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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

It's Time to Plan Your Writing Goals for 2014!

It may just be another date in the calendar, but the start of a new year is undoubtedly a great time for taking stock and setting goals for the year ahead.

I'm a great believer in the value of goal setting for writers. So today I thought I'd share a few tips for setting your goals for 2014 so as to gain maximum benefit from them.

I'm going to suggest a four-step process for your goal setting. The four steps are: (1) Visualize, (2) Set Goals, (3) Plan and (4) Take Action. Let's take these one at a time...

1. Visualize

If you just pluck goals out of thin air, perhaps because they are things you feel you "ought" to do, you are very likely to fail. For goals to be effective, you must be engaged with them on an emotional as well as a cognitive level. The more passionate you are about achieving your goals, the greater the likelihood you will succeed in doing so.

In my view it's much better to start with the end in mind. Imagine yourself a year from today, after having had your "ideal" year. What is different compared with how you are today? What have you accomplished? What are you most proud of in the year looking back? How does life look for you now?

Envisioning this desirable scenario will help you work out what things you most want to achieve in 2014 and prepare you for setting goals to achieve them. And yes, this applies equally to writing and other areas of your life as well!

2. Set Goals

Once you know what you want to achieve in 2014, you can start setting goals to make this happen.

Vast amounts have been written about goal setting, but my personal favorite advice is to make your goals SMART. If you haven't heard this acronym before, it stands for: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-Specific. I'll say a quick word about each of these.

Specific - Rather than "I want to boost my income from writing", a specific goal might be "I want to be earning $2,000 a month from writing by this time next year."

Measurable - This might be in financial terms, as in the last example, or simply in terms of numbers. For example, "By the end of this month I will have contacted fifty potential clients for my writing services."

Actionable - By this I mean that your goals should be expressed in a way that can be put into action. A goal such as "I want to be a successful author" is too vague to provide a useful target. A goal such as "I will complete five short stories by the end of next month" is actionable, and therefore much more helpful.

Realistic - Goals should be challenging, of course, but they must also be realistic. Only you will know what this means for you; but if you set goals that are simply impossible to achieve, you will only become discouraged when you fail to do so. Far better to set yourself more modest goals to start with, and make them more challenging if you find you are achieving them easily.

Time-specific - Always set yourself deadlines for achieving any particular goal, and do your best to meet those deadlines. If you fail to do so, it's not the end of the world - but immediately set yourself another deadline (maybe a more realistic one) and do all you can to ensure that this time you succeed in meeting it.

Long-term goals can be broken into short- and medium-term ones. For example, if your long-term goal is to become a successful Kindle author, your short-term goal might be to get your first Kindle e-book written and published within six weeks, and your medium-term goal to have six e-books published within six months.

3. Plan

Once you know what goals you wish to achieve, you can plan for how you will set about achieving them.

I have already talked about breakling down long-term goals into medium- and short-term ones. At the planning stage you can break these down further into specific action steps, each of which will (of course) have a deadline attached to it.

For example, if your first goal is to have a Kindle e-book completed by the end of January, your first action step might require planning and outlining your book by the end of the first week. Another term used for action steps is micro-goals. Whatever you call them, these are the building blocks you will use to ensure that every day you move another step closer to achieving your overall goals.

Write down your goals and action plans, and review them regularly to see how you are progressing toward achieving them. Inevitably, other events in your life can intervene from time to time, so try to retain an element of flexibility. It's important, though, to have at least a basic written plan to guide you. As I said earlier, you can always revise your plans if you need to. Just aim not to have to do so too often!

4. Take Action

Having set your goals and prepared your action plan, all you now have to do is follow through on it in 2014!

Some days, inevitably, you will do more toward reaching your goals than others, but try to ensure that every day you at least do something toward achieving your writing goals.

One other tip is to make yourself accountable to someone else, by sharing your goals with them. Some writers find it helps to have an accountability partner, with whom they exchange goals. They can then help and encourage each other to achieve them.

You might also choose to share your goals via social media, or even in a comment on this blog post (see below). Knowing that other people are aware of your goals and are rooting for you to achieve them will help spur you on when the going gets tough.

Before I close, I'd just like to mention a few resources available from my sponsors/publishers, The Self Development Network. These can help you achieve your writing goals in 2014 by providing practical, step-by-step methods and action plans to follow.

Write Any Book in Under 28 Days - This is my original CD-based course which many thousands of students have used to help create their first book.

Novel in a Month - As you will gather, this course by my colleague Dan Strauss focuses specifically on creating a novel (my course covers both fiction and nonfiction book writing).

How to Write a Children's Book - I'm a big fan of this popular course by Mel McIntyre. If writing for children is something that appeals to you, you'll find plenty of inspiration here.

Kindle Kash - Publishing your own work on Kindle presents some amazing opportunities for writers. My Kindle Kash course will take you through everything you need to know to get started.

Blogging for Writers - Or if 2014 is to be the year you launch your own blog, my very latest SDN course will guide you through it, step by step.

Those are just a few possibilities, incidentally. To see a full list of the writing courses published by SDN, check out my blog post earlier this year.

As for me, my own goals for 2014 will include publishing more books on Kindle (including an anthology), launching at least one new blog or website, getting more into podcasting and video, and investigating new ways of boosting my online income.

So what are YOUR writing goals for 2014? Share them below, and come back in a year's time to reveal to the world whether or not you achieved them!

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Friday, December 27, 2013

My Top Twelve Blog Posts of 2013

As the end of another year approaches, I thought I'd take a look back at the most popular posts on my blog last year (based mainly on comments, social media shares and visitor numbers).

If you missed any of these posts first time round - perhaps you've only discovered my blog recently - I hope you'll enjoy reading them now.

And if you've been following me for a while, I hope there are some posts here you'll enjoy revisiting. They are listed in the order in which they were published, with the earliest first.

