JustRetweet is a new service I found out about recently and have adopted enthusiastically. If you're a blogger and/or a Twitter user, I strongly recommend you check it out.
As the name indicates, JustRetweet aims to provide a simple method for members to get additional "retweets" of selected Twitter updates, thus helping them reach a much wider audience.
The way it does this is ingenious. You get a certain number of "credits" for joining up, and can get more by retweeting other people's updates. You can also buy credits if you want, although there is certainly no need (or obligation) to do so.
You can then get your own updates retweeted by listing them on the website, along with the number of credits you are willing to provide for each retweet. You can also set the minimum number of followers a member must have to qualify for your offer. In addition, you can offer credits for people to visit your blog or website, and/or to follow you on Twitter.
You can also in theory enter your blog's RSS feed, so all your blog posts are automatically listed for retweeting. I say "in theory" because this didn't work for me, as for some reason JustRetweet won't validate this blog's RSS feed. However, it seems to me you may be better off listing posts you want retweeted individually anyway, as you can then pick how many credits you want to allocate to each one. JustRetweet is the creation of blogger Valentine Belonwu, and it is supported by a number of high-profile bloggers, including Gail Gardner, Ana Hoffman, Ms Ileane and Sharon Hurley Hall. Ms Ileane (who runs the excellent Basic Blog Tips website), has also produced a useful introductory video showing how JustRetweet works. I've embedded this below...
As ever, if you're receiving this blog post by email or RSS, you may need to visit my blog to watch the video. JustRetweet is a hugely promising service and deserves support, so please do take a look at the site at least. And if you have any comments or questions, as ever, please feel free to post them below.
Disclosure: If you join JustRetweet via my one of my links in this post, I will get an extra 25 credits. That's not exactly a fortune - it might be enough to get one of my blog posts retweeted once - but it does demonstrate yet another way you can earn credits on the site.
I'm getting ready for my seasonal break today, so I wanted to take this opportunity to wish all my readers a Very Happy Christmas!
Even if you don't celebrate the religious festival, I hope you enjoy the festive period. Thank you for reading at least some of my blog posts this year, and contributing to some very interesting discussions.
As indicated above, I shan't be around much over the next week or so. If you have any time on your hands during the holiday period, though, my forum at www.mywriterscircle.com is always open for discussions about writing, or any subject you choose in The Coffee Shop.
And if Santa has brought you (or left you with) a little spare cash, don't forget that my blog sponsors, WCCL, offer a wide range of high-quality writing resources that can help you get the new year off to the best possible start. Visit their Write Street portal for a selection, or see this blog post in which I listed all of the WCCL writers' resources. Many of these are available as instant downloads, so you can get started immediately.
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.
Today I'm pleased to bring you another guest post by MWB regular David Robinson.
David is a successful self-publishing author. In this post he addresses the question of whether writers can - or should - create their own e-book covers.
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Never judge a book by its cover. How old is that advice? How valid is it? The first point of contact we all have with many books is the cover, and getting it right can be a struggle.
As usual there is plenty of advice out there, and it usually runs like this:
Ensure your cover reflects a scene from the book.
Have your cover professionally prepared.
Don't use cheap and tacky images manipulated on Photoshop.
I checked the Kindle bestsellers. With a few exceptions, the covers do NOT reflect a scene from the book. They may reflect the THEME, even the TITLE, but they do not indicate a single scene. In many instances, the covers are abstract.
This problem is perhaps less critical when it comes to selling non-fiction. Nick's book Start Your Own Home-based Business has a large question mark in the centre of the cover which, on closer inspection, looks like the interior of a house. It's attractive without being specific, and for me, that's what a cover should aim for. My own non-fiction title, E-book Formatting & Publishing on the Kindle, shows a screen shot of a Word document.
Can you apply this kind of abstract simplicity to novels? You can, and most authors/publishers do.
