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Friday, February 28, 2014

Upgrading My Office Part 4 - Desktop PC


In this series of articles I'm highlighting my experiences upgrading some of the technology in my office.

In my first article I discussed my smallest purchase, a TeckNet wireless mouse. In my second article I featured another piece of kit I bought at the same time, a wireless keyboard (the Logitech Wireless Keyboard K360). And in my third article, I looked at my Kangaroo adjustable worktop.

In this final article, I'm looking at my most expensive buy this year, a new desktop PC (shown above). This is not a purchase I would ever make lightly, but my previous PC was around seven years old and showing its age. In particular, a series of ever-more alarming crashes suggested to me that the hard drive was about to fail (and indeed, soon after I had set up my new computer, that is exactly what happened).

I chose to buy my new desktop PC from one of the various online suppliers who build computers from scratch according to your specifications. I bought my last computer that way as well, and wouldn't use any other method now. Pound for pound (or dollar for dollar)  you will almost certainly get a better computer for your money, but more importantly you can have it made to your precise requirements, including the specific hardware and software you desire.

The company I bought my computer from was the UK-based Dino PC (not an affiliate link). They target the gaming market, but obviously you don't need to be an enthusiastic gamer yourself to buy from them (I'm certainly not, though I've been known to enjoy the occasional round of Solitaire or Minesweeper when inspiration is lacking).

The way the ordering process works on Dino PC and similar sites is that you start with a standard model (there will probably be a choice here) and customize it as you require. The price then changes to reflect your selections. In my case, for example, I thought I would upgrade from the standard 500 GB hard drive to 1 TB. This cost me the princely extra sum of £8.50 (about $14).

Once you have placed your order, you then sit back and wait for your computer to be assembled and shipped. Dino PC quoted one to two weeks for this, but it actually took three. I understand that they were very busy at the time, though, so I won't hold it against them!

I have been pleased with my new computer, which came with a handy 'Welcome Pack' containing cables, connectors and manuals for the various components. I set it up in twenty minutes and it worked perfectly straight away. I was also impressed by how quiet it was compared with its predecessor!

In this series I'm aiming to share useful tips based on my experiences, so here are a few regarding this purchase...

* The one thing that wasn't clear to me from the Dino PC website was how many USB ports would be at the front of the case. My last PC didn't have any, and I wanted to avoid that scenario again. I emailed the vendors, and they told me I would have four (two USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0), which was fine. I understand that what exactly you get depends on the motherboard and case you choose, so if this is something that concerns you, I would definitely ask about it before ordering.

* Dino PC gave me the choice of ordering Windows 7.0 or Windows 8.1 as the operating system. Although I'd heard bad things about Windows 8, I felt I should bite the bullet, as mainstream support for Windows 7 is apparently going to end in January next year. I can see why desktop PC owners don't like Windows 8, as it is clearly designed for tablet/touchscreen users. I have managed to configure it to work in a way that is more convenient for me, although this is still a 'work in progress'. I will write more about this on my blog at a later time.

* I ordered Microsoft Office Home and Business Edition 2013 for my computer. I find that many writers don't realize that Microsoft Word does NOT come free with the Windows operating system. If you don't order MS Office as well, for your word-processor you will have to make do with the much inferior MS WordPad and/or download something like Open Office. The latter is a free and perfectly acceptable substitute for Office for many purposes, but it is not as good for creating Kindle e-books (for example).

* With Microsoft Office Home and Business Edition 2013, as well as MS Word, you also get the spreadsheet program MS Excel, the presentation software MS PowerPoint, the email and information management application MS Outlook,  and the digital notebook application MS OneNote. If you want other Office products such as MS Access, you will need to order the Professional edition. There are also home and student editions of Office which can be cheaper, but you are not supposed to use them for commercial purposes.

I hope these comments and notes will be of some help to anyone else who may be in my position and thinking of buying a new desktop PC soon. If you have any comments or questions, of course, please feel free to post them below and I will do my best to answer them!

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Review: The Writers' Greenhouse

http://www.thewritersgreenhouse.co.uk/index.htm

The Writers' Greenhouse is a new range of writing games and activities launched by UK writer and writing teacher Megan Kerr.

The products sold from The Writer's Greenhouse are described as writers' seed packets. They are basically downloadable activity packs on different aspects of fiction writing. Most can be used by individual writers, but they are especially suitable for writers circles and creative writing teachers (including writers in schools).

The range currently consists of nine seed packets, with new ones being released fortnightly. They all concern fiction writing and are in twelve colour-coded categories, as follows: Premise, Characters, Place, Time, Plot-Layering, Tension and Stakes, Beginnings, Theme, Symbols, Subplot, Detail, Endings.

Megan was kind enough to offer me review copies of some of her seed packets. I left it to her to choose which ones, and the three she sent me were Find Your Theme, On Location, and Premise Circles.

