Today I'm pleased to bring you a guest post from a newcomer to My Writing Blog, freelance jobs and careers writer Brian Jenkins.
In his article, Brian sets out some top tips for writers on how to work more productively from home...
* * *
A survey of more than 500 employees working in U.S. businesses of all sizes performed by the online market research firm uSamp discovered that almost 60 percent of work interruptions involve social networks, email, text messaging, or IM. Forty-five percent of employees work just 15 minutes at a time or less without an interruption and 53 percent waste, at a minimum, one hour per day due to an array of distractions. Getting sidetracked by personal email causes 23 percent of all distractions.
These digital distractions don't just occur in the office; they are also a major issue for those who work from home.
Scientific studies show that multitasking reduces productivity. Research used for the article titled, "Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching" showed that people performing various types of tasks lost time when they switched from one task to another. The loss of time increased with the complexity of the tasks.
Research also shows that doing two or three things at the same time or in quick succession actually takes longer than performing tasks one at a time. Multitasking reduces the brain power you have to take care of each task.
Email and Telephone
For many people who work from home, email wastes more time than any other distraction. Only check your email at set break times, and DO NOT break the rule. Turn your phone off so you're not tempted to respond to unnecessary text messages.
Structure provides some order. You'll feel more professional working from a schedule. You'll also get a sense of accomplishment when you complete tasks on your list.
You become deprived of oxygen when you're tired, and oxygen is required to produce chemicals, including adrenaline and dopamine, in the prefrontal cortex. A lack of sleep easily makes it difficult to maintain concentration.
Snacks and Drinks
Experts report that eating a snack consisting of a combination of carbohydrates, protein, and fat and drinking plenty of water helps you maintain your blood sugar level and keeps you hydrated. This will help you keep your focus. The human brain functions better when it is properly hydrated.
A little caffeine can actually increase your focus, just as long as you don't drink too much of it. Caffeine raises adrenaline and provides you with a burst of focus. However, if you take in too much caffeine, you'll likely get the jitters, which will decrease your level of concentration.
Make your work area resemble an office and keep it tidy. If it takes you five minutes to find your computer, you may need a professional office organizer! Keep the door shut and inform family members that they shouldn't interrupt you when the door is closed. If you have kids, let them know that interruptions hurt your focus.
Whenever possible, work ahead of deadlines; working on tight deadlines adds pressure which can lead to a loss of focus. You may be thinking about the deadline instead of the details of the article you're writing.
After you figure out which times of the day you're most productive and least productive, work on the challenging writing assignments during you most productive hours instead of working on the easier articles.
It's difficult to focus with a sore back and neck. A bad chair can easily cause the problem. So splurge on a good chair!
Studies show exercise improves attention span and concentration. Experts report aerobic exercise, even a brisk walk, increases your concentration level. Even just standing up from a chair compels your brain to be alert and awake. Jack Gropel has a Ph.D. in exercise physiology and he's a co-founder of a division of Johnson & Johnson named the Human Performance Institute. He reports that stretching and walking around once every 30 minutes stimulates blood flow and leads to a burst of hyper-oxygenation in the brain, which in turn increases your energy level and attentiveness.
Enhancing your focus and productivity increases your income and can lead to higher job satisfaction. Therefore, these tips are certainly well worth considering!
I am pleased to reveal that the myWritersCircle 2012 charity anthology is now available via self-publishing site Lulu.
Tales from the Circle is a diverse collection of short stories by MWC members. The stories cover a wide range of genres, including crime, humor, romance, supernatural, horror, science fiction, and more. I've read it myself, and was genuinely impressed by the high standard of work from our talented world-wide membership base.
For anyone who may not know, my forum at www.mywriterscircle.com has been running since 2005, and we have over 40,000 registered members. The authors represented in the book are a small selection of these folk, and all have donated their work free of charge.
Neither is the forum nor its sponsor The WCCL Network making any money from the anthology. All profits are donated to charity – in this case Sunflower House, a South African haven for sick children who require pain and symptom management and whose guardians need a period of respite or have died or fallen ill. So you can be sure your money will be going to a very worthy cause!