The cover of the first title in my Sanford Third Age Club (STAC) Investigates series, A Death at the Seaside, shows a seaside scene. It suggests a traditional British seaside summer holiday. The title does the rest. It does not relate to any particular scene from the novel, and it doesn't even relate to murder.
This image (along with all my covers) also broke the first two "rules". It was not professionally prepared, and it was done on Photoshop.
The background image from A Death at the Seaside was taken from a rooftop cafeteria in Bridlington using a Sony a200 DSLR camera and a 200mm lens. The original was manipulated on Photoshop to enrich the colours, and the shadow edges were added as a trademark of the Sanford Third Age Club Investigates series. Does it work? A Death at the Seaside is my bestseller.
Here's another example, from a series of sci-fi novels I'm planning for next year.
This, too, was prepared on Photoshop and it spells out exactly what the novel is: a sci-fi adventure. But how was it put together?
The background is a starfield which I downloaded from the web. I installed a lens flare on it, which I then altered to appear as the distant, yellow sun. The planet is an image of Uranus which I also downloaded from the web, and then manipulated to turn it emerald green and darken most of the disc. The asteroid landscape, which doesn't show up too well in such this small example, is a photograph I took when visiting the Mt Teide National Park, on Tenerife in the Canary Islands (below). The area is known for its almost lunar appearance.
I clipped this landscape from this picture, eliminating the sky, pasted it into place, and adjusted the lighting.
Even without titles, a potential reader looking at this thinks "sci-fi", and acts accordingly. Sci-fi lovers will look closer, sci-fi non-lovers will move on.
Cover artists will shout, "I could have done better," and they're probably right, but as an independent writer/publisher, I have economic considerations to take into account.
I checked out a number of artists, and their prices ranged from $100 to $1000. I'm not criticising those figures. Artists place a value on their time and skill and I would not question them, but I make, on average, $1 per title sold (as little 30ȼ on the cheaper titles, as much as $2 on the more expensive ones). Even at the lower end of the price list I would have to sell 100 copies just to break even. And that doesn't take account of editing costs, which I'm already paying out.
Realistically, to break even, I'd need to sell 200-300 copies if I used a bottom-end artist. At the top end, I'll have to sell 2000+ copies, simply to break even.
I sell books. My titles do fairly well, but nothing mega. Would I sell more with a professionally designed cover? Perhaps, but I don't see that increase catapulting me into the major league, and it just does not make economic sense.
Apologies to all you advisors. I believe you have a point, but for now I'll stick with my own imagination and Photoshop.
This will be my last guest appearance on this blog for 2011, so I would like to take this opportunity to wish Nick and all his readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy, successful New Year.
Today I'm pleased to bring you a guest post on a subject I haven't covered on My Writing Blog before: speechwriting.
The article is by professional speechwriter and consultant David Meadvin, president of Washington, DC-based Inkwell Strategies.
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We often hear from people who say that they always considered themselves to be good writers until they sat down to write a speech.
It's not that speechwriting is a dark or mysterious art; rather, writing words to be spoken rather than read is a skill that most people rarely have a chance to practice.
The fact is - words that sound great on paper often fall flat when delivered. As professional speechwriters, we're trained to write for the spoken word. Fortunately, though, many of the same tricks of the trade that we use every day can help you write a clear, effective speech - whether it's for a Fortune 500 CEO or a local PTA meeting.
This cheat sheet should help get you started...
Keep your words, sentences and paragraphs short
Read a professionally-written speech. Then read a newspaper article. The biggest difference you'll see is that the speech contains shorter words and simpler sentence structures. This doesn't mean a speech is dumbed-down; the challenge to a good speech is expressing big ideas with small words.
The same goes for paragraphs. Writers are often hesitant to break up a paragraph in the middle of a thought. That's why paragraphs in books and essays sometimes go on for half a page or even more. Try reading a half-page of solid text - it doesn't flow naturally. Build your speech's pacing and cadence into the text by breaking up your paragraphs. This will slow down the speaker and help the audience follow along. Paragraph breaks also give the speaker a chance to pause and make eye contact.