I have to say I was impressed with the smart, professional design of all three packets. The first two were seven pages long, and the third was ten.

What you get is typically a page of instructions and tips, followed by worksheets and cards to be printed out and handed to participants. Many of the packets also have alternative versions of the instructions for individuals, groups and/or NaNoWriMo participants.

The exercises would all be of interest and value to aspiring fiction writers. For example, the On Location seed packet encourages writers to devise more interesting settings for common scenes (e.g. a murder or first kiss) than the usual office, kitchen or bar. The next time I'm invited to run a session for a writers group, I will definitely consider using one of these exercises.

I thought the seed packets were very reasonably priced at between £1 and £3 (that's around $1.50 to $5 USD). You can find out much more and place your order from The Writer's Greenhouse website.

In fact, though, if you're a fellow blogger, a writing teacher or a writers group member, you can try at least one seed packet for free. See this page of The Writers' Greenhouse website for the terms and conditions. Don't worry, you won't have to jump through too many hoops!

If you have any comments or questions about The Writers' Greenhouse, as ever, please do post them below.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Guest Post: Writing - For Fun, Money or What?

Hand Writing by djking, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  djking 

Today I'm delighted to bring you a guest post from Terrance Bramblett, the final runner-up in my recent Guest Blogging Contest (you can see the winning entry by Sally Jenkins here, another runner-up article by Sharon Boothroyd here and one by Mary Cook here).

In his thoughtful article, Terrance reflects on what writing means to him personally, and what motivates him to keep on writing in the face of rejection letters and worse...

* * *

If you are visiting Nick's blog, you probably are a writer, or have dreams of becoming one. You are somewhere between a newbie and an old timer, between unknown and famous, and between earning nothing and getting unspeakable wealth from your writing. Welcome, stranger, to the club. There appear to be millions of us now, spouting words like a oil well blowout.

Part of the reason is the gear: it is far easier to sling words using a word processor with spell-checking and autocorrect than with an old manual typewriter or pen and paper. Each day, more potential Mark Twain's enter the field.

As a writer, you are probably a member of some writing forums. I have joined and moved away from at least eight over the years, and belong to two now (including myWritersCircle). At the forums, you can read others' work and post your own for review. Many times new writers are told how much they have to learn. The mechanics, the SPaG (Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar) mistakes that nag at all writers will draw some fire.

But you also get good advice, and are told not to become discouraged by the occasional troll or bad review. For every weasel on the forums there are ten helpful people, writers themselves, offering invaluable advice. There seems to be very little selfishness among writers. No one resents another writer's success.

Do many of us get rich? Hardly any. Famous? About the same number. So why do we do it?

Personally, I do it for both fun and catharsis. I have been reading and writing since I could. I have read countless thousands of fiction and nonfiction books on nearly every subject, and during my 36 year career in digital control systems, I wrote many instructional and technical manuals. But I only started writing for (potential) sales after I retired.

In the past ten years I have written and self-published thirteen e-books, and I have total sales of twenty-three copies. I might add that when I first started, I tried writing articles for regional magazines, US Southern life mostly. All were rejected. I switched to fiction and self-publishing and am happy as a bivalve now.

So I fit nicely into the not famous/not rich group. But I am still doing it. I am halfway through number fourteen now, and fifteen is tugging at my brain. It seems to be something I must do. I will get an idea in my head and it refuses to leave until I put it in a book.

You will probably ask the question of yourself at some point: Why do I write? On a per hour basis, the pay stinks, and few of us make it to the red carpet. But we keep struggling along. Must be something in it for us.

Anyway, when you get disheartened by rejection letters or mean critiques, remind yourself why you write. If you are doing it because you love mashing warm words up against each other, then you are fine. And who knows? Your next book may hit it big.

* * *

Thank you to Terrance for an inspiring and thought-provoking article. Do check out his quirky and original "Writing and Other Stuff" blog at terrancebramblett.wordpress.com.

If you have any comments or questions for Terrance (or for me), as ever, please do post them below.

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Guest Post: Submitting True Stories to Hunter-Gatherer Publishers for Anthologies


Today I'm delighted to bring you a guest post from Mary Cook, a runner-up in my recent Guest Blogging Contest (you can see the winning entry by Sally Jenkins here, by the way, and another runner-up article by Sharon Boothroyd here).

Mary's article focuses on writing and submitting true-life stories to anthologies such as the very popular Chicken Soup for the Soul series. There is a steady demand for this type of story from various publishers, but as Mary says you need to be able to sift out the genuine ones from the scammers and the bumbling amateurs.

Over to Mary, then...

* * *

A proposed anthology of true stories can be a great opportunity for the writer or a big fat con. Sadly, it's not always clear which. Hunter-gatherer publishers - compilers of anthologies - come in various guises.

