Just wanted to wish all readers of my blog a very happy Christmas and a successful and creative new year. I'm taking a break from blogging for the next week or so, so after this post the next time you'll hear from me will be in 2008!
I shan't be online much over the festive period, so please be patient if you need to contact me about anything. Remember, if you have any queries about any of my writing courses, you can always raise a ticket at www.myhelphub.com. WCCL's support team never sleep, and there will usually be someone around, even on Christmas Day!
I know many of you will have a little more time than usual available over the next few days, so do remember that my forum is always open, and is a great place for getting feedback on your work, tackling a writing challenge or two, or just shooting the breeze in the Coffee Shop. And, of course, if Santa has brought you a few extra pounds/dollars/euro, there are some great resources for writers (including my courses) available via WCCL's WriteStreet website.
Finally, a couple of quick personal messages. First, I'd like to send my support and best wishes to my friend and fellow writer Dr Suzanne (Suzie) Harris, who is going through a rough patch at the moment. I'm not allowed to set out all the circumstances here, but basically she has found herself on the wrong side of the authorities through no fault of her own, and the full weight of the bureaucratic system here in the UK has descended on her. I hope Suzie and her family have as good a Christmas as they can in the circumstances, and that 2008 is a happier year for them.
And - on a brighter note - I'd like to offer my congratulations to my old friend Clare Girvan, who I've just heard has won the 1500 euro first prize in the prestigious 2007 Fish Historical Short Story Competition, having been a runner-up in previous Fish contests. The winners' details aren't yet showing on the website, but should be there soon. Clare is a highly talented short story writer, and it's great to see her work finally getting the recognition it deserves. Way to go, Clare!
My post a few weeks ago about Money4Banners generated a lot of interest, so I thought you might perhaps be interested to hear about another new opportunity to make a bit of painless extra income from your blog or website.
WidgetBucks works in a similar way to Google AdSense. You copy and paste some special code into your website HTML. A banner advert is then displayed on your site, and every time someone clicks on it, you get paid a fee. As with AdSense, you can choose from a range of different banner sizes and colour schemes. You can also choose the type of ad displayed (e.g. video games), or let WidgetBucks analyze your site and automatically display ads that are relevant to the site's content. The latter method is how Google AdSense works, of course.
So what advantages does WidgetBucks have over AdSense? Well, as mentioned, unlike AdSense you can choose the type of ads displayed. The ads themselves tend to be a bit jazzier than those generated by AdSense, and the WidgetBucks site is more user-friendly. And they are giving all new publishers a sign-up bonus of $25 (admittedly, you do have to earn another $25 before you can withdraw this, but I guess that's only fair). The ads themselves supposedly pay about twice what AdSense do. And finally, they have an affiliate program where you can introduce new members and get 10% of whatever they earn in the first year. So, to me anyway, it looks a pretty good deal all round!
If you'd like to see what a typical WidgetBucks ad looks like, I've put one on this page of my Stop Spam Email site - it's under the paragraph about E-Cloaker. Just a word of caution, however. I'm finding that the ads show up in Internet Explorer, but I don't see them in Firefox. Also, the main WidgetBucks site doesn't display correctly in Firefox on my PC, so again it's probably best to view it using Explorer. Hopefully WidgetBucks will address this issue soon.
Anyway, if you have a website or a blog - both are equally welcome - and you'd like to generate a bit of extra cash from banner advertising, it's well worth checking out WidgetBucks. Note that you will need to apply including details of your blog or website, and wait (about 12 hours in my case) for your application to be approved. As far as I can see, most mainstream sites will be accepted, but understandably there are some exclusions, notably sites with "adult" content.
It's nearly Christmas, and I'm in a generous mood. So I've decided to offer a free gift to every reader of my blog. It's a copy of my unique mini-report "How to Make Big Bucks Selling Your Movie Idea to Hollywood".
This report is based on the module about selling ideas for films and TV shows in my course Quick Cash Writing. It explains how, if you have a great idea for a movie, you may be able to get a Hollywood "insider" to pitch it to the studios on your behalf. If your idea is optioned you will pick up a fee of at least $5,000, and much more if the movie is put into production. And no, you don't have to write the screenplay yourself!