How to Read Kindle E-Books Without a Kindle
In the last year or two there has been a massive growth in Kindle publishing, with many free and low-cost Kindle e-books available for instant download. Quite a few people, however, are not aware that they can still download and read Kindle e-books even without a Kindle or other dedicated e-reader. This article explains all.

How to Set Up Google Authorship (and Why You Really Should)
If you write any online content, Google Authorship is something you can't afford to ignore. It is Google's (free) program for verifying the identity of online writers. Once you have claimed Authorship, any time one of your articles or blog posts appears in someone's Google search results, they will see your picture and a link to your Google Plus profile. This popular post explains what you have to do to get this invaluable feature working for you.

Blogging for Writers is Launched
Blogging for Writers is my blockbusting guide (I don't do short!) to everything you need to know to leverage your writing skills to maximum effect as a blogger. Find out here all about this product published this year by my friends at the Self Development Network.

Kindle Nonfiction Author? Think About the Reader!
In this post I encouraged authors of nonfiction Kindle books to think carefully about the reader - and by that I didn't just mean the human reader, but the device your book will be read on. I also shared one or two examples of good practice I've seen.

E-Publishing? Don't Give Up!
This article by Sally Jenkins was the winner in my 2013 Guest Posting Contest. I thought it was both informative and inspirational, and a worthy winner of the contest. Watch out for another guest posting contest on my blog in 2014!

Who, Whom, Whoever, Whomever - How to Decide Which Is Right!
This was one of my occasional posts on grammar, a subject in which I have a particular interest. It sets out some simple rules to follow to decide which of these words is correct - a common source of confusion. This post still gets a lot of search-engine traffic now!

Using Amazon KDP's New Cover Creator
This article about the new (free) Cover Creator for Kindle authors on Kindle Direct Publishing attracted a lot of interest. Be sure to read the comments as well, which clarify certain aspects of how you can use the covers you create using this feature.

Self Development Network Writing Courses - Complete List for 2013
The title says it all, really. This annotated list of all the courses (downloadable and CD-based) published by the Self Development Network (formerly WCCL) proved a very popular reference resource.

How to Leave Readers Rolling in the Aisles
In this widely shared guest post, Iain Pattison, a successful humorist and author of Cracking The Short Story Market, explained why penning funny stories is always a serious business to him, and shared his top tips for successful comedy writing.

Why The UK Government Is Forcing Me to "Opt In" for Something I Don't Want
In this somewhat off-topic post, which generated a degree of controversy, I argued that the UK government's plan to force all UK internet users to "opt in" if they want to be able to access adult content was misconceived and would almost certainly fail to achieve its stated aims. This subject is likely to become topical again in the new year as internet service providers begin actually asking users whether or not they want to opt in. I strongly believe that people should be properly informed about the likely consequences of accepting wholesale censorship of their internet service.

Amazon KDP Want Your Tax Information Now!
The introduction of an online "Tax Interview" for Kindle authors caused a bit of consternation. In this post I attempted to clarify what the interview entails, and described my own experiences in completing it. This post actually attracted more comments than any other this year. It is well worth reading through them as well to get a complete picture of the sort of issues authors are facing.

How to Be Your Own Agent, Whether You Have One or Not
This was a guest post by South Africa-based writer, editor and publisher Joe Mynhardt. In his excellent article, Joe offered some top tips about how to be your own agent - or, to put it another way, how to present yourself as a writer in as professional a way as possible.

Do check out these popular posts, and feel free to add your own additional comments if you like. And watch for more posts from me (and my guest writers) on all aspects of writing in 2014!

Photo: Winter Sunset by Nick Daws. All rights reserved.

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Monday, December 23, 2013

How to Be Your Own Agent, Whether You Have One or Not

01 (161) by Victor1558, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Victor1558 

Today I'm pleased to bring you a guest post from South Africa-based writer, editor and publisher Joe Mynhardt.

Joe is the man behind horror and dark fantasy publisher Crystal Lake Publishing and he is also a moderator on my forum at I interviewed him recently in this blog post, and was delighted to receive this guest post from him as well.

In his excellent article, Joe offers some top tips about how to be your own agent - or, to put it another way, how to present yourself as a writer in as professional a way as possible.

Over to Joe, then...

* * *

What I'm about to tell you is probably the best career advice I've ever come across. And just like me, you should really consider taking this seriously, because whether you have one or a hundred stories published, you're stepping into the public eye now, and you need to present yourself in a suitable light.

Basically, you need to be professional. Call yourself a writer or an artist, but the fact remains that in today's global village (you probably haven't heard that name in a while), you need to put your best foot forward at all times. You need to be your own agent. No one else has your concerns more to heart than yourself, so you need to market not only your stories, but yourself as well. People are watching you, and with social media today, people want to connect with authors, just like they enjoy connecting with your characters. You need to present them with something they can relate to (again, just like your characters).

Now, there are a lot of things to consider here, so I made a list of 15 tips on being your own agent, in no particular order.

My Top 15 Tips on being your own agent, whether you have one or not...

1)    How people see you online might not be the way you think they do. It's just like writing a book, you have to make sure the message or image you're trying to send comes over properly. Do they see what you want them to see? If they do, you're on your way to building a strong image.

2)    Saving time is very important in this business. Do the best you can in what little time you've got. Make every second count. If you know what work needs to be done today, get to it. And find ways of making life easier for yourself. For example, I have an FAQ sheet I can send interviewers (but I still give them the option of asking or adding their own questions); I have a long term and short term writing schedule (in order, telling me what needs to be done each day so I'm always ahead of schedule); I have a Word document with all links and promos for my books; I have a shortcut for every important folder on my computer (and know exactly where they all are); and I have a Book Launch folder for every book. All my data is being recorded, from dates to ISBN numbers and so on, because sooner or later you'll have to refer to them. These are just some of the things you can you. I'm sure you'll have some of your own, and would love to hear about them. Every second counts.