If you would like a Kindle version of Tales from the Circle, please buy the PDF or EPUB and then contact MWC moderator Andrewf by forum personal message (you will need to be a member and logged in to do this). Andrew will then arrange for a Kindle formatted version of the book to be sent to you once he has verified your purchase. Alternatively, it should be possible to buy the EPUB and convert it to Kindle format using Calibre or similar software (although I haven't tried this myself). In case anyone is wondering, we are not currently planning to sell a Kindle version via Amazon, as the royalty they pay is less than Lulu (meaning less money for our nominated charity).
Thank you again to the many MWC members who helped bring Tales from the Circle to fruition, and especially to chief editor and project co-ordinator Mairi Angus, cover artist (and much more) Patrick Fox, and tech guru Andrew Fairhurst. We couldn't have done it without you!
50 Shades of Income is a report for would-be fiction writers by Kimberly Thomas and Benjamin Norman.
As you might guess, 50 Shades of Income is aimed primarily at those who want to write erotic fiction, romance and paranormal romance (think Twilight and so on), probably for self-publishing as Kindle e-books. It sets out fifteen storylines (five in each genre) that authors can use as starting points for their own novels.
The main manual is a 36-page PDF. As mentioned above, this sets out fifteen storylines in three different (but related) genres.
Each storyline is presented in a similar format. It starts with a description of the location/setting (and some possible alternatives). This is followed by a list of the main characters - anywhere between two and five - with brief descriptions.
After that comes a summary of the storyline in a few paragraphs. This is followed by a chapter-by-chapter breakdown. Typically there are seven chapters, maybe just four or five with the erotica titles. The resulting books will therefore be quite short, which can work perfectly well on Kindle. You may be relieved to discover you won't be rewriting War and Peace!
Finally, there is a paragraph or two on how the story could be adapted, e.g. by changing the characters, locations, aspects of the plot, and so forth.
I enjoyed reading the suggested storylines. I thought some had more potential than others, or maybe it's just that they interested me more. They all seemed reasonably original, as far as I can tell.
Obviously, reading a few plot outlines isn't going to turn you into an author overnight. Still, if you have problems creating plots, they will give you a starting point to work from. Readers of my Write Any Book in Under 28 Days guide will know that I describe a somewhat similar plotting technique for fiction writers in that.
Apart from the main manual, you also get a character worksheet and a template for outsourcing books. I thought the character worksheet was very good, and will help you think more deeply about your characters and ensure they spring to life off the page. It would have been even better if some guidance on completing the worksheet had been provided, though to be fair it is partly filled in with character details for a sample story, which certainly helps.
I'm really not sure about the idea of "outsourcing" fiction e-books. I guess it can be done, but I wonder how easy it would be to find competent fiction writers to create short novels on your behalf. I know in my own case I would probably end up rewriting the whole thing anyway, so I doubt if it would be cost-effective for me. Still, the idea of hiring an outsourcer to ghostwrite a novel for you based on one of the sample plots in this guide is certainly an intriguing one!
To sum up, while reading 50 Shades of Income won't instantly turn you into a successful novelist, it will give you a starting point to develop your own ideas from. It's also very helpful to see the bare bones of plots set out (and I do also strongly recommend creating outlines and chapter breakdowns for published novels to help understand how they are constructed).
If anyone would like to buy 50 Shades of Income via this review (which contains my affiliate links) I'm offering a free bonus report of my own which I think complements it well. It's called "How to Plot Your Novel or Screenplay" and sets out a range of approaches to developing fiction plots, including The Four Cs Model, The Hero's Journey and The Fifty Cent Solution. It's based partly on one module of my Write Any Book in Under 28 Days course.
If you buy 50 Shades of Income via my link, please forward the email receipt to me at NickDaws+bonus-AT-gmail.com (change the -AT- to the usual @ symbol). Alternatively, you can write via the Contact Me form on my blog (please copy and paste the header of your email receipt into the form as proof of purchase). I will then email your bonus report within 24 hours.
From time to time on this blog, I issue a reminder to all UK authors of at least one published book that they should register with the UK PLR Office.
For those who don't know, PLR (in this context anyway) stands for Public Lending Right. The UK PLR Office distributes money to UK authors based on the number of times their books have been borrowed from public libraries in Britain in the last year. This money is paid to authors as compensation for their presumed lost royalties on sales.