The more reputable hunter-gatherers have an insatiable appetite for personal experience stories. In order to satisfy an international readership, they will gather amazing and uplifting stories. But they spit out anything that doesn't get their juices flowing. They only want the best and will pay accordingly.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the amateurs looking for a fast buck. or the outright con merchants.

If you want to make money from your true story, you need to be able to tell the difference.

Why should you submit to anthologies?

  • The more popular publications are good places to be seen.
  • The more reputable publishers offer fair remuneration.
  • You get your work seen by a wide readership.
Anthology guidelines can be seen as an open invitation to think outside the box. Study the topics and you will almost invariably come up with an idea that will fit the proposed project. You may have something you have already written which will fit the bill with a little tweaking. Some publishers even accept reprints.

Why should you avoid anthologies?

Time scale

Some publishers take so long to compile an anthology that you might be dead by the time it's published. For example, I had a piece accepted for a travel anthology. During two years' waiting time, I was asked for additional information, updates and rewrites only to have a new editor take over and request a totally different approach. The book was finally printed about three years after I submitted my article.

No pay

Vanity publishers are always on the prowl for free content. If a publisher offers as sole payment a share in the profits, it's a sure sign he doesn't expect the project to make much money. Don't bother with those that offer as "payment" a free copy in which your work appears or, worse still,  publication full stop. These publishers are out to make money and don't want to share it with their contributors.

Amateurism

Some individuals with little or no experience of publishing regard selling other people's work as an easy way to make money. Be wary of projects which have no deadline. It's a fairly clear indication that the would-be editor/publisher has no focus or game plan.

Outright scams

If you're asked for a reading fee, don't go there! The same applies if submissions are treated as competition entries with payment only for "winning" submissions.

Markets and resources

Among the best paying and most professional set-ups is Chicken Soup for the Soul. Its website offers e-mailed newsletters and submission updates. You can read their current guidelines for authors here and a list of forthcoming anthologies for which stories are required here.

The Writer's Relief website is also worth a visit for its tips, as well as its market listings.

My own tips for success

• Search your memory for a story so personal to you that no one else could possibly have written it.
• Use a conversational tone as if you were talking to your closest friend or relative.
• Always end on a positive note.

Remember: if your story is worth telling, there are hunter-gatherers out there waiting to scoop you up.

* * *

Thank you to Mary for an interesting and inspiring article.

I would just comment that personally I wouldn't automatically exclude publishers who pay a share of profits only, as this is becoming common practice nowadays. However, you should research any such company carefully to ensure that it has a decent track record, and for longer stories especially consider if you wouldn't be better off publishing them yourself, maybe on Kindle.

Incidentally, I don't have a blog or website address for Mary, but if she would like to send me one, I'll be more than happy to add it to her byline.

If you have any comments or questions for Mary (or for me), please do post them below. And I'd also be very interested to hear about your own experiences of submitting true stories to anthologies and how this worked out for you.

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Review: How to Publish and Sell 100 Copies of Your Kindle Book With No Money Down

http://jvz5.com/c/30765/87585

Today I'm reviewing a manual just launched by South African Kindle author and publishing expert Diana Heuser.

How to Publish and Sell 100 Copies of Your Kindle Book With No Money Down is an 80-page PDF which is currently on sale as a Warrior Special Offer (WSO) on the Warrior Forum.

It may take the record for the longest-ever title for a WSO, so I'll refer to it simply as How to Sell 100 Kindle E-books from now on!

I was keen to see Diana's manual for myself as it's been getting some rave reviews, so I paid the modest asking price for a copy. Much as I like many of the products and courses that are hosted on WordPress membership sites these days, it is quite nice for once to have one that it is just a single, downloadable PDF!

The first thing I noticed about How to Sell 100 Kindle E-books is that it is beautifully produced, and the second is that it is very well written. It is illustrated with plenty of screen captures where relevant.

The manual is divided into 22 short chapters, along with an Introduction and Conclusion. Chapters 4 to 9 cover the formatting and production of your e-book, while 10 to 22 are about marketing. There isn't very much about choosing a niche for your book or actually writing it. Of course, there are plenty of other guides that cover these topics, including my own Kindle Kash!

For many would-be Kindle authors their biggest concern is formatting, and the manual explains this clearly and concisely. The assumption is that you will be working in Microsoft Word, so if you aren't using this software you will have to adapt the advice somewhat.

The advantage of this assumption, however, is that Di can provide detailed instructions (and screen captures) on exactly what you need to do to avoid blank lines, insert page breaks, format pictures, prepare a table of contents, and so on. She also has a clever tip on the subject of formatting tables, which I hadn't seen before.

The greater part of the manual concerns marketing your Kindle e-book, and again I would rate this highly. It covers all the main methods such as Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, setting out a recommended strategy to follow in each case. Di also looks at how you can harness the power of the popular Goodreads website, along with Amazon Author Central, building your own mailing list, and much more.

