Nick Daw's Writing Blog - Inside the writing world of Nick Daws
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Friday, June 26, 2009

Review: PerfectIt Proofreading Software

This week I've been checking out PerfectIt, a dedicated proofreading application produced by London-based Intelligent Editing Limited.

Like myWriterTools, which I reviewed in this recent post, PerfectIt operates as an add-in for Microsoft Word.

It works with Word 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2007. In versions of Word prior to 2007, PerfectIt is listed in the Tools menu. In Word 2007 (which I use) you click on the Add-Ins tab at the end of the Ribbon, then click on PerfectIt to run the software.

So what exactly does PerfectIt do? Essentially, it checks that any Word document is internally consistent. For example, it ensures that if you have spelt a word in one way in a document, you haven't spelt it differently somewhere else. PerfectIt runs a series of tests on your document and highlights any possible errors it finds. You can then allow the software to 'fix' these errors, or ignore them and move on to the next.

The screenshot below shows an example of the software in action. In my test document, it has found the phrase 'after school' used without a hyphen once and with one twice.

PerfectIt proofreading software
In this case, my usage was actually correct. The hyphen was required where the phrase after-school was being used adjectivally in front of the noun (an after-school club), but not where it was used adverbially (bored after school). As you can see, PerfectIt appreciates that this could happen and has included a note at the bottom of the box about it.

If, however, I had wanted to make all my uses 'consistent', I could have chosen the preferred phrase from the list. All exceptions would then be shown below this, and I could correct one at a time by clicking on 'Fix', or change them all by clicking on 'Fix All'.

I found the software easy and intuitive to use, and very fast. On my test documents (mostly modules from courses I've written) it found a few inconsistencies, mainly in my punctuation/capitalization of lists. PerfectIt also revealed that I had spelt 'specialize' with both a 'z' and an 's' in the same document. I'll have to correct these errors the next time the courses concerned are updated!

The software highlights any instances where contractions such as can't or won't have been used, and suggests writing them out in full. I'd accept that this would be preferable with formal documents, but that doesn't really apply to most of my writing. Still, you can skip any tests you don't want the software to run, either temporarily or permanently, using the Change Test menu item.

One other small irritation I found is that if you've written a word such as WILL in all caps for added emphasis, the software assumes that this is an abbreviation and asks you to define it. Again, though, I suppose you wouldn't do this in a formal document.

PerfectIt does NOT (oops - done it again!) check the spelling in your document, except for inconsistencies, and neither does it check for grammatical errors. Of course, Word has its own built-in spelling and grammar checkers, or you can use something like myWriterTools or WhiteSmoke. As mentioned earlier, PerfectIt is really a consistency checker. As such, it will work equally well with UK or US English or any other flavour/flavor.

Overall, I was highly impressed with PerfectIt and will be using it regularly from now on. I think anyone who regularly writes long(ish) documents would benefit from it, and it would also be particularly good for ensuring consistency in documents with multiple authors. Incidentally, companies can also get their own customized version of the software, incorporating their own house-style specifications.

If you think you might benefit from using PerfectIt, you can download a one-month trial of the full program free of charge from the PerfectIt website.

  • Finally, just a quick note of caution. Programs like PerfectIt, myWriterTools and WhiteSmoke can save you time and help you spot mistakes/weaknesses in your writing, but they are NOT a substitute for learning the rules of grammar and punctuation. My downloadable guide Essential English for Authors covers all the common problem areas, and will bring your written English up to a publishable standard in the shortest possible time.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Follow Me on Facebook!

Just a quickie to let you know that I now have a public Facebook Page.

If you're a Facebook user yourself, you are very welcome to sign up as a 'Fan' of my Page.

You will then receive notification via Facebook of my latest blog posts and selected Twitter updates (e.g. those with links to websites of particular interest to writers). As with all Facebook Pages, you will be able to comment on any of these items, ask questions, start discussions, and so on.

I will also add extra material on my Page to supplement items from my blog and Twitter. And I will notify Fans directly if, for example, I hear of an interesting writing opportunity or vacancy.

I will be adding more features and content to my Facebook Page as time permits (and as I learn how it all works!). It is my intention to make it an essential resource for anyone interested in writing and - especially - students of my courses such as Write Any Book in Under 28 Days and The Wealthy Writer.

I hope to see you on the Nick Daws Facebook Page soon!

