We still have one more subscription to SpellCheckPlus Pro to give away (again including the Bon Patron Pro subscription as well), so this time we're simply donating it to whoever posts message number 115000 on the forum. Please see this topic for more information.
My forum at www.mywriterscircle.com is becoming ever more popular. Already in November we have smashed the previous record for the number of posts in a month. The old record was 7774, but in November we're already up to 8446, with one more day still to go!
If you haven't yet joined my forum, therefore, do give it a try. It's free and easy to do, and you will then be able to post any writing-related questions you may have, put up extracts of your work for feedback from other members, and generally enjoy belonging to a friendly, world-wide online writing community. Just go to www.mywriterscircle.com and click on Register to get started.
You will also be able to take part in our regular prize competitions, such as the current contest to win a year's subscription to SpellCheckPlus Pro. The closing date for this one is tomorrow, so there's still time to enter. Just click on this link to go straight to the topic concerned, though note that you will need to be a logged-in member to post your entry.
All you have to do is write a short verse about Mywriterscircle.com and post it in this topic. Any verse-form may be used, with an upper limit of 14 lines. The judges will be Karl Moore of WCCL and myself, and we will each pick our favourite of the entries submitted. Each winner will then receive a prize (we have two to give away in total).
Forum members can post their entries as a reply in this forum topic, which also includes the full rules. Any comments or questions about the contest can be posted in this other topic.
The closing date is Friday 30 November at 12 noon GMT - so have fun, and get writing!
If you have your own website - and in my view every writer should - here's an opportunity to earn a little extra from it.
I should say at once that this opportunity, Money4Banners, does not require any financial outlay. Rather, you are required to place three small advertising banners on three different pages of your website. In practice that just means copying and pasting a bit of code supplied by Money4Banners into your website HTML.
Assuming your site is approved - and it almost certainly will be - you will then receive a fee of 10 UK pounds ($20 US) on acceptance, and 5 UK pounds ($10 US) every month for as long as you keep the ads running. Payments can be taken either in cash (via Paypal) or in Amazon vouchers.
I admit five pounds a month might not sound a fortune, but that's 60 pounds a year, every year, that you wouldn't otherwise have. I've been a member of the program run by Money4Banners' parent company for over two years now, so I can testify that it really is that easy, and you really do get paid. You can see a sample of the sort of ads they use on the homepage of my anti-spam website (it's the insurance ad about half-way down).
OK, if you don't have a website or you faint at the sight of HTML, this opportunity might not be for you. But if you have a site and don't mind adding a few extra banners - in locations of your own choice - this scheme could cover all your hosting costs and a bit more besides.
By the way, I asked and was told that the Money4Banners scheme is available to anyone, anywhere in the world.
P.S. If you don't yet have your own website, I highly recommend The Newbie Club First Website Builder, which will show you everything you need to know to build a professional-looking site using free tools.
Thought you might like to know that my colleague Karl Moore of the electronic publishing house WCCL is looking for a Marketing Assistant/PA, to help with a range of online promotions they have planned.
On this topic in my forum, Karl writes: "You'll need to be devilishly intelligent, friendly as a cup of tea, and with writing skills to blow me away. You'll also need to be friendly, approachable, and great on the phone."
So, as Karl says, just your standard run-of-the-mill job requirement there...
If you are interested, drop Karl a line at karl-at-karlmoore.com (change the -at- to an @ sign as usual), putting KARL MOORE in the subject line.
Good luck if you decide to apply for this job. Who knows, you could end up helping to promote my courses!
Update 27 November 2007 - I've just heard that this vacancy has been filled. Sorry!
As the name indicates, Essential English for Authors is intended for anyone who would like to write for publication but fears their written English might let them down.
As regular members of my forum will know, grammar and punctuation are something of a passion of mine. It's a subject I often post about in the forum in response to member queries, and I've really enjoyed having this opportunity to put all my advice together in a single, modestly priced guide.
In twelve concise but information-packed modules, Essential English for Authors takes you through all the common problem areas for new writers: from the basics of grammatical sentence and paragraph construction, through the principles of capitalization and punctuation, to "minefield" topics such as subject/verb agreement and how to set out and punctuate dialogue. I have tried to explain everything in simple, easy-to-grasp terms, with lots of examples to illustrate the points made.
