As is becoming traditional in the blogosphere, I thought I'd end 2009 by looking back at the most popular posts on my blog this year.
If you missed any of these first time round - perhaps you're one of my many new readers - I hope you'll enjoy reading them now.
And if you've been following me for a while, I hope there are some posts here you'll enjoy revisiting. They are listed in no particular order...
What I Learned From My First TV Appearance - In this slightly tongue-in-cheek post, I talked about my first-ever TV appearance - nearly twenty years ago now - and some lessons I learned from it. Read it, if you haven't already, and learn from my mistakes!
Interview With Diana Nadin of The Writers Bureau - Regular readers will know that for several years I was a tutor for The Writers Bureau, the UK's leading distance-learning college for writers, and I've also written course material for them. In this article I interviewed their Director of Studies, Mrs Diana Nadin, on a wide range of topics related to their courses. If you're a Writers Bureau student or considering signing up with them, you should definitely read this post.
An Easy Way to Promote Your Book on Amazon - In this post I set out a simple, yet little-known, technique any author can use to help boost sales of their book at the world's favorite online bookstore. See also this post, where I talked about a website which can help you apply this technique (free of charge, of course).
Top Ten Tips on Grammar and Punctuation - In this post I set out links to ten of my own blog posts about aspects of grammar and punctuation that often cause problems for writers. This post actually attracted more traffic than any other on my blog in 2009.
Free Stuff for Writers From WCCL - Everyone likes things they can get for free, and my publishers, The WCCL Network, offer a wide range of such things for writers. As well as my forum at www.mywriterscircle.com, they include an online radio station by and for writers, and various free newsletters and giveaways. Find out more in this post.
The Twin Keys to a Long-Term Writing Career - In this post I set out the two most important ways I get work these days. In my view, any writer who wants to build a long-term freelance career needs to understand and apply the principles I describe in this post.
BookBuzzr - a Free Promotional Tool for Writers - BookBuzzr is a free service that enables you to embed an excerpt from your book in any website, blog or Facebook page. It has been designed to reproduce the actual experience of reading a book as closely as possible, and has a wide range of special features. I've used BookBuzzr successfully to promote my science-fiction novella The Festival on Lyris Five. Find out more in this post.
The Wealthy Writer Christmas Special - The Wealthy Writer is my new guide to making money writing for the Internet (co-written with Ruth Barringham). As a special offer, I'm currently offering The Wealthy Writer with a $10 discount AND four unique special bonuses. This offer is still open, but won't be for much longer - so if you want to take advantage, I highly recommend doing so now!
How to Make Money from Twitter Advertising - As an enthusiastic Twitter user, I've found it great for keeping track of what's going on in the writing world and sharing useful resources I've found. This year, though, I've been experimenting with another use for Twitter, which is as a method for making money. In particular, I've been trying out some services that offer to pay you for 'tweeting' messages from advertisers. Learn more here.
Should Writers Work for Peanuts? - This post was inspired by a query I got from a member of my forum, asking if the large number of writing jobs being advertised online at rates as low as $1 per 1000 words were scams or not. I set out my views on this subject here. This post attracted a lot of interest and comment at the time.
Just wanted to wish all my readers a Very Happy Christmas!
Here's a short Christmas-themed video that appealed to my (probably slightly warped) sense of humor. I wouldn't show it to any young children, though, in case it upsets them!
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.
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.
If you're an author with books for sale on Amazon, you'll undoubtedly be aware of the importance of reader reviews.
Good reviews drive sales, while bad ones deter potential purchasers and send them looking elsewhere.
And the most influential reviews by far are those deemed 'Most Helpful' by Amazon and displayed in full on your book's sales page.
Of course, as an author you have no control over what people write in reviews (and you would not, I am sure, upload favorable reviews of your own book). It is, however, important to understand how reviews are selected as 'Most Helpful' by Amazon. This is a subject I've been doing a bit of research on recently.
As you may know, anyone with an Amazon account can vote any review helpful or otherwise using the box shown below.
The votes cast determine which reviews are regarded as most helpful and given extra prominence, but the way they are parsed by Google isn't necessarily what you might expect.
Here are some stats from a typical, real-life example. I won't mention the name of the book in question, since (a) it's not relevant here, and (b) it would be unfair to the author concerned.