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Review: AutoBlogging Decoded

I was fortunate to receive a review copy of Autoblogging Decoded, the popular new guide from successful Internet entrepreneur and blogger Marian Krajcovic.

Autoblogging Decoded is a PDF manual which shows how you can automate the process of updating your blog by importing content via other websites' RSS feeds. There are certain legal and moral issues around this, which I'll discuss later, but if you can live with these, Autoblogging Decoded actually makes the process of setting up an 'autoblog' very quick and easy.

The main manual starts by looking at how you can set up autoblogging on Blogger blogs. As a Blogger user myself, I was pleased to see this free service from Google getting a mention. Blogger is still a very popular blogging platform, although these days many people prefer the greater flexibility of the open source WordPress.

In his manual, Marian starts by explaining how to set up a Blogger blog if you don't have one already. He then reveals how to configure your blog for autoblogging, how to find suitable RSS feeds, and how to set up Blogger to publish these feeds (using another free service that converts RSS feeds to email). It's all very clever, and every step is well illustrated with large, easy-to-read screengrabs. You really don't need any technical expertise to be able to do this. I tried it myself on an old Blogger blog I hadn't updated for over a year, and the method worked perfectly straight away.

The second section of the main manual explains how to adapt this technique using a WordPress blog. Again, this is very clearly set out. In addition, Marian explains how you can set up a WordPress blog to autopublish a series of posts from PLR (private label rights) articles you may have in your possession. This requires other software, not all of which is free, but again it's all very straightforward, and avoids any problems with copyright and so on.

Of course, the reason for doing this is to earn a sideline income, and Marian recommends using AdSense ads for this purpose, as they are very easy to set up (on Blogger blogs especially). I would just add a tip of my own here, which is that if you hope to earn decent sums from Adsense, choose a topic for your blog which is in demand among advertisers, e.g. insurance or credit cards. On no account create a blog about writing ;-)

You could also use other ways to monetize your blog, of course, including ads from relevant affiliate networks (e.g. my publishers, The WCCL Network), ClickBank, and so on.

Along with the main manual you also get a number of bonus manuals, some of them (surprisingly, in my view) unadvertised. These include advanced tips on how, for example, to autoblog YouTube videos or Yahoo Answers. There are also guides to driving more traffic to your blog, another very important requirement for making money from it. A regularly updated blog will automatically attract attention from the search engines, but you need to prime the pump as well, and these guides reveal how to do this.

Finally, with Autoblogging Decoded, you get Auto Blog Feeder, a tool for automatically drip-feeding content such as PLR articles into WordPress blogs. This is sold elsewhere for $47.

I mentioned earlier that there may be some legal or moral issues about using content from RSS feeds to populate your blog, and I need to say a word about this now. The republishing of website content from RSS feeds is a gray area in law, and some publishers take a dim view of it, arguing that their feeds are intended for use in personal feed readers only. This blog post has a useful discussion on the issue. In addition, a blog composed entirely of material taken from other people's sites could be regarded as a form of spamming. A Blogger site found to be doing this could be banned by Google.

My own view is that autoblogging is best used in combination with original posts. In addition, you can edit the autoblogged posts to include your own commentary on them; this is then likely to constitute Fair Use under copyright law. Of course, this will reduce the amount of time and effort you save by autoblogging.

Overall, I thought AutoBlogging Decoded provided very clear and detailed explanations for a range of techniques which I can see would have many possible uses - some more widely acceptable than others. If you are looking for ideas for a money-making sideline, or simply a method to update your blog/s more often, I recommend checking it out. If nothing else, it will open your eyes to what is possible.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Guest Post: Seven Ways to Use One Article for Book Promotion

Today I'm delighted to welcome to my blog Joanna Penn, from The Creative Penn, the hugely popular blog devoted to writing, self-publishing, print-on-demand, Internet sales and promotion for authors.

Joanna is also the creator of Author 2.0, a free blueprint for authors hoping to use Web 2.0 methods for publicizing and promoting their books.

In this guest post, Joanna reveals seven ways you can use a single article to help promote your book.

* * *

Web 2.0 technologies have empowered authors to write, publish, sell and promote their books online in many different ways. There are so many options now that utilise free software. They take some time and effort to achieve, but you can gain fantastic results.