There are no strings attached. The report is available for you to download now, free, gratis and for nothing. It's in the universal RT Just click on this link [SORRY, LINK DELETED!] and it should open in a separate window in your word processing software. You can then read it, print it out, or save it to your own PC by selecting "Save As" and saving to a folder of your choice.
But please, if you want to do this, don't leave it too long. I can only leave this offer up until Christmas, after which you will again only be able to obtain the report if you buy WCCL's blockbusting Write a Movie in a Month course via my blog review (or, in a slightly different form, if you buy my Quick Cash Writing course).
And speaking of Write a Movie in a Month, if you're interested in screenwriting you can still take advantage of my special offer on this amazing CD-ROM. Just click on this link to read my blog review, and scroll down to see the offer details (which include both a $20 discount and further bonus items).
Happy Christmas, and happy screenwriting!
SORRY, this offer has now closed. Hope you got to download the report in time! If not, you can still get it, but only if you buy WCCL's blockbusting Write a Movie in a Month course via my blog review (or, in a slightly different form, if you buy my Quick Cash Writing course).
Here's another of my occasional musical discoveries. I first heard Endless Dream on my favourite Internet music station, Radio Paradise. It's by Conjure One, an electronic music project headed by the Canadian musician Rhys Fulber.
This particular track is sung by a guest artist, the American singer-songwriter Poe. As she also apparently wrote the song, I guess she should share the credit with Conjure One at the very least! The track can be heard on Conjure One's CD Extraordinary Ways.
As ever, if you are receiving this post by email, you will need to visit my blog to watch the video.
The video is one of several on YouTube which combines this track with footage from the video game Kingdom Hearts. I'm not sure how much the video adds to the music really, although it is quite fun seeing how often you can spot the Disney characters such as Donald Duck!
I think Endless Dream is a beautiful song, beautifully sung by Poe. And if you listen carefully to the lyrics, there is quite a clever, original idea behind it as well.
I always welcome feedback on my writing courses and other projects for writers. Positive feedback is nice, of course, and thankfully I get plenty of that. However, in some ways negative feedback is more useful.
I would start by saying that I had no involvement in writing or sending the email in question. It was written by WCCL's marketing department, and obviously there is a certain amount of "marketing-speak" in it. I'm not going to criticise WCCL for this, or apologise on their behalf. I will just say that affiliate programs are commonplace on the Internet, and almost every big online retailer from Amazon downwards has one. I make no secret of the fact that anyone with their own website can join WCCL's affiliate program and earn a sideline income helping to sell my courses (and any other of the wide range of products sold by WCCL). You can read more about WCCL's affiliate program in this recent blog post if you like. But of course, if you think affiliate programs are the devil's work, you don't have to join!
Moving on, in the comments section "Lucy" writes: "DO NOT waste your money on the Nick Daws course. It is on a CD which is protected, meaning you cannot use it easily on different pcs, and now I run Windows XP it will not work at all. I emailed the company and they say I have to pay another 15USD for a new version which will work. Take my advice and spend the money on a good old-fashioned printed BOOK that you can use where and when you like."
I do have some sympathy with Lucy here. It is frustrating when you buy software and Microsoft then produce a new version of Windows and it no longer works. However, I tend to think that her ire should be directed more at Bill Gates and co. for producing operating systems that are not backwards-compatible.
Lucy evidently bought one of the earliest versions of my Write Any Book in Under 28 Days course (the only one of my WCCL courses which is not sold as an instant download), in the days of Windows 2000. When - presumably years later - it wouldn't work on the new Windows XP operating system, WCCL asked her for $15 US (around 7.50 UK pounds) for a replacement, XP-compatible CD. When you take into account the cost of the CD-ROM, postage to anywhere in the world, packaging materials and the labour involved, I doubt if they are even breaking even at this price. So I don't think in the circumstances they are being unreasonable. After all, imagine demanding that Microsoft provide you with a free version of Windows Vista because two years ago you bought Windows XP. I can hear Mr Gates laughing now!
