Nick Daw's Writing Blog - Inside the writing world of Nick Daws
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Friday, April 29, 2011

The Best Writing Forum in the World?


I hope you'll forgive a bit of trumpet-blowing today, but I just found out that my forum at www.mywriterscircle.com has this month overtaken the Absolute Write forums (also known as The Water Cooler) in terms of members.

The Absolute Write forums have been running a lot longer than MWC (and I'm not knocking them - they are also very good). Nonetheless, they have 'only' 32,597 members as of today, whereas myWritersCircle had 34,226 when I just looked.

I run myWritersCircle in association with my publishers, The WCCL Network, and 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, who keep everything running smoothly and ensure that all new members receive a very warm welcome.

If you haven't yet joined myWritersCircle, why not check it out today to see what you have been missing? Among other things, you can...

  • get feedback on your writing
  • ask (and answer) questions about writing
  • request help with your research
  • find collaborators or interviewees
  • discover new writers' markets
  • recruit beta readers for your book or novel
  • publicize your self-published title
  • enter writing challenges and contests, some with valuable prizes
  • or just shoot the breeze with your fellow authors

You can browse most of 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 fun, although admittedly many of us do find it rather addictive!

Just click on the Register tab near the top of the forum homepage and follow the on-screen instructions.

I'll hope to see you on myWritersCircle very soon!


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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Check Out My New 'Writing Opportunities' Board

In association with the good folks at Donanza, I recently set up a jobs board for freelance writers, bloggers and other work-at-home professionals.

The board is at http://nickdawsprojects.donanza.com. It shows opportunities from a range of Donanza's partner companies, including Elance, Scriptlance, Freelancer.com, and so on.

As you may gather from this, many of the vacancies (though not all) are listed on job auction sites. Potential clients can also advertise on my board directly, and I hope to see a growing number from this source.

You can see a selection of current jobs available in the widget below...

Freelance JobsPowered by

As ever, if you are viewing this post by email, you may need to visit my blog to see the widget.

If you wish, you can also subscribe to receive all the latest opportunities from the board by email, RSS or Twitter. Links to all three are on the Nick Daws' Writing Opportunities site, or if you're on Twitter you can go straight to the Twitter page here and sign up to follow it. Note that this is an automated service, so I won't receive any replies through this account. Please see my main Twitter page to follow and interact with me!

I hope you will find the Nick Daws' Writing Opportunities board a useful resource. And if you ever happen to need a freelance writer or blogger, I hope you will consider advertising there. My rates are very reasonable!


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Monday, April 25, 2011

The WCCL Affiliate Program: 10 Reasons You Should Join Today!


As you may know, The WCCL Network publish my writing courses, including The 10-Day E-Book and Write Any Book in Under 28 Days. They also sponsor this blog.

What you may not know is that they also run a highly professional affiliate program. If you have a blog, a website or a newsletter, you can join the WCCL affiliate program and receive generous commissions for every sale generated via your links.

Here are ten reasons you should give joining the WCCL affiliate program serious consideration...

1. Commissions of up to 50% of the sale price.

2. Notifications sent by email every time you make a sale.

3. Commission payments sent automatically by PayPal after 35 days (assuming the order hasn't been cancelled). There is no minimum payment, and WCCL pay all of Paypal's fees.

4. Free publicity materials, including banners, text links, model sales letters, and so on.

5. Two-tier referral system - introduce other affiliates and earn a 5% bonus on all the commissions they earn.

6. Regular affiliate contests that pay out thousands of dollars in extra bonuses.

7. Special affiliate-only deals you can offer to your own list for added profits.

8. Lifetime commission on sales.

9. Hundreds of products you can sell - not only writing courses, but also self-development, health, lifestyle, software, drivers' guides, and so on.

10. WCCL has a proven eight-year track record, with over 600,000 online transactions. The program (and indeed the company) is reliable, honest, and isn't going to disappear any time soon.

It's very easy to become a WCCL affiliate. You complete the simple application form on the affiliate sign-up page and submit this. Within a short time your application will be checked and (probably) approved. You will then be able to obtain the HTML code for a wide range of banners and text links, all with your affiliate details embedded. All you have to do then is copy and paste this into your web page in the appropriate place/s. Trust me, it's not rocket science!

If you decide to do this, can I offer a few quick hints and tips from my own experience...

1. Just putting a banner on your web page is unlikely to generate many sales. It's much better to put a review of the product in question with your affiliate link included, so that people wanting to buy as a result of your recommendation will click through this to the sales page.

