me by my colleague Sandy Mather as a good (and free) resource for anyone seeking to make a sideline income on the Internet.
Well, I duly joined The Marketing Pond and have been impressed by what I found. Essentially, the site lists several dozen websites under four main headings: Free Opportunity (the AGLOCO viewbar), Free Advertising, Easy Money and Click to Earn Programs. You can see the full list by clicking here.
These opportunities are the ones currently recommended by The Marketing Pond, and you can sign up with any of them via the links on the site. However, joining The Marketing Pond offers many other benefits as well.
To start with, you get access to a forum, where members discuss their experiences with the programs listed and reveal their methods for getting the most out of them. Members also get access to free resources, reports and products from the members' area. And you get regular emails from the site's founder, Valerie Underhill, with updates on all the opportunities.
One other big attraction, however, is that as soon as you join, you are given your own unique referral URL for The Marketing Pond. If anyone visits The Marketing Pond via your link and joins any of the programs listed, you will automatically be credited as the referrer. As many of the programs pay commission for referrals, sometimes down through several levels, this means you have the potential to earn ever-growing sums of money just by referring people to The Marketing Pond via your personal link.
I should say at once that you're unlikely to make a fortune via The Marketing Pond, but if you spend an hour or so a day on it, Valerie reckons that earning $500 to $1,000 a month should be perfectly attainable - potentially much more if some of the people you recruit to the multi-level programs recruit large numbers of new members themselves.
If you decide to give The Marketing Pond a try, I recommend signing up with all the opportunities, even if you don't have the time or the inclination to pursue every one individually. The thing is, once you've joined a program and entered your membership details on the Marketing Pond site, if anyone else comes via your link and joins one of the other programs, you will be credited as their referrer and get commission on any fees they generate. But if you haven't joined that program, any commission generated will presumably just go to The Marketing Pond instead.
If you only have time to join one or two of the sites listed, I'd recommend at least signing up with AGLOCO, even though the release of the viewbar software has been delayed. Click here to see my original post about AGLOCO. Another opportunity I like the look of is Clix Sense, a very professional looking site that pays you for reading adverts.
My colleague Sandy Mather, who has been a member of The Marketing Pond longer than I have, recommends myLot and Link Referral as two programs particularly suited to writers. I especially like myLot, as on this site you can get paid for joining in online discussions or starting your own. See the myLot website for more details.
Anyway, if you decide to try The Marketing Pond, I wish you every success with it. It's all free, so you can't really go that far wrong. There's also lots of useful advice and information available via the links in the left-hand menu. In particular, you should read 'Start Here', 'Ponder' and 'Newbie', the last of which explains all the programs listed in more detail.
Thought you might like to know that my colleague and publisher Karl Moore has just released a free screensaver, featuring inspirational quotes from writers from Albert Einstein to William Shakespeare.
The quotes are all beautifully presented on colourful backgrounds. One of my favourites is by William Shedd: "A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for."
You can download the screensaver from Karl's blog - clicking here will take you straight to the relevant post. The file is around 15MB, so even with a broadband/DSL connection it will take a few minutes to download. I don't think I would even try it on dial-up!
I found the screensaver very easy to download and install, simply accepting the suggested defaults. Once the screensaver is installed on your computer, you can access - and if you wish change - its settings via your computer's Control Panel. If you get tired of it any time, you can simply go in to Control Panel and change to another screensaver (or none at all).
Of course, modern flat-screen monitors don't actually need screensavers (on old-fashioned CRT monitors they were required to stop an image being burned on to the screen due to it being displayed for long periods). However, screensavers still perform a useful function in safeguarding users' privacy, and - as in this case - can provide a good opportunity for displaying attractive and useful images and information.
Recently I was re-reading a novel called To Die in Italbar by one of my favourite SF authors, the late, great Roger Zelazny.
There are many reasons I love Zelazny's work, and I'll talk more about this another time. Today I wanted to highlight a relatively minor aspect of his technique but (in my view) an interesting one for writers. It's the way Zelazny uses dashes to indicate a sudden change of direction in mid-speech. Here are a couple of examples from the book above, though I appreciate that taken out of context they may not make much sense:
"You're sure you won't take my money?" "No, thanks. - May I go to the upper deck again after lunch, to see the volcano?"
"There was no record of him with us either, though. - Look at that flare-up, will you?"
I've seen this device used by other writers as well, but re-reading Zelazny's book recently reminded me of it. I'm not saying it's an essential technique for writers, but used appropriately, and in moderation, it can help make your dialogue sound more life-like.
Of course, dashes are useful punctuation marks for other purposes as well. In pairs they can be used parenthetically, as an alternative to commas or brackets.
Here's an example - not an especially inspired one - of the parenthetical use of pairs of dashes.
There are no hard and fast rules about this, but I feel that dashes used in this way give more emphasis to the parenthesized material than commas or brackets would. They make it stand out that bit more.
Dashes are also handy if you want to show a sentence that suddenly goes off in a surprising or unexpected direction...
I bought a new car at the weekend - then abruptly wished I hadn't.
This is somewhat similar to the usage by Zelazny that I started off discussing here, of course.
One other very important use for dashes is to indicate a sentence that is interrupted or broken off abruptly...
"I need to ask you a -" "- Favour? Forget it!"
By contrast, ending a speech with an ellipsis indicates that it simply trails away.
"That might be the place we are looking for, but then again..."
Incidentally, one question I'm often asked about dashes is how to present them on the page. My advice is to choose a convention you are happy with, and stick to it. Americans in particular often use two hyphens side by side to indicate a dash, or you can of course use the dashes produced by default in Microsoft Word when you type a spaced hyphen. But don't get hung up about en rules, em rules and such like - these are matters for editors and typesetters to concern themselves with, not authors. Indeed, at least one publisher's house style guide I have seen asks writers to represent all dashes with hyphens, and leave it to their editors to convert them to en rules or whatever.