I was particularly impressed with the chapter that provides step-by-step advice on creating a video trailer for your e-book using free software. This is something I will definitely be trying myself in the near future.

Overall, I was very impressed with How to Publish and Sell 100 Copies of Your Kindle Book With No Money Down. Indeed, I think the title undersells it really, although on the sales page Di does explain that once you have sold your first 100 e-books, you can go on to sell many more. Just rinse and repeat, as the popular slogan has it!

How to Sell 100 Kindle E-books is on a slowly rising dimesale, so if you think you could benefit from it, I recommend buying now (at the time of writing it is still a very reasonable $14.29 or about 8.50 UK pounds). You also get some worthwhile bonus products, including Barb Ling's Kindle Pinning Profits (which was once a WSO itself).

If you have any comments or questions about How to Sell 100 Kindle E-Books, as ever, please do post them below.


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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Upgrading My Office Part 3 - Adjustable Worktop


In this series of articles I'm highlighting my experiences upgrading some of the technology in my office.

In my first article I discussed my smallest purchase, a TeckNet wireless mouse. In my second article I featured another piece of kit I bought at the same time, a wireless keyboard (the Logitech Wireless Keyboard K360).

Today I'm spotlighting a larger (and more expensive) item, an adjustable worktop. After some research online, the model I opted for was the Kangaroo Pro Junior (pictured above in my rather untidy office!).

As adjustable-height worktops are likely to be an unfamiliar concept to some, I should probably say a few words about what they are and why I bought one.

As you may gather from the picture and product name, the Kangaroo Pro Junior (not an affiliate link) is one of a number of devices you can buy that let you conveniently switch from sitting to standing at your computer and back. The picture shows it in the standing position, of course.

I had been aware for a while that a growing body of research indicates that sitting all day is bad for you. An increasing number of people now use standing desks, but I didn't really fancy standing all day either (this can also cause health problems, incidentally).

As mentioned, adjustable worktops make it easy to switch from sitting to standing and back again. They have the added attraction that you can place them on your current desk, rather than having to pay for a complete new workstation.

I was impressed with the reviews of the the Kangaroo Pro Junior that I found online. Kangaroo is a US company (not Australian as you might think!) but they have a London-based European distributor called Project Ergo, so I ordered through them (for US customers the sales site is at www.ergodesktop.com).

I have to say I was impressed with the service from the distributor, which included a personal email from their manager David Argent thanking me for my order and offering to assist if I experienced any problems.

I received the product within a week. One thing I didn't fully grasp when ordering, though, was that the Kangaroo Pro Junior would come in flatpack form. At first glance the instruction leaflet looked rather daunting, and I immediately decided that this was a job for the weekend.

Actually, though, when I got down to it, it wasn't nearly as hard as I thought, even for a reluctant DIY-er like me. The instructions are actually just very detailed (including illustrations), I assume to reduce the chances of misunderstandings. At one point it even tells you sternly not to perform a certain action. I'd never have thought of doing this anyway as it appeared pointless and illogical, but presumably someone has at some point!

Anyway, putting it together took me around 90 minutes. For some tasks - e.g. fixing my monitor to the stand - it would have been helpful to have a second person, but as I live alone I managed it myself without too much cursing!

As you will gather, the worktop in now in place and I've been using it for a month or so. To go from the sitting to the standing position, you simply loosen the knob on the right and the worktop lifts hydraulically (though you can assist it by gently lifting from the sides). When it gets to the height you want, you tighten the knob again to fix it.

Once it's in the standing position, you can place an adjustable metal stand (included) under the front of the worktop to stabilize it. This is the one slightly clunky aspect, but it works well enough and you soon get used to it. You can definitely use the Kangaroo in the raised position without the stand, but your keyboard will wobble a bit more when you are using it. There would be no chance of it falling over, though.

To lower the worktop to the sitting position, you loosen the knob again and press down on the metal bar at the back of the worktop. The first few times I did this I forgot to remove the metal stand first and wondered why nothing was happening, but after a while you start to remember!

The worktop isn't huge, but I've found it more than adequate for my (admittedly compact) wireless keyboard and mouse. You can buy side or front extensions if you want, though I won't be doing that myself.

But definitely, if you are going to buy a Kangaroo or other adjustable-height worktop, get a wireless keyboard and mouse. Otherwise, you will have at least four sets of cables going back and forward to your PC (monitor power, monitor cable, mouse and keyboard), which could get tangled up with a worktop that is constantly being raised and lowered.

I have been very pleased with the Kangaroo Pro Junior and am happy to recommend it to others. An added bonus is that you can adjust your monitor to be at the ideal height and angle for you (you can adjust the tilt separately). You can also adjust the height of your monitor relative to your worktop, which is very important for working ergonomically.