2. If you're going to write a review, try to make it reasonably objective. Yes, you want people to click through your link and buy the product - but if your "review" appears to be more of an uncritical hype, some people are likely to be put off. So praise the product's good points, by all means, but if there is anything you dislike, don't be afraid to say so. People will trust your judgement more.

3. Consider offering an extra incentive of your own to secure the sale. For example, you could offer an extra mini-report on a topic not covered in depth in the product you are reviewing, or simply a list of relevant websites. See my review of Write A Movie in a Month for an example of how I have used this technique. Obviously, you will need to ask people to send you a copy of their email sales receipt so that you can send them their bonus after they have bought the product.

Finally, if you sign up as a WCCL affiliate via this blog post, I will earn a 5% commission on any sales you generate - so, clearly, it's in my interests to help you succeed. If you have any queries, therefore, feel free to ask me (though for technical or financial matters you may be better contacting WCCL directly via www.myhelphub.com). In addition, if you write about any of my writing courses (or any other WCCL writing products) let me know and I'll give your review a mention via Twitter, Facebook, this blog, etc. This may or may not generate extra sales for you, but it will certainly bring you extra traffic you wouldn't have had otherwise.

Good luck, and I hope to see you joining the WCCL affiliate program soon!


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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Guest Post: Writing for Web Readers


I'm pleased to bring you a guest post today from freelance writer Pamelia Brown. Pamelia looks at the particular requirements of writing copy for the web.

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The reasons people read on the web are very different from the reasons someone might pick up a book or a magazine. Most people read books and magazines for enjoyment and - with fiction anyway - expect the writer to draw them in with imagery, metaphors, and dialog. In other words, people most often read books and magazines to escape.

On the web, though, people don't want to escape; they want to learn about something, do something with what they learn, and get on with their busy lives. In short, people go to the web for information, and they want that information as quickly as possible.

When web content is verbose and hard to follow, it slows readers down and causes their attention to wander. Before you know it, you've lost that person and they are on to someone else's site. Web readers don't want to spend ages searching for the information they want or trawling through an ocean of other content to find it. If you are writing for web readers, it's important to keep these three C's in mind: Clear, Concise, and Chunking.

One of the perks of a digital platform is that writers have an infinite amount of room to work with and are not confined by ad space, crowded page design, or a limited number of pages. But just because you have as much room as you want, this doesn't mean you should always use it.

Remember, if a reader is looking for entertainment they will pick up a book or magazine; if they are looking for information they will log on to the web. Writers who want to keep their audience not only satisfied but coming back for more will be sure to not confuse one with the other. This is why it's so important for web content to be clear and concise. For a writer, this means making sure every sentence conveys its meaning in the clearest possible way using the fewest possible number of words.

Rather than opting for adjective and adverb overkill, web writers need to stick to the bare essentials: subject, verb, and occasionally object. Also, carefully consider word choice. If you can convey the thought or idea in one word, do so, instead of stringing together a bunch of modifiers that do nothing but pump up your word count.

This brings up another point. The most reader-friendly web articles are between 500 to 700 words, and rarely go over 1,000. The Internet gives readers more options than ever before, and if an article looks dauntingly long, chances are they are going to exit swiftly.

Web readers are scanners, and most give an article a once-over before deciding whether to spend their precious time reading it. And what they are looking for in this once-over? A clue as to whether or not the article contains the information they are looking for. How can you, as a writer, provide this information to the reader up front? Simple - just incorporate chunking techniques into your articles.

Chunking means grouping related information and presenting it in a way that is easily identifiable and understandable. Shoot straight with your readers, tell them exactly what the article is about from the beginning, and clearly state it each time you introduce a new concept or idea.

Keep paragraphs short, and sentences even shorter. Articles appear differently on a computer screen than they do in print, and long paragraphs look even longer on a web site. Internet surfers are more likely to read a short paragraph as opposed to a long one because they can quickly process the information it contains. Shorter paragraphs are also more web page friendly as they produce more white space that visually breaks up copy and is easier on the reader's eyes.

Another way to chunk information is by using elements such as subheadings, bulleted lists, and graphics. This is a great way to attract 'scanners', as these elements catch readers' attention by letting them know what information they will find, and second, present that information in a way that is easily understood and quickly processed.

By-line: This guest post was submitted by Pamelia Brown, who specializes in writing about associates degree. Questions and comments can be sent to pamelia.brown-at-gmail.com, or leave a comment below as usual.

Photo Credit: Asleep at the Wheel by Aaron Jacobs on Flickr.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Write an 80,000 Word Novel in 80 Days!


Any aspiring novelists among you may be interested in this challenge to write an 80,000 word novel in 80 days, beginning on 1st May 2011 and ending on 19th July 2011.