All UK authors are eligible for PLR (even if they don't currently live in Britain), but you do have to register with the UK PLR Officefirst. If you're a UK author with at least one published book to your name, therefore, you should sign up as soon as possible to get what is due to you, especially as payments cannot be backdated to previous years.
And I just discovered an additional reason to sign up with UK PLR now. As from April this year, they have also been providing registration services in conjunction with the Irish PLR scheme. This means that if you are registered for UK PLR, you can opt to "synchronize" your account with Irish PLR.
If you do this - and I can't think of any reason why you shouldn't - all books that you have registered for UK PLR will automatically be registered for the Irish scheme too. And if you have any more books published in future, you will only have to register them once on the UK PLR website and this will cover them for Irish PLR as well.
If you are already registered for Irish PLR, you should have received a letter in the last few weeks telling you how much you have earned for the year January to December 2011 (yes, it's a year in arrears). At the top of this you should see the heading IRISH PLR STATEMENT followed by your reference number (mine is 004DAW892).
If you now log in to the UK PLR website, you will be able to synchronize your accounts just by entering your Irish PLR number in the box provided. It really is as simple as that!
If you aren't already registered for PLR, you can now apply using the dual application form which will cover you for Irish PLR as well. You can also use these forms to register for Irish or UK PLR only if you wish.
Over the years I have made literally thousands of pounds from PLR payments; in the case of some books I have earned more from PLR than I have in publisher fees or royalties. So if you're a UK (or Irish) author, it is definitely worth taking the few minutes needed to register yourself and your book/s at the UK PLR site, especially as you will now receive Irish PLR payments as well. If you don't do this, you really are leaving money on the table!
Postscript for non-UK authors: Non-UK nationals cannot claim from the UK PLR Office,
but many other countries (though not the USA) have schemes in place
to compensate writers for library lending. For example, Australia has what appears to be quite a generous program,
though payments are based on the estimated number of copies of an
author's book in libraries, not total loans. For more information on PLR
schemes worldwide, visit the PLR International website.
It's a free service that lets you create your own social media homepage in literally just a few minutes.
Your RebelMouse page can be set up to feature posts from Facebook (including fan pages), Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest. You can also include any RSS feed you like.
I set up my own personal RebelMouse page, and you can view it here if you like. As I said in my earlier post, one thing I like about RebelMouse is the opportunity it gives me to review my own posts and links I have shared. Seeing them all with illustrations and excerpts is a great reminder of interesting posts I need to revisit, and gives me a useful overview of the resources I've been sharing. And, of course, my RebelMouse page provides backlinks to my own blog posts (good for SEO) and helps attract more traffic to them.
Even so, a new guide called RebelMouse Infestation - of which I was lucky enough to receive a review copy - has opened my eyes to a much broader range of things you can do with RebelMouse. It's by Jimmy Mancini and currently on special offer at The Warrior Forum. It's really a look at what you can do with RebelMouse from a marketer's perspective.
What you get for your money (under $8 at the time of writing) is a 35-page downloadable PDF crammed with screengrab illustrations. The first part takes you step by step through setting up a (free) RebelMouse account if you haven't already. The second part - which personally I found a lot more interesting - reveals various ways you can use RebelMouse as a marketing and money-making tool.
I discovered some very interesting info in this part of the manual, including the fact that you can "claim" up to 50 RebelMouse pages with any suffix you like as long as it isn't already taken. So as well as a page with your own name, you could have a page with the URL www.rebelmouse.com/worlds-best-writer or (undoubtedly more marketable) www.rebelmouse.com/justin_bieber_gifts.As RebelMouse gathers popularity, I can foresee a sort of online gold rush going on here!
Another thing I hadn't really considered is that you can use RebelMouse to set up affiliate sites with content from Amazon, eBay or other online stores by including the appropriate RSS feed with your affiliate ID. The manual does explain briefly how to do this, although for more info you might want to consider buying the OTO (one time offer), a video training course which goes into more detail about this and other matters. In case it helps, though, I've written down a few notes based on what I've learned about setting up Amazon affiliate sites on RebelMouse, which anyone buying RebelMouse Infestation via my link should receive as well (see below).
