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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How to Use JustRetweet [Video Post]


JustRetweet is a service I've been using quite a bit recently to get additional publicity for some of my Twitter updates.

I've found it a great resource for getting multiple retweets of selected messages, for example, tweets publicizing my latest blog posts.

Through JustRetweet, it's possible to reach much larger numbers of Twitter users than would be possible for any single Twitter user (unless maybe you're Justin Bieber).

I've talked about JustRetweet on this blog before (in this post, for example), but sometimes watching a video can make a process easier to understand than reading a blog post.

Here, then, are two screencasts I made to take you through the basics of how the site works. The first shows how to log in to JustRetweet and find interesting tweets to share with your followers (and by doing this earn credits on the site).


The second screencast shows how you can use the credits you have earned to get retweets of your own Twitter messages.


As always, if you are viewing this post via email or RSS, you may need to visit my blog to see the videos.

To emphasize again, JustRetweet is open to any Twitter user and it's free (unless you want to pay for extra credits or advertising, of course). If you use Twitter at all to promote yourself or your books/writing services, I highly recommend giving it a spin.

As a matter of interest, both these screencasts were made using the free Screenr service and then uploaded to YouTube. I'm still quite new to the video-making business, so please make allowance for this when watching them!

If you have any comments or questions about JustRetweet, please do post them below.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

More Great Free and Low-Cost Resources for Kindle Authors


My post a few weeks ago on Three New Low-Cost Resources for Kindle Authors got a lot of good feedback, so I thought I'd publish another list of useful Kindle-related resources that have come to my attention recently.

Again, these are all very affordable, ranging from free (everyone's favorite!) to a maximum of $12.49 (at the time of writing). All the paid products come with a 60-day money-back guarantee.

I should, incidentally, mention that some of these products are being sold on the Warrior Forum in dimesale format, which means prices go up a little with each sale until a ceiling price is reached.

First up, Colleen Slater's Kindle Treasure Chest is actually rather similar to Instant Kindle and E-Cover Creator, which I reviewed here recently. If you bought the latter, you may not need this product as well (although, as you'll see, there could still be a case for buying it).

As with Instant Kindle and E-Cover Creator, what you get is a set of e-book cover templates and video tutorials on how to customize them using Photoshop or the free GIMP software.

Whereas the earlier product only included a handful of templates, however, Aussie Colleen Slater's has forty. You can see a quick demonstration of one of her templates being edited in the embedded video below...



As ever, if you are receiving this post by email, you may need to visit my blog to watch the video.

In addition, you get a set of five bonus reports on various aspects of Kindle publishing, including one on how to register a Kindle account and another on how to upload your book to Kindle.

Everything in Colleen Slater's Kindle Treasure Chest is available for just $6.55 (at the time of writing), which seems like a pretty good deal to me.

Also worth a look is Kindle Video Marketing Smash from Vincent Ros and Ben Hames. This is a guide to using the power of video to leverage your Kindle sales.

For under $11 (at the time of writing) you get a PDF guide plus four video tutorials that take you step by step through creating a fairly basic video to promote your Kindle e-book. No special software is required, just the free Windows Movie Maker or Apple iMovie.

There is also advice on using video to help build your author brand and how to SEO your video to maximize its traffic-driving potential.

One reviewer, Amy Harrop, wrote about this product: "Vincent and Ben have put together a great step-by-step blueprint to easily create video book trailers to promote your Kindle books. Video is a great way to promote and publicize your book, and the strategies revealed here show what to do and not to do in order to make engaging book trailers and drive traffic. This is a much-needed resource and well done!"

Next up is Kindle Idea Machine from Sam England and Brad Spencer. This is a video-based guide to finding ideas for profitable Kindle publishing projects using free resources, including (surprisingly enough) Google Images.

If you're struggling to come up with ideas for profitable non-fiction Kindle books, this could be the product for you. My colleague Rosa Suen wrote about it in her review: "This is certainly a SUPER fast way to get great content for Kindle books in less than 30 minutes. No more writing blocks. What's more, people have spent hours coming up with these catchy titles and you can piggy back on them and make your own twist... Though this is called a machine, there is no software to buy. It's a method that creates a machine of unlimited ideas."

Nice turn of phrase there, Rosa ;-)

This is actually the most expensive of the products listed, but at its current price of $12.49, it still shouldn't break the bank.