My other courses are all sold as instant downloads in the universal PDF format, so migrating to a new operating system is much less likely to cause problems. And, of course, anyone buying Write Any Book in Under 28 Days today gets the latest version of the CD-ROM, which is fully compatible with both Windows Vista and earlier versions of Windows (and you get 24/7 advice and support from WCCL's dedicated helpdesk site if required).
Finally, "Gordon" has some interesting criticisms. He writes: "The whole tacky marketing tangle surrounding Nick Daws needs thorough exposure. He runs a number of schemes with identical pitches: Essential English for Authors, Quick Cash Writing, Write Any Book in Just 28 Days and How to Win Contests, as well as at least one non-site, Stop Spam Email, that gives trivial anti-spam advice probably as a vehicle to host advertising. It doesn't take a genius with Google to find these are part of a walled garden of sites on the WCCL Network affiliate marketing circuit..."
I suppose I should express my gratitude to "Gordon" for name-checking all of my WCCL writing courses! Contrary to what he seems to be implying, however, they are all quite different. Write Any Book in Under 28 Days is my course for anyone who wants to write a book in the shortest possible time. Quick Cash Writing is aimed at people who want to start earning from writing as soon as possible, and covers shorter writing projects such as articles, greeting card slogans, and so on. Essential English for Authors is my new course on grammar, spelling and punctuation. And How to Win Contests is my course on how to write winning slogans for consumer competitions (aimed primarily at a UK/Eire readership).
"Gordon" is right that there are cross-links between the sales sites for these courses and between the free writers' resources sponsored by the WCCL Network such as Mywriterscircle.com and WritersFM. It would be amazing if WCCL did otherwise, as all these sites belong to them, and presumably anyone interested in buying one of my writing courses might also be interested in joining my free forum, or vice versa. So, OK, consider me and my publishers exposed. It's a fair cop!
My Stop Spam Email site, incidentally, is not part of the WCCL Network. It's a private project I worked on some time ago, when I was trying to improve my website design skills. You won't find links to it from WCCL sites (apart from a couple of my blog posts such as this where the topic seemed relevant). OK, the site may not be cutting edge, but in my view it contains sensible advice on how to tackle the spam problem. Yes, it has some ads on it, but these barely cover the hosting costs. If Stop Spam Email was meant to be a money-making scam, I would definitely be starving in my garret by now!
Finally, "Gordon" writes: "As to the blurb - "He enjoys a life of holidaying with his beautiful wife, playing his part as a regional celebrity, and occasionally putting finger to keyboard to write another book" - I spluttered my tea out! I met the guy a while back. His long-time partner, Jayne (mentioned on his own website) would be surprised to hear that he's off holidaying with a wife. His local celebrity extends to being a member of Lichfield & District Writers, a small-city writers' circle. And he holidays no more than the rest of us. Those considering this course should ask themselves why, if he has such insider knowledge and is so successful, he needs to sex up his circumstances and why he needs this mess of marketing schemes."
OK, I hold my hands up. Jayne and I aren't actually married. We've been together for 20 years and most people assume we are married (apart from the nice lady at the local leisure centre who still insists on referring to Jayne as my "sister"!). I'm sure that's what WCCL's copywriter did too. However, to spare "Gordon" choking on his tea any more, I have asked WCCL to change "wife" to "partner" the next time they update the Write Any Book in Under 28 Days sales page.
And yes, I support my local writers circle, Lichfield & District Writers, even though I'm not a regular visitor any more. I really don't give two hoots about being a local or regional celebrity - I much prefer a quiet life - but I suppose you have to grant WCCL's copywriter a bit of artistic licence. As regards holidays, Jayne and I do actually go away more often than most people I know. In the last year we've been to Lanzarote, North Wales, Greece, Venice and Cyprus, as well as a few places around England. It's not something I want to boast about, but we both enjoy travelling and don't have any other expensive hobbies, so it's our one luxury really.