Even without the video training, however, after a little bit of additional research on the internet, I set up this "Space Operas" RebelMouse page, which lists popular books and e-books on Amazon that have been tagged with "space opera". All titles shown are automatically coded with my affiliate link, of course. I'm impressed by how easy the process was, and plan to set up a few more sites along these lines as well.
Overall, I thought RebelMouse Infestation offered useful step-by-step instructions on setting up a RebelMouse account (though this is actually pretty straightforward) and also an eye-opening guide to how to harness its potential as a marketing and money-making tool. It's not the best-written guide I've ever seen - the services of a good proofreader/editor would have improved it immeasurably - though the illustrations do make up for this to some extent.
RebelMouse is already growing at an astonishing rate, and they have lots of new features in the pipeline. RebelMouse Infestation is a handy (and inspiring) guide for anyone who wants to ride the wave of this latest social media phenomenon. Even if you don't choose to buy it, though, I do still strongly recommend setting up a RebelMouse site now while most names are still available. As well as your own name, you could set up sites for your pen-name(s), book titles, character names, and so on. Remember, if you don't do it now, somebody else very well might in the future!
BONUS: As mentioned above, I've jotted down a few notes about setting up Amazon affiliate pages on RebelMouse, which I'm giving away as a free bonus to anyone buying RebelMouse Infestation via my link. A download link for my bonus should appear below the link for the main guide when you order, though if there's any problem with this let me know and I'll send you my bonus directly. In any event, I'd be grateful if you could let me know what you see on the download page and how the process works out for you, as it's the first time I've tried doing this via the Warrior Forum.
Disclosure: Some links in this review include my affiliate
code, so if you click through and make a purchase, a proportion of the
fee will go to me. This hasn't influenced my review, but you should
of course complete your own due diligence and read the sales page
(and this review) carefully to determine whether this product will be
relevant to your needs.
Today I'm pleased to bring you a guest post from Dana Lynn Smith, better known to many of you as The Savvy Book Marketer.
Dana is an expert on how writers can market their books (and themselves) better. In this article she sets out her five top recommendations for promoting books.
* * *
Have you ever wondered why some books sell better than others? One of the most important keys to success is good planning. Successful authors and publishers think strategically throughout the process of writing, publishing and promoting their books. Here are five top book marketing strategies to help you sell more books.
1. Begin your book marketing journey as early as possible.
One of the biggest mistakes authors make is waiting until their book is published (or about to be published) to think about marketing. Ideally, the marketing process should begin before the book is written. Understand exactly who you are writing to so that you can tailor the book to meet their needs and wants.
It's also critical to begin the process of building your expert reputation, social networks, blog followers, and connections with influencers as early as possible. But no matter where you are in the process of writing, publishing or promoting your book, NOW is the time to think strategically about book marketing.
2. Understand your target markets.
For a book to sell, there must be a viable market of people (and organizations) who are willing to pay money for it. It's important to understand who those potential customers are, why they buy books such as yours, and how to reach them. Many books have several potential markets, but no book is for "everyone."
3. Develop a written book marketing plan.
Some authors jump from one book promotion activity to another. They read articles or hear what other authors are doing and try some different things, but they don't have a real strategy for reaching their target markets and persuading them to buy.
You'll find lots of book marketing advice online, but you need to pull it all together into a strategic plan of action to get results. And it's really important that the plan be in writing so you will have a blueprint to follow.
While some promotional tactics (such as social marketing) work for all types of books, there are differences in what works best for different genres. When you're learning about book promotion, consider how well each tactic fits with your book and your audience and prioritize accordingly. And also consider your own strengths, preferences and time constraints when choosing book promotion tactics.
5. Get in front of established audiences.
While it's important to develop your own tribe of social network contacts, blog readers, and newsletter subscribers, it takes time to build up a sizable following.
In the meantime, one of the best ways to reach potential customers is to figure out how to get in front of the audiences of other people and organizations who are already reaching your target markets. Some possibilities include submitting articles to relevant blogs and publications, getting book reviews, doing virtual book tours, speaking at conferences, and doing interviews.
Remember, there are lots of ways to promote books, but you can't do everything. The key to success is to develop a customized marketing plan and to take action every day or week to promote your book.