It's not just the basics, however. A long module titled "Putting on the Style" covers a range of matters that, while they may not all be essential to achieving publication, will help bring your written English up to the highest professional standards. The topics discussed in this module include parallel construction, active v. passive voice, use of the subjunctive in modern English, when to use "who" or "whom", and many more. There are also self-study tests you can complete to check your understanding of the material covered.
The course assumes no previous knowledge (beyond a basic familiarity with English), and is ideal for beginners and people for whom English is not their first language. It is, however, equally suitable for established writers who want to brush up on their knowledge of grammar, spelling and punctuation. And for aspiring self-publishers - especially if they won't be engaging a professional editor - it's an essential reference to ensure that your book isn't laughed out of court by critics and reviewers.
And even if you don't aspire to write for publication but just want to bring your written English up to the best possible standard in the shortest possible time, Essential English for Authors is ideal for you too!
Essential English for Authors is intended to be suitable for anyone in the world. It's written in US English, but British English is referred to throughout (I'm a Brit myself, of course).
For more information and to order Essential English for Authors, just click any of the links in this post to go through to my publisher's sales page. Alternatively, if you would like to read a short extract from the course first, please click here to go to the relevant page on my website.
Finally, I should mention that Essential English for Authors is currently on offer at a low launch price. After the launch period is over, this will certainly rise - so if you'd like to take advantage of the current special offer, please don't hesitate too long.
Several members of my forum (me included!) have recently received emails from someone purporting to be a member of Mywriterscircle.com asking them for help in moving large sums of money out of an African country, in exchange for a cut of the profits.
This is - as you may know - a scam that has been doing the rounds for some years. Surprisingly people do still fall for it, however, and end up paying thousands of dollars supposedly to cover bribes, customs fees, and so on. It's called Advance Fee Fraud, and takes a wide variety of forms, as discussed in this Wikipedia article. So please, if you get a message of this nature, just delete it. Or, if you're feeling public-spirited, report it to your email provider and/or the email provider of the sender.
It appears that the fraudsters have "harvested" members' email addresses from their profile pages on the forum, so I would strongly recommend all members of Mywriterscircle.com to select the option to HIDE their email address from the general public. I have explained exactly how to do this in this forum post.
To reduce the risk of spam, it is highly advisable NEVER to publish your main email address on the Internet. If you do need to publish an email address for people to contact you, use a free web-based service such as Hotmail, or a dedicated anti-spam service such as Sneakemail (which I use). The latter, which is free to try out, lets you create temporary "disposable" email addresses, which you can easily change when they start getting spammed.
To emphasise again, whoever is doing this is NOT a member of Mywriterscircle.com. If they were, we would of course ban them. They are simply fraudsters, and the best advice is to ignore them and/or install a spam filter such as Spam Bully to try to block their emails from reaching you. You might also like to check out my Stop Spam Email website, which has a lot more advice on preventing and dealing with email spam.
To win this prize, you have to write a short verse about Mywriterscircle.com and post it in this topic. Any verse-form may be used, with an upper limit of 14 lines (so sonnets are eligible!). Use of humour is not only acceptable, it is positively encouraged. The judges will be me and Karl Moore of WCCL, and we will each pick our favourite of all the entries submitted. Each winner will then receive a prize (we have two to give away in total).
Forum members can post their entries as a reply in this forum topic, which also includes the full rules. Please do NOT post comments or queries there, though, as we want to keep it for contest entries only. Any comments or questions about the contest can be posted in this other topic.
The closing date is Friday 30 November at 12 noon GMT - so have fun, and get writing!
I was recently emailed by Dr Terry Nadasdi, who is co-developer of a free online spelling and grammar checker called Spellcheckplus. Dr Nadasdi asked if I would be willing to look at the site and offer any comments.
Well, I have done this, and was duly impressed. Because it is web-based, Spellcheckplus will work on any computer, PC or Mac. The Spellcheckplus website allows you to paste any amount of text into it, and it will then check this for possible spelling and grammatical mistakes.
When I tried this with some text I had written for an e-book, copying and pasting directly from Microsoft Word into the text box, it analyzed my writing and identified a couple of possible mistakes. One of these was a misunderstanding by the software, but the other was a grammatical point that I had to admit needed attention.
The checking process is quick and intuitive. Clear errors (e.g. typos) are highlighted in red, whilst items to check (e.g. possible grammatical mistakes) are shown in yellow. If you hover your cursor over a highlighted area of text, a box appears to the right with an explanation and/or suggested alternatives.