There are three reviews of the book under the 'Most Helpful' heading. The votes for them are as follows:
Review A: 4 of 4 found the review helpful Review B: 3 of 3 found the review helpful Review C: 2 of 2 found the review helpful
From this, you might perhaps assume that total 'Helpful' votes decided which reviews were shown here. A look at the four 'also-rans' reveals that this is not the case, however...
Review D: 5 of 7 found the review helpful Review E: 4 of 5 found the review helpful Review F: 4 of 8 found the review helpful Review G: 4 of 9 found the review helpful
It appears from this that by far the most important factor is the percentage of 'Helpful' votes. All three of the 'Most Helpful' reviews had a 100% 'Helpful' rating, even though all of the other reviews had at least four 'Helpful' votes.
Preseumably, if one person had not voted Review E 'Unhelpful', it would have been top of the list of 'Most Helpful' reviews. As they did, it was relegated to the 'Other Reviews', only visible if you click on the relevant link.
Looking at other books, it isn't always as clear-cut as this - Amazon appears to take some other things into account as well, including the recency of the review concerned. Nonetheless, there is some interesting food for thought here.
First of all, this example illustrates how easy it can be to manipulate what reviews appear on any book's sales page. Just one 'Unhelpful' vote can condemn a previously high-flying review to relative oblivion.
Whether you want to take advantage of this yourself depends on your view of the ethics involved. If, for example, someone has posted a malicious review of your book or one that clearly and wilfully misinterpreted your intentions, I could understand the temptation to give it an 'Unhelpful' vote or ask a friend to do so. Just to be clear, I haven't done this with any of my own books - but as the recipient of one or two unfair and malicious reviews in the past, I would understand and sympathize if an author in this situation decided to do this.
In addition, it's worth bearing in mind that, as far as I can see, others are already using this tactic to manipulate what reviews appear on their sales pages. For example, I recently gave a poor (one-star) review to a thriller which I thought stank. Almost immediately, it got an 'Unhelpful' vote. Now, that could just have been an outraged fan, but in my view it's more likely to have been the author or one of his connections monitoring any reviews posted and giving a thumbs-down to any negative ones.
In any event, if you have a book for sale on Amazon, I highly recommend keeping an eye on the reviews as they come in, and monitoring for yourself which ones end up being nominated 'Most Helpful'. This really can make a big difference to your overall sales via the site.
* See also my recent post on Amazon tagging for more advice on promoting your book on Amazon.
Christmas is the season for giving, so today I'd like to give you a special, no-strings-attached gift of my own.
It's a short but info-packed report called How to Plot Your Novel or Screenplay. It takes you through a range of techniques you can use to devise original ideas for any work of fiction, and/or to broaden or develop any ideas you may have already.
The report is in the universal PDF format. It's embedded below, or you can read or download it from the Scribd document-sharing site - just click on this link.
I'm delighted to be able to announce the winners of my recent contest to win a copy of my new guide to e-book writing.
As you may recall, the contest asked people to come up with a 250-word review of any book or e-book they had enjoyed this year.
The standard of entries was extremely high, and it was very difficult to pick two winners. The decision was down to WCCL supremo Karl Moore and me (with a bit of help from my partner, Jayne) - and to avoid coming to blows, we eventually felt we had no option but to pick THREE winners!
So many congratulations, then, to Dennis Thompson, David North and Jocelyn Hodgson. Their winning entries are reproduced below.
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Name: Dennis Thompson Book: The Dead Zone, seen through the eyes of On Writing Written by: Stephen King Review Title: Does Stephen King follow his own rules?
Review: I haven't picked up a piece of Stephen King's fiction in twenty years. I used to love him. Then I lumped him in with Grisham and Koontz and anybody else making money as sellouts and hacks. A mistake. I read On Writing recently and found it refreshing and spot on. But did Steve's early work stand up to his later revelations?
The answer is no. And yes. What jumps out immediately in The Dead Zone is his overuse of the passive voice (was, were) and an abundance of -ly adverbs. He vehemently preaches against these but frequently used them in this book. Which, by the by, is quite excellent nonetheless.