Finally, the free resource I mentioned is a new forum for discussion about marketing Kindle e-books. It's called (oddly enough) Kindle Forum, and you can join simply by visiting www.kindleforum.co and clicking on "Join Free Now". I've joined myself (my ID there is NickD) and look forward to picking up some useful ideas here.

Incidentally, the people behind Kindle Forum are Peter Lenkefi and Deborah Drum, two well-respected Kindle publishing experts. Deborah is the author of various e-book writing and publishing guides, including Smashing Smashwords, a neat, low-cost report about getting the most from the popular Smashwords self-publishing platform.

You can, of course, discuss Kindle publishing on my own forum at www.mywriterscircle.com, and I hope very much you will do so. For specialist marketing advice and information, however, Kindle Forum is definitely well worth a look as well.

Before closing, I must also mention that my own guide Kindle Kash is still available via my blog sponsors, WCCL, and provides an in-depth guide to devising, writing, editing, publishing and promoting a Kindle e-book. I'm also offering four extra bonuses of my own to buyers from my homepage. Buy now and join the many hundreds of writers who have followed the step-by-step advice in Kindle Kash to create their own published Kindle e-book!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this article include my affiliate code, so if you click through in these cases and make a purchase, a proportion of the fee will go to me. This has not influenced the content of the article in any way, but you should of course complete your own due diligence and read the product info pages (and this article) carefully to determine whether this product will be relevant to your needs. All advertised products carry a 60-day money-back guarantee.
Word cloud by courtesy of Wordle.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Pros and Cons of Pen-Names for Authors

Today I'm pleased to bring you a guest post from France-based author and editor Lorraine Mace.

Lorraine's debut novel Bad Moon Rising (left) was recently published under the pen-name Frances di Plino.

But as Lorraine reveals below, using a pen-name, while it does have some advantages, also created a few unexpected headaches for her...

* * *

As Lorraine Mace I'm a journalist, columnist for a national writing magazine, deputy editor of an e-zine, run an international writing competition, judge writing competitions and provide short story critiques for another national writing magazine. All of which adds up to a pretty good author platform. Knowing this, you'd think I'd use my own name when my debut novel was picked up for publication, but I didn't.

There were two reasons for this - and they both seemed like good ideas at the time. Firstly, as Lorraine Mace, I also write for children, so needed to separate Bad Moon Rising (a dark, psychological thriller) from my own name. I didn't want little Johnny or Jane to pick up Bad Moon Rising and learn too soon that really, really bad things can happen to nice people.

Secondly, and very naively, I thought it would be a piece of the proverbial gateau to use the Lorraine Mace platform to launch Frances di Plino.

Huh! I very quickly realised that doing so was alienating the Lorraine Mace fan base I'd spent years cultivating. It was one thing writing a couple of humour pieces on the subject for my Writing Magazine column, they went down quite well, but when I used The Writer's ABC Checklist blog to promote Bad Moon Rising, I noticed a distinct drop in my daily visitor rate. Just because people followed me for writing tips and advice didn't mean they wanted to hear about my debut novel.

The same applied to the newsletter sent out to the Flash 500 Competition subscribers. I put an item about the book's launch in with other news and several people unsubscribed. This, combined with the fall in blog visitor numbers, told me all I needed to know - I had to get Frances known in her own right and couldn't simply tag her on as an additional persona to my existing operations.

So, what did I do?

Before setting up a new blog for Frances di Plino I thought long and hard about what might get people reading it. I didn't want to focus on writing, because I was already doing that as Lorraine Mace. Also, I wasn't looking for writers, I needed readers. (As an aside, I think this is something that authors who promote non-stop on Facebook and Twitter forget. Generally, you are talking to other writers, who don't actually read your promotion posts; they just want the opportunity to tell YOU about THEIR books.)

Eventually, I set up a blog as a review site for crime/thriller novels. The benefit of this is two-fold. Firstly, it gives a definite reason for visitors to come back time and time again. Secondly, every book I review has an author who will want to spread the word and send their potential readers to read the review. And by only reviewing crime and/or thrillers I am ensuring the visitors have an interest in my own genre.