3)    Stay out of political or religious debates. Don't even be pulled into choosing sides. You should post personal stuff on FB or Twitter, since it is your page and people want to get to know you. Don't only post serious stuff. People love getting an inside look at an author's life. The key here is to always think what message you're really sending. What will be the long term effect it leaves on others? You won't find me talking about something I almost messed up, because it'll make me look like an amateur having a go at a pro's job. I will however share some of my frustrations, just to remind them I'm not a machine, but a human who sometimes needs their support.

4)    When your agent, editor or publisher asks you to do something, tell them when you'll have it done and hand it in a day earlier. Editors like to make lists of people they can count on when time is short. If you're dependable, you'll always have projects coming your way.

5)    Make it as easy as possible for people to work with you. I worked with a great author a while back, but he was so difficult that I'll always think twice about contacting him in the future. Don't let one bad trait spoil what you have to offer. Also, don't ever think you know better than your editor or publisher. They won't always be right, but neither will you. It's like when people give you advice or point out mistakes in reviews. You should always be on the lookout for ways to improve or learn more from this business, and being open-minded is not only great for your imagination, but it's a great skill for any writer to have.

6)    Be active on social media sites, but always keep your eye on the clock. Wish people happy birthday and comment on their status. Draw them into conversations, especially on your blog comments. Congratulate them on achievements. Make people notice you and remember you. I've actually met people while commenting on a mutual friend's status. You'll quickly realize if you and that person will get along.

7)    Which brings to a very important point. Don't be fake. If you don't really care about other authors, your readers or your publisher, you're in it for the wrong reasons. And it'll be a lot harder for you to make it in this industry, or to even find intrinsic value when you do find success. Build honest relationships that will be equally beneficial.

8)    Make the most of every situation. Whenever an opportunity to promote yourself or your book comes along, sit back for a second and think about what to do next. How many times have you kicked yourself in the past for not making the best of a situation or grabbing an opportunity? If a new review pops up, do you just link it once, or do you use it to revive your sales like it should be used? Once per social media platform should be enough (twice on Twitter), since you don't want to irritate your followers. If you do post a lot about your books, make sure you put some funny, inspirational and even personal stuff in-between. And just sharing the stuff others post doesn't really count.

9)    After almost 70 acceptance letters and a few hundred rejection letters, I know how it feels to be rejected by editors and publishers, and I'm sure you do, too. No one likes being brushed off, ignored or even disrespected. But it happens, and we should all get used to it. That does not, however, give you the right to do the same. Remember this before you reply to any comments or emails. Stay professional.

10)    It doesn't matter how busy or swamped you are, don't act like you're the only one with a hectic schedule. Welcome to the world of running a business. Yes, you're not just an artist or a writer. Learn to cope, but also learn when and how to say no.

11)    Always have a story or two on hand, in case an opportunity comes knocking, even a couple of ideas you can pitch on a moment's notice. One of my biggest breaks came because I had two stories ready with only a few hours before the deadline. I made the pitch and the editor loved it. I jumped on that opportunity and rode its wave for the next year or so.

12)    Back up your work. Please! Don't lose your stuff. Some people never recuperate after such a huge loss. I backup my work every Sunday, but during holidays, when I do a lot more work, I'll backup almost every day. I'll save my main writing folder on my flash drive and external hard drive. I heard of a guy who wrote his doctorate on his flash drive. He never backed it up or shared it with anyone. And we all know how long a flash drive can last. Sad but true. Always remember that when you send someone a story or sample chapter via email, that attachment will always be there. Emails are a great way of getting back old stories or chapters you might've lost.

13)    Always try something out, whether it's a new method of approaching a story, a new writing schedule, point of view, themes that make you uncomfortable, screenwriting, comics, graphic novels or even a marketing strategy. Not every approach works for everyone, but you might just find something that works for you.

14)    Don't be scared to ask questions... without being annoying, knowing when to back off, and staying professional. You'll always need help or advice, and there's always someone who can teach you something. Just make sure you help out wherever you can, as well. Asking questions is also a good way of showing people that you're serious about this business, as well what your interests are. Who knows what opportunities this can bring in the future? No one's asking you to travel to war-ravaged countries or feed the orphans. Just show that you care. Get involved in whatever way you can.

15)    Get over your self-doubt and increase your output. Writing slower does not mean writing better.

If all this seems too much for you, and you'd like to speak your mind whenever you want, perhaps writing under a different name would be best. There are lots of successful authors out there who aren't recognized on social media or in public.

Also, none of this means anything if you don't write. Try to establish a routine where you get your writing done first. I like to finish all my offline work first, before going online, whether it's editing, writing a blog entry or working on a new story. It's not always possible, especially if opportunities come knocking or a book is being launched, but don't let these things grab your attention every day. Don't allow going online to turn into a bad habit that'll drain your imagination and time. You can't blame Facebook if you're career doesn't take off.

All the best - Joe Mynhardt
Many thanks to Joe for another excellent, thought-provoking piece.

I agree with all the points he makes, and especially point (12) about backing up your work. I am ashamed to admit that I have lost work not just once but twice through computer failures, and now - like Joe - back up everything on a regular basis.

Modern computers are very reliable, but they still contain mechanical parts, and sooner or later these parts WILL go wrong, potentially taking weeks, months or even years of your work with them. My sponsors, The Self Development Network, have a dedicated tool called Book Backup which you might like to check out.

As always, if you have any questions or comments for Joe (or me), please do post them below.

Book Backup Software - Protect Your Writing

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

MWC Prize Flash Fiction Contest Results!

I'm delighted to announce that the winners of the myWritersCircle Prize Flash Fiction Contest have been decided.