The man can write characters. Solid people who we see every day selling us sandwiches and picking their noses. He masters the storytelling art and throughout The Dead Zone I experienced genuine chills, a feeling I had missed in fiction for, well, the last twenty years.
A line by line analysis of On Writing's precepts would prove quite embarrassing to the young writer of The Dead Zone. But who gives a damn? It's just plain good anyway.
Name: David North Title: The Wealthy Writer Author(s): Nick Daws and Ruth Barringham Review Title: Stop Struggling as a Writer and Start Earning Now
Review: Thousands of frustrated writers type away every day, creating great stuff - only to be paid peanuts for it, or waiting years for publication and the payoff. Read this manual and stand out from the crowd by moving into fantastic earning potential.
How? Well, the manual runs through all the different ways of earning money from writing over the internet.
It sets out what to do, and in what order, in a well written, clearly structured way so that you can just read it, get going, and start earning.
And if you're already out there on the net, there are proven methods for building your business in the longer term.
As a plus, if you don't want to follow the program in full (not everyone likes every kind of writing), you can still make great money by specialising in one area (ebooks for example), and everything you need to make money in from each area is fully explained in the manual.
For anyone who wants to earn their living from writing now, in the shorter term, this is for you. Why wait for years for a publisher to accept your masterpiece when you can be earning now? Why wait for the slow, clumsy, and often inadequate production and marketing efforts publisher proffer to new authors? Make some money now.
Name: Jocelyn Hodgson Book: Bring Out the Novel That's Inside You Author: Elizabeth St. Denny Publisher: ebookwholesaler.net Review Title: Be an Author – You Can Do It!
Review: Earlier this year I read 'Bring out the Novel That's Inside You'. Initially, I did nothing about it; but the information was percolating inside me. Later, I reread it and saw that the author was right. Writing a novel is not hard - you just have to start writing. So I did. Now I have completed my first novel and it is time to read Elizabeth St. Denny's book again as I enter the editing phase.
One of the most valuable pieces of information in this book is the writing formula. Put simply, it is 'just write'. Write without stopping to change anything. Just get it all down. That piece of information in itself will help you get your book written.
Everything else you need to know to write your novel is there as well. From research to basic grammar, to ideas to get you started, to dialog writing and how to portray characters. Every area of information that you need to know to write your novel is touched on in this book.
It doesn't stop there. She also gives the necessary information on how to get your book published.
This book can give you the inspiration to get started on that novel that you always wanted to write. However, it is a book that you can revisit at any stage and find help and assistance on your writing journey.
Take the advice of this book and 'just write'. You will be glad you did.
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I must emphasize again that all the reviews submitted were very good, and in the end a lot came down to personal taste. So please don't be too disappointed if you weren't a winner this time. I know it's a terrible cliche, but you really are ALL winners in my book!
Phil, Dennis and Jocelyn will be receiving their prizes shortly. Could I just ask them to contact me with their preferred email address, so that Karl can set up a download link for them? Please use the Contact Me form on this blog.
Thanks again to everyone who took part. I highly recommend reading all the entries in the comments under the original contest post. There are some great reading recommendations here, and you can also see if you agree with the judges' decision (or, more than likely, not!).
And watch for my new course in e-book writing for profit, complete with some amazing bonuses, due out from WCCL very soon!
There's a double celebration at myWritersCircle, the forum I manage on behalf of The WCCL Network, this month.
Not only is it four years since the forum was officially launched, we have also just exceeded 10,000 registered members!
I know many readers of this blog are members of my forum also - but in case not, I thought I should take this opportunity to tell you a bit more about it.
myWritersCircle is a free, open-access message-board for writers. Anyone is welcome to join – it only takes a couple of minutes to sign up. You will then be able to take part in discussions, post extracts of your work for feedback and constructive criticism, and ask any questions you may have about writing.
Members use myWritersCircle in many different ways. In this topic, for example, a writer looks for (and gets) advice on whether a character in her novel should succumb to temptation. And in this topic, another member asks for advice on when she should use characters' names and when to use pronouns instead. I had some input into this particular discussion myself, as you'll see.
myWritersCircle also has a market info board, Writers Wanted, where writing jobs and opportunities are regularly posted. Members can also advertise for collaborators and interviewees on this board.