I then took this idea of having an incentive to visit the site (and hopefully see Bad Moon Rising and buy it) and enlarged on it. I set up a fun competition offering free entries into the Flash 500 Competition. This then meant I had a legitimate reason to send out a newsletter to the competition subscribers, which I did. Guess what? No one unsubscribed and the review site had masses of hits.

I then separated Lorraine Mace from Frances di Plino on Facebook by setting up a dedicated page. This enabled me to spread the word about reviews given (plus any I received) and keep people up to date on the fun competition without annoying my Lorraine Mace friends.

Carrying on from this, I already give a copy of The Writer's ABC Checklist as a Highly Commended prize in the Flash 500 competition. By offering the winner a choice of the writing book or a copy of Bad Moon Rising I was now able to add a link to the book on the competition site without it appearing blatantly promotional.

My writing blog numbers have now gone back to their original levels, but more importantly, the review blog site is getting regular hits on a daily basis.

My advice?

For anyone in a similar position, who is thinking of publishing under a pen name, my advice is to think long and hard as to whether it's a good idea. It is much, much harder to promote an entirely new name than to use your own. Most people these days have various online social outlets, which are time-consuming, but necessary. Imagine having to run duplicate accounts in your pen name. Half the time I don't know who I am online - and it doesn't matter who I am logged in as, it is NEVER the person I need to be at that particular time.

If I had my time over again, I would publish Bad Moon Rising as Lorraine Mace and worry about a new name for the children's books when they eventually come out.

About the Author: Frances di Plino is the pseudonym of columnist, editor, non-fiction author and writing tutor, Lorraine Mace. Writing as Frances di Plino gives her the opportunity to allow the dark side of her personality to surface and take control.

As Lorraine Mace (pictured), she is a gentler creature, being humour columnist for Writing Magazine and a deputy editor of Words with JAM. She writes fiction for the women's magazine market, features and photo-features for monthly glossy magazines, and is a writing competition judge for Writers' Forum.

Winner of a Petra Kenney International Poetry Award, she has won and been placed in numerous creative writing and poetry competitions. From the other side of the writing fence, she runs the international flash fiction and humour verse competitions at Flash 500.

She is a fiction and non-fiction tutor for The Writers Bureau, and is the author of the Writers Bureau course, Marketing Your Book. She is also co-author, with Maureen Vincent-Northam, of The Writer's ABC Checklist (Accent Press).

* * *

Thank you very much to Lorraine for her interesting and thought-provoking article.

I've written a lot of material under pen-names over the years, usually at clients' request. For many years I worked for one particular publisher of self-help books and courses (not WCCL) who believed that people were more likely to buy products from authors whose surnames started with the letter 'H' - so my work was published under a roster of such names, including Henderson, Harrison, Harriman, and several others!

I didn't really have the issues Lorraine describes as I was paid a flat fee for these commissions, so I didn't have any incentive to try to promote them. But if you're self-publishing or paid by royalties (as with most book publishing contracts), you almost certainly WILL experience some of these problems if you use a pen-name. And it will be harder to bask in the glory of being a successful author as well!

If you have any comments or questions for Lorraine (or me) please do leave them below.

Picture of Lorraine Mace provided by the author.


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Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Power of Surprise in Fiction Writing


I saw a very interesting article recently on the excellent Editor's Blog by Beth Hill.

In her post titled Include Surprises in Your Stories, Beth reminds fiction writers of the importance of surprising their readers, to keep them interested in their story and avoid boring them.

As Beth says...
Have you forgotten to surprise characters and readers? Have you been so slavishly committed to what you think the story should do (not to mention paying attention to all the rules and the mechanics of writing) that you’ve put a stranglehold on your characters so that even if they want to step out boldly, you won’t let them?

Let me suggest that you allow room for story surprises, both for characters and readers. Don’t let either group remain unsurprised as they travel your story world.

Introduce the unexpected and do so more than once. And make each surprise different from the others...
I think this is really good advice (and I strongly recommend reading the whole article). In my days as a correspondence tutor and assessor for The Writers Bureau, I often used to receive assignments from students where surprise was painfully lacking.

A classic example was the romantic short story. You would be amazed by the number of aspiring writers who thought it clever to have their protagonists "literally bump into each other" as a way of bringing them together. I had to break it to them gently that this was actually quite unoriginal, and not the least bit interesting or surprising.

