In just a couple of days - even less in some parts of the world - it will be 2009. It's the ideal time to plan ahead and set yourself writing goals and targets for the new year.
One thing about goals is that, to be of any practical use, they need to be specific. 'Make more money' from writing, while it sounds attractive, is too vague to be much help in motivating you.
A better goal might be 'to boost my writing income by 30 per cent this year'. Or, if you want something even more specific, 'complete my first book by the end of 2009'. Goals like these are much better because they give you a clear target to aim at and a yardstick to measure your progress.
I have a number of goals I want to achieve in 2009. Here are some of them...
* Create my first podcast.
* Start at least one new blog using the popular WordPress blogging system.
* Develop a new and radically different writing course idea I have been mulling over for some time now.
* Complete the writing course I am working on currently for a client.
* Write at least three more non-fiction books by the end of the year.
Those are just some of my writing goals for 2009. But I'd love to know, what are YOURS?
Please feel free to add them as comments to this blog post. Having your goals on display here permanently will give you an added incentive to achieve them. And naturally, at the end of the year I'll want to see evidence that you have done so!
Just wanted to wish all my readers a Very Happy Christmas!
Here's a short video that may help put you in the festive mood...
As ever, if you're receiving this post by email, you will need to visit my blog to watch the video.
Even if you don't celebrate the religious festival, I hope you enjoy the festive season. I'll be taking a break from blogging over Christmas, so I'll see you all again in the new year.
Don't forget, though, that if you have any time on your hands during the holiday period, my forum at www.mywriterscircle.com is always open for discussions about writing, or any subject you choose in The Coffee Shop.
Once again, I do hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a happy and creative new year. Thank you for being a valued reader of My Writing Blog.
I've been a full-time freelance writer for nearly twenty years now, and during that time I've had a lot of would-be clients approach me about working for them. To some I've said yes, others no. Often, my decision is strongly influenced by the way they approach me.
So I thought in this post I would set out a few tips for anyone who wants to hire a freelance writer. If you're a writer yourself, maybe you'll identify with some of these points. If you're looking to hire a freelance writer, I hope my advice will make the process a little less stressful for all concerned!
1. First Find Your Writer
One of the best ways to find a freelance writer is by personal recommendation. So if you happen know anyone who hires freelance writers, find out whom they use and ask for their contact details. This will give you a good starting point in your search at least.
Otherwise, you will need to start looking around. You could simply enter "freelance writer" in Google and see who turns up (not forgetting to check the 'sponsored listings' as well). You can also narrow down your search by area or by specialism. Try searching on Google for "freelance writer UK" and see who comes up top, by the way!
You can also post details of the job you have in mind on websites such as Guru and Elance and invite authors to bid for them. This does have some drawbacks, though. Apart from being time-consuming, the information available on those bidding for work is often minimal. You will still need to check very carefully whether any candidates have the skills and knowledge you require.
2. Give Them Enough Information
Once you've found a potential writer and checked them out, you'll want to contact them to see if they are interested in taking on your assignment. It's important to include enough information in your query for the writer to tell if the job would suit their skills and experience.
Personally, the type of enquiry I least enjoy receiving is along the lines, 'I have a writing job for you. Please phone me to discuss.' That means I am expected to call this individual at my expense - possibly at international rates - with no clue what he wants me to do, and the need to make an on-the-spot decision whether I am interested or not.
While I don't require a detailed brief with the initial enquiry, I much prefer a paragraph or two of explanation so that I can get some idea what the job will entail: length, subject matter, deadlines, and so on. If there is a set budget, it is helpful to know this also. Otherwise, especially if I am busy, I am quite inclined to say, 'Thanks, but no thanks'. Experience has taught me that vague enquiries seldom lead to worthwhile assignments.
3. Don't Assume You're Doing Them a Favour
Professional writers are busy people, and they can't take on every job that is offered to them. That applies especially with jobs that are offered out of the blue. You need to make some effort in your approach to demonstrate that you are a genuine prospective client and not, as they say in these parts, a tyre-kicker. As mentioned above, it helps a lot if you provide enough information in your initial approach to show the writer that you are business-like and professional, and have devoted some serious thought to what you want the writer to do.