If you need a challenge to get your writing muscles into shape, check out our Writing Games and Challenges board. Mostly these are just for fun, but occasionally we hold prize competitions as well.
And finally, if you want to chat about non-writing-related matters from time to time, myWritersCircle has a board for that also. I have to admit that The Coffee Shop is actually one of the busiest boards on the forum!
I'm very proud of the reputation myWritersCircle has built as the web's friendliest writing forum. If you haven't yet experienced all the benefits it can offer, why not take the plunge and join up today?
I wanted to share with you today the story of my online friend and near-neighbour Miranda Dickinson, whose first novel Fairytale of New York has been in the UK Top 10 Paperbacks List since its launch in November.
I've known Miranda for several years, initially through my forum at www.mywriterscircle.com, where she is better known as Wurdsmyth. At that time she was a struggling writer and musician, working at three jobs to pay the bills.
Then she decided to upload her unfinished novel to Authonomy, the talent-spotting website operated by global publishing company HarperCollins. One of their editors, Sammia Rafique, spotted Miranda's book on the site and contacted her to request the full manuscript. As Miranda says on her website...
"At first, I thought it was a scam. But then I checked on the web and realised it wasn't! There then followed three manic days and nights writing 20,000 words to complete the manuscript! I honestly didn't think I'd hear anything else - but a week later I received a call from Maxine Hitchcock, Avon's Publishing Director, and she said they wanted to publish my book! As if that wasn't enough, they offered me a three book deal! Without wanting to sound corny, it really is a dream come true. I never thought I'd ever see my book in print and I'm still in complete shock about it. I just hope that people enjoy the stories I'm going to write for them!"
Miranda's story shows that if you persevere - and have some writing talent, obviously - it truly is possible to become a successful, best-selling novelist. I don't pretend it's easy, but the publishing houses really are always on the lookout for fresh new voices. And by making the most of online resources such as Authonomy, you really do have a chance to get your work seen by editors, agents and others in the publishing world.
2009 was the year Miranda hit the big time with her writing. There's no reason why, if you're willing to grasp the opportunities out there, 2010 couldn't be the year for you!
I was fortunate to receive a free review copy of Write Right Online, the new downloadable guide from Travel Online Partners.
Write Right Online is aimed primarily at small business owners who are trying to create compelling online content.
The author, Andy Hayes, works mainly with small travel companies (hence his business's name), but the general principles set out in the guide apply to all types of small business.
Andy says his e-book aims to help the reader accomplish three things:
understand the best ways to communicate and express yourself online
appreciate the benefits/restrictions of some types of Internet platforms
learn small tips or 'tweaks' that you can implement to improve your online writing today
So what exactly do you get for your 27 US dollars or 17 UK pounds?
The main guide is a concise but informative 30-page PDF. It is well written and attractively presented. There are four main sections: Introduction and Getting Started; Putting Your Virtual Pen to Work; Tech Nuts and Bolts; and Wrapping It Up. As you might guess, most of the 'meat' is in the second and third of these sections, so let's look at them in a bit more detail.
Putting your Virtual Pen to Work sets out eight tips for better online writing, with a page or two of discusion about each. As an experienced online writer myself, most of the guidelines weren't exactly news to me, but it was useful and interesting to see them all set out in one place.
There is some excellent advice here for people who may be quite new to online writing. For example, here's a tip I made a note of myself...
Get specific. Really - be super specific. The headline '6 Sunny Places to Watch the Sunset in Southern Australia' is sure to garner more attention than '6 Places to See a Sunset.' Generalised headlines come across boring and uninteresting; besides, your headline is a good way to check the scope and contents of your content. Don't try to lure people in with vagueness - specifics convert far better.
Part 3 of Write Right OnlineTech Nuts and Bolts focuses more on the technical aspects of writing online content. The same general format is used, with seven tips, each accompanied by a page or two of discussion. Again, while much of the advice was familiar to me, I'm sure it would be invaluable for someone new to online writing. For example, here's some solid advice on using bold or italics, set out under the heading 'Use Formatting Tricks'...
...don't forget about the old-fashioned classics: bold and italics. If there is any one of these formatting tricks to avoid over-using, it is these. Bold your headings and subheadings, and italics are often useful inside blockquotes. But too much of these elsewhere is a very bad thing - don't combine more than one of these in any single sentence (or paragraph, if you can help it).