Another very common scenario in beginners' short stories was where the female protagonist saw her boyfriend getting cosy with another woman and immediately thought he was two-timing her. Lo and behold, it turned out she was his sister or perhaps cousin. This is another of those cliche plots that will normally provoke yawns if you try using them.


Not always, though. The other day my OH and I were watching a DVD of Ghost Whisperer, the US TV series featuring Jennifer Love Hewitt as a woman named Melinda who can see and talk to ghosts. One of the episodes featured a variation on the scenario above.

In this particular story, a young woman had seen her boyfriend embracing another woman, just before he died in an accident on the football field. She was convinced he had been about to leave her for this other woman, and sought the help of Melinda to find out the truth.

I was wondering if the producers would dare make the other woman his sister or cousin, but no. It transpired that she was his dance teacher, and he was secretly taking lessons so that he could surprise and delight his girlfriend on prom night. OK, it might not have been great art, but it was a different and unusual twist on the old cliche, and provided a perfectly satisfying ending to the story.

A good example of a book packed with surprises is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, which I read quite recently (I haven't yet seen the film, so my comments apply solely to the book).


Part of the genius of this novel lies in the way it keeps delivering surprises to its readers. These start at "the reaping" where, contrary to all our expectations, Katniss Everdeen is NOT chosen as one of the young people to fight to the death in the arena. And it continues through to the stroke of inspiration that causes the Games to close. If you haven't yet read this book, by the way, I highly recommend it, both as a great read and as a masterclass in how to keep surprising your readers.

One thing any writer must bear in mind today is that we are writing for an extremely media-savvy audience. They have likely seen thousands of movies and TV shows, and they know all the standard plots and plot twists.

So the art of the author or scriptwriter nowadays is to come up with new and surprising variations on these familiar plots. You still have to play fair, of course, by providing some clues along the way and perhaps foreshadowing the ending. If you can envisage the reader/viewer slapping their forehead at the end and saying to themselves, "Of course - I should have seen that coming!" you can probably congratulate yourself on a job well done.

So what do you think? Do you agree about the importance of surprising your readers - and how do you build an element of surprise into your own stories or screenplays?

Photo Credit: Intent on Energy Expelled by Seide Tripp on Flickr. Reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution-Sharealike 2.0 licence.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Millionaire Bootcamp for Authors in London this June


My colleague Stephanie Hale has asked if I will give a mention for the Millionaire Bootcamp for Authors she is organising in London next month.

This is a three-day event at The Millennium Gloucester Hotel Conference Centre (pictured below) in London SW7. It will run from 8-10 June 2012.


The event will be attended by over 100 literary agents, literary consultants and publishers, as well as authors and aspiring authors.

Speakers/trainers include NYT best-selling author Raymond Aaron, successful writer and book marketing expert Peggy McColl, Kindle publishing sensation Ty Cohen, best-selling self-help author and speaker Arvind Devalia, and many more. Take a look at the website for full details.

The normal price of a ticket to The Millionaire Bootcamp is £297, but for a limited time you can book an 'Early Bird' ticket for just £37. And yes, you read that correctly, just thirty-seven UK pounds, equivalent to around $60 US or 46 Euro.

If you live anywhere near London and happen to be free on those dates, this looks amazing value to me. You also get a selection of bonus gifts for signing up, including a free place on Write Your Book In 30 Days Or Less, a one-day workshop with Stephanie Hale on Saturday 14 July.

I honestly don't know how Stephanie is able to offer all of this at the ridiculously low price of £37, but I double-checked and that's definitely the deal that's available now. I'd imagine the networking opportunities at the event alone should be worth many times that modest investment.

Anyway, good luck if you do decide to register for the Millionaire Bootcamp for Authors. Please return to this post afterwards and leave a comment about your experiences there!

Disclosure: The links in this post are affiliate links, so if you sign up I will receive a proportion of the fee you pay as commission. This actually makes me wonder all the more how Stephanie is making any money out of all this!

29 May 2012 - Just heard that all places at this event have now sold out. Congratulations if you got a place!


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Monday, May 14, 2012

Why Creating a Series Can Be a Smart Marketing Move

Today I'm pleased to bring you a guest post from US science-fiction and fantasy author Mary Pax (or M. Pax as she prefers to style herself in her publicity).