May - You Write Your Novel is the brainchild of author Sally Quilford. You can read more about the challenge on this webpage, and there is also a Facebook Group you can join.

Like NaNoWriMo, which takes place every November, this is an informal challenge. There is no fee to enter, and no prize for completing the challenge, beyond the satisfaction of actually finishing a novel.

As for why the target is 80,000 words, Sally says: 'Agents and publishers seldom look at novels below 80k as they're not viable as full-length novels. So the aim is to help you write your way to a full-length, saleable novel.'

Challenges such as May - You Write Your Novel can be great for helping you focus on the project concerned. You also have the reassurance of knowing that other people are striving to achieve the same goal at the same time, and are available to provide mutual support and encouragement via the website.

If you'd like to take part in the May - You Write Your Novel Challenge, take a look at this list of Frequently Asked Questions, then indicate your intention to take part by leaving a comment at the end.

And if you need a bit of extra inspiration to get you started, you might like to check out the excellent Write A Novel in a Month from my sponsors, The WCCL Network - see banner below.

Good luck!

Photo Credit: Working hard by The Italian Voice on Flickr.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

WhiteSmoke 2011 Review

I was pleased to receive recently the latest version of the WhiteSmoke writing software to evaluate. So here's my review of this popular tool for writers...

For those who don't know, WhiteSmoke is a program that aims to help users produce better-written documents. It does this by analyzing the spelling, punctuation, grammar and style in any document, and then suggesting corrections and possible improvements.

WhiteSmoke works with all versions of Microsoft Windows from Windows 2000 upwards. The publishers say it will work in almost any text-based application, including word processors, email programs, web-based forms, and so on.

I found WhiteSmoke straightforward to install. Once it's on your computer, you can launch it at any time by hitting a shortcut key. This is set by default to F2, though you can change this if you like.

WhiteSmoke integrates quite closely with Microsoft Word. To run the software on a document you have written in that program, hit the shortcut key, and a new box will open on the screen with the first paragraph pre-loaded (see screengrab below).

WhiteSmoke highlights possible spelling mistakes in red, grammar mistakes in green, and stylistic weaknesses in blue. Suggested corrections appear above the error concerned and you can incorporate any suggestion by clicking on it. If the software has several possible suggestions, you can see them all by clicking on 'More' (see below).

Again, to incorporate any correction from the suggestions list, all you have to do is click on it.

Once you have made all the corrections you want, clicking on 'Apply' will ensure that they are included in the main document. A pop-up box will also appear asking if you wish to check the next paragraph (see below).

If you click on Yes, the next paragraph will appear in the box with any suggested changes marked. If you click on No, WhiteSmoke will close and you will be returned to the main document (with any corrections you have made so far incorporated).

In other programs, such as email clients, WhiteSmoke works a bit differently. In these cases, you have to select all the text you want to check, then hit the shortcut key. The WhiteSmoke box will then launch with all the selected text in it. Again, spelling mistakes, grammatical mistakes and stylistic weaknesses are highlighted, and you can incorporate any corrections by clicking on them. In fact, I rather preferred this to the process in Word, which makes you check the document one paragraph at a time.

One point to note is that WhiteSmoke refers constantly to a remote database when in use, so it won't work if you don't have an active Internet connection. This has both plusses and minuses for users. On the plus side, it means the program can be constantly updated and improved. On the minus side, if you don't have an 'always-on' Internet connection, you will be limited as to when you can use it.

Overall - and having looked at a lot of style/grammar-checking programs - I was impressed with WhiteSmoke 2011. It does make the odd mistake - as my first screengrab demonstrates - but you can choose which suggested changes to incorporate and which to ignore.

I was particularly impressed with the stylistic comments, which cover such matters as split infinitives, repeated words and phrases, over-used expressions (i.e. cliches!), and so on. As a professional writer, this is the aspect of WhiteSmoke I personally find most useful.

Any criticisms? Well, as indicated above, I found the software a bit slow to use when working in Word. I wish there was an option to check more than one paragraph at a time, and you didn't have to click to apply the changes made in each paragraph before moving to the next one. It would be nice - and much faster - if you could load the entire document at once. This seems possible in other applications but not in Word, for some reason.

In common with all other style/grammar-checking programs, WhiteSmoke does make the odd mistake. It can also appear a little pedantic at times, e.g. insisting that every introductory phrase is followed by a comma, and every use of the word 'which' is preceded by one. I've become used to this now, however, and regard it as just a suggestion to consider.

The program also has some other features I haven't mentioned so far, including an online dictionary and translation tool, and template letters. The latter would probably be of limited use to most people, unless perhaps English is not their first language. They cover a wide arange of topics, from a letter of appreciation to a co-worker to an apology for inappropriate behaviour!