4. Don't Expect Them to Work for Free
If you just want a quote or expression of interest, that's fine. But if you want your writer to produce sample articles, outlines, or whatever so that you can assess their suitability for the job, you should offer them a reasonable fee for this.
5. Don't Assume Any Writer Will Do
Writing covers a huge spectrum of activities, and all writers specialize to some extent. This is another reason you should tell your prospective writer what the job will involve in your initial approach. Even if it's not a type of writing he (or she) does, he may know someone who specializes in that field and be able to refer you. I routinely refer most ghost-writing queries to my colleague Hannah Renier, for example; whilst any approaches from people wanting to sell their story to a newspaper or magazine get referred to my near-neighbour Linda Jones, of the agency Passionate Media.
6. Be Honest and Up Front
Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but it's important not to get off on the wrong foot with your writer.
Here's an example from my own experience. I was asked by a potential client to help him write a book, and as a first step to produce an outline. This involved researching the topic concerned, and turned out to involve a bit more work than I anticipated. However, I agreed to do it, as I assumed that as long as the client was happy with my outline, I would get this well-paying assignment.
Then I found out, quite by chance, that a colleague had been approached by the same person and asked to do exactly the same thing. In fact, the client had approached at least two other writers as well, and we were effectively competing against one another. I felt I had been misled, and told the client I was no longer interested in working for him.
Of course, there is no objection to a potential client getting several quotes if he wants to, but where preliminary work is going to be involved for the unsuccessful writers as well, I believe the client should make this clear to all concerned. See also my comments above about not expecting writers to work for free.
7. Give Them All the Essential Info
If you don't tell your writer all the important facts, don't be surprised if they produce something unsuitable for you.
Here's another example from my experience. A few years ago I was approached by someone wanting me to write a short story for him, to give to his fiancee on their wedding day. He told me he wanted a medieval-style fairy tale, with himself as the hero and his fiancee as his princess.
I took the job (at below my usual rates, but I actually found the project quite touching and romantic) and produced a story where the hero went to Hispaniola with the king's forces and slayed a mechanical dragon that had been terrorizing the locals. He then came back as a hero to claim his bride.
My client wasn't impressed. He told me his fiancee's ex had been in the army, so could I come up with a story that had no military connections? Everything I'd written had to be scrapped. I told the client that if he still wanted me to do this job, he would have to come up with an outline plot himself. I would then flesh it out for him, but I couldn't go on writing stories then having them rejected for reasons I had hitherto heard nothing about. I never heard from him again.
In the last example, I do actually have some sympathy for the young man concerned, as he obviously had no experience working with freelance writers, and he did have the best of intentions. However, it turned out to be a waste of a week's work for me, purely because I wasn't given all the essential details.
To sum up, then, if you want to hire a professional writer, it's important to present a business-like image. Show the writer that you value their skills and understand that they may not want, or be able, to take the job on. Give them all the facts they require to assess your proposed project in an open and honest way. If you want them to produce a sample of work for you, offer them a fee. And once you've hired them, give them all the information they need to be able to do a good job for you.
Do all of these things, and you will be well on your way to becoming the ideal client for a freelance writer. And, more importantly, there is every chance you will find a suitably skilled individual for your project, and get the best possible results from them.
* And yes, as a full-time professional writer, I'm always delighted to hear from potential clients! Use the Contact Me link at the top right of the page to submit your query.
Some of you might be interested to know that the people behind Site Build It! are currently holding a Buy-One-Get-One-Free Christmas Sale.
That means you can buy a copy of Site Build It! (SBI! for short) and give one to a friend or relative as a gift. Or two of you could get together and split the cost. Or you could keep both copies for yourself, of course.
For those who don't know, SBI! (the exclamation mark is part of its name) is a complete website building course and hosting product rolled into one. It's a very well established product, but one that is constantly being refined and developed by SBI! supremo Ken Evoy and his team.