The post is part of Mary's blog tour to launch her series of novels called Backworlds, the first of which, The Backworlds, is now available free in e-book form (see below).

Mary believes strongly in the value of publishing not just one book but a whole series. In this article, she explains her reasons why...

* * *

Movies do it. Television does it. Books do it, too. I'm talking about the series

Sometimes they're conceived from the beginning as series. Sometimes a movie or book does so well, the public clamors for more. So, more is produced.

It's a great strategy, because it funnels readers into our sequels with less work than launching a new title. The funnel is already created if the initial offering is a hit.

What if we don't want to wait and see? We can write the greatest novel ever and not be a hit. So how do we create a funnel?

Many successful ebook authors choose to give away their first book, or price it very low. The idea is to get the work into as many hands as possible. Those who like it, the author's audience, will come back for more.

This same marketing principle is used by a lot of companies. They'll give away samples or a free version to gain customers and introduce themselves.

A successful series can then help an author sell other titles.

This is the strategy I decided to use in launching the Backworlds series. The first story is free, and will remain free. I will use it in my advertising and marketing campaign, working to get it into as many hands as possible.

Some groan at giving their work away. I think of it as an ad, a marketing expense. It's a better return on my dollar than most advertising expenditures. It's a long-term strategy for winning over readers to gain sales for the sequels.

I've seen some authors write several books in a series and release them together. The consensus seems to be, the more titles we get out there, the better we'll do. I haven't done this, but I've seen it work for others.

What marketing strategies have you used?

The Backworlds: After the war with Earth, bioengineered humans scatter across the Backworlds. Competition is fierce and pickings are scant. Scant enough that Craze's father decides to hoard his fortune by destroying his son. Cut off from family and friends, with little money, and even less knowledge of the worlds beyond his own, Craze heads into an uncertain future. Boarding the transport to Elstwhere, he vows to make his father regret this day.

Available as an ebook from Amazon / AmazonUK / Smashwords / Feedbooks. Free on Smashwords and Feedbooks. Will be free on Amazon in a few weeks.

Sign up for M. Pax's newsletter to be notified the moment The Backworlds goes FREE on Amazon, and when it becomes available from other retailers.

About the Author: M. Pax's inspiration comes from the wilds of Oregon, especially the high desert where she shares her home with two cats and a husband unit. Creative sparks also come from Pine Mountain Observatory where she spend her summers working as a star guide. She writes mostly science fiction and fantasy, but confesses to an obsession with Jane Austen. She blogs at her website, www.mpaxauthor.com and at Wistful Nebulae. You'll find links there to connect on Twitter, Goodread, FB and other sites.


* * *
 
Thank you to Mary for her guest post. I have already downloaded her first Backworlds book to my Kindle via Smashwords and am enjoying reading it!

If you have any comments or questions for Mary (or me), as always, please feel free to post them below. 

Photo of M. Pax provided by the author.

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Friday, May 11, 2012

See Me at More Money Review!


Some of you will know this already, but I recently started working for a new client, More Money Review.

This is a UK-based email newsletter and website devoted to money-making opportunities. The URL is www.moremoneyreview.com and they also have a Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/MoreMoneyReview.

I'd done one or two articles and reviews for MMR before, but it was good to be offered a regular gig with them, especially as one or two of my other clients have fallen victim to the worldwide recession recently (though not my blog sponsors, The WCCL Network, thankfully!).

The main subject areas covered by More Money Review are MMO (make money online) opportunities, forex trading, and sports betting. Some of these fields are more familiar to me than others, but I'm looking forward to learning more about all of them in the months ahead!

My role with MMR is a combination of reviewing, article writing and copywriting. You can read my latest article for them about the Amazon KDP Select program here. You can also read my review of the new Banners Broker business opportunity here. Note that More Money Review is a membership site, so in some cases you may be asked to register (free) to access the full content of a page.

If you're interested in home-based business and sideline money-making opportunities, I do recommend signing up to receive their email newsletter and gain full access to the site. And that's not just because they are putting bread on my table! I'm satified that MMR is an honest, ethical operation, and they provide objective information and reviews in a field where hype and exaggeration are frequently the order of the day.

Bear in mind that More Money Review is aimed at UK readers, however, so not everything covered will be relevant to those living outside Britain.