WhiteSmoke is probably ideally suited for writers who have plenty of ideas but know that they have a few shortcomings in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and so on. Even if you're reasonably confident in these areas, however, WhiteSmoke can help you polish your style, as long as you view its suggestions selectively. From that point of view, I've been quite surprised how useful I've found it myself.

For more information about WhiteSmoke, and to download a free evaluation copy of the software, just click on the banner below.



Disclosure Statement: I was sent a free copy of WhiteSmoke 2011 to review. The banner includes my affiliate link, so if you click through and end up making a purchase, I will receive a referral fee for my trouble. This has not, of course, affected my review of the software in any way.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Guest Post: How a Dragon Saved My Writing Career


Today's post is from a student of my 10-Day E-Book course, Lesley Galston.

Lesley suffers from the painful condition fibromyalgia, which makes typing difficult for her. In this post, she describes how using the voice recognition program Dragon NaturallySpeaking has turned her life around...

* * *

I have a medical condition that can give me very painful hands - not good for any writer. I love to write by hand, and see the words flow across the page. Sadly, this is no longer an option for me.

The Dragon NaturallySpeaking software was suggested to me by a fellow writer. On asking around, it seemed to get mixed reviews. Some thought it great, especially the latest version, Dragon 11. It seemed that those who had tried earlier versions or different makes were less enthusiastic.

I decided to take the plunge and purchased Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 Premium Edition, as this offered a few additional benefits compared to the basic version.

I really didn't have a choice. It was finding something that worked, or my writing career could be over just as it was starting. What I found totally amazed me. It was very easy to install and, yes, there are Windows and Mac versions, which covers most of us.

They advise you to follow a tutorial to set the program up. It looks long and boring, but it was over very quickly. I spoke clearly, as in a fluent conversation, for about four minutes, and you can choose your text. You do need a headset with a microphone, and the microphone needs to be a thumb's width from the corner of your mouth. Dragon then analyses your voice pattern and sets up your user profile.

Well, that was easy, I thought!

What next? Well, you can see when Dragon is ready to use: you have a toolbar with added features, such as the ability to add more vocabulary. However, I was eager to start. Your Dragon is off when the icon at the top of your screen is red. You can either mouse-click to green to start, or there is an option of a hotkey. All is clearly and simply explained. I am not a software geek, so for me, it needs to be.

I was soon reading e-mail using the commands "Open Microsoft Outlook" and "Open e-mail". Both commands were executed quickly and efficiently. I then told Dragon to "Reply email" and dictated my response. The software made a couple of mistakes, but who doesn't make mistakes when typing anyway? I corrected the mistakes, turned Dragon on again, told it to "Send e-mail", and it was gone!

I found it really was like having your own personal assistant. Unfortunately it can't bring me my coffee! I wish I had found it sooner. How much more would I have accomplished before being in the position of having no other choice? Well, I could have a choice, I suppose - no writing, and an eternity of daytime TV instead. I dread the thought.

My recommendation is that if you're happy with your typing speed, i.e. you're a trained secretary and can type X number of words per minute, that's fine. If, like me, typing is not your greatest or fastest skill, then with the aid of Dragon you can spend more time on your writing and less time correcting mistakes. They claim to speed up your typing by three times (though this presumably depends on your speed to begin with). I rarely use the spellchecker now. Funnily enough, as long as I speak clearly, Dragon knows how to spell.

I have yet to try it on spreadsheets, but it can create documents and send e-mails in minutes instead of hours. They claim you can get more done by using your voice. I don't know about you, but I can chat for hours, and Dragon actually keeps up with my mind. If I want to pause to think about what to dictate next, I simply say "microphone off". If it makes a mistake such as spelling my name "Leslie" and I correct it, it learns to spell it correctly ("Lesley") the next time.

It may not be for everyone, but I have found Dragon NaturallySpeaking to be an extremely useful tool.

This blog post has been dictated by Dragon.

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Thank you very much to Lesley Galston for her contribution, which has almost tempted me into buying a Dragon for myself! Please do visit her websites at http://fibroliving.wordpress.com and www.sloanwriter.com. You might also be interested to check out her new e-book, Take Control of Your Pain.

Finally, in case anyone is interested, I have included below links to the Amazon sales pages for the Dragon NaturallySpeaking software Lesley referred to in her post.





As ever, if you have any comments or questions for Lesley, please feel free to post them below.

Photo credits: The Island by Balt-Arts on Flickr. Author publicity photo provided by Lesley Galston.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

My New Book Cover Design - the Decision!

In this post last month I asked for readers' help in choosing the cover design for the new edition of my book Start Your Own Home-Based Business.