My only slight reservation would be that if you are over six feet, even at the maximum height it might still be on the low side for you in the standing position. I am five feet ten inches and find that raising the worktop to its maximum height is perfect for me.

One or two people have asked how often I use it in the standing and sitting positions. I would guess that this will be different for every user. Personally I still spend more time sitting than standing, and for some types of work (the more 'creative' stuff) sitting definitely works better for me. But for more mundane tasks, standing is fine. I tend to stand for about 30 minutes to an hour at a time. This has definitely made me feel better and healthier, as well as being more alert. I understand that you also burn more calories when standing, so hopefully in time I may even lose a few pounds as well!

If you have any questions or comments about the Kangaroo Pro Junior or adjustable worktops in general, please do post them below.


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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Guest Post: From Me to You - How to Get Letters Published in Magazines

Writing by pedrosimoes7, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  pedrosimoes7 

Today I'm delighted to bring you a guest post from Sharon Boothroyd, a runner-up in my recent Guest Blogging Contest (you can see the winning entry by Sally Jenkins here, by the way).

Sharon's excellent article is aimed particularly at UK writers, but much of the advice would apply elsewhere in the world too.

When I started my own freelance writing career many moons ago, I had a lot of success (and fun) with readers' letters. Even if you're not paid a fortune, it's great practice in writing concisely, not to mention the elation you feel when you see your name in a national newspaper or magazine!

Over to Sharon, then...

* * *

When I first began writing seriously in 2010, I began to focus on the fiction market for women's magazines.

As I became more involved in the 'womag' scene, I discovered that several of these short story writers had had letters published in national magazines. I thought, why don't I have a go at that too? I kept seeing the same writers' names crop up in the letters page of lots of national magazines.

Fuelled by envy and an attitude of, 'Well, if she can do it, so can I', I channeled my energy, put fingers to the keyboard, and tried again.

This time I made sure I studied the tone of the magazine I intended to submit to, and what type of letter was likely to be picked for publication, plus the subject of it. For example, I learned that positive feedback about a previous feature was popular.

I kept my submissions short and snappy, breezy and bright.

My hard work paid off. I was absolutely delighted to see my letter published in What's on TV magazine, closely followed by another letter! I was even more delighted to receive a payment of £10 for little more than a paragraph.

A slot on the WOTV letters page is called 'Rant of the Week'. It provides readers with an opportunity to let rip about programmes that contain bad acting, or a dismal script - whatever gets your goat. This is an area where negative comments are actively welcomed, but to keep to the point - they last thing they want is a three-page plodding missive about how the TV licence money is being wasted!

I've also had several letters published in Woman's Weekly and the some opinion pieces for the 'You're Telling Us' page in Take a Break.

However, some of the questions can be a little too saucy for my taste, and can range like this: 'Do you prefer to make love or watch TV?' and 'Do you let your hubby see you naked?'

While some see this type of query as harmless and a bit of fun, I don't respond, as I prefer my private life to remain just that - private.

The 'You're Telling Us' weekly question can be found on the TAB Facebook page.

Some publications offer a prize to the star letter only.

I attempt it, and often I don't win the prize, yet I'm still pleased to see my piece published - it gives me a boost of confidence, as it proves I can tailor work to the magazine's requirements and that my standard is good enough to be chosen for the letters page, if nothing else!

Even if the prize isn't great, I still enjoy the challenge, to see if I can get published in a new mag. It took me a few good goes before my letters eventually got published in Tesco magazine and The People's Friend.

Picking a magazine you are interested in helps. For instance, because I'm a vegetarian, it was fairly easy for me to submit two letters for the glossy monthly Vegetarian Living. They were published!

If you have a hobby, e.g. computers or cooking, pick a suitable magazine that accompanies it. For instance, my hubby Keith is a very good cook and baker.

He's had several recipes published in Take a Break's My Favourite Recipe magazine.

As I love writing, I submitted to Writers' Forum magazine - I was thrilled when they printed two of my letters.

Some magazines also publish short poetry on their letters page - I've had two poems in Yours.

Don't forget that top tips, funny photos, a 'pet of the week' type feature and beauty queries are much in demand, too.

Although you won't be able to earn a regular salary from this, the odd ten pounds here and there soon adds up.

Bear in mind that no matter how many letters you submit, you won't be chosen every time. Consider the fact that the editor or team will become familiar with your name. They may feel you are trying to earn money out of the publishing company.

However, saying that, I think they do appreciate regular contributors - just don't swamp them! After all, you are supposed to be a reader, not a writer.

Publications are always looking for well-written, entertaining, intelligent letters that fit in with the editorial style of the magazine. Always be cheerful and polite and don't waffle, as they only have a certain amount of slots available for letters.

Work can be edited, changed or even added to - to me, this doesn't matter, as I want to be published and I want to be paid.