To remind you, the task for this contest was was to write a short story in exactly 100 words, which included the three words Christmas, ticket and appreciation. In addition, entrants were asked to provide a title for their story of up to 15 words, which didn't count towards the 100 words for the story.

The first prize in the contest is a copy of Blogging for Writers, my latest guide for writers published by the Self Development Network. The second prize is a signed copy of my printed book 100 Science Mysteries Explained, while all the short-listed entrants can take their pick from a variety of e-books, including the MWC Christmas anthologies and the entire range of horror fiction titles published by Crystal Lake Publishing (kindly donated by Crystal Lake founder and MWC moderator Joe Mynhardt).

The contest was judged initially by me and then by MWC's "founding father" Karl Moore, who chose the winner and runner-up from my shortlist. We were both extremely impressed with the standard of the stories, and in particular by the many ingenious methods that were used to incorporate the three key words!

Karl and I were looking for stories that, even in just 100 words, engaged us both intellectually and emotionally. Ideally we wanted stories where the three key words fitted into the story in a natural and unobtrusive way, rather than standing out like beacons. And, of course, we wanted stories that were well written; adhered to the 100-word requirement; had a beginning, middle and an end; and had been checked for spelling and grammatical errors. I'm pleased to say that the winning and short-listed stories met all of these requirements.

Of course, there can only be one first-prize winner, and I am pleased to announce that this was "The Santa Clause" by new member Shadowdrifter. Here it is:
The Santa Clause 

Pulling off his red suit, Santa slumped into his armchair. This Christmas had been harder than ever. He used to feel euphoric after the night’s work. Now he was just depressed. There was no appreciation, no gratitude. Not like the old days. The best job in the world, he’d once believed. Not anymore. Kids today demanded ipads and smartphones. Suppliers saw only profit. Even his reindeer insisted on their rights.

It was time to retire.

I’ll buy a one-way ticket to the sun, he decided, never seeing the shadowy figure in the corner of his eye till the scythe struck.
Karl commented on this story: "It has a much darker feel to it that I felt could be expanded into a bigger story. And I guess that's really what flash fiction is all about: giving the most immersive depth in the fewest words.

"With a change of title to avoid a Tim Allen lawsuit, I can see this being expanded to a brilliantly black-humoured book about the ill-fated cycle of men playing Santa, and perhaps the ultimate fight to save Christmas from melancholy, despair, and even...death!

"Definitely my favourite."

The runner-up was "A Star Is Born" by another new member, LucyLastic (great name!). Here it is:  
A Star Is Born

"Mummy, Mummy, I’ve been picked for the school Christmas play."

"Really, Lily? That’s great. Which part are you playing?"

"I’m the star."

Glowing with pride, Mummy phoned Lily’s gran, aunts and uncles. "Yes," she assured them all, "I’ll be sure to get you a ticket."

The night of the school play, what can only be described as a Lily Appreciation Society watched eagerly from the front row in anticipation of the little girl’s star performance. Eventually, Lily’s shoes made a brief appearance, clearly visible beneath a huge cardboard star as it wobbled its way across the stage to the manger.
 Karl said about this: "A very funny little narrative. Brilliant title, great setup, and a smile-rendering finish. Hard to fit all of that into 100 words, but this story does it fantastically. Definitely worthy of a prize!"

The four other short-listed stories were as follows:

Charities by Pale Writer
The Regift of the Magician by TheDude  
Have Yourself a Very Merry Christmas by FireFly (a personal favorite of mine!)  
Escape by 2par
I will be in touch with all the winning and short-listed writers in the next few days with details of how they can claim their prizes, so please keep an eye on your forum messages!

Congratulations to the successful writers, and commiserations to those who did not win on this occasion. As I said above, the standard was remarkably high, and with other judges, the results could easily have been different.

Karl concluded his comments with: "Congratulations to everyone...They are all clearly great, and it's certainly no easy feat to write a cohesive story, incorporating three specific terms, in precisely 100 words. So, well done to everyone that took part -- and it was certainly an honour to be allowed to select the winners."

Thank you to Karl for agreeing to perform the final judging, to moderator Andrew for acting as forwarder (to ensure anonymity), and to everyone who took the trouble to submit an entry and/or spread the word about the contest.

I hope everyone who entered the contest enjoyed it, and that it may perhaps have stimulated your interest in writing these ultra-short stories. If so, there are various websites devoted to the form that you might like to check out (this one, for example). And there are regular flash fiction contests on MWCs Writing Games and Challenges board, of course.

Watch out for more prize contests on myWritersCircle in 2014!

Photo credit: wickedrice on Flickr.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

An Interview with Joe Mynhardt of Crystal Lake Publishing

Today I'm delighted to bring you an in-depth interview with South Africa-based horror writer, editor and publisher Joe Mynhardt.

Joe runs the independent publishing house Crystal Lake Publishing, which publishes horror and dark fiction. In his 'day job' he is a school teacher. And I don't know how he finds the time for it, but he is also a moderator on my forum at!

* * *

ND: Could you start by telling me and my readers a little about yourself, Joe?

JM: Let's see, I was born in Walvisbay, Namibia, in 1980. I was pretty much an introverted loner, until I started taking Karate at age 9, which really boosted my self-confidence - thank goodness for that. We moved to South Africa in 1992 after Apartheid ended, and now I find myself living the grownup-life in Bloemfontein. I started teaching in 2005 and writing horror in November of 2008. A lot of doors opened up after that; I guess all the hard work and networking really paid off. I pretty much spend every second of each day writing, reading, editing, or thinking about writing and the genre. I do whatever can make me a better writer, editor and publisher. Yes, that includes acting like an idiot in front of my friends... sometimes - I call it research.

ND: What first attracted you to horror writing?