Sticking to strict grammar rules can result in a speech that sounds overly stilted and formal. If starting an occasional sentence with a conjunction or using slang here or there allows the speaker to sound more natural, go with it. Write what sounds right and understandable to you - even if Microsoft Word underlines your words in green squiggly lines. However, avoid informal language and sentence structure just for the sake of folksiness. Ultimately, the language you use has to work for the individual speaker.
Don't be Afraid to Get Messy
Most professional speakers will start with a pristine printed draft, and then mark it up beyond recognition. Since the printed version of the speech will never be a public document, don't hesitate to add in your own notes on emphasis and pausing. Any given set of words can be read an infinite number of ways - it's up to you to make sure yours are delivered the best way possible. Just make sure the notes are legible at the podium - nothing is worse than a speaker struggling to understand his or her own text!
When a speaker has a difficult-to-pronounce name or term coming up in the speech, if you look closely, you can often see them tense up in anticipation. Just as nobody will ever see your scribbles in the margins, no-one will be the wiser if you spell these words out in your text.
Unlike most other forms of writing, speechwriting has very few formal rules. As long as the speaker sounds good, the speechwriter has done his or her job.
Here's the bottom line: KISS (Keep It Simple, Speechwriter).
Byline:Inkwell Strategies is a professional speechwriting, executive communications and message development firm based in Washington, DC. David Meadvin (pictured, right) is former chief speechwriter for the U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Senate Majority Leader.
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Thank you to David for an interesting and eye-opening article. Although I don't write speeches myself (unless someone wants to hire me, of course!) I do sometimes write audio scripts (e.g. for Think Yourself Lucky) and the same general principles apply here, I think.
If you have any comments or questions for David, as always, please feel free to leave them below.
Last week I was pleased to host Dana Lynn Smith (The Savvy Book Marketer) on her virtual book tour to promote her new writers' guide Virtual Book Tour Magic.
If you missed Dana's guest post, you can click through here to read it (will open in a new window). As promised in that post, here is my review of the guide itself...
Virtual Book Tour Magic is provided in the form of a downloadable, 73-page PDF, with three extra bonus items. My first impression was that it lives up to and even exceeds the standard of Dana's other writers' guides (listed at the foot of this post).
The text uses a clean, sharp, readable font, accompanied by screengrab illustrations where appropriate. As with Dana's other manuals, I was pleased to see that the table of contents is fully hyperlinked, not just to the main chapter headings, but to the section headings as well. It's a pity that not all e-books adhere to this format. Virtual Book Tour Magic takes readers step by step through planning and executing a VBT (as I'll call it from now on). Not unnaturally, it begins with an explanation of what these events are.
I thought I would find this all very familiar, but actually I learned some interesting things, including the fact that there are (at least) five different types of VBT. Dana also sets out in this chapter some compelling reasons why all authors should consider organizing VBTs to promote their titles.
The guide goes on to explain how to plan your VBT, and how to research and recruit the best tour hosts. This very important information is set out in a concise and systematic way, with plenty of bullet-point lists to aid readability.
Dana goes on to discuss communicating effectively with tour hosts and how to produce killer content for your tour (articles, interviews, and so on). She also discusses how you can build buzz around the tour with contests, giveaways and special offers. I found this chapter particularly interesting, especially the section where she talks about running a Twitter contest. This is definitely something I plan to do myself before too long, whether as part of a VBT or not!
There is also a chapter about promoting your tour, which again I found enlightening. Having been a blog host on several of Dana's own VBTs, it's interesting to see how much work goes into promoting a tour (as well as planning and running it) from the organizer's perspective. Virtual Book Tour Magic concludes by looking briefly at post-tour activities, the potential pitfalls of running a VBT, and the alternative option of hiring someone to organize your VBT for you. There is also, as you might expect, a section of useful resources, both free and paid for. Overall, I was highly impressed with Virtual Book Tour Magic, which (as I mentioned earlier) more than maintains the high standard of previous authors' guides by Dana Lynn Smith (pictured).