I'm very grateful to the many people who voted, and the substantial number who took the trouble to comment as well. My publisher and I were very grateful for all the feedback.

As you may know if you've followed the voting, the most popular choice was Cover 3 (woman sitting on a sofa), with Cover 1 (the cartoon) second, and Cover 2 (the stylized question mark) third. You can view the exact voting figures here if you like.

So I guess you might think Cover 3 got the nod, but you'd be wrong. All the proposed designs came in for criticism as well, with those who disliked Cover 3 arguing it looked like the cover of an IKEA catalogue and/or the woman on the sofa looked much too relaxed to be running a home-based business!

Likewise, the cartoon-style cover (Cover 1) polarized opinion, with some people (including me, I must admit) loving it, but others finding it a bit dated, and one or two saying they found it creepy!

In the end, after much discussion (including the consideration of various other possible designs as well), we wound up with an improved version of Cover 2. You can see the full jacket design, front and back, below:

Clicking on this image should generate a larger version.

Ironically, Cover 2 was the least popular design in my poll, but it also attracted the fewest hostile comments. Obviously, the final decision was down to my publisher, and all things considered he felt this was the safest choice. As he is taking all the financial risk of publishing I couldn't argue too much. I can't say I love the design we've ended up with, but I'm coming to like it at least!

Thanks again to everyone who took part in my poll. Start Your Own Home-Based Business is now available for pre-orders on Amazon.co.uk, so do check out the sales page. Incidentally, the reviews that are up already refer to the original version of the book published ten years ago; the new version is completely revised and updated. Amazon is showing a publication date of 31 May 2011, but I anticipate that the book should be available well before then.

Naturally, I'll let you know on this blog as soon as copies are on sale!


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Friday, April 08, 2011

Five Ways to Become a Successful Travel Writer


Today I have a guest post for you from freelance writer and blogger Alexis Bonari. Alexis has some top tips for any aspiring travel writers among you.

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Many writers are drawn to the idea of travel writing, and there is no denying the attraction of visiting a succession of exotic locations and getting paid for it!

Travel writing is a competitive profession, however, and it's important to approach it correctly from the start.

Here are five guidelines every aspiring travel writer should therefore follow to maximize their chances of success.

1. Avoid the major tourist destinations/attractions

If you plan on writing about a major city or attraction, the chances are there are hundreds, if not thousands, of published articles about it already. Because of this, it may be a good idea to venture to more "off-the-beaten-track" destinations, that readers (and editors) may not be so familiar with.

If you're determined to write about a popular destination or attraction, at least ensure the angle of your article is unusual. For instance, if you want to write about the royal wedding in London, don't just write about Westminster Abbey or the color of the Queen's hat. Write about the post-wedding street parties that are being planned, or how you managed to save money by avoiding all those pesky tourist traps.

2. Don't be vague

This should be obvious for any serious writer, but the point cannot be stressed enough. Travel writers need to paint a vivid picture for the reader, so that he or she can visualize exactly what you are describing. Use as much relevant detail as possible, but at the same time be careful not to include useless and unnecessary information, as this could bore your reader to death.

Much of the art of good travel writing lies in choosing the precise, specific detail to bring a scene into sharp focus, and leave the rest to your reader's imagination.

3. Use as much style and wit as possible

You can never get too personal when it comes to writing about travel, especially if the reader is using your story as a reference point in deciding whether or not to travel to a specific city or attraction.

Sometimes the ugliest travel stories are the ones that are the most interesting - so if you got robbed by a gypsy in Hungary or cheated by a street-trader in Barcelona, tell readers about it in your article.

When it comes to travel writing, it's always better to be subjective rather than objective, so keep this in mind before you start your first draft.

4. Make your point loud and clear

Think about the purpose of your article: Is it to persuade the reader to visit a particular city or country? Or is it going to be packed full of tips and advice on what to remember before going on a backpacking trip? These points should be included in both your opening and closing paragraphs, so your reader has a clear understanding of what to expect.

5. Take lots of pictures

Because travel-related stories tend to be more visual than other types of writing, try to include as many pictures as you can with the article. Your pictures should be visually appealing and ready to publish, so purchase a good quality camera before you start your trip (if you don't have one already). If you are travelling alone, it may be a good idea to purchase a camera with an auto timer. And remember the one golden rule of photography: Get in close and fill the frame!

Good luck, and enjoy your travel writing.

Bio: Alexis Bonari is currently a resident blogger at College Scholarships, where recently she's been researching scholarships for engineering students as well as scholarships for nursing grad students. Whenever this WAHM gets some free time, she enjoys doing yoga, cooking with the freshest organic in-season fare, and practicing the art of coupon clipping.