SBI! makes website building about as easy as it can be. There is no need to know anything about HTML, FTP or anything technical (though, of course, it never hurts to have a grasp of the basics).
SBI! takes you through every step of the website research, building and marketing process, providing in-depth advice and tools to help you at every stage. You can also get as much help as you need from the SBI! support team and a thriving community of fellow SBI! site-builders.
There is no way I can go through all the features of SBI! here, as there are just too many of them! Click on this link for all the relevant info. Alternatively, if you'd like to see a video tour of SBI!, which takes you through how the product works step by step, just click here.
The current offer closes at midnight on December 25th, and from past experience it's unlikely to be repeated until this time next year. So if you're at all interested in starting an SBI! site, I strongly recommend taking action now.
LATE NEWS! I've just heard that the SBI! Two-for-One offer has been extended till Monday 5 January.
My good friend and publisher Karl Moore is on a mission at the moment - to increase the readership of his self-development blog at www.karlblog.com.
In his latest post he has asked all his readers to spread the word about his blog, so this is my small contribution.
For those who don't know, Karl is the author of several best-selling computer programming books. He is also the founder and Managing Director of White Cliff, a multi-million dollar new media group, which publishes several of my writing courses via its online publishing arm, The WCCL Network.
His blog, though, is devoted to self-development, and specifically to inspiring his readers to overcome all obstacles and achieve more (both spiritually and materially) in their lives.
If you haven't seen Karl Blog.com, I do strongly recommend that you visit today and take a few minutes to explore some of Karl's posts.
And if you feel that a regular dose of Karl-style inspiration would be helpful for you, you can subscribe via email using the box in the top-right hand corner of every Karl Blog.com page. Alternatively, you can subscribe via RSS/XML using the links in the blog's right-hand sidebar, or simply add the site to your Favorites list.
Karl is aiming to boost his subscriber numbers by at least 20 percent by Christmas. I hope you may wish to help him to achieve his goal.
I've been on Twitter for over seven months now, and have just reached 100 followers. So I thought this would be a good time to update you on my progress, and share my thoughts on the pros and cons of Twitter for writers.
For those still unfamiliar with Twitter, I should explain that it's a free social networking and micro-blogging service.
As a Twitter member, you can post short messages or 'tweets' of up to 140 characters. These are displayed on your Twitter homepage and instantly delivered to any other Twitter users who have signed up to receive them (your 'followers').
Looking at this blog post I wrote shortly after joining Twitter, I see that I originally anticipated using it as a method for notifying people when I made a post on this blog. I still use it for that, but actually I have found it useful in many other respects as well.
One is that being on Twitter has significantly boosted the readership of this blog. This typically happens due to the 'viral' qualities of Twitter. Here's how this can work. You post an interesting article on your blog and share it with your followers via Twitter. Some of them find it interesting enough to re-tweet to their followers as well, and some of these people in turn re-tweet it to others. In this way, word of a good post (or website) can reach hundreds or even thousands of other people in an ever-widening circle.
Through Twitter, also, I have got to hear about other useful resources, markets, opportunities, and so on. I've discovered some great websites and online tools that I wouldn't otherwise have heard about from other users. I also try to spread this information to my own followers, of course.
And Twitter also generates a surprising sense of community. Even though messages have a maximum of 140 characters, this is still enough to interact with other members, ask and answer questions, and so on. Through my circle of Twitter followers, I've obtained advice on buying a new netbook computer, feedback on my blog posts, invitations to write guest posts for other blogs, and offers to write guest posts for mine.
I know that other writers on Twitter have actually received job offers and joint-venture proposals as a direct result of their membership. This hasn't happened to me yet, but I can certainly see how it might.
Are there any downsides to Twitter? Only one as far as I can see, which is that it can start consuming large amounts of your time, especially if you follow a lot of people and want to read all their updates. I try to get around this in two ways.