About the Author: Dana Lynn Smith (pictured right), the Savvy Book Marketer, teaches authors how to sell more books through her blog, newsletter, guidebooks, training programs and private coaching.
Of course, I've reviewed e-book cover design programs on this blog before. E-Book Cover Maker Pro differs from these products in various important ways, however.
First of all, it's a downloadable application you install to your PC rather than being web-based (such as Kindle Renegade, which I reviewed recently).
Also, rather than starting from a template which you then adapt, with E-Book Cover Maker Pro you essentially create your new cover from scratch. This actually gives the software more power and flexibility, but does mean you need to start out with some idea of what you are trying to achieve. Once you've looked at a few other e-book covers, however, it's quite straightforward (and, indeed, good fun) to develop an e-book cover that will work perfectly well for a standard non-fiction book at least.
Of course, the best way to understand any software is to see it in action, so I've embedded a demonstration video below. In the video, Jim Coutu (I assume) takes you through designing an e-book cover from scratch. He goes through the process quite quickly, so don't worry if you don't catch every detail. The main thing is that it will give you a feel for what the software looks like and how it works...
As ever, if you are receiving this post by email or RSS, you may need to visit my blog to see the video.
I enjoyed trying out the software, and actually found it quite intuitive. Jim Coutu also developed Banner Maker Pro, another software product I happen to use, and the tabbed interface is similar to that program. This no doubt helped me get up to speed with E-Book Cover Maker Pro. But I still think most people would find it easy to learn and - after just a bit of experimenting - soon be cranking out some quite attractive covers.
I've copied below a cover for an e-book I've yet to write (and probably won't). I did this as a test to find out what the software was capable of.
I know it's a bit cheesy, but I was genuinely impressed that as a non-designer I was able to produce a respectable-looking cover such as this in under an hour.
The photo used in this cover is one of my own, incidentally, but there are plenty of free and low-cost sites you can source photos from online (MorgueFile, for example).
One of the (many) nice features of the software is that there are various pre-set sizes you can use, including the approved ones for Kindle and Smashwords. You can also set any custom size you like, which means the software could easily be used for creating banners, blog headers and logos as well. And, as you'll see, you can insert shapes such as stars, arrows, diamonds, and so on too.
Any criticisms? Well, the software does have a few little quirks. For example, you can add extra bits of text at any time by clicking on the Add Text button. When you do this, however, the software duplicates whatever was the last item of text you entered, and you then have to edit this to what you require. This way of working seemed a bit odd to me at first, but you soon get used to it.
On the positive side, I like the fact that you can save projects in the software and return to them at any time (this wasn't the case with Kindle Renegade when I tested it, although that feature may have been added now). It's also a big plus that you can save in various formats, including JPG, PNG and TIFF.
Overall, E-Book Cover Maker Pro gets a big thumbs up from me. It's likely to be my first choice for routine e-book cover design jobs from now on, and I expect to use it for other graphics tasks as well. It's a powerful, versatile and easy-to-use tool that's well worth snapping up at the current special offer price. If you have any questions or comments about it, feel free to post them below.
Disclosure: Some links in this review include my affiliate code, so if you click through and make a purchase, a proportion of the fee will go to me. This hasn't influenced my review, but you should of course complete your own due diligence and read the sales page (and this review) carefully to determine whether this product will be relevant to your needs.
I love my Kindle. It's great for reading novels, but recently I've been downloading a few more illustrated nonfiction books (this excellent guide to setting up a WordPress blog by Dr Andy Williams, for example).
And that's brought home to me one big drawback of reading on a Kindle. Because of the small screen, diagrams in particular can be hard to make out. In addition, the black-and-white display on my Kindle Keyboard is fine for reading text, but in illustrations and diagrams you can miss out on the added dimension colour can bring.
Of course, one solution is to read your e-book on your PC instead. Using Amazon's free Kindle for PC program, anyone can read Kindle e-books on their computer at full-screen size and in colour.
You can download and use Kindle for PC whether or not you have a Kindle e-reader yourself. Here's a link to the download pages for Kindle for PC and the Mac version.