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Thank you to Alexis for some great tips. If travel writing floats your boat, you might like to check out Travel Writing Secrets from my sponsors, The WCCL Network. It's a complete guide to setting yourself up as a professional travel writer. Click on the banner below for more info.

Photo Credit: Lesvos Sunset by Nick Daws.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Five Ways Writers Can Use Social Media Effectively


Today's post is by writer, proofreader and entrepreneur Randall Davidson. Randall has five great tips for writers on how they can use and benefit from social media such as Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and so on.
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In the battle to get your work published, name recognition is everything. Many publishing houses won't even consider a book for publication unless the writer has a substantial following. One of the easiest and quickest ways to build your reputation as a writer and grow your fan base is to harness the tools of social media. These tips will get you started on the path to becoming the next household name.
  1. Use social media to market new projects. There are a lot of ways to use social media to get your name in different circles and to let your readers know what you’re up to. Using your Facebook account, you can create an entirely new page for your book, posting updates about progress and release dates; you can use your Twitter account to follow activity related to your name and/or project and interact with readers; you might even post videos onto Youtube to summarize your upcoming projects.
  2. Let your audience and potential audience know about you and/or your past projects. Maintaining a blog is a great way to convey information about your literary life and your past projects to your readers. You have a lot of flexibility on a blog to decide how much interaction you want with your audience. In addition to posting information about your personal activities, you can talk about or link to other blogs or post older projects on your own blog. Creating a podcast can be a great way to let readers hear your (uncopyrighted) work in an audiobook format; podcasting can also be a platform to talk about your influences.
  3. Build relationships with your audience and other writers. Twitter is a great medium to interact with readers; but remember that you can post on other people's blogs as well. Offer to guest post on the blogs of other writers; they’re facing the same pressure to maintain a lively blog that you are.
  4. Enhance your reputation on distribution sites. If you have a good relationship with readers, you might send out an appeal, either personally or through your blog, to contribute to the consumer reviews section of distribution sites like Amazon. Don’t grovel.
  5. Test the market. You can use a blog to release excerpts of your upcoming projects and ask for input from readers. If you are writing commercially, it’s important to know your market and, with a large readership, you can quickly get feedback.

Byline: Randall Davidson is a co-founder and the lead project manager for the innovative proofreading services company ProofreadingServices.Us. Through leading the marketing efforts for ProofreadingServices.Us, Randall has learned the power of social media to drive traffic to websites. He is committed to providing writers with the tools they need for success, both through the articles he writes and the online proofreading services that ProofreadingServices.Us provides.

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Thank you to Randall for an interesting and informative article. If you have any comments or questions about using social media to promote yourself and your writing, as ever, please feel free to post them below.

Photo Credit: The Harvest Writer by John O'Nolan on Flickr.


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Monday, April 04, 2011

An Interview With Mike Essex, Author of Free Stuff Everyday

I'm pleased to introduce you today to UK author Mike Essex, otherwise known as 'Freebieman'.

Mike has made a reputation for himself for being able to 'blag' almost anything from companies rather than having to pay for it. In his new Kindle e-book Free Stuff Everyday (available from the Amazon Kindle Store) he explains how anyone can follow in his footsteps.

ND: Welcome to my blog, Mike. Could you start by telling my readers a bit about yourself. How did you first become a 'freebie-seeker'? And what are the biggest or most unusual freebies you have received to date?

ME: It all started when I was writing a video game website in my spare time. I was asked by a company if I'd like a free game in return for a review. I accepted the game, wrote an honest review, and this taught me the concept of offering something to companies that wasn't money, in return for a free product. Within a year I had over 100 games, simply by asking companies for them.

It was around this time I realised that companies want to give their products away. Not all of their products, naturally, but by giving away their products to a select group, they can use this group to build up their brand experience and gain valuable product feedback. It's much more valuable if a friend recommends a product to you, than the company themselves. By giving products away these companies are creating brand advocates who can spread these messages.

This realisation evolved into a blog where I would review any product I was sent, and I then developed other ways people could get free things, such as by product testing, filming videos or taking photos. Even something as simple as setting up a book club with friends works very well.

I've covered pretty much everything from getting my entire Christmas for free two years in a row - the tree, food and all the presents - to a kitchen sink (yes, really!). I've tested Xboxes, cosmetics, kitchen goods, designer trainers, and luxury days out - all based on the principle of offering something simple to companies in return.

ND: Tell us about your e-book, Free Stuff Everyday. Are the methods you suggest legal and ethical? And could anyone apply them, or do you need to be a certain type of individual?