I know of one writer who was furious when a national weekly edited her piece before publishing it. She rang them up, only to be told, 'We're very sorry, but we only have so much space on the page.'

So don't be precious about your work - journalists have their articles and features edited every day, and they don't seem to mind!

Some editors let you know beforehand if your letter has been selected, some don't.

I recently won a prize of a jigsaw puzzle, yet I hadn't a clue who had awarded it to me or what publication my letter was in. All I had was a letter saying 'Congratulations!' from the makers of the jigsaw, which didn't really help.

Eventually I realised I must have been awarded star letter in Down Your Way, a Yorkshire-based nostalgic magazine. Pleased as punch, I rushed out and bought it, only for a complimentary copy to arrive in the post later.

You can't always rely on a complimentary copy being sent to you, though - that was very rare!

So, what's stopping you from having a go?

If I can do it, so can you. Get writing, get submitting, and good luck!

Byline: 'From Me To You - How to Get Letters Published in Magazines' was written by Sharon Boothroyd. Sharon has a website at www.sbee.orgfree.com

* * *

Thank you to Sharon for an interesting and inspiring article. I defy anyone reading it not to want to sit down and pen a letter to their favourite newspaper or magazine right away!

If you have any comments or questions for Sharon (or for me), as ever, please do post them below.

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Sunday, February 09, 2014

Upgrading My Office Part 2 - Wireless Keyboard

http://georiot.co/3X3g

In this series of articles I'm highlighting my experiences upgrading some of the technology in my office.

In my first article I discussed my smallest purchase, a TeckNet wireless mouse. Today I'm featuring another piece of kit I bought at the same time, a wireless keyboard.

The actual model I bought (pictured above) was a Logitech Wireless Keyboard K360 and like my wireless mouse I got it from Amazon.

Why did I want a wireless keyboard? The main reason is that I was buying an adjustable-height desktop (which will feature in my next article in this series). If you have a desktop that is constantly being moved between sitting and standing positions, clearly you want to minimize the number of trailing wires. Having a wireless mouse and keyboard reduced by two the number of cables going to my PC, and made everything a lot neater.

The Logitech Wireless Keyboard K360 is more compact than my previous keyboard, but again that was a deliberate decision. The adjustable desktop I am using (the Kangaroo Pro Junior) isn't huge, and I wanted to ensure that there was plenty of room beside the keyboard for my mouse and other necessities (e.g. coffee cup!). In fact, space hasn't been a problem.

I understand that the majority of wireless keyboards are bought to use with laptops rather than desktop PCs, but naturally they will work quite happily with either.

Although I have been pleased with my keyboard, like the wireless mouse it has to have a small transceiver (supplied) plugged into a USB port in the computer. This means that I now have two transceivers sitting side by side on my PC. That hasn't been a problem in itself, although it might become one if I start to run short of available USB ports in future.

If you want both a wireless mouse and keyboard, therefore, there is a case for buying both of the same make, e.g. Logitech. This company has a 'Unifying' system allowing multiple wireless devices to use the same transceiver. You do have to install special software, but this can be downloaded free of charge from the Logitech website.

The other option is to buy a wireless keyboard and mouse set (such as the Microsoft Wireless Desktop 800 Keyboard and Mouse combo). Either way, you may then be able to get away with having just a single USB transceiver, rather than the two I ended up with.

The keyboard is powered by two standard AA batteries, which were pre-installed. There is an on-off slider switch at the top right, so you can turn off the keyboard when not using it. I often forget to do this, I must admit, but the batteries are lasting very well so far.

Unlike my wireless mouse, the keyboard doesn't go into sleep mode when it hasn't been used for a while. That is just as well, I tend to think, although it does mean you really should try to remember to switch it off when not using it for more than an hour or two!

Having used the Logitech Wireless Keyboard K360 for a month or so now, I have experienced no problems with it. It worked straight out of the box, and operates just the same as a standard keyboard. The lack of trailing wires means you can position it however you like (and also makes it easily portable). I swiftly got used to the more compact keyboard layout.

I hope that if you have been considering buying a wireless keyboard, this article may be of some assistance to you. Of course, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them below.

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Thursday, February 06, 2014

Review: Vintage Publishing Profits

http://nikkd.debandamy.zaxaa.com/s/257723646028

Vintage Publishing Profits is the latest product to be launched by the prolific duo of Amy Harrop and Deborah Drum.

I've mentioned some of Amy and Debbie's other quality products such as Publisher's Review Accelerator, Book Trailer Treasure Map and Description Detective on this blog before. I also recommended their report on "underground" promotional methods, which you can still pick up via this blog post for free if you haven't already.

Vintage Publishing Profits is a brand new course for authors on how they can profit from the current fascination with the past created by TV shows such as Mad Men, Downton Abbey, Boardwalk Empire, and so on.