Try using underline or italics when you want emphasize the negative - e.g. 'Products not included with this price...' Bold can be used to really drive home points - the things you'd want someone to print out and mark with a highlighter - e.g. 'Make your deposit before November 15th and we'll upgrade you….'
Avoid underline at all cost on webpages - novice users confuse it with a hyperlink and will get frustrated.
Along with the main manual, you also get a separate Online Writing Checklist. This recaps the tips set out in the main guide in the form of a checklist. Andy suggests that you use this with any piece of online writing you create, to ensure that it is as powerful and effective as possible.
My one criticism of Write Right Online is that I would like to have seen a few more examples of good (and even bad) website writing, to support the advice given. Perhaps some screengrabs from well-written sites could have been included in place of the rather bland clip-art that is used to illustrate the text.
Overall, however, I thought Write Right Online was a valuable guide to the skills required for effective online writing. If you have a business website and want some guidance on creating powerful and compelling content for it, Write Right Online would definitely be a worthwhile investment.
Today I'm offering the chance to win not one but TWO copies of my brand new course for The WCCL Network on e-book writing for profit.
This downloadable course will take you through every step in creating and selling a profitable e-book, from thinking of an idea, through writing and editing it, to selling it on the Internet. About the only thing it doesn't cover is what to do with all the money you will make!
The winners will receive a pre-publication, advance copy of the new guide. They will therefore get their hands on it before anyone else, and enjoy first-mover advantage in putting all the advice and information it contains into practice.
To enter the contest, you simply have to submit a review of any book, e-book or e-course you have enjoyed this year, in no more than 250 words. It may be fiction or non-fiction. You are welcome to review any of my writing courses if you like, but this will not necessarily give you any extra advantage!
Just one entry per person, please. And note that any entries over 250 words (not including the title) WILL be disqualified. I'm being a bit stricter in this contest than I was in my last one :-)
Please post your review as a Comment under this post, in the following format:
Name of book or e-book you are reviewing
Name of its author and/or publisher
Review title (e.g. An essential guide for writers)
Review (250 words or less)
I will select a shortlist of entries, from which my colleague Karl Moore, managing director of The WCCL Network, will choose the winner. Karl will judge the entries anonymously (he has promised not to peek at the comments below). We will be looking for reviews which are well-written and concise, and clearly express your enthusiasm for the title concerned.
The closing date for this contest is Friday 11 December, and the winners will be announced on Monday 14 December. That's not far away, so you'd better get writing now!
One condition of entering the contest is that, if you are one of the two winners, you will be asked to provide a testimonial for my new guide if you like it. This may be used in any promotional materials for the guide. Please do not enter the contest if you are not willing to do this.
Good luck, and I look forward to reading your reviews!
Just wanted to share with you the exciting (for me, anyway!) news that my play Sea View is getting its world premiere at the Aan de Braak Theatre, Stellenbosch, South Africa, in January/February 2010.
Sea View was co-written with my old friend Jeff Phelps (you can read my review of Jeff's latest novel in this post). It started life as a radio play, and was a runner-up in the BBC Radio Times Drama Awards. This will be the first time it has been performed on stage.
The play is being produced and directed by Byron Arthur Clark. Byron advertised that he was looking for plays on my forum at www.mywriterscircle.com. I submitted some work to him with no great expectations, and was delighted when I heard that he liked Sea View and wanted to produce it.
Sea View is probably best described as a black comedy. It's set in a traditional seaside town in a Britain which has been devastated by some mysterious, apocalyptic disaster. The central characters, Jack and Betty, run a boarding house called Sea View, and try to maintain some sense of normality amid the chaos. Jack realises that Betty is delusional, but he plays along with her fantasy of life continuing as normal. All that changes, however, when a 'celebrity' from the old days turns up at their boarding house, triggering a crisis of identity for both of them.
The South African production has its own Facebook group, and you are very welcome to join this if you would like to keep up to date with news about the show. In any event, I'd be grateful for any help in spreading the word about it, especially if you happen to live in South Africa!
And, of course, I'd like to express my deepest thanks to Byron for his faith in Sea View, and for all his hard work - and that of his team - in finally bringing the play to production.