Unlike some commercial programs such as WhiteSmoke, Spellcheckplus does not make any changes for you - you have to go in and do this yourself. This is an intentional feature. SpellCheckPlus is aimed primarily at people who are learning English as a second language, so for pedagogical reasons it requires users to make all corrections themselves. Then, of course, they can re-check to see if all their errors have been put right.
The developers emphasise that Spellcheckplus can ONLY check for spelling and grammatical errors, however. It cannot detect whether a sentence makes sense or not, neither does it provide the "enrichment" suggestions offered by WhiteSmoke.
As mentioned above, Spellcheckplus is free, but there is also a premium version called SpellCheckPlus Pro which offers a few additional features (and no advertising). This costs just $15 Canadian a year.
Overall, I think Spellcheckplus is a very nifty application. If you're at all shaky on spelling or grammar, running your work through it before sending it for publication could save you some embarrassment. Ideally it would be nice if it offered the option for suggested corrections to be incorporated automatically by clicking on them - but even without that feature, Spellcheckplus offers an extremely useful free service. For people for whom English is not their first language, in particular, I would highly recommend it.
UPDATE 1 October 2008 - Check out my new, free contest to win a year's subscription to SpellCheckPlus Pro!
In my post yesterday, I managed to provide the wrong links for WCCL's Big Software Giveaway site. If you clicked and were puzzled by what you saw, please accept my grovelling apologies, therefore. All the links have now been put right, or you can click on the Big Software Giveaway links in this message to go straight to the correct web page for this special offer.
My publishers WCCL are getting into the Christmas spirit early! Until the end of November, they are giving away a wide range of free Windows software and privacy tools from their Software Giveaway Site, just in exchange for signing up to one of their free email newsletters.
The newsletters in question are their Windows Power User newsletter, which features all the latest technology news and downloads, and their Privacy #1 newsletter, which provides tips and tricks for preserving your anonymity online. You can choose which of these to receive according to where your main interests lie (or you could subscribe to both, of course). The newsletters are sent twice weekly. They are full of interesting advice and information - you can view sample issues on the Software Giveaway Site - but naturally you can unsubscribe at any time if you wish.
You can see the free software on offer at the Software Giveaway Site. Just a few highlights include a program that will turn your free GMail account into a virtual hard drive with around 3Gb capacity - a voicemail program that lets you record your own voicemail messages and send them by email - and a privacy program that automatically erases your browsing history when you close your browser. There is also a range of downloadable video games.
WCCL site manager Trent Steele emphasises that these are not poorly-produced DOS programs of the type you’ll find floating around in freeware libraries from the 1990s. They are the very latest software, and they work in both Windows XP and Vista. Many of the products are produced by WCCL themselves, and are not available from any other source. Obviously, you can pick and choose which products you download, or you can grab all of them!
OK, if you only ever use your computer for word processing, this offer may not be for you. But if you like to keep up to date with the latest software - and you are conscious of the importance of protecting your security/privacy online - in my view it's well worth giving the Software Giveaway Site the once-over.
Finally, I understand that people are sometimes suspicious of offers that sound "too good to be true", so I would just like to emphasise again that this offer comes from WCCL, who as well as publishing my writing courses also sponsor this blog and my forum. They are keen to increase the circulation of these newsletters, which is why they are making this one-time offer. I can vouch that they are a reputable company, and will not use your e-mail address for any purpose other than sending you copies of your chosen newsletter.
On my recent trip to Venice I passed some of the journey reading the in-flight magazine provided by the airline (easyJet).
Perhaps surprisingly for a budget airline, easyJet produce a very nice in-flight magazine - it's simply called easyJet Inflight. As I flipped through it, I was struck by the number of articles that could have been - and probably were - written by freelances. Here are a few that particularly caught my eye (yes, I took the mag away with me - it does say on the front 'Your Free Copy to Keep').
Smarter Not Harder - This article in the Business section looks at 'smart working' - a term which describes alternatives to the traditional 9 to 5, including home-working, tele-commuting, flexible hours, and so on. The article has a Europe-wide perspective, and advocates smart working as beneficial to individuals, their employers, and society as a whole.
Truffle Hounds - This is a lighter article about the UK's first training school for truffle dogs, where they are trained to sniff out this much-prized delicacy.
White Goes Green - This article argues that skiers need to be more aware of the environmental impact of their sport, and sets out some tips on how to be a greener skier.