The approach involves creating books and e-books that tap into this enthusiasm through the use of freely available Public Domain content. A couple of examples mentioned are The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Sixties Cookbook and The Vintage Tea Party Book.

Vintage Publishing Profits has just been launched at a low special offer price, and will be available at this price for a limited time only.

Amy and Debbie were kind enough to allow me pre-launch reviewer access to Vintage Publishing Profits, so here's what I found...

As is the way with most of Amy and Debbie's products, the content is accessed via a WordPress membership site. This has the advantage that products can include a variety of media (PDFs, videos, spreadsheets, and so on) and can be easily updated/expanded in future. Just be sure to keep your log-in details somewhere you can easily find them again!

Once you are in the members area you will be able to view and download the course content. The main content is organized into five modules, as follows...

Module 1 - Introduction
Module 2 - Topics and Niches
Module 3 - Creating Content
Module 4 - Creating Your Product
Module 5 - Promotion

Each module has its own page in the members area. There are one or two PDFs in each module, along with other resources, including videos, checklists and spreadsheets. The PDFs are generally quite short - typically around six pages - but they are well written and illustrated with screengrabs as appropriate.

As you will gather, the course takes you step by step from researching niches and ideas for vintage content books, through creating your books, to successfully promoting them. Debbie and Amy make the point that while there is plenty of free public domain material you can use in vintage publishing projects, it is still best to adapt and rewrite it yourself so that you can claim copyright.

They also reveal ways you can tap into the enthusiasm for current vintage-themed TV shows and movies without infringing anyone else's copyright or trademarks. This is important advice and worth reading carefully.

Another point they make is that with vintage publishing, while you can certainly use Kindle as part of your publishing platform, in many cases it is highly desirable to publish in print form as well. Plenty of advice is given about this, of course.

The content - as you would expect from these authors - includes a lot of valuable resources, with links to many more on the internet.

If vintage publishing is something that appeals to you - and Amy and Debbie certainly make a strong case that it should - Vintage Publishing Profits offers an excellent guide to the subject, especially at its current low launch price (rising on 1 March 2014).

I should mention that there is also a "One Time Offer". This is a more advanced course called Hands-On Vintage Publishing Profits. Among other things, it covers image manipulation, tips on how to write faster, and advice on research and outsourcing. A software tool that can help with book promotion is included, and there is also live webinar training.

I haven't had time to go through Hands-On Vintage Publishing Profits in depth yet, but I can already see that there is a lot of valuable information in it.  With regard to the software, this is called KD Promo Submitter, and I downloaded and installed it without any problem.

I would just comment that in my view the software name is slightly misleading. I assumed it was a tool that would enable you to notify free e-book websites when your Kindle e-book was on a free promo (which you can do if your Kindle e-book is enrolled with KDP Select).

In fact that's not the case, though. What it actually does is automate (or semi-automate) the process of uploading a free e-book to sites that publish them, e.g. The eBook Directory. It would therefore be very good for distributing free promotional e-books (probably as PDFs), but not directly relevant to promoting paid-for books or Kindle e-books. Hopefully the sales page - which I haven't seen at the time of writing - will make this clear, but now you know anyway!

If you have any questions or comments about Vintage Publishing Profits, as ever, please do post them below.

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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Guest Post: Writing the Fiction E-Book Series

Books 6 by ~Brenda-Starr~, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  ~Brenda-Starr~ 

As per my blog post earlier this week, today I am delighted to bring you the winning entry in my 2014 Guest Posting Contest.

Writing the Fiction E-Book Series is by Sally Jenkins who (quite coincidentally!) is a near-neighbour of mine.

It was the clear winner in the contest, and I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I did.

Over to Sally, then...

* * *

The key to selling more e-books is to write more e-books. Readers who’ve enjoyed a book by a particular author will search out more books by that person.

So why not cash in on fans of your writing by having a large number of books available for them?

This works particularly well for both readers and writers if your books form a series. By choosing a series book, the reader knows exactly what he's buying into and will be less hesitant about parting with his cash. For the fiction writer, it’s easier to write books that form a series rather than
inventing new characters and scenarios each time.

A series can mean one of two things:

• A set of stand-alone stories that feature the same characters and/or setting - think back to your childhood and the Famous Five adventures by Enid Blyton, or perhaps you’re familiar with one of the many detective series of books such as Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley. These books can be read in any order and do not rely on the reader knowing what came before.
• Something more akin to a TV drama series such as The Wire. The books must be read in the correct order and each one does not form a complete story. Each will leave the reader wanting to buy the next book to find out what happens.