Anyway, there you go. I've gone on a bit longer than I intended in this post, but I don't like to leave criticisms of me and my courses unanswered. I hope that at least if anyone sees the blog post in question now, reading this as well will help them to form a balanced view.
Please note: As previously stated, comments on this post are now closed. Thanks to everyone who replied, supportive or otherwise. Please do not post any further comments here, as they will be automatically deleted.
Power Copywriting is a new course just released by my publishers WCCL. It's written by top US copywriter Bob Serling, and is provided as an instant download in the standard PDF format.
Power Copywriting is 149 pages long. My first impression on opening it on my PC was that it was well written and neatly presented. However, this is the sort of manual you really do need to print out to get the most from. Fortunately WCCL have not built in any copyright-protection features that stop you doing this, so you can print all or any of the pages if you like.
Power Copywriting is primarily about writing website copy, though many of the principles set out would apply equally to other forms of copywriting, e.g. sales letters.
At the heart of the manual is Bob Serling's "32 Step Power Formula" for creating compelling website copy. In general I was highly impressed with this. I always like how-to guides that provide easy-to-understand, step-by-step instructions, and Bob certainly delivers here. One point that came across very clearly to me is that website copywriting is about much more than just sitting down and spinning out a few paragraphs of purple prose. Bob emphasises the importance of researching the product or service you are marketing in great depth. As he says, if you have all the facts about the product at your fingertips, actually writing the sales material becomes quite easy and straightforward.
Another point I gleaned from the manual is that successful copywriting is very much a two-way street with your client. Bob regards it as an important aspect of the copywriter's work to come up with a compelling offer that a customer simply can't say no to. That may mean getting back to your client and suggesting that he offers more and better bonuses, a beefed-up money-back guarantee, and so on. This is certainly something I can identify with from my own experience of copywriting. You must be prepared to liaise with your client to help him come up with the strongest possible offer (while still allowing him to turn a fair profit!).
After the (long) chapter devoted to explaining the 32-Step Formula, there is a Workshop section where Bob shows how he applied the formula in an actual copywriting assignment. He goes through all 32 steps in order, showing how he incorporated them in the finished sales copy (which is reproduced in the manual as well). This is very informative, and actually includes some additional advice and information that is well worth taking on board.
As an occasional copywriter myself, I picked up a lot of useful tips from this manual, and I'm sure my copywriting is going to improve massively as a result. There was just the odd thing I disagreed with, including Bob's recommendation to split long copy over a number of different web pages with a 'click to continue' button at the foot of each. In fact, in my experience this is seldom done on the web today, and I think for good reason - each time the prospect gets to the foot of a page he has to click to continue, and if he can't be bothered to do this, you have lost him. Personally I think it is better to keep your sales copy to a single page, even if it does end up quite a long one!
In addition to the main manual, buyers of Power Copywriting also get five bonus audio interviews in MP3 format, from copywriting gurus Joe Vitale, Marlon Sanders, Audri Lanford, Corey Rudl and Declan Dunn. I must admit I haven't listened to these yet, as the total file size is over 300MB, and even with my broadband connection Firefox tells me it will take over two hours to download! I definitely intend to do this, however, probably overnight, as these guys really are the creme-de-la-creme of Internet copywriters.
Finally, I should emphasise that Power Copywriting is all about writing web-based sales copy. If you want to know how to do this, whether for your own sites or on behalf of your clients, I recommend it highly. It's well written with lots of examples to support the points made, and would be suitable for beginners as well as people such as myself who have some knowledge of copywriting but realise they still have plenty to learn. One thing Power Copywriting doesn't do, however, is tell you how to set up your own copywriting business. Still, I understand that WCCL have a new course on that subject coming out next year!
One of those queries that crops up regularly on my forum is how you should represent a character's thoughts in fiction. Here's my take on the subject...
First of all, this is a stylistic matter, not one of grammar. There is no single "correct" way to punctuate or otherwise represent a character's thoughts. Some authors put them in quotation marks, others use italics. I've even seen thoughts put in parentheses or ALL CAPS, though I certainly don't recommend that!