One effective book promotion tactic is to use articles. These can be segments of your book, or an article written on the topic of your book. This works for both fiction and non-fiction. Repackage parts of your existing written work into articles of around 500-700 words each. You will also need a 'call to action' on the bottom of the article that contains your contact details and book buying information. I'd also recommend including an offer that gets people to click through, for example, 'Get Three Free Chapters Here'. Here is an example if you are unsure.

Here then are seven ways you can take one article and turn it into multiple channels for book promotion...

1. Turn it into a blog post with free services such as Wordpress or Blogger. Blog posts turn into individual web pages indexed by search engines, so each article of yours will represent a new web page.

2. Post it on Scribd.com, Docstoc.com and EzineArticles.com. These sites are specifically for article marketing and millions of people search them each day. People can download your work for free, but you get great exposure.

3. Post a link to it on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. This will bring people's attention to your article, and to your book if it is referenced. People can also forward your link on to others, generating a ripple effect for your promotion.

4. Add it to a collection of articles and release as a free (or paid) ebook through Smashwords.com or Scribd. You could offer a selection of 10 articles for free download. Once you have between 70-100 articles, you will even have enough for a regular book that you can sell separately.

5. Record yourself reading the article and release it as a mini-audio or part of a regular podcast. You can record yourself using a basic microphone and the free Audacity software [ND: This is explained in detail in The Ultimate Podcasting Kit from WCCL]. You can then release it on your blog or through a network like BlogTalkRadio.

6. Make a video of yourself talking about the article and post it on YouTube and TubeMogul. You can use a basic video camera, a webcam or Flipcam. At Viddler.com you can even record straight to the screen. Many people use YouTube for primary search, so you need a video presence.

7. Turn it into a press release. You can reshape your article into a press release by linking it to a newsworthy subject, adding quotes, and targeting it to a specific market. Send it to journalists you have targeted for your specific book niche.

These ideas will cost you nothing in money - just your time. Multiply these by as many articles as you can write in a specific period and you will see how this can generate an effective web presence in little time!

There are many more ideas in Author 2.0 Blueprint: How to use web 2.0 tools to write, publish, sell and promote your book, available free by clicking on the link.

* * *

Many thanks again to Joanna for a very informative post. I do highly recommend checking out her blog and her free Author 2.0 Blueprint.


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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Free Stuff for Writers From WCCL!


Regular readers will know that this blog is sponsored by my publishers, The WCCL Network.

WCCL publish my courses such as Write Any Book in Under 28 Days and The Wealthy Writer, along with a wide range of other training courses, software, CDs, and so on.

You might not know, however, that WCCL also offers a number of free websites, resources and services for writers.

First among these is my forum at www.mywriterscircle.com. This is an open-access forum with nearly 9000 members all over the world. My role is to manage MWC, and I am particularly pleased by the reputation that it has built up as the Internet's friendliest writers' forum. Much of the credit for this must go to my dedicated team of volunteer moderators, of course.

If you want to get feedback on your writing, ask (and answer) questions, discover new writers' markets, or just shoot the breeze with your fellow authors, My Writers Circle should be high on your Favorites list. You can browse the forum without logging in, but to get the most from it you should really register (free) and become a member. It's easy and it's fun, although admittedly many of us do find it rather addictive!

Another free service sponsored by WCCL is WritersFM, the Internet's first online radio station by and for writers. WritersFM features a mixture of music, writing tips and in-depth interviews with successful authors, conducted by your irrepressible host, Karl Moore. There are some big names among them, including historial novelist Bernard Cornwell, British politician turned author Edwina Currie, world famous screenwriting guru Syd Field, top copywriter Joe Vitale, and many others (including yours truly).

WritersFM broadcasts continually on a regularly updated loop, or you can stream or download most of the interviews from their podcasts page. Note that you will need a broadband/DSL connection to listen to WritersFM, however.

Yet another WCCL giveaway is the bi-weekly Smart Writers newsletter. This has some great articles about writing, along with tips and advice, inspirational quotations, and much more. Yes, it also includes promotions for WCCL's writing-related products, but these are almost invariably offered at a discount - and, naturally, there is never any obligation to buy anything.

You can subscribe to Smart Writers via their Writers Giveaway site. Essentially, you get a huge selection of writing-related software, e-books, MP3s, and so on, just for signing up. You can unsubscribe any time you like, of course, so why not join the newsletter's existing 300,000+ subscribers and sign up today?