Before you start writing there are a few points to bear in mind when creating an e-book series:

• Each book does not have to be a full-length novel. E-books can be much, much shorter, as long as they are priced appropriately.
• Don’t dive straight in. Spend time outlining plots for the first few books so that you know your idea 'has legs' and won’t expire after a couple of stories.
• Get the first few books published within a short time-frame. This will allow the reader to move straight on to the second book as soon as he's finished the first.
• Use a similar theme/colour-scheme on all the book covers so that they are instantly recognisable as a series.
• Consider pricing the first book more cheaply in order to tempt readers to try out your books. If they enjoy the first book then spending more money on the second one won’t be such an issue.
• When you have a few stories available, think about pulling them together in an omnibus edition and pricing it at slightly less than the total of all the individual stories. Everyone loves a bargain! And despite the ‘bargain’ price this could generate increased royalties for you if the individual books are priced within the 35% KDP royalty band but the omnibus falls into the 70% band. It’s a win-win situation for reader and writer.
• Include a mailing list sign-up link (using a provider such as MailChimp) at the end of each book. This will enable you to email series’ fans when the next book is launched.
• Consider setting up a website dedicated to the series. Use the same branding as the book covers and keep it up to date with news of the latest releases.

The series concept can also work well with non-fiction books. For example, a series of cookery books featuring recipes for beginners, intermediate and advanced cooks, or an account of walking the English coastline split into geographical chunks.

Devising an e-book series is unlikely to make you rich overnight, but it might generate a steady income over the years.

Byline: Sally Jenkins is the author of the Museum of Fractured Lives series. The Museum of Fractured Lives displays symbolic objects donated by people who have suffered a trauma in their lives. Each book in The Museum of Fractured Lives series tells the story of one donated object and the person who has given it. For more details, please visit http://sallyjenkins.wordpress.com/the-museum-of-fractured-lives/.

* * * 

Thank you to Sally for an excellent and inspiring article.

I do agree that creating series is a good way to go if you want to build a readership for your books or e-books. Growing numbers of authors are now going as far as giving away the first book in a series, in the hope of "hooking" readers so they will be willing to pay for follow-up titles.

And, as Sally says, you will also have the option of creating omnibus editions of your series for more profits. I have also seen these referred to as "box sets", a concept I find quite amusing when applied to e-books!

If you have any comments or questions about this article, for Sally or myself, please do post them below.

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Monday, February 03, 2014

My 2014 Guest Posting Contest - The Results!

congratulations by Sean MacEntee, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Sean MacEntee 

In this post last month I announced the launch of my 2014 Guest Posting Contest.

To remind you, contestants had to submit a top-quality guest post for my writing blog. Just like regular guest posts, it had to be on a topic that would be of interest to writers and aspiring writers, and between 500 and 1000 words long.

There was a top prize of $50 cash, and runner-up prizes of $10 for any short-listed entries that I felt were of a suitable standard to publish on my blog. Judging was based on a points system, which you can read about in my original post if you like.

The contest closed last Friday. I didn't receive vast numbers of entries, but many of those I did get were of a very high standard.

There was a clear victor (by two points), though. Stop me if you've heard this before, but the contest winner was Sally Jenkins, who also happened to win my 2013 contest!

Sally's excellent article "Writing the Fiction E-Book Series" discusses a very topical subject.

Drawing on her own experience with her Museum of Fractured Lives series, Sally shares some top-notch tips on how to create an e-book series (and why you really should). As I hope you will agree when I publish her article later this week, it is a worthy winner.

Giving Sally a run for her (or rather my) money were the following runners-up, all of whose articles I plan to publish on this blog in the next few weeks. They are listed in no particular order...

"From Me To You - How to Get Letters Published in Magazines" by Sharon Boothroyd
"Hunter-Gatherer Publishers" by Mary Cook (Malou)
"Writing - For Fun, Money or What?" by Terrance Bramblett

As a matter of interest, all the runners-up were within two points of one another in my judging scheme.

An honorable mention too goes to new writer Kyle Murray, whose entry didn't quite reach the threshold for publishing on my blog, but nonetheless shows good promise for the future.

I will be in touch with all the winning and short-listed writers in the next few days to arrange payment of their prizes by PayPal.

Congratulations to Sally and the other writers mentioned above, and commiserations to those who didn't quite make it this time.

I would like to close by offering a couple of tips based on what I saw in the judging. First and foremost, check and double-check your work for errors before submitting to a writing contest. Several contestants lost points due to silly mistakes that should really have been picked up when proofreading their work.

And second, for guest posts on my blog in particular, remember that I want specific, practical hints and tips that will benefit other writers. I like to see actionable advice, links to useful websites and other resources, bullet-point checklists, real-life examples and case studies, and so on.

A number of entries were really more in the nature of reflections on the author's own writing journey. Some were very well written, but nonetheless they lost points due to the relative lack of tips and advice that other writers could follow.

Once again, thank you to everyone who took part in this contest, and congratulations to all those mentioned above.

Keep watching this blog to see the excellent winning and short-listed articles in due course.

And if you have any comments on the contest, as ever, please feel free to leave them below. 


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