Any of these articles - and many others in this 180-page monthly magazine - could easily have been researched and written by a competent freelance. It's worth noting that in-flight magazines are generally produced by contract publishing companies rather than the airlines themselves. The easyJet magazine is published on behalf of easyJet by London-based Ink Publishing, who also produce magazines for a wide range of other airlines, including RyanAir, Midwest Airlines, China Air, and so on.
If you have a good idea for an in-flight magazine article, it would certainly be worth submitting a query letter and outline to the publisher concerned, be it Ink Publishing or someone else. Articles with a cosmopolitan outlook targeted at regular travellers should have a good chance of success with both budget and regular airline magazines. Ideas for features based on the destinations the airlines in question fly to could also go down well, particularly if you can find an unusual angle on a popular destination.
The main substance of Rob's complaint concerned the testimonials used in The Writers Bureau's ads in newspapers and magazines. Rob believed that these exaggerated how successful the books and authors in question had actually been, and for the most part his complaints were upheld. You can read the full story in Rob's blog post, and also in the full ASA judgement, which was posted online earlier this week.
As a former Writers Bureau tutor, author of some of their course material, and creator of one of their regular ads (though not the testimonials!), I must admit to a particular interest in this matter.
In my long experience The Writers Bureau is a reputable organisation which in general offers a good service to its students, so I take no pleasure in seeing this judgement made against them by the ASA. However, I had been aware for some time that their newspaper ads always used the same testimonials, which I would have thought counter-productive anyway.
It seems to me that The Writers Bureau has been lazy in not updating its advertising. The testimonials also seem to have been misleading in other ways, for which I suppose the charitable explanation is that somebody at their advertising agency got a bit carried away. I know from my own experience as a WB tutor that many of their students did indeed go on to achieve publishing success, so I'm sure they could have found plenty of genuine, non-misleading testimonials if they had bothered to look. As I say, it looks like laziness to me, rather than anything more sinister in the organisation as a whole.
When this topic was discussed on my forum, one member commented that every company invents testimonials to try to make their product sound better. I absolutely disagree with this, however. I've worked for a wide range of mail-order and web-based publishers and, while they may indulge in some creative copywriting at times, testimonials are one thing they will never make up. With a good product, anyway, you don't need to. In the case of my writing courses such as Quick Cash Writing and Write Any Book in Under 28 Days, my publishers and I have received hundreds of unsolicited testimonials, and the only difficult thing is knowing which to feature in our advertising.
So my view is that The Writers Bureau have shot themselves in the foot on this issue. Rather than complaining about the ASA judgement, I think they should take a long, hard look at their advertising strategy, and in particular the testimonials they use. They should ensure that these are genuine and regularly updated. Even if they may not always sound quite as impressive as the discredited quotes described in the ASA judgement, they will be more realistic and believable, and may actually be more effective in persuading people to sign up with them. And, of course, The Writers Bureau will not risk having its reputation tarnished any further if someone such as Rob Spence decides to look into them in more detail!
PLEASE NOTE: This archived post is still attracting a lot of search engine traffic, so I'd ask readers to bear in mind that the ASA judgement is old news now. I suggest reading my more recent post, An Interview With Diana Nadin of The Writers Bureau, for a more up-to-date perspective on The Writers Bureau and its courses. Thank You!
Yes, our final (for now) copy of WhiteSmoke writing software has been won. The lucky winner who posted message number 105,000 on my forum was Narnian Prince, otherwise known as Chris. Here's a link to the post in question.
Chris was surprised to discover he had won the prize. On the forum he wrote, "I had no idea that I was going to win! To be honest, I wasn't even aware that more copies were being given out! To say the least I was completely flabbergasted and sat in shock for a good deal when I found out."
He has already started putting the software to good use, however: "As I found out about my win while I was at work, I had to wait until I got home to download it and give it a whirl. To say the least, it left me quite breathless! I love the features and the way you can interact to improve your writing style and quality. I've only given it a quick once over but feel very confident in saying that this software will play a major factor in most of my writing from now on..."
Congratulations again to Chris, and I look forward to seeing more of his new, WhiteSmoke-enhanced writing on the forum soon! Many thanks, also, to our friends at WhiteSmoke, who kindly donated the software prizes for the recent contests. If you would like more information about their popular program, which not only checks your writing for mistakes but suggests ways of improving it, please click on the banner below.