Incidentally, on MMR I go by the cunning pen-name of Nick D. Well, I couldn't make my identity too obvious, now could I!

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

One Author's Experiences With KDP Select


Today I'm pleased to bring you another guest post from MWB regular David Robinson.

David has recently been trying out the new KDP Select opportunity for Amazon Kindle authors.

In this post he reveals his experiences with this scheme, which allows authors to make their e-books available for lending to US Amazon Prime members. Authors receive a payment from Amazon every time their book is borrowed under this scheme, and also enjoy certain other benefits, as explained below.

Over to David, then...

* * *

I have a novel, The Handshaker, which I enrolled in KDP Select back in January. I was dipping my toe in the water. Prior to January, The Handshaker had sold exactly three copies worldwide, and only two of those were on Amazon, so it wasn't as if I was taking a great risk.

I've read any number of blog posts on Select, and how great it is. So how did The Handshaker do? Well, it sold, but in the 90-day period, it still amounted to less than 50 copies.

You could say that my marketing was at fault. Fair comment. I'm no expert, merely persistent, and I plugged it for all it was worth through the usual channels: my blog, Facebook and Twitter. Unlike so many of Nick's correspondents, I'm not an internet marketer. I'm a novelist, and although the underlying marketing principles are the same, selling fiction is a slightly different proposition to selling "How to..." guides or extra-income opportunities.

One problem with KDP Select is exclusivity. In order to be accepted into the scheme, your title must be exclusive to Amazon for the 90-day period. It didn't seem to matter with The Handshaker. It wasn't selling anyway. When, however, I looked over my total sales figures for all titles during last year, I noticed I sold as many titles through Smashwords and their distribution catalogue as I did through Amazon. This begs the question: if I had not enrolled the book into KDP Select, and instead hyped it, would I have sold another 50 copies through Smashwords?

Obviously, I don't know the answer to that, but now that the novel is back with Smashwords as well as Amazon, I may be able to "guesstimate" three months from now.

Select has one great advantage. You can make your title free for five days out of the 90 and you choose which days. In the normal course of events, free is something Amazon don't do, and in common with many other authors, I think this is a shame. Putting a single title out free can hype the sales of an entire series.

I made The Handshaker free over two separate weekends and in all, 1600 people took advantage of it. How will that affect sales? It's still too early to say. A good many of them will be "freeloaders" who will probably never read the book - and even for the readers, the plot is complex, the book 103,000 words long, and it takes time to get through it. I don't anticipate much feedback until the summer.

Another aspect of Select is the loan facility. Those members of Amazon Prime (a fee based facility) can have the book for free, but my understanding is that Amazon Prime is available only to US residents, and while American books can do well in Great Britain, the same is not true in reverse. Most British books perform poorly in the United States. My book was borrowed just twice in the 90 days.

Was it worth it?

Where The Handshaker is concerned, no. It was perhaps the wrong title to put into Select. It has a strong British flavour to it, from the Pennine setting to the police ranks and procedures. It garners excellent reviews from British and ex-pat British readers, but none from the USA (yet).

That doesn't mean I've given up completely on KDP Select. As The Handshaker came out, I enrolled another title, A Spookies Compendium - a set of three ghost stories, two full length novels and one short story. Again, they're British, but the underlying tales, ghost hunting, have a more worldwide appeal.

I'll have to wait another three months to see how well Spookies perform.

Byline: David Robinson is a UK-based freelance writer and self-publisher. His books referred to in this article include The Handshaker and A Spookies Compendium. He has an Amazon Author page and also a blog at http://www.dwrob.com.

* * *

Thanks to David for sharing his experiences of KDP Select. I'm sorry his initial experiences were disappointing, but look forward to hearing how his Spookies Compendium performs. Watch for another guest post from David on this subject in three months' time (I hope!).

Incidentally, if you're interested in KDP Select, a useful, low-cost resource I recommend is KDP Select Report by Rosa Suen, which I reviewed here a few weeks ago. This reveals how Rosa has used KDP Select successfully (for the most part) to promote a range of non-fiction e-books she has published.

If you have any comments or questions for David (or me) about KDP Select and/or writing for Kindle generally, please feel free to post them below.


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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Review: Writing Fit - Creativity Coaching for Writers


Writing Fit: Creativity Coaching for Writers
is an in-depth personal development course for writers, from author and creativity coach Phil South.