Sometimes, however, nothing beats having a book (or part of it) printed on paper. And that's where the problems can start, since neither the Kindle reader itself nor Kindle for PC includes a print option. The good news is that there are various ways around this, though.
Just a note of caution, however. Nobody is likely to object to you printing out some or all of an e-book you have bought for your personal use. But clearly, you shouldn't print out multiple copies for distribution (or, even worse, for sale) to other people - at least, not without getting the author's written permission first. I'm sure I need hardly point out that to do otherwise would be a clear breach of the author's copyright.
Here then are the options I know about. I don't claim that this is a definitive list, so if there are any other good methods or resources you know about, please do post them as comments below.
1. Highlight any text you want to print or copy on your Kindle. On the Kindle Keyboard, press the Menu key, then select Add Note or Highlight, and follow the on-screen instructions. Then connect your Kindle to your PC using the supplied USB cable.
Using Windows Explorer or whatever, navigate to the Kindle's documents file, and in this you should find a file named My Clippings. This is a plain text (.txt) file, and the text you highlighted will be contained within it. Here's a screengrab of the sort of thing you will see (this is a paragraph from Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins from her excellent Hunger Games trilogy, which I happen to be reading at the moment).
Now you have this in plain text form, you can copy and paste it into Word or any similar program, and print it out from there. Of course, as it's a plain text file, this method can't be used for pictures or diagrams, but if you only want to print out plain text, it works just fine.
2. Another good method if you just want to print a page or two is to open the book in Kindle for PC, then use a screen capture program to take a picture of the page/s concerned. There are lots of screen capture programs you can use - various free options are reviewed here - or you could simply press the Print Screen key on standard Windows computers and paste the resulting image into Paint or some similar image editing software. You can then edit it if you wish and print it, or copy and paste the image into a Word document.
3. To print longer extracts or a full-length book, you will probably need third-party software. One option is a program called e-photocopy (not an affiliate link).
This electronically photocopies your e-book and converts it to a PDF, which you can then print out. There is a free demo version which is limited to three pages - I tried this and it worked fine after just a little bit of tinkering with the settings. The full version of the software costs $19.99.
4. An alternative approach is to convert the e-book file to a format that's easy to print out, such as PDF. The free, open-source Calibre software will do this for you.
There is one important caveat, however. If the e-book has DRM (digital rights management) applied, you will not be able to convert it to any other format using Calibre. All types of DRM - including Amazon's - can be cracked, and if you search online you will find ways of doing so, but as this is probably illegal I'm not providing any links here.
How do you know if an e-book is DRM-protected or not? As far as I know, there is no easy way to tell (and this information is not provided on the sales pages in the Kindle Store).
One way to find out is to attempt to convert the e-book file to another format using Calibre. If the e-book is DRM-protected, something similar to the following cheery message will appear:
DRM is intended to help protect authors and publishers against piracy. Even though I'm a published Kindle author myself, however, I'm not in favour of DRM and don't apply it to my own self-published titles such as The Festival on Lyris Five.
My personal view is that imposing draconian restrictions on readers via DRM is likely to be counter-productive for authors and publishers in the long (and possibly short) run. If you'd like to see the arguments set out in more detail, I strongly recommend reading this article.
If avoiding DRM in e-books is important to you, you might want to consider whether the title you want is also available from other stores such as Smashwords which do not impose it. You might also want to check out Open Books, a website from the people behind Calibre which lists DRM-free e-books in all categories from a range of publishers.
To sum up, if you're looking to print out one or two pages of a Kindle e-book, probably the simplest option is to use the Clippings function (for plain text) or take a screengrab of the pages you want on Kindle for PC. For printing out longer extracts or the whole e-book, you might prefer to use software such as e-photocopy or convert the e-book file to a printable format using Calibre or similar - so long as the title in question is not DRM-protected.
And finally (of course!) if you're interested in writing a Kindle e-book, you might like to consider investing in my Kindle Kash guide, which is currently available with four extra bonuses via my homepage. Kindle Kash takes you through every step of creating a Kindle e-book, from coming up with ideas, through writing and editing your e-book, to publishing it via Kindle Direct Publishing and promoting it.
If you have any comments about printing out Kindle e-books, or e-book writing and publishing more generally, please feel free to post them below.