One is to confine most of my Twittering to short bursts, when (for example) I'm going through my email and RSS feeds and find things I want to share. And second, I have been quite cautious about the number of people I follow. I know some people automatically follow anyone who follows them, but I don't feel able to do this for fear of being swamped - even though I know I would probably get more followers if I did. I'm still trying to work out the best way of dealing with this issue.
To any writer considering whether or not to join Twitter, I would strongly advise giving it a go, especially if you already have a website and/or blog. I would also highly recommend using a Twitter client to get the most from the service. You can just operate via your Twitter homepage, but then the only time you will see incoming messages is when you visit that page.
Personally I use Twitterfox, a Firefox add-on that sits at the bottom of the screen when I am online and flashes up any incoming messages as they arrive. Twitterfox lets me view all recent messages at any time, and also has other useful features, e.g. a facility to quickly add the URL of any page I am viewing to an update, so that I can share it with my followers.
You can also get dedicated desktop clients for Twitter like Twhirl and Tweetdeck. I can see myself graduating to one of these at some point, but for now Twitterfox meets my needs. I also use several other add-on services, including Twitterfeed, which automatically tweets my blog updates; Twitthat, which is handy for quickly recommending a web page on Twitter; and TwitWall, a service that lets you post longer messages, pictures and videos, and automatically tweets them to your followers.
To sum up, since joining I've become a big Twitter fan. I now see it not just as an 'announcement service', but as a means of sharing useful info and building a community of fellow writers. In addition, it provides a method for me to publicise my blog and broaden my base of (potential) readers, publishers, clients and collaborators. If I've persuaded you of the benefits of joining, please visit my Twitter homepage at www.twitter.com/nickdaws and, if you like what you see, do sign up to follow me.
In this post I'm reviewing The Anonymeister, the latest software release from my publishers, The WCCL Network.
The Anonymeister is an anonymous web browser. In other words, it lets you browse the web anonymously, without leaving any trace behind you. It's part of WCCL's range of computer privacy software, of which you can read more on their Privacy Central website.
Why might a writer want to use an anonymous browser? I can think of a number of reasons...
* You are researching the website of a competitor, either on your own behalf or on behalf of a client, and don't want them to know you have visited.
* You are a well-known author or celebrity, and don't wish your web browsing history to become public knowledge.
* You are researching a sensitive subject, and don't wish to alert the authorities to your interest.
* You want to visit a website that is normally barred to people in your country.
The Anonymeister (and the very similar Best Anonymous Browser, also available from WCCL) provides a straightforward, non-techy method for anyone to browse the web anonymously, without the need for any programming or configuration.
You can read more about how The Anonymeister works on the website, but briefly it routes all of your web traffic through two servers in the Tor anonymity network. This ensures that your IP address is completely hidden from the outside world. According to WCCL, it can't even be traced by law enforcement agencies.
I found the software easy to install, and just like any other browser to use. The Anonymeister uses a customized version of the popular Firefox browser. If you currently use Firefox you can still use your normal version as well, but you can't have it running at the same time as The Anonymeister. You can, however, have Internet Explorer running simultaneously if you like.
As well as letting you surf anonymously via the Tor network, The Anonymeister also ensures that any trace of your browsing history is erased as soon as you close it. In this way, your privacy is preserved both on the web and on your own machine.
The Anonymeister also has some extra Firefox plug-ins preinstalled, e.g. AdBlock Plus, which automatically blocks most adverts from showing on the pages you browse. Of course, you can uninstall or deactivate these plug-ins if you wish.
I found that The Anonymeister appeared to work well at preserving my privacy. There are various sites you can visit (e.g. this one) which will show you the IP number and location of your computer. A good test is to visit one of these sites using The Anonymeister and see what location and IP number it shows for you, and then visit again via your normal browser for comparison purposes.
I did find The Anonymeister slower than my usual browser, so I wouldn't personally use it all the time. From time to time, too, it produces some unexpected results. For example, this morning I tried to visit www.google.com via The Anonymeister. I must have shown up to Google as being in Germany, because www.google.de opened instead! Still, this does illustrate the efficiency of the software.