And watch out for more prize contests on my blog and forum soon!
OK, so it's not exactly New England, but Burntwood (where I live) is looking quite picturesque at the moment. Here are a few pictures I took yesterday, when I sneaked out of my office for a few minutes...
If you are receiving this post by email, depending on your settings, you may need to visit my blog to see the pictures. You can also see a few more pictures I took by clicking here.
Today it is cloudy, and gale-force winds are forecast for tomorrow. So I suspect that by the end of this week, most of the remaining leaves in the trees will have gone!
...That's the title of an article I saw the other day on The Positivity Blog by Henrik Edberg, a 26 year old student from Sweden.
In his article, Henrik has set out seven pieces of advice for writers gleaned from horror writer Stephen King's book On Writing- which I highly recommend, by the way. Here's the first (and shortest) of the seven items:
1. Get to the point.
Don't waste your reader's time with too much back-story, long intros or longer anecdotes about your life. Reduce the noise. Reduce the babbling. In On Writing King gets to his points quickly. Get to your point quickly too before your reader loses patience and moves on.
The other tips in this article on The Positivity Blog are all well worth reading too. OK, none are Earth-shattering, but it's all solid stuff, and relevant to all types of writing, not just novels and short stories. Check it out!
Linda is a highly experienced newspaper journalist who now runs the PR and journalism agency Passionate Media. She is also a student of my Quick Cash Writing course, and kindly wrote in the acknowledgements section of this book, "Thanks to Nick Daws for inspiring a more 'rounded' writing career, when all I feared I was fit to write about was local news." Aw, shucks, Linda, it was nothing...
Anyway, I got my copy of the book at the launch (along with several plates of the very nice buffet). My first impressions were highly favourable. Unlike earlier books in the Greatest Tips series I have seen, The Greatest Freelance Writing Tips in the Worldis in small hardback form. It is beautifully designed and produced, even including a ribbon for use as a bookmark. Full marks to the publishers for making such an excellent job of a book that sells for just 6.99 UK pounds (around $14.00 US).
Of course, the main thing with any book is the content. As you might expect of a writer with Linda's pedigree, The Greatest Freelance Writing Tips in the Worldis exceptionally well written. The book is particularly strong on freelance journalism. As I do not have a journalistic background myself, I found these sections especially informative. The book really does make you feel that writing features for top newspapers and magazines is an attainable goal, and the advice on pitching an idea in particular is invaluable. This applies all the more so as Linda does this sucessfully herself every day - so she really does walk the walk as well as talking the talk.
Other sections of the book look at interview and research skills, writing for the Internet, and commercial writing (writing for business clients, in other words). Again, this is all stuff Linda does regularly herself in her day-to-day work. Her advice is based on years of experience, and it shows. Again, I made quite a few notes in these sections.
Of course, in a 160-page book not every aspect of freelance writing can be covered in depth. There is not much on fiction writing, book writing, or writing for the broadcast media, for example. However, if you are interested in freelance journalism and related areas - and these are often the best fields for new writers seeking to establish themselves as freelances - The Greatest Freelance Writing Tips in the Worldoffers essential guidance for (as noted above) a very modest price. It would also make a nice Christmas present for any would-be writer!
LATE ADDITION - If you visit this page of Linda Jones's blog, you can read more about the book launch and see a slightly scary picture of me engrossed in reading it!
Many thanks to everyone who voted for my forum in this poll. Thanks also to the nice people at Writer's Digest, who gave the forum the following write-up on their site:
Apart from review boards for prose, poetry and scriptwriting, there are general advice boards, writers resources, a chat room and even a coffee shop (for off-topic conversation). It supports writers of all levels in a friendly, informal way.
Couldn't agree more, guys!
Nominations are already being accepted for next year's Top 100 list, and you can e-mail them in with your comments to writersdig-at-fwpubs.com, with "101 Websites" as the subject (change the -at- in the e-mail address to the usual @ sign). Obviously, if you'd like to vote again for my forum to keep it in the top 100, that will be much appreciated. And if you want to vote for my blog or WritersFM as well, feel free to do so!
Finally, it's well worth visiting the 101 Best Web Sites for Writers page anyway, to check out the other 100 sites listed. There are some great resources for writers here, including a surprising (to me) number that I was previously unaware of. Some of these I will no doubt be highlighting on this blog in the coming months.