Finally, much as I like dashes, it's important not to over-use them, or your writing will end up looking like 'notes'. Stick to using them for the specific purposes I have set out here, and you shouldn't go too far wrong. - Happy writing!
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Recently a member of my forum emailed asking if I had any advice on working collaboratively. I didn't really have time to reply to him just then, so I suggested posting a query on the forum (that's one reason I set it up!). However, it is a very interesting question, so I thought I'd post a few thoughts about the subject today.
First of all, I do like the idea of working with a collaborator. Writing can be a lonely business, so the prospect of working with someone else is attractive for the human contact aspect alone. Plus you have someone else to bounce ideas off (many of the most successful comedy writers work in duos and I'm sure this is part of the reason). And, of course, having a collaborator means that they will do some of the work instead of you!
Of course, there are drawbacks to working with a collaborator too. If you don't get on with your partner or constantly disagree with them, the savings in time and effort may easily evaporate. Instead of being entirely free to pursue your own artistic vision, you may sometimes have to compromise. And, of course, any payments resulting from your labours will have to be shared with your partner instead of all going into your own pocket...
I have worked with a writing partner on various occasions over the years. I hope he won't mind me revealing that the person I've worked with most often is my old friend, the poet Simon Pitt. One of our first collaborations was a satirical sketch show called The Naked Apricot (a skit on the book by Dr Desmond Morris "The Naked Ape"). This was performed by a local amateur theatre company, and in financial terms anyway was their most successful show ever (admittedly, it probably helped that we didn't get paid a fee for it!).
More recently I collaborated with Simon on a couple of non-fiction books: Fifty Great Ideas for Creative Writing Teaching and How to Invite Any Writer, Artist or Performer Into Your School. We are also working on another book intended for writers and artists who want to work in schools, although because of our busy schedules progress on this has been rather slow.
The way that Simon and I work is to take a project, divide it into chapters or sections, and then allocate each of these to one of us or the other. When we have completed our assigned chapters, we pass them over to the other one to read, edit and add his own input. In addition, I tend to handle the IT-related aspects, e.g. our recent experiment in self-publishing on Lulu.com, as I'm sure that Simon would agree that this is not his strongest suit.
One thing we don't do (or at least hardly ever) is sit down together and go through our draft manuscripts line by line, word by word. Apart from being horribly time consuming, I could imagine this putting our friendship under strain. In my experience anyway, it's easier to accept (and give) criticism in the form of a quick note rather than face to face.
My number one advice to anyone thinking of working with a collaborator is to agree how you will work together first. If your collaborator expects you to sit down and write together while you prefer to work alone and just meet for planning, marketing and so on, it's doubtful whether the partnership will succeed.
Likewise, it's important to discuss the proposed topic of your book, screenplay or whatever in detail, to ensure you don't have totally different perspectives on it. That's not to say you have to agree in advance on every point, but unless you have certain basic assumptions in common, the writing process is likely to become a test of endurance. This applies especially in fiction-writing projects.
Finally, it's worth looking into the growing range of resources on the Internet that can facilitate working collaboratively. One example is Google Documents, which lets you publish documents on the web where they can be viewed and, if you allow it, edited by other selected individuals (i.e. your writing partner/s). This means it is perfectly feasible to work collaboratively with people in other countries and even other continents. I will talk more about Google Documents in a future post, as I find it a very useful facility, even for projects where I am not working with a collaborator.
A little while ago in this blog post I talked about AGLOCO, a new sideline money-making opportunity. As you may recall, joining AGLOCO is free. Members are issued with a 'viewbar' which displays advertisements in the corner of their screen while they are surfing the net. In exchange for this, they receive a share of the fees and commissions paid by advertisers.
When I first mentioned AGLOCO, the program was still in pre-launch. However, I have just received an email stating that the viewbar is now being made available to everyone who has registered. To avoid crashing their servers, AGLOCO are sending download details by email to groups of people in the order in which they registered. As soon as you have downloaded your viewbar, you can start earning money from the program.
If you have already registered with AGLOCO, you should have received your explanatory email by now - but in case it was eaten by the spam filters, I have republished it at this website. You may also want to read the email if you haven't yet registered and would like to find out more about how the program will work.
I also wanted to mention a new sideline-earning opportunity I found out about recently that appears to complement AGLOCO very well. Adbux doesn't require you to download a viewbar. Rather, you are provided with a list of websites and paid a guaranteed fee of $0.01 for viewing each site for 30 seconds. You can also earn $0.01 for each website your referrals visit. Payments are issued via PayPal on a daily basis. You only need to earn $5 to request a payment, which should be easily attainable even if you don't choose to refer other members.
Adbux (like AGLOCO) seems to offer the potential for generating a handy sideline income without any risk or financial outlay. In both cases the best returns will be made by those who refer other members, but there is certainly no need to do this in order to benefit from the programs. AGLOCO possibly has the greater long-term earning potential, but Adbux has the advantage that you can see exactly how much you are earning from day one.
New Addition - 2 May 2007
I am grateful to my colleague Sandy Mather for mentioning to me that there have been some criticisms of the Adbux program, with reports of some payouts being delayed. I would therefore advise caution in pursuing this opportunity. I am still a member and will report in due course on how I get on.
In addition, Sandy recommended to me a resource called The Marketing Pond. This free-to-join website lists a large number of sideline-earning opportunities, all of which have been checked out by the Marketing Pond team. If you are interested in earning a little extra from your browsing, it's well worth a look. I'll post more about The Marketing Pond when I've had a chance to check it out in a bit more detail.