Phil has contributed several guest posts to my blog, including the recent Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?

I was fortunate to receive an advance review copy of Phil's course, which has only just been released. It's the first in a planned series of courses called the Creative Genius Program, or CGP for short. Other courses in the works include one for musicians and one for visual artists (both also creative fields in which Phil is active, incidentally).

Writing Fit: Creativity Coaching for Writers is largely audio-based. At the core are eleven audio lessons, around twenty to thirty minutes in length.

The lessons are provided in the form of MP3 files, so you can play them on your PC or a dedicated MP3 player. They take you step-by-step through how the creative process works, and how to tap into and enhance your own natural creativity. There is also a PDF workbook which sums up the main points made in each lesson and invites you to answer questions based on what you have learned (an effective learning tool!).

In addition, you get a series of accompanying 'Alpha Technique' MP3s. Phil says that these are a kind of 'soft hypnosis' he developed. They are designed to program the coaching into the student's brain and also get him/her used to being in a high-alpha-wave state (a condition associated with a relaxed, creative frame of mind).

The Alpha Technique MP3s are a similar length to the main course modules, and one is associated with each module. Because they aim to produce a state of light hypnosis, students are recommended not to play them while driving or doing anything else that requires their active attention.

All of the audios are produced to a professional standard - of course, I would expect nothing less from someone with Phil's background in teaching, writing and music production! The lessons and Alpha Technique CDs are mainly delivered by Phil himself, with a pleasant and unobtrusive electronic music soundtrack. I assume that the music was also composed and performed by the multi-talented Mr South.

The course is based on Phil's experiences as a creative artist (in the broadest sense) and as a teacher attempting to instill creativity in his students. The basic philosophy is described by Phil himself as follows...
The creative process goes like this: Desire to create occurs in the mind, and this is a message from the subconscious that ideas are forming. The desire must be focused on in a relaxed state of mind where the brain waves lower to the alpha level and the subconscious can work on the desire and form the first idea. Then this initial idea must also be focused on in alpha, and this releases the subsequent ideas which start to stick to the first. Sooner or later the ideas have the correct “weight” and you can start working on it, whatever the idea is for.
As you work you are in a state of semi-relaxed awareness called flow. This is not as dreamlike as the state you have to be in to grow desire and ideas, but has similarities. It’s like you opened the faucet by being in alpha and you have to keep one foot in alpha to keep the flow going.
[The method] all works together as a coherent whole, and no one part of the process can be removed without affecting the other parts. That said, if a person only does only one part of CGP they will ramp up their creative output and access to ideas noticeably...

Having worked through the course myself, I can say that I found it both enjoyable and inspiring. I think of myself as a reasonably creative person anyway, but taking the time out to consider how the process works has actually proved surprisingly beneficial to me. I found following the course relaxing but also energizing. I know that sounds a bit contradictory, but that's really how it felt! In any event, I'm sure I will reap the benefits in the months and years ahead, and I plan to return to the lessons and (especially) the Alpha Technique audios regularly.

I suspect this course will work well for most writers, but maybe not all. In particular, I think it's important to be able to put aside any preconceptions you might have about creativity and accept (provisionally, at least) Phil's approach to the subject. If you can do this, there is every chance you will experience the benefits, not only in terms of generating ideas (as Phil says, that's only the start of the creative process) but in harnessing and developing them.

Writing Fit: Creativity Coaching for Writers is normally sold for $197, but readers of this blog can get the course for the bargain-basement price of just $97 via this link. If for any reason the previous discount link doesn't work on your browser, go to the course info page and use the coupon code "nickdaws2" when ordering. Note that this is purely a discount code for my readers - I won't receive any commission on sales!

As ever, if you have any comments or questions about Writing Fit: Creativity Coaching for Writers, please do post them below. Phil has promised that he will drop by to answer any questions directed to him personally. You might also like to check out his popular Going Down Writing creativity blog.

Photo Credit: Inspiration by H. Koppdelaney on Flickr. Reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic Licence.

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Friday, May 04, 2012

Five Top Tips for Getting a Job as a Commercial Writer


Today I'm pleased to welcome a new guest writer, Helen Gallagher, to my blog.

Helen has some cogent advice for anyone who is hoping to get a job as a full-time business writer.