In fact, the most common approach nowadays is to avoid using any special punctuation or formatting to represent thoughts, and that is the style I would strongly recommend.
A crucial point here is that most stories today are written in scenes portrayed through the eyes of a single viewpoint character, whether first person (I) or third person (he/she). In such cases there is no need for any extra punctuation to signify a character's thoughts. The whole scene is, in effect, the thoughts and perceptions of the 'viewpoint' character. The example below - written in a third-person limited viewpoint - may illustrate why extra punctuation for thoughts is usually unnecessary.
"What time is it?" Julia asked. That's the third time you've asked me in the last twenty minutes, John thought. Still, he checked his watch. "Five to eight," he said. "Why aren't they here?" Julia asked. She stared at him. "Do you think they've been in an accident?" "I doubt it," John replied. "Probably they just got held up in the traffic." Unless Pete's car has broken down again, he thought to himself.
If you tried putting quotation marks around the thoughts in this passage, you would end up with almost everything in quotes, and total confusion over whether the character was speaking or thinking. In general, the problem with using inverted commas around a character's thoughts is (a) it makes the text look cluttered, and (b) it invites confusion with speech.
So what about the alternative of using italics for thoughts? Yes, you can do this, but as mentioned above, when a scene is written from a limited viewpoint anyway (as is usually the case in modern fiction), there is no need to represent thoughts any differently from the rest of the text. And if it's unnecessary, why do it?
Using italics to represent thoughts also has a number of drawbacks. You are likely to waste a lot of time agonising over whether a particular line is a thought or a description. You will end up with much of your text in italics, which looks ugly and distracting. And finally, you will lose the option of using italics when, for some dramatic reason, extra emphasis is required.
So my advice is clear. NEVER use quotation marks for thoughts. If it's absolutely necessary to indicate thoughts in a special way, use italics (but mostly this shouldn't be required). And keep italics for their proper purpose, which is providing extra emphasis.
Many readers of this blog also belong to my forum at www.mywriterscircle.com, or at least visit it occasionally. So I thought I should bring you up to date with a few developments there.
First of all, we have a "changing of the guard" among the moderators. Our longest-standing mod, Lin, has decided to resign as a moderator in order to have more time for her own writing and her voluntary work on behalf of the BOS Foundation UK (BOS stands for Borneo Orangutan Survival).
I should like to express again here my gratitude to Lin for her hard work on behalf of MWC, and wish her every success in all her future endeavours. Lin assures me that she will remain a regular visitor to the forum as an ordinary member, and indeed has started a special thread in the Coffee Shop to keep members informed about her work on behalf of orangutans.
In Lin's place we have a new moderator, PaulW. Paul lives in Dundee, Scotland, and has been an active and well-respected member of MWC since September 2006. Again, I wish him every success and satisfaction in his new role. If you are a member of Mywriterscircle and wish to add your good wishes to Paul and/or Lin, you can do so in this forum topic.
Incidentally, for those who don't know, the moderators are all unpaid volunteers. They have agreed in a public-spirited way to take on this extra responsibility, to help keep the forum tidy and ensure it remains a safe and welcoming place for all its members. The moderators have certain extra powers compared with ordinary members, including the ability to edit, move and delete posts. The other moderators on Mywriterscircle are Cathy C, Saturnine, Symphony, Nadine L and Carrie.
On a more technical note, some of you might be interested to know that, thanks to the hard work of forum administrator Karl Moore, Mywriterscircle can now be viewed in all its glory on any mobile (cell) phone with Internet access. No special URL is required - just enter www.mywriterscircle.com as usual. Many thanks to Karl for making this possible.
Karl has also changed the settings on the forum so that members' email addresses can only be viewed by logged-in members, and not by casual visitors. This should reduce the risk of members' email addresses being "harvested" from the forum and used by spammers. Of course, you can reduce the risk still further by opting to make your e-mail address invisible, as I explained in this recent forum post. Other members will still be able to contact you using the forum's PM (personal messaging) facility.
It's also worth mentioning that in the last few days several more very interesting-looking opportunities have been posted on the Writers Wanted board by my colleague Linda Jones (though admittedly they are mainly relevant to UK writers). Thanks again, Linda!