Overall, I was impressed with how well The Anonymeister worked for me. If you need a quick, simple way of browsing the web anonymously, it's worth a look.
To remind you, eBooks Just Published is a resource for authors who want to announce their ebooks free of charge. It's not a sales site; in your announcement you have to include links to somewhere people can buy and/or download your ebook.
eBooks Just Published allows you to promote your title to a growing group of enthusiastic ebook readers, some of whom subscribe via email or RSS. You are allowed to upload a 'cover image' and up to 400 words of promotional text, which can include up to three testimonials.
The site announces both fiction and non-fiction, the only major criterion being that the ebooks are DRM-free. The normal rule is that ebooks to be announced on the site should have been published within the last six months, but during the launch period they are extending this to 18 months.
I thought I'd try out the service using my latest WCCL title Essential English for Authors. This was actually published more than six months ago but less than 18, so it qualifies under the current rules.
To announce an ebook on eBooks Just Published, you first have to register. This is free and takes only a few minutes. You'll find a link allowing you to do this near the bottom of the left-hand menu.
Once you're a registered member, you'll want to upload details of your ebook. Instructions for doing this can be found by clicking on Authors near the top of the left-hand menu (read this before you log in). I recommend printing this page out, as the process can be a bit tricky at times, and it helps if you know a bit of HTML. However, the site owner Mark Gladding is on hand to provide help if required.
It took me a morning to get my entry uploaded and displaying to my satisfaction in preview mode. A fair proportion of that time was devoted to creating a cover image to the specifications required. Otherwise, though, it all went reasonably smoothly. Here are just a few tips from my experience...
* If you're not sure how to format text when creating your announcement, try using View Source to look at the HTML of another published item on the site. For example, by doing this I discovered that the HTML tag blockquote was used for testimonials.
* A good screengrab program can be invaluable for creating your cover image. I used CaptureIt, a neat little shareware program that lets you capture any image on your screen and resize and/or manipulate it in various ways.
* There are more instructions and a checklist in the template you use to create your announcement. Scroll down the template to view this. Again, I recommend printing out the instructions in the template, as they will help you to format and upload your cover image in particular.
* Don't forget to include links to your sales page from the image and the ebook title. I used a customized tracking link provided by my publishers, so that I can see how many clicks I get from this source. Mark says he has no objection to this.
* You can preview your announcement at any time by clicking on the Preview button to the right of the template. Don't worry, only you will be able to see this! Once you are happy with how your announcement is looking, click the other button to submit it for review.
Overall, I was pleased with how my announcement turned out - you can view it here for yourself. It took me a bit longer than I expected, but I know that next time I should be able to get the job done much faster.
If you've written an ebook (even a free one), in my view you have nothing to lose, and potentially a lot of extra readers to gain, by submitting an announcement about it to eBooks Just Published.
I've mentioned the website LitMatch a few times on this blog, but for those who still haven't discovered it, it's a free online resource designed to help writers of all kinds connect with a suitable agent.
According to the statistics on their homepage, LitMatch currently have information on 1722 agents in 800 agencies. Although the site is US-based, agencies in the UK and other countries are also included.
As well as agency details in a searchable database, Litmatch also features a submission tracking system that allows users to record and manage their submissions online. You have to register, but this is free and takes only a few moments.
Other features of the site include targeted searches that let you quickly find agents by the authors they represent, the genres they're interested in, their professional history, and so on. A hotlist function allows you to bookmark agents and agencies for future reference. There is also a comment facility, which allows authors to share their experiences of specific agents.
Anyway, I thought I'd give LitMatch another mention now because they are currently running a one-year anniversary giveaway. Anyone who registers at the site before 31 December 2008 will be automatically entered into a free draw to win one of a number of writing-related prizes, including online classes from Gotham Writers' Workshop and one-year subscriptions to The Writer Magazine.
Even if you don't have a book for which you're seeking representation right now, it's worth registering (which is free, remember) to be eligible for the prize draw. Apart from that, however, LitMatch is a very useful resource for anyone seeking an agent, and in my view every serious writer should at least check it out.