JM: Growing up, I was lucky enough to have parents who allowed me to watch horror movies and read whatever comics I wanted. So I basically grew up watching movies like Nightmare on Elm street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Poltergeist, Child's Play, and a bit of Alfred Hitchcock and Twilight Zone as well. What's really strange is my own family now don't understand why I want to write horror. Go figure. Anyway, since then I've been extremely interested in whatever classic horror movies or books I could get my hands on, including Stephen King, Ambrose Bierce, Algernon Blackwood, Lovecraft, Poe, Campbell, Howard and many, many more. I've got so many favourite authors right now, I couldn't even begin to mention them.

What made all these books, movies and comics so much more educational for me was the fact that I looked at these highly intriguing characters and wondered where they came from. Who invented them? Who drew them and gave them names? Essentially, who gave birth to them?

My ever-growing imagination was also complemented by my need to create. Where that need originated from I have no idea. Since age nine I always wanted to build or invent something. Why horror stories and books? Because horror gives the writer more creative space than any other genre. Anything can happen. And it's that uncertainty, that fear of the unknown, which makes horror so damn great.
ND: Which writers were your biggest influences growing up?

JM: I wasn't a huge reader growing up. I actually struggled to sit still long enough to read anything other than a comic. I was however a big fan of stories, be it movies, comics or whatever forms they came in. I can't recall seeing a lot of short story collections in libraries back them. I loved going to the library, mostly for looking at covers, reading back page blurbs and, of course, for Asterix and Tintin.
I eventually got hooked on Stephen King, thanks to my sister. IT was the very first King book I read, and except for Dracula, it was also the thickest book I ever took on as a youngster.

I especially enjoyed weird stories like the Twilight Zone episodes, and Hitchcock Presents played a very big role in my love for horror and all things dark and twisted.

My biggest influence will still have to be Dracula.

ND: You have had a lot of stories published. Do you still remember the first piece you ever sold?

JM: Definitely. It was in the middle of 2009, after I'd been writing for a few months. I'd won a couple of flash fiction challenges at, and decided it was time to try my luck with a few markets. I had no idea where to start, until I saw a publisher looking for a few stories on the forum. I polished one of my Flash Fiction winning stories and sent it off. A bit of editing was necessary between me and the editor, but the story, 'Daddy', ended up being not only my very first published piece, but also my first sale. I think I received about $50 for it, and that's for a story of about 130 words. Not bad.

I was pretty hooked after that.

ND: You are a writer, publisher and editor, three very different hats. Which one fits you best?

JM: I'd have to say publisher. I'll never stop writing my own stories, but there's just no greater reward than working with others. I'm a pretty good editor. I still have lot to learn and experience to gain, but I have a very sharp eye when it comes to mistakes.

With the publishing, I'm a lot more driven and fulfilled. I do my best to promote their work, or push them to become better writers by teaming them up with other writers.

The authors tend to push themselves when they share a TOC such other big-name authors, focusing on their strengths and improving their weaknesses. That's one reason why I love anthologies so much - it introduces readers to other writers they might enjoy.
ND: Why should people read Crystal Lake's work?

JM: Straight answer, because I enjoy reading every story I've published. I'm a horror fan, but mostly a fan of stories. Whether the story comes in the form of a book, comic, movie, series, play or even a song doesn't matter. So I write and therefor publish what I would like to read. I'm not naïve enough to believe there are no people out there like me. Lots of people enjoy the same stories I do, and the better I become at the craft of writing and editing, the better I can bring all these stories to life.

I'm actually just happy just to see people reading more. I don't shy away from promoting other indie publishers or great authors, no matter where they're published. A lot of my best friends are publishers.

ND: What we can expect from Crystal Lake in 2014?

JM: Except for a surprise novella (which will then be combined into a collection later the year), there are quite a few books already lined up

- William Meikle's Samurai and Other Stories.
- The Outsiders (a Lovecraftian, shared-world anthology).
- A yet to be named non-fiction eBook that'll guide horror writers in the right direction, written by a host of horror authors.
- Tales From the Lake Vol.1.
- Children of the Grave (a zombie, shared-world, choose your own adventure collection, where each author writes a different direction).
- And if everything goes well and things aren't too hectic, I'll be able to finish my second collection by the end of 2014, but it'll probably only be out early 2015.
- The second Tales From the Lake horror writing competition.
But you never know what opportunities will come along. I always leave a bit of room in case something big comes knocking. You see, always be ready when opportunity comes knocking.

ND: Do you have any advice for budding horror and dark fiction writers?

JM: There are so many things to say, but I'll give you a quick run-through:
-Join and participate on a forum.
-Read non-fiction horror books, especially about marketing. You'll need it eventually.
-Always be open and ready for opportunities.
-Have confidence in yourself. Every small step becomes part of the bigger journey.
-Have a story or two on standby at all times.
-Write every day, even if it's only 10 minutes.
-Learn how to edit your own work.
-Be as visible as possible on the internet.
-Be professional in everything you say and do. Growing a tough skin goes a long way in not acting like an emotional rollercoaster on social media.
-Help others as much as you can, even if you just share or retweet their stuff. Celebrate their successes with them, and don't be jealous.
-Eat, breathe and sleep stories, but take time to rest. Writer's fatigue is no joke.
-Take some time to just sit and think about creative things to do, whether they're story or promotion ideas.
-Don't listen to negative thoughts. You'll have off days where you'll just have to ignore yourself.
-Take care of your body, especially your back and wrists. Being an author is not a race, but a marathon that never ends.
ND: Finally, does Crystal Lake have any opportunities open for aspiring horror authors at the moment? And what's the best way for writers to keep track of your contests, anthologies, book publishing opportunities, and so on?

JM: My plans for the future include a lot more anthologies, where I'll have one or two really well-known authors, a lot of mid-list authors and a few up-and-coming.