Finally, they're not aimed at writers, but WCCL also sponsors two other giveaway sites which operate in a similar way to the writers' site. The Self Growth Giveaway offers personal development guides, software, even free hypnosis downloads, just for signing up to a newsletter. And the Software Giveaway provides a vast range of free Windows software and utilities, including programs that will boost your creativity, protect your privacy online, and help you work more efficiently. I strongly recommend checking both of these excellent offers out!

Photo credit: Rileyroxx on Flickr.com

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Review: How to Live on Less by Gill Govier

I must start by admitting that I know How to Live on Less very well, as a few months ago I was hired by the publishers to copy edit it.

As a freelance writer/editor, I get to work on all sorts of books, some more interesting than others, but this one definitely fell into the 'very interesting' category.

The full title of Gill's book is How to Live on Less - A Guide to Everyday Budgeting and Self-sufficiency. As she says in her introduction:

How to Live on Less is about taking a new and exciting look at financing our everyday life and the ways in which we can achieve the same, or similar, for less. Just because we want to economise doesn't mean resorting to penny-pinching or drastically reducing our quality of life in order to afford what we want. It's about understanding our spending patterns, learning new habits and taking advantage of a range of smarter, cheaper ways of sourcing, acquiring and using those products we want or desire.

How to Live on Less is definitely not just for the Tom and Barbara Goods of this world (characters in the classic BBC sitcom The Good Life). It's for anyone who wants to save money, become more self-sufficient, and reduce their environmental impact on the planet.

How to Live on Less is divided into five chapters. The Introduction is quite short and explains the philosophy behind the book and how it is structured. Chapter One - A Toolkit of Techniques for Living on Less - offers a wide range of tips and advice on budgeting and saving money, including smart use of credit cards, charity shops, the Internet, and so on.

Chaper Two looks at ways to save on Energy, Water and Fuel. This is where the book becomes impressively detailed. You will learn not only how to save money on these commodities, but how (if you wish) you can achieve self sufficiency, e.g. by generating your own electricity. Gill has included detailed calculations showing the likely cost of these strategies, and the time it will take to break even on them.

Chapter Three is titled Home and Leisure. This looks at ways of saving money on everything from travel and fitness to clothes, books and music. There is also a section on self sufficiency around the home, looking at how you can use natural products to replace shop-bought ones (natural cleaning products and cosmetics, for example).

Chapter Four - Food, Drink and a Few Bits More - is the longest in the book. It focuses on growing your own food, with lots of advice on stocking your garden, natural pest control, composting, and so forth. The chapter also covers keeping animals - bees, chickens, pigs, etc. - with examples drawn from Gill's own experiences and those of her livestock-keeping friends. There is also a selection of food and drink recipes for using produce from your garden. I particularly recommend the courgette (zucchini) pie!

How to Live on Less is written with a UK audience in mind, although much of the advice would be relevant world-wide. Obviously, though, specific information, e.g. about government grants available for installing solar panels, would not apply outside these shores.

Overall, however, if you want to beat the Credit Crunch and enjoy the many other benefits of a more self-sufficient lifestyle, I highly recommend this well-researched, informative and entertaining book.
  • For more information about How to Live on Less, click through any of the links in this review to visit the book's page on Amazon.co.uk.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Exemplar Possessive

A reader wrote to me recently regarding the Writer's Block CD, a product from my sponsors and publishers, The WCCL Network.

"Why is the apostrophe placed in front of the 's'?" he asked me. "Surely more than one person in the history of the world has suffered from this condition?"

I understood what he meant. The normal rule with possessives is that the apostrophe comes after the relevant noun. So the boy's room refers to a room belonging to one boy, while the boys' room signifies a room occupied by two or more. I discussed this in more detail a while ago in this blog post.

Writer's block is not really an exception to this rule, more a special case. Where the question of ownership is much less important than the nature or provenance of the item, a single 'exemplar' noun is often used for the possessive. I call this the exemplar possessive - I'm not sure if it has a more 'official' name. Here are a few more examples:
  • goat's cheese
  • cow's milk
  • greengrocer's apostrophe
  • cat's eyes (reflective safety devices on roads)
  • collector's item
In some circumstances you can make a case either way, or even three different ways. Father's Day, for example, can be written in any of three ways:

Fathers Day - 'Fathers' here is seen as an adjective, like 'sports' in sports hall.
Father's Day - The exemplar possessive here signifies a day devoted to fathers and fatherhood in general.
Fathers' Day - The plural possessive here signifies a day belonging to all fathers.