ME: Free Stuff Everyday is the combination of four years of 'blagging' experience. Having tested a lot of different concepts, I've been able to distill this method of getting free stuff down to nine possible strategies, of which the book includes 90 examples. Whether you're confident or shy, I've researched an option for everyone. Contacting companies is the part that scares some people, but I do most of my blagging by sending emails, and rarely have a phone call with a company.

When I started blagging I was very shy, had little confidence and wasn't sure what to do. I'm not a celebrity, and don't get anything free due to status. I'm just a normal person trying to save money, and this book is designed to appeal to anyone in the same boat. Of course, if you read the book you'll have an advantage with chapters to give you extra confidence when emailing companies, and I'll arm you with killer offers that will make companies want to send you stuff.

In addition, throughout my entire time trying to get freebies I have had a day job as well. So the tips are designed to work around people's everyday lives. I've included a 30-day plan, which sets out the first steps for anyone who wants to get started, and that's based on 10-30 minute sessions each day.

The book contains a chapter of rules to keep all prospective blaggers safe and legal. Although I got a lot of freebies by writing about them, I always told the truth - if a product was rubbish, I would say so. This is no different to a company sending a product to a newspaper for a review, and I'm up front with every company that I can't return any samples. Honestly is the best policy.

Incidentally, I know your blog has many readers outside the UK, so I'd like to confirm that it's possible to use the tips in my book anywhere companies advertise their products. My solutions are based on gaining freebies by talking about products, which is a universal concept. Of the people I have helped through my blog, 35 percent are from the US and Europe - so the tips are very accessible worldwide.

ND: What made you decide to self-publish Free Stuff Everyday as an e-book?

ME: All of the research I did into print books through providers like Lulu seemed to create a false economy. If I sold my e-book at the same price it is now, in print form, I'd lose £2 on every copy. It didn't seem right to boost the cost of the product, simply because I was being punished with high distribution costs solely for being a self-published author. I'm not averse to the idea of publishing a print copy via a traditional publisher, which would work out a lot cheaper for the readers, but as I'm impatient and wanted to get straight to market, I went with the e-book format initially.

The other main advantage is that I can tweak my e-book at any point and then it will get updated straight to the readers. As my book is a how-to guide, it lends itself well to regular updates. I've already had requests from readers who loved the book but wanted extra explanation in key areas. This way I can provide extra content within 48 hours, and I don't have to wait for a second edition to give loyal readers some bonus content. In addition, when I do publish a print version, it'll have a lot more valuable content.

ND: How did you find the process of preparing your manuscript for the Amazon Kindle? And have you any hints or tips you could pass on to readers who may be thinking of publishing a Kindle e-book themselves?

ME: I originally wrote the book as a PDF and tried to sell it direct to people through my website. This didn't seem to work, as I think people are sceptical of scam e-books, and especially giving their credit card to websites that aren't typical shopping portals. I'd heard a lot about the Kindle, so decided to move my e-book to this format, so people could buy it from an authorized dealer and feel safer that they were dealing with a brand and shopping cart system they already understood.

As a UK author, Amazon was the easiest platform to work with. It's format is the closest to a word doc, and you don't have to go through long-winded US tax form filling, as with the iBookstore. Converting my word document to Kindle format took about four hours, and I got most of the work done by converting my Word file to a Web Page (File; Save As; then choose Web Page from the drop-down). After that I mainly removed the table of contents, hyperlinks and headers, as these weren't supported.

If you're curious you can register for an Amazon account in minutes and see a preview as it would appear on a Kindle. Unlike print, the Kindle can scale content in multiple sizes, so you can't be too precious as to where content ends on a page, as it constantly shifts. Instant previews are a great way to check your book will be viewed well. Even if you don't own a Kindle, there's no reason you can't publish on the format.

Don't bother with the default book covers on Kindle. Be sure to invest in a good design. I actually purchased my cover for $5 dollars from the website fiverr.com. You can find people willing to do things for $5 and I was very impressed with the final cover. It saved my about four hours of Photoshop work, and if you have no design experience it's a real life saver.

The only other thing I would suggest is that you over-estimate the time needed for formatting. There's a lot of badly formatted books in the Kindle Store, and they make the rest of us look bad. In addition, readers can get samples of every book for free. Poorly formatted books make a bad first impression, so for extra sales get the formatting right.

ND: One question I like to ask all my interviewees - could you tell us three of your favourite websites, and why you like them?

ME: For deals online there's really no better website that Hot UK Deals. I try to avoid using coupons and vouchers, as I'd rather ask a company for something free instead - but if you are in a rush and need to save money, they can pretty much find you a deal on anything.