Which means I really have to stay clued in with who's doing what these days. If an author or even a newbie is making waves in the industry, I'll hopefully find out. I published a newbie author in Fear the Reaper who had only one published story; now that writer is making huge waves. Perhaps I should've been a talent scout.
So you never know, I'll always be on the look for new authors with talent. Just send me a bio and some links or even examples of your work to (change the -AT- to the usual @ sign) and I'll be in touch.
There are lots of ways to stay up-to-date with what's happening at Crystal Lake Publishing, from the website to Twitter and the Facebook page, but the best way to keep in touch is simply to connect with me on Facebook. I'm very approachable and helpful, and love to meet other writers online, perhaps because I don't really get out much in the real world. Now I know why I still need a day job!
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Many thanks to Joe for an illuminating interview. If horror fiction interests you, please do visit his Crystal Lake Publishing website and Facebook page. I can confirm that Joe is very approachable, and despite his preferred genre he doesn't bite (unless it's a full moon, of course).

If you have any comments or questions for Joe (or me), please feel free to leave them below!

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Do Free KDP Select Promos Still Work? Follow Mike's Experiment and Find Out!
As you may know, one of the big attractions of joining the KDP Select program for Kindle authors is that you can offer your e-book free of charge for up to five days in each 90-day cycle.

This can give a big boost to your download numbers and push your title up Amazon's best-seller lists. It can also help get it more reviews.

Obviously you don't make any money from free downloads, but many authors have enjoyed a sales boost once the promo is over. Recently there have been voices of dissent, however, with growing numbers of authors feeling that the benefits of KDP Select are outweighed by its drawbacks (having to give Amazon exclusivity, for example).

My colleague Mike Essex has decided to test this out in a big way with his highly rated Kindle novel Tethered Twins.

Mike is making his novel available free for the next five days, and he is giving it a massive push to try to get it to the top of the Amazon bestseller lists. And he is asking all his online friends to give him a hand.

As well as a free copy of the book, he promises that everyone who takes part (either by downloading  Tethered Twins or by helping to spread the word about the promo) will get a mention in the digital edition of the next part of the series when it is released.

Mike regards this as an experiment in promotion, and to that end is keeping an online diary of how he gets on. You can read his first post "Get a Freebie and Help an Author" here.

If you're curious about whether KDP Select free promos are still effective (I think they are, personally) you will definitely want to keep an eye on this. And there's a free e-book and some free publicity in his next one on offer anyway, so what's not to like?!

If you have any comments or questions, as always, feel free to post them below.

* In case the name sounds familiar and has left you wondering, Mike Essex is also the author of Free Stuff Everyday, a guide to "blagging" freebies of all kinds. I interviewed him a couple of years ago in this blog post, and also ended up editing the print version of his book!

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Kinstant Dashboard from Rachel Rofe - Review and Bonuses!

Kinstant Dashboard is a new premium marketing tool (and training course) for Kindle authors, publishers and promoters. It has been launched today by successful Kindle author and publishing guru Rachel Rofe.

I have reviewed a number of products from Rachel in the past, including Hands Off Books and Your Book Monopoly. As far as I know, Kinstant Dashboard is her biggest launch to date. Rachel was kind enough to allow me reviewer access, so here's what I found...

Kinstant Dashboard is entirely web-based. This makes using it much simpler, and means the software can be continuously updated without having to download and install a succession of new versions. And it will also work just as well for Windows and Mac users. All you need is your log-in details, so be careful not to lose them!

Once you are in, you will see a plain, uncluttered homepage with four tabs. These are Dashboard, Manage Books, Promotion, and Facebook Promotion.

The first thing you will want to do is add your Kindle book (or books), so click on Add Books from the drop-down menu under Manage Books. You will then see a page that looks like the one below...

With all the screen captures in this review, you can see a larger version by clicking on them. Use the Back button on your browser to return here.

You have to fill in a page like this for each e-book you want to promote - as you can see, it's not a massive task. One thing you can do - which is optional, though recommended - is list up to seven keywords or phrases you would like your book to rank for. In other words, when someone searches using these terms, you would like your title to appear as high up the Amazon results list as possible. As you will see later, the software has some clever features to help you accomplish this.

There are three boxes at the foot of the page and I recommend leaving all three checked (which they are by default). These allow you to track the number of reviews your book has attracted on and (perhaps more usefully) its Amazon bestseller rank and where it currently ranks for each of your chosen keywords. All of this information can be viewed at any time via your Dashboard page, which lists all the books you have added to the software. Clicking on a title then brings up a page such as the one below...

As you will see, on the right of the page you can view the current rankings for your book, including keyword rankings, along with charts showing how they have changed. You can also monitor your reviews from here.

On the left of the page is a checklist of all Rachel's recommendations for promoting your book. As you click the box to the right of each one to confirm that it has been completed, the colored progress bar at the top gradually moves from the left to the right.

What you might not realize initially, however, is that if you click on any of the suggested actions, a new page will open with training on the item in question. Here is the page for the first item, Create a Free Bonus and Opt-In Page for Your Book, for example...

The training is a mixture of text (as shown in the screen capture above) and video. In many cases there are several pages, and once you have read and digested one page, you click on Next to move to the following one. This is an invaluable feature, and why I earlier described Kinstant Dashboard as a training course as well as a software tool.

There are two other tabs on the Kinstant Dashboard homepage, Promotions and Facebook Promotions. The Promotions page is where you enter details of your KDP Select free promotions (as you probably know, if you enrol your Kindle e-book in KDP Select, you can offer it free for up to five days at a time, which can help boost its sales rank and get you more reviews).

Once you have entered details of your promotion and clicked on Submit, the software will then send this information out to a list of websites that publicize free promos (Free Digital Reads, Book Deal Hunter, and so on). This will save you a lot of time compared with submitting this information manually, and should ensure that you get plenty of free publicity for your promo days.