None of these options is 'wrong', though each has a slightly different emphasis. If you're a dad, see whether and where an apostrophe appears on your cards on the day in question. Fun for all the family...

In other cases, however, the exemplar possessive is clearly required to avoid ambiguity. Suppose, for example, you have a recipe that includes among the ingredients six lamb's kidneys. Most people would understand this to mean that six kidneys from lambs - obviously not all from a single lamb - are required.

If, however, you wrote instead six lambs' kidneys (the plural possessive), it would be hard to avoid the conclusion that the recipe required the kidneys of six lambs, i.e. twelve kidneys in all. So in this case, using the exemplar possessive avoids any risk of confusing the cook!


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Sunday, June 07, 2009

PayPerPost Version 4.0 Launched

I've mentioned PayPerPost a few times on this blog. It's a service that puts would-be advertisers in touch with bloggers who will write about them for a fee. Or, to look at it another way, it's a service that gives bloggers another option for earning money from their blog.

PayPerPost has just launched a brand new version 4.0, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to take a fresh look at it. For the moment version 4.0 is running alongside the old version 3.0, but presumably in due course (and if feedback is positive) version 4.0 will take over.

The first thing you notice about the new PayPerPost v4.0 is the simple, straightforward interface (see screengrab below). There are just two tabs, Opportunities and My Account. My Account is where you can check your earnings, change your email address, add blogs to your account, and so on.


It's also worth noting that in Version 4.0 bloggers can set the rate they are willing to accept for paid posts. This is done by clicking on the 'edit blog' icon under the My Account tab. Being able to set your own price gives more control and saves time, compared with the previous PayPerPost interface, where scrolling through pages of offers to find acceptable opportunities was the norm.

The Opportunities tab is where any paying opportunities that are available to you, and that meet your fee requirements, are displayed. If you see an opportunity you like, you can click on More Details and the full requirements will then appear.

Typically, a PayPerPost opportunity requires you to post a certain minimum number of words (e.g. 200) and include a specified link to the advertiser's website. All posts nowadays require disclosure that the post is sponsored, and how this should be done is also specified in the opportunity details (see example below).

Once you have made your post, you simply enter its permalink URL in the box provided. Once your post has been verified, payment by Paypal will follow, typically (in my experience of PayPerPost) a week or two later.

If you're looking for an additional way to monetize your blog, in my view PayPerPost is well worth considering. You can choose which opportunities to promote, and the disclosure requirement means that everything is transparent and above board. The new version 4.0 looks a marked improvement on the older one, so now should be a very good time to sign up if you haven't already. My one small criticism is that the minimum payout requirement has been raised to $50, so it's likely to take a few posts to achieve this.

Note: As you may have guessed, this post is sponsored by PayPerPost - you can even see how much I am being paid in the first screengrab! But that doesn't alter the fact that I am genuinely happy to recommend PayPerPost to any blogger who would like to add to their earnings in this way.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

How to Get Twitter Search Results on Google

Here's an interesting technique you may like to try to broaden your Google searches. It works on the open source Firefox browser (not Internet Explorer).

With a couple of easy-to-install add-ons, you can get all your Google searches to display the results of the same search on the micro-blogging service Twitter as well. As an example, here's a screengrab of the results of a Google search for Lichfield (my nearest large town) with the relevant add-ons installed...


The screengrab shows the Twitter search results (with some interesting links to explore). These appear at the top of the results page. Below this in the search was the usual list of results from Google.

So how do you add this feature? It's actually a two-stage process. First, you have to add the Greasemonkey tool for Firefox. This is an add-on which enables you to customize how Firefox handles and displays web pages in a wide range of ways. Like all Firefox add-ons, it's very easy to install. Just visit this page and click on Add to Firefox.

With Greasemonkey installed, you will then need to install the Twitter Search Results on Google script. Just go to this page and click on Install. The Greasemonkey script installation panel will appear. This shows you what sites the script will run on (Google, in this case) and asks if you want to install it. Once you have done so, any time you perform a Google search in future, the Twitter search results will also appear.

I've been using this script for a while now and have found it surprisingly useful. In particular, it often throws up interesting, current links people are talking about that don't appear in the usual Google search results. You can easily switch it off if you don't want it, however, either by disabling Greasemonkey (click on the monkey icon at the foot of the screen and watch it turn from a smile to a frown), or just by disabling that particular script on the Greasemonkey configuration panel.

Happy Google Twitter searching!

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