Finally, on a lighter note, you might just like to visit Mywriterscircle to check out our new, festive-themed header. I particularly like the iPod with a Santa hat!
An interesting question was asked by a new member recently on my forum. Editing it down slightly, it read as follows:
"I'm an online writer, seeking tips to improve my writing productivity. Because everything I write, from flash fictions to articles, goes straight on the web, I don't have to spend time trying to get accepted by publishers. Of course, it is essential that the articles or stories are worth reading and, no doubt, some are better than others. But, at the end of the day, it is a numbers game. The more I write - to an acceptable quality - the more readers I gain and, cent by tortuous cent, the more money I earn. My big question is this: Have you any tips for writing faster whilst still achieving a satisfactory level of quality?"
With apologies for a bit of self-promotion here, it occurred to me that really the essential resource this writer required was my course Write Any Book in Under 28 Days. Not only does this include my unique, five-step blueprinting and outlining system, it is also crammed with other hints and tips on working more efficiently and boosting your writing productivity.
Thinking about it a little more, however, it occurred to me that there are a few other tools you can use as well to speed things along, especially if (like me) you're not the world's fastest typist.
One very useful resource I've been using for a while is Quick-Type, from my publishers WCCL. This is an extremely handy little program that can greatly speed up your typing. You simply give Quick-Type all the common pieces of text you type, along with a keyword for each of them. Then, whenever you type that keyword in future, it gets replaced with your chosen text.
Quick-Type works in any text-based application, including email programs and word processors. You can download a fully functional, time-limited free-trial version from the Quick-Type site. If you like it, you can then pay a small fee to register the software.
Another program that can save you a lot of time and effort is 101 Clips. This is a freeware clipboard program that greatly extends the functionality of the standard Windows clipboard. You can save up to 30 different items on 101 Clips at any one time, including images as well as text. A click on the system tray icon will bring 101 Clips to the front of whatever application you are working on. All of your copied items will be listed, and you can enter the one you require simply by clicking on it.
I used 101 Clips quite extensively recently when working on my accounts (using Microsoft Excel), to save constantly retyping words such as stationery, postage, bank charges, and so on. It's a neat, user-friendly program with quite a few extra features, and obviously you can't beat the price!
Finally, if you'd like to see other people's suggestions for enhancing writing productivity as well, you might like to check out this topic (where the question was originally posed) on my forum.
It's the start of December, and time to get into the Christmas spirit! So why not make your computer a little more festive by downloading the free Christmas screensaver just produced by my colleague and publisher Karl Moore and available from his blog at www.karlblog.com?
Karl's Christmas screensaver displays 100 beautiful festive scenes from across the globe, smoothly shifting from one image to the next. It's free of charge, and naturally it is also spyware-free, adware-free, and so on.
I should mention that Karl's Christmas screensaver is quite a large file. It's 35MB in total, and took around ten minutes to download on my broadband (cable) connection. I don't think I would recommend trying to get it this way if you're still on dial-up, therefore!
To download Karl's Christmas screensaver, just click on any of the links in this post, which will take you to the relevant post on Karl's blog, and click on the Download link (under 'Want to Download your Copy?'). It's a .exe file, so I recommend that you save it to anywhere on your PC (e.g. the desktop), then double-click in the usual way to launch it. The Christmas screensaver will then be installed on your PC. Of course, you can remove it permanently or temporarily at any time via your computer's Control Panel.
Finally, as I've mentioned Karl's blog here, I'd just like to recommend it to anyone who is interested in personal growth and self-development. It's a fascinating and inspiring blog, with an addictive mixture of odd facts, inspirational quotes and stories, random acts of kindness, and much more.
The same, incidentally, applies to Karl's forum at www.karlforum.com, which is great place for chatting with like-minded individuals and discussing some of the matters Karl posts about in his blog. Neither of these sites is commercially-oriented, but if you'd like to know more about the growing range of self-help products and publications sold by Karl's company, the place to look is Self Help Street. Do check them all out!