Finally, the Facebook Promotions tab will help you publicize your promotions by posting to a range of Facebook Groups devoted to free e-book promotions. Initially it will guide you through joining the groups in question, then once you have a promo ready to run it will take you to all the groups again so you can post on them. Again, this should ensure that your promotion is brought to the attention of as many potential downloaders as possible.

One further thing is that the Amazon links generated by the software are embedded with the search keywords you entered originally, so when someone clicks on the link, it appears to Amazon that they came to your book having searched for the keywords in question. This should help boost your book's ranking on Amazon for the keywords concerned.

I've run through the main features of the product here, but Rachel has also made her own video, so I have embedded it below for those who prefer to absorb this information visually.

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

As you will gather, in my view Kinstant Dashboard is a powerful software tool and course that should help any Kindle author to promote their work. It's very easy and intuitive to use, and provides lots of valuable advice and training as well.

My only slight criticism is that it is entirely focused on, so it won't (for example) track reviews on Amazon UK or other international sites. For most features of the software this doesn't really matter, but it might be nice if support for non-US Amazon sites could be added in future.

As I'm a big fan of Kinstant Dashboard, I've decided to add a unique bonus of my own to anyone buying it via a link in this blog post. Just forward your email receipt to me at, changing the -AT- to the usual @ symbol (alternatively, copy and paste your receipt into my Contact Me form with the subject line BONUS CLAIM).

I will then send you not one but TWO modules of my forthcoming Writer's Cashpoint course. You will receive Module 2 - Make Quick Cash With Fiverr (a guide for writers to generating a sideline income using this hugely popular outsourcing site) and Module 6 - Use PLR for Quick Profits (a guide to using private label rights profits to boost your profits, including the RIGHT way to use PLR products to quickly create Kindle e-books). Once Writer's Cashpoint is launched I will have to withdraw these bonuses, so don't delay if you want to get them free now!

EXTRA BONUS: I've just added a new bonus for buyers of Kinstant Dashboard via my link. This is my brand new mini-report titled "How to Create the Ultimate Amazon Affiliate link for your Kindle Ebook!"

By using just this one link you will be able to forward all visitors to the sales page for your book in their own national Amazon store. The link will also incorporate your Amazon affiliate code, so you will earn commission from ANY purchases they make (not just your e-book!) - as long as you're an affiliate of that store, of course.

And finally, the link will include any search keywords you choose, so it looks to Amazon as though the visitor searched for these keywords and clicked through to your book's sales page from the results. This WILL boost your book's Amazon ranking for the keywords in question. Perhaps you can see now why I call it the ultimate Amazon affiliate link!

My report "How to Create The Ultimate Amazon Affiliate Link for Your Kindle Ebook" will be sent along with the other bonuses when you send me a copy of your email receipt, as explained above.

If you have any comments or questions about Kinstant Dashboard, as always, please feel free to post them below.

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Monday, December 09, 2013

Why It's Sometimes OK to Break the Rules

Today I have a (syndicated) guest post for you from Jen Matera of Divas on Writing.

In her excellent article, Jen argues that many so-called rules of grammar can (and perhaps should) be broken in certain circumstances.

It's an argument I do agree with, with just one proviso, which I'll state at the end.

Over to Jen, then!

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Divas on Writing: Break The Rules For Style (via
Break the Rules for Style Recently I had the pleasure of editing a high school senior’s college application essay. It’s been years since I’ve seen—or written—one of these, and I did a little research before making any changes to it. The last…

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Thank you to Jen for an interesting and thought-provoking article.

As I noted at the start, while I do agree with all the points she raises, I would add just one important proviso - that before you break a rule, you should know what it is and have a good reason for breaking it.

I strongly believe that all writers should have a good knowledge of the rules of grammar and punctuation, so that they don't inadvertently break them when it's inappropriate. There is a big difference between occasionally breaking the rules for dramatic effect and regularly breaking them because you don't know any better. Readers (some, anyway) will notice this, and so will potential publishers.

If you have any comments on this article or any of the points it raises, please do post them below!

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Friday, December 06, 2013

Review: The Kindle Love Case Study by Ryan Leonard

The Kindle Love Case Study is a new product from Ryan Leonard, just released at a low launch price.

As you may gather, it's a guide to writing short romance novels for Kindle (a hugely popular genre), or more precisely to outsourcing them. It uses as an example an actual romance novel that Ryan created using outsourcing himself.

Ryan's guide has been generating quite a lot of interest and discussion, so I decided to buy a copy myself to evaluate it. Here's what I found...

The Kindle Love Case Study is sold via JVZoo. After you have made your purchase there are two attempted upsells. The first is a complete pack of all Ryan's previous guides for Kindle authors. It includes Kindle Echelon, Kindle Renegade 1 and 2, Kindle Fiverr Academy, and KDP Select Promo Primer. At the time of writing Ryan was asking $27 for this package. I already have several of these myself and do therefor think that's good value, though I decided not to pay for the offer just to access the couple I hadn't got!

The second attempted upsell is for ten premium romance novel plots. Ryan is asking $19 for this. If you need a quick source of plot ideas it might be worth buying, although the main guide does suggest methods you can use to come up with plots yourself (if you need any help, of course). You can buy both upsells later via the members area if you like, although in this case you may have to pay a bit more.

Once you have turned down or accepted the upsells, you will be able to download the three main components of The Kindle Love Case Study. At its heart (hoho!) is a 17-page PDF manual. This is quite concise, but it is well written and presented, and illustrated with screen captures as appropriate.

The manual takes you step by step through the whole process. The first section deals with finding and hiring a writer, and a particular job-auction website is recommended for this. Ryan reveals exactly how he uses this site, and explains how he posts job descriptions for writers there and how he screens applicants. I found this a real eye-opener. You can also view a written discussion between Ryan and the outsourcer he ended up using for 'his' novel. This covers the main areas he advises readers to raise with any potential outsourcer.