It does also, I think, demonstrate that organizing a VBT is not a project to be undetaken lightly. If you're going to do one, however - and as Dana says, the potential rewards in terms of raising awareness of your book are massive - following the guide's step-by-step advice should ensure you avoid the pitfalls and organize a successful, relatively stress-free, and ultimately profitable tour.
For more information about Virtual Book Tour Magic (and to order a copy) just click through any of the links in this review. You can also read my reviews of other guides by Dana by clicking on the appropriate title in the list below: How to Get Your Book Reviewed Twitter Guide for Authors Facebook Guide for Authors
If you have any comments or questions for Dana (or me), as ever, please feel free to leave them below!
Today I'm pleased to share with you a guest post from writer and academic Brittany Lyons.
Brittany is writing about plagiarism, a problem that with the advent of digital publishing has become widespread. In this article, Brittany explains what writers can do to try to protect themselves.
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For authors, protecting your copyright is harder now than it has ever been before, and yet it is increasingly necessary.
For an example of just how bold some plagiarists have become, one need only consider the recently-released thriller Assassin of Secrets, which comprises mainly lengthy passages that were lifted from at least thirteen other novels. Not only was this book published, but it garnered rave reviews from a variety of critics who likened its author's style to many classics of the genre.
Plagiarists have a number of tools at their disposal. Content can be copied and pasted at the click of a mouse, easily reproduced and misrepresented as being created by the plagiarist. Articles can be distributed within social networks that require that authors join or gain access to protected pages to verify they own the rights to the content. Works can then easily be distributed to millions without any of the costs typically associated with publishing a text.
While it may seem that works are only plagiarized on occasion, it happens fairly frequently - particularly in academia. Professors and even students trying to get PhDs often have their papers stolen and, in some cases, even sold without their permission. Protecting a creative work is more challenging than ever before, and innovative means for responding to copyright breaches have also evolved.
One way to address plagiarism is to change the rules, establishing a framework in which some actions traditionally defined as copyright infringement are permitted or even encouraged, while clamping down firmly on others. One such framework is the Creative Commons, a foundation that has developed a series of licenses that allow content producers to finely control how their works can be used.
Licenses specify whether or not a work can be resold and/or derived from, and whether derivations must be distributed under the same terms. While this model may seem threatening, it actually offers the potential to liberate works to entirely new audiences. If an author's greatest enemy is obscurity, then placing works under a Creative Commons license is a strong protective measure.
Even so, adopting a Creative Commons license is a worrying prospect for many, as the risk that someone else may try to pass off the work as their own still exists. Fortunately, there are other mechanisms of guarding against plagiarism that uphold more traditional publishing models.
One option is self-publishing. However, writers should make sure they use platforms that employ Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies. These counter-plagiarism methods usually restrict access to an author's works to specific devices, which prevents the easy copying of text.
One such platform is Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). The KDP program is free to join, and makes titles instantly available on Kindle devices, as well as an array of apps for smartphones and other devices. Amazon only collects money when authors sell their works, taking a minimum 30 percent cut of every sale. [Kindle publishing is, of course, covered in my new course, Kindle Kash - Nick.]
For those wishing to reach beyond the digital realm, Amazon's Kindle platform integrates closely with its print-on-demand service, Createspace. By controlling a significant portion of e-publishing, Amazon and other e-book providers can inexpensively and effectively guard against plagiarism.
While books represent much of an author's value, blog posts and other online publications are becoming increasingly valuable as well. Blogs are a great way for authors to connect with readers, network with industry contacts, and improve their craft. Unfortunately, though, it is all too simple for a plagiarist to purloin a brilliant blog post. While this happens even to established professionals, they at least have the benefit of a vast readership to police other blogs for the stolen content. Besides that, though, there are a number of free measures available to guard against website content theft.