Seth Godin's Blog is another big favourite of mine. Seth is a marketing guru whose books taught me many of the best business tips I know. His blog is essential daily reading for anyone who wants inspiration at work.

I can't forget my videogame past, so Eurogamer is another daily visit. I rarely read an entire article - usually I skim the content and check the new review scores to find out what's worth trying to blag. I'll alternate between this and Digital Spy (a great site for news and views on UK TV shows) pretty much every day.

ND: Finally, where does Freebieman go next? Do you have any further writing or publishing projects in mind?

ME: Alongside my day job, I'm fully focused on updating the Free Stuff Everyday guide at the moment, and am collecting reader feedback to make it even better. There's my day job too, which is where I get to put online marketing to the test, and that's a great place to work. I'd love to talk at seminars, conferences or even on TV shows, and this is something I'm working towards this year.

* * *

Many thanks to Mike for answering my questions in such comprehensive and interesting detail. I would just like to add that I have read Free Stuff Everyday myself and found it both interesting and inspiring. You can read my review if you like via this permalink.

If you don't have a Kindle, by the way, you can also buy Mike's e-book in a range of other formats (including PDF and Epub) from Smashwords.

LinkFor those who would like to know more about him, Mike Essex works as a search specialist for digital marketing agency Koozai and is a self-published author of the Free Stuff Everyday guide. His personal blog is Mike Essex.co.uk and he is happy to receive emails at any time.

In addition, if you have any comments or questions for Mike, as ever, feel free to leave them below.

Publicity photos provided by the author.

NEW! See my review of the new print version of Free Stuff Everyday by clicking here!


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Friday, April 01, 2011

Authors Unite! A New Promotional Opportunity for Writers

Today I'm bringing you an article from gossip-blogger Babs Queen - also known as The Coffee Break Queen (see caricature, left!).

Babs is launching a new promotional site for writers called Authors Unite on May 2, 2011.

And - as you'll see - she is offering a special launch deal for any readers of my blog who would like to take this opportunity to generate some extra publicity for their book.

I'll let Babs herself explain...

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Every author needs publicity for their books, and you can never get enough. The more publicity you get, the more books you are likely to sell.

Publicity can be a crap shoot. You spend your money and hope the targeted audience you want will read the information that you provided, but there is rarely a guarantee. You might do well if you can target a mailing list for people that like to read your genre. And you can hope that they will share your information with their friends. But how many of you can target that tight a group? Or is it more likely that you are running press releases that go out into the air waves...

You can start a page on one or more of the social networks, but that takes time to build a following. Is writing and selling your book a hobby, or do you want to make a living at it?

Some of you may have an event at the local book store. That will give you a boost in sales, but then what happens tomorrow? How do you get that flow of income to continue?

Authors Unite is the latest in publicity for authors.

  • Every month, Authors Unite will feature authors in the various genres.
  • Avid readers that want to see what is the latest available ebook for their ereader, in the genre they prefer, will bookmark this site.
  • The featured authors will be linking back to it each month for their own readers and mailing lists.
  • This will give each of the featured authors great publicity.
  • These links will be there for you to use as long or as often as you like.

As readers of Nick’s blog, I have an offer for you. The first 15 authors to contact me and confirm that they want to be featured on the site will get a 50% discount on whichever option they choose. And if your book does not come out until December and that is the month you want to be featured, you will still get that discount if you are one of the first 15 to contact me.

Please email me at authors at coffeebreakqueen dot com. Again, if you are one of the first 15 to send that email, I will give you a 50% discount on the option you choose.

I look forward to working with you,

Babs
http://coffeebreakqueen.com/Authors/

* * *

Thanks again to Babs for this information, and her kind offer to my readers. I did have a few questions for her, so I have published them below, along with her replies.

ND: Am I correct to assume that Authors Unite is open to both e-book and print book authors, world-wide? And that it is open to both self-publishers and those with conventionally published books?

BQ: Yes, this is open to authors of both e-books and print books world-wide, self-published or conventionally published

ND: Is non-fiction allowed as well as fiction?

BQ: Yes, fiction and non-fiction. I will stay away from erotica/X-rated, though.

ND: Can you give some idea of the charges for authors? Of course, I appreciate that you may not have definite figures right now...

BQ: Actually, the prices are on the web site already: those that are interviewed pay a one-time fee of $40 and those that are only featured pay a one-time fee of $20. Here is a link with the info: http://coffeebreakqueen.com/Authors/00-about

Thanks again to Babs for answering my questions, and for the half-price offer to my blog readers. If you would like to take advantage of the latter, please email her directly at the address above. If you have any other comments or questions for Babs, of course, feel free to post them below.


Authors, Share Your Book with Millions of Readers

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