Over to Helen with her first tip, then...

1. Watch Your Mouth

I studied English and Creative Writing at University and learned a lot; including the fact that professors are not above ego-tripping, and that watching your mouth was a useful trait (I blithely corrected an English professor about an aspect of the famous Beat Generation poem Howl... I didn't get more than 50% for the rest of the year).

Later, I was lucky enough to get some interviews at very good companies - including Reed Elsevier, where my big mouth got me into trouble again. "Is there anything you don't like about the company?" the interviewer asked. I said, "Yeah - the cluster bombs."

Needless to say, I didn't get that one. 

2. Suss Out the Culture

Remember that when you go for an interview, you need to see if you would be comfortable working there. If you are naturally a scruffy person (no shame in it) an uber-polished office where you are expected to look pin-sharp every day is just going to stress you out and negatively impact your work.

I interviewed at Foxtons, a vast warehouse of a place with a strict, glossy corporate culture. The job would have included taking my piercings out and wearing a suit every day. I considered it, but I knew I wouldn't have fit into that kind of super-corporate environment and I wouldn't have lasted.

Think about whether you would fit in with the social atmosphere. Introverts can find busy, social workplaces incredibly stressful and distracting. I eventually got a pretty good job sub-editing questions for the Buzz! Computer games. It was good fun, but the laddish atmosphere (one bloke bought another a blow-up doll one day) was off-putting and the managers were unscrupulous, routinely cutting corners and demanding unpaid overtime from their staff (only one of whom was over 25).  

3. Don't Work for Free

Don't fall into the trap of working for free, unless it is for a charity that cannot afford to pay you. In this case, be careful about how much time you commit. Freelancers are particularly vulnerable to being asked to work for free, or 'exposure' - an illustrator friend of mine writes continuously on his blog about people who have gotten in touch to ask/demand freebies, ranging from a quick sketch to an entire graphic novel.

Commercial writing/editing jobs can be just as bad - the usual entry into publishing is an unpaid internship or extremely low wage entry-level job. When I was looking, companies were offering an average of 14,000 UK pounds a year (pre-recession) in London and Oxford. This makes it impossible for most people to enter the field, unless they are being supported by parents or a  spouse.

Another role was advertised as a writing position with 'some client interaction'. I accepted a lower wage and a long commute to pursue my passion. Turned out to be a bit of a con. The job was mostly phone work and promised raises failed to materialise. 

4. Dress Appropriately

Make sure you attend interviews on time, well groomed, with minimal jewellery  and make-up. Wear a suit and carry a smart briefcase/handbag, or at least wear a shirt and tailored trousers. Making the extra effort in your interview, even if the boss is wearing a zip-up hoodie and ratty jeans (and they usually do) is important. Little details will stand out; do take the time to brush your coat free of lint, polish your shoes, remove any old nail varnish and make sure your shirt sees an iron beforehand. 

5. Stay Hopeful

Luckily I was able to progress away from the customer service role and got into SEO, my current job and one I love; I'm also working for a better company now, one that is honest, straightforward and ethical. I get to write, and blog, learn new skills and explore how the internet works - the only way this could get better is if I were working on the Fallout franchise. Another friend of mine worked writing product descriptions for a flower website while creating his (now published) novels. As with anything else, just be aware, be safe and be careful; remember at every single interview that you are a good writer, that your work is worthwhile, and that you are also interviewing them.

Byline: Helen Gallagher, SEO manager at Urban Attic.

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Thank you to Helen (pictured, right) for her hard-won practical tips. I hope younger readers of this blog in particular will enjoy and benefit from this advice.

There are plenty of jobs that involve writing, and even if your ultimate ambition is to become a freelance, there's a lot to be said for doing a paid job for a few years at least, to gain skills and experience and build your network of contacts. Having a guaranteed monthly income has a lot to recommend it too!

In my earlier life, I worked in public relations, an occupation which involves writing all types of content, from press releases and articles to newletters and reports. Other types of job with substantial writing content can include copywriting, journalism, website design, SEO, research, publishing, marketing, and so on.

If you have any comments or questions for Helen (or me), please feel free to post them below.

Photo Credit: Toby Working by Dave Fayram on Flickr.  Reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licence. Photo of Helen Gallagher supplied by the writer.

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