Another way for writers to safeguard their work is by using an automated plagiarism detector such as Copyscape. When given the address of a web page, Copyscape scans its database to determine if the content of that page plagiarizes any known works. As repeatedly checking a number of pages by hand would prove time-consuming, Copysentry (from the organization behind Copyscape) is an inexpensive premium service that automates the process on a regular schedule.
Whether it is by redefining rights, selling to protected platforms, or employing automated tools such as Copyscape, content producers and consumers are waging an intense and escalating battle. While the landscape of this fight is ever-changing, the writer has many tools available to address and react to the threat of plagiarism in the digital age. As technology becomes faster and more intelligent, these mechanisms will evolve further to offer even greater protection for writers.
Byline: Brittany Lyons is a writer for PhDs.org and aspires to be a psychology professor, but decided to take some time off from grad school to help people learn to navigate the academic lifestyle. She currently lives in Spokane, Washington, where she spends her time reading science fiction and walking her dog.
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Many thanks to Brittany for a thought-provoking article.
I would just make a couple of points in response to it. First of all, while I'm a fan of Creative Commons, it's important to understand that this type of licensing has no official legal status. It's main benefit, in my opinion, lies in allowing authors to specify what rights in their work they are willing to cede, thus helping to prevent unintentional copyright breaches. But applying a Creative Commons license to your work will NOT provide you with any additional legal protection against plagiarists.
Secondly, I don't agree 100 percent with Brittany that authors should always aim to publish digital versions of their work with DRM. In my view there are drawbacks as well as advantages to going down this path.
For one thing, as the music companies have found out, DRM is very unpopular among buyers, who typically wish to consume the work they have purchased in a number of different ways and don't see why they should be limited to just one device. In certain cases, with high-priced works in particular, applying DRM may be justifiable, but with a 99c novella (say) it's arguable whether the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. In any event, this is, of course, a decision every writer will have to make for him/herself.
Do you agree with Brittany or not about plagiarism? And what measures do you use personally to reduce the risk of becoming a victim yourself? Please leave any comments (or questions for Brittany or me) below. I'm looking forward to hearing from you!
I hope you enjoy it. Be sure to have the speakers up when you play it!
As always, if you are receiving this post by email or RSS, you may need to visit my blog to watch the video.
The moderators in the video are Mary Ann (Maimi), Linda (Fire-Fly), Skip Slocum, Siobhan and Joe Mynhardt. To aid in identification, Linda is wearing the sunglasses, Mary Ann pops out of the top window of the cuckoo clock second, and Sio bursts out of a gift box. Joe is the elf on the far right at the start of the video and at the end, and Skip is, well, the other one :-)
Thanks to all the moderators concerned for sportingly agreeing to be featured in this video.
For those who may not know, all the mods on MWC are unpaid volunteers. They generously give their time to assist in the smooth running of the forum and ensure it remains a safe and welcoming place for all its members. The other mods not shown in the video are Amie, Foxy, Carrie, Andrew, Mairi (Ma100), DC, Alice (Country4gal), and Don.
If you have a bit of extra spare time over the festive period, why not check out what's going on at myWritersCircle, especially if you haven't visited the forum for a while (or at all). You can join in discussions on all aspects of writing (or anything else for that matter in The Coffee Shop), check out the latest market info in Writers Wanted, and give and receive constructive criticism in Review My Work.
Today's guest post from Dana Lynn Smith, The Savvy Book Marketer, is part of the virtual book tour for her newest book marketing guide, Virtual Book Tour Magic.
With a virtual book tour, authors can reach a large targeted audience of potential book buyers by making guest appearances on blogs, podcasts, radio shows and other venues.
Organizing a virtual book tour isn't hard, but it does take good organization. Here is a list of the steps involved in planning a virtual book tour:
Before you start, have basic promotional tools in place, including a blog and social networking accounts.