The manual goes on to discuss preparing a plot outline for your outsourcer to follow, along with a title and cover image. As mentioned above, Ryan includes some suggested methods for coming up with suitable outlines. I didn't find any great surprises here, but some useful resources are revealed, especially a source for high-quality romance e-book covers costing as little as $20.

Finally, the manual looks at formatting, publishing and promoting your novel. This section is quite short, but of course there is plenty of info elsewhere on these subjects (my Kindle Kash course, for example!). I was also interested to read about a service that guarantees 2,500, 5,000 or 10,000 downloads of your e-book while it is on a free promo with KDP Select. There is a charge for this, of course, but it would pretty much guarantee a place for your book in the best-seller lists for its category, with subsequent benefits in reviews and paid downloads.

The other two components of The Kindle Love Case Study are a mindmap, which sets out the content of the course in a one-page diagram, and a '20 Master Plots' PDF. The latter sets out twenty standard fiction plots. These are not specifically for romance novels, but most could easily be adapted to them.

The other thing you get as a buyer is membership of a private Facebook group called The Kindle Syndicate. When I joined yesterday this had 92 members, and already some interesting discussions were taking place and tips being shared.

In summary, what you get in The Kindle Love Case Study is a concise guide to outsourcing a short romance novel (though the method could be used with any other genre as well). It provides step by step instructions for doing this, although I do think you will need some luck as well to find someone able to write a publishable novel for the sort of money Ryan paid (he apparently got his novel written for $60). I would actually feel a little uneasy about hiring a fellow writer for such a low fee, but of course you could pay more if you like!

If I was to make one criticism, I think it's a pity that Ryan doesn't include a copy of his romance e-book, so that you could read and learn from it. You can buy it yourself from Amazon for around $1.50 - here's a link - but in my opinion it wouldn't have hurt to include it as part of the package.

The Kindle Love Case Study is currently on offer at $9.95, though I understand the price will be going up next week.

If you have any comments or questions about The Kindle Love Case Study, please do post them below.

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Thursday, December 05, 2013

myWritersCircle Prize Flash Fiction Contest

With Christmas in mind, we're holding a special prize flash fiction contest on my forum at

To enter, you have to submit a story of exactly 100 words, including three specified words (Christmas, appreciation and ticket).

The winners will be chosen by MWC's 'founding father' Karl Moore, from a shortlist selected by yours truly. The closing date is Monday 16 December 2013 at 9 am GMT.

The contest is free to enter, and the first-prize winner will receive a copy of Blogging for Writers, my latest guide for writers published by the Self Development Network. There will also be a second prize of a signed copy of my printed book 100 Science Mysteries Explained, while all short-listed entrants will be able to take their pick from a variety of e-books, including the MWC Christmas anthologies and the entire range of horror fiction books published by Crystal Lake Publishing (kindly donated by Crystal Lake publisher and MWC moderator Joe Mynhardt).

For the full rules, including how to enter, please visit this forum topic. Note that this contest is for members of myWritersCircle only, but it is very easy (and free) to join if you haven't already. Just click on Register near the top of the forum homepage and follow the on-screen instructions.

Good luck, and I look forward to reading your story!

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Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Sugar House Book Launch and Giveaway by Pavarti K. Tyler I'm hosting writer Pavarti K. Tyler and her newest project, Sugar and Salt (a Sugar House Novella). This post is published as part of her launch week blog tour.

Be warned, Pavarti's book is erotica, or more specifically erotic romance and intended for readers over 18. A summary of the book is published below:

After over a decade working in the sex industry, Janice Cane retains no illusions about the nature of relationships. Everyone lies and everyone wants something. Still, a part of her longs for a connection. Speed-dating becomes her addiction, a place to find a man for the night when she needs a quick fix, and her last hope that true love may still be waiting around the next corner. When a mysterious man entices both her intellect and her lust, she becomes entangled in an affair more complicated than she’d expected. Enter the world of The Sugar House. Here you’ll meet the illustrious Madam Janice Cane and her brood of men and women who will fulfill your every fantasy. But can they find a way to fulfill their own?

To promote her book, Pav has put together a giveaway with free paperbacks and ebooks from some of the best indie erotica authors around. Titles include:

Beats by Kendall Grey (autographed copy)
Two e-book copies of Rue Volley's erotica trilogy
Three copies of an Eden Baylee e-book
An ebook bundle of erotic romances by Kenya Wright
The Twisted Mosaic by Amelia James (autographed copy)
Autographed paperback of Succubus, edited by E.L. King
$25 Amazon voucher

To be in with a chance of winning any of these prizes (great research material for any of you with an interest in writing in this popular genre!) just visit Pav's Rafflecopter Page, log in with Facebook or your email address, and follow the on-screen instructions. Note that you can get extra entries in the raffle by tweeting about the book, reviewing it, leaving a blog post comment, and of course buying the book!

Speaking of which, if you would like to buy a copy of Sugar and Salt (a 40,000 word novella from Evolved Publishing) use any of the following links: Amazon ~ Smashwords ~ Barnes and Noble.

pavartiktylerAbout Pavarti K. Tyler Award winning author of multi-cultural and transgressive literature, Pavarti K Tyler is an artist, wife, mother and number cruncher. She graduated Smith College in 1999 with a degree in Theatre. After graduation, she moved to New York, where she worked as a Dramaturge, Assistant Director and Production Manager on productions both on and off Broadway. Later, Pavarti went to work in the finance industry at several international law firms. She now lives with her husband, two daughters and one very large, very terrible dog. She keeps busy working with fabulous authors as the Director of Marketing at Novel Publicity and penning her next genre bending novel.
Connect with Pavarti at

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Thank you to Pavarti for inviting me to join in her blog tour. Do check out her book if this genre interests you, and enter her Rafflecopter Giveaway before it closes at the end of this week!

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