Begin planning at least two months in advance of the tour.
Determine your goals for the tour and the type of tour you want to do.
Determine the length of the tour and tour dates.
Set up a recordkeeping system to keep track of the details for planning the tour.
Decide what kind of content, giveaways or contests to offer on the tour.
Make a list of prospective hosts and research them to find the best fit.
Write a compelling invitation and send it to the top prospective hosts.
Correspond with hosts, sending confirmations and details.
Set up a schedule of tour stops, assigning hosts to specific dates.
Develop a promotional plan and materials for the tour and begin pre-tour promotions.
Write articles and interview questions and send to hosts.
Monitor and promote daily during the tour.
Coordinate giveaways and contests.
Evaluate the success of the tour and take care of follow up tasks.
There you have it - the steps to organizing your own successful virtual book tour. Learn more about the details of planning a book tour in my new Virtual Book Tour Magic guidebook for authors.
Book Tour Special: Order Virtual Book Tour Magic by December 12 and you'll get an invitation to an exclusive book tour Q&A session with Dana on December 15.
About the Author: Dana Lynn Smith (right), The Savvy Book Marketer, helps authors and indie publishers learn how to sell more books through her how-to guides, blog, newsletter, and private coaching. For more book promotion tips, get her free Top Book Marketing Tips ebooks at www.TheSavvyBookMarketer.com.
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Many thanks to Dana for sharing her tips in this post as part of her Virtual Book Tour.
I will be reviewing Virtual Book Tour Magic on this blog on Monday 12 December, but I'm probably not giving away too much to say that I was hugely impressed with it.
You can also read my reviews of these other guides by Dana by clicking on the appropriate title in the list below: How to Get Your Book Reviewed Twitter Guide for Authors Facebook Guide for Authors
If you have any comments or questions for Dana (or me), as ever, please feel free to leave them below!
Big news! My publishers, The WCCL Network, have just launched Think Yourself Lucky, an audio guide that explains how anyone can boost their luck by applying just a few simple scientific principles.
I was commissioned by WCCL to research the content for this guide and write the script for it, and worked closely with them to develop what I believe is a comprehensive and highly professional finished product.
Think Yourself Lucky was a fascinating project to work on. As a psychology major, I have a long-standing interest in luck and related matters, so researching and writing Think Yourself Lucky really was a labour of love for me. And the more I got into it, the more I realized that for many people a course on this subject really could be a life-changer!
Think Yourself Lucky draws on recent scientific research by leading experts in this field, including Dr Richard Wiseman, Carol Sansone, Sonja Lyubomirsky, and many more.
From all of this I distilled seven key scientific principles you can apply to improve your luck in almost every aspect of your life. The only exception is the small proportion of what we call luck that truly IS based on chance. As I wrote in the introduction:
This course will NOT improve your chances of winning the state lottery, or even the weekly raffle held by the Parent–Teachers Association. These and similar events really ARE down to random chance, and anyone who claims they can boost your chances of winning in these cases is a fraud and a charlatan.
However, luck is about much, much more than this. It's about finding and grasping opportunities, and - more than that - creating opportunities of your own. It's about making changes to your life and how you live it, to allow luck more opportunities to enter your life and enrich it. And it's about taking instances of bad luck and turning them round to create good luck instead...
And it's not just me saying this, incidentally. Dr Richard Wiseman, a UK psychology professor who performed a decade-long study of luck, estimates that only 10% of "good luck" is actually down to chance. The remaining 90% remains something we can control ourselves.
In these diffficult economic times, we all need all the luck we can get. And I'm excited to have worked with WCCL to create a first-rate course I really believe WILL help anyone who applies the principles it sets out to enjoy more luck in their personal, financial and business lives.
Please click through any of the links in this post (or the banner below) to read full details about Think Yourself Lucky, including my publisher's current $30 launch discount!