Nick Daw's Writing Blog - Inside the writing world of Nick Daws
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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Useful Resource: Litmatch

If you're looking for an agent to handle your book or script, here's a website you should definitely check out.

Litmatch is a free online resource designed to help writers of all kinds connect with a suitable agent. According to the statistics on their homepage, they currently have information on 1669 agents in 765 agencies. Although the site is US-based, agencies in the UK and other countries are also included.

As well as agency details in a searchable database, Litmatch also features a submission tracking system that allows users to record and manage their submissions online. Naturally, you have to register for this, but this is free and takes only a few moments. When you record a submission, Litmatch keeps track of key information, including when the query was sent, whether it was sent by mail or email, and which agent it was sent to. This information can be updated as replies come in. You can also compare response times against those reported by other users, and use reported statistics to determine which agent/s you want to approach next. You can also enter information for multiple titles, and Litmatch will track and report on each one independently.

Other features of the site include targeted searches that let you quickly find agents by the authors they represent, the genres they're interested in, their professional history, and so on. A hotlist function allows you to bookmark agents and agencies for future reference. There is also a comment facility, which allows users to share their experiences of specific agents with other users (or record them for private reference if they prefer).

Litmatch say that each agency is carefully reviewed before inclusion in their database. It is their policy to not list agents or agencies that charge up-front reading fees, ensuring that users are submitting to only the most reputable agents.

Overall, Litmatch is an impressive free resource for writers, and as more users join and share their experiences, it can only become more valuable. I assume that the site is financed by the Google ads in the right-hand column, but these are unobtrusive and do not detract from the content of the site. As you'll see if you check out this topic on my forum, other writers have been impressed as well. If you want to find an agent, in my view Litmatch is now essential viewing.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Mywriterscircle.com hosting change

Just thought I should let readers of this blog know that my forum at www.mywriterscircle.com is temporarily unavailable.

Following a series of problems with our old host, we are moving the forum to a new, premium hosting company which promises 99.98% uptime (that's just 20 minutes of downtime every two years!). We will also have extra Web space and extra bandwidth, which should mean better, faster performance all round.

If you try to access the forum and get an error message, or an unexpected page appears, please be patient, therefore. Normal service - with our new, upgraded host - will be resumed shortly!

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Review: Self-Publish Worldwide

Self-Publish Worldwide is a brand new manual by Ruth Barringham, a successful author and self-publisher based in Australia.

The main guide comes as a PDF file. It comprises 72 pages of concise, no-fluff information for people who wish to self-publish their own book in hard copy format.

The manual is divided into three main sections. Part A is titled 'How to publish your book quickly'. This covers the main methods of preparing and publishing your book, including traditional self-publishing and POD (print on demand) methods. It discusses preparing your book in Microsoft Word, then converting it to PDF format. There is also a very informative section on creating your book's cover.

Part B covers methods of financing your self-published book. It is a fairly short section that sets out ways of raising extra cash from writing. As such, it doesn't have much to do with self-publishing, though Ruth does get extra points from me for mentioning my Quick Cash Writing course!

Part C is titled Making Your Book Available Worldwide - personally I found it the most useful and interesting part of the manual. It covers such matters as getting celebrity testimonials, getting your book into public libraries, how (and why) you should sell your book via Amazon.com, and much more. This is all invaluable information if you want to sell as many copies of your book as possible.

Apart from the manual itself, you get five free bonus items, again in PDF format. These are as follows:
Bonus 1 - How to Write & Where to Send a Press Release
Bonus 2 - Jargon Busting List
Bonus 3 - List of International Book Stores
Bonus 4 - International Book Club Addresses
Bonus 5 - Where & How to Have Your Book Reviewed

Overall, I thought Self-Publish Worldwide was a useful guide to getting your book published in print form, including some invaluable insights based on Ruth's own experiences. If you're thinking of using a POD publisher, for example, you should definitely read Ruth's analysis of the pros and cons of the leading companies in this field. The advice in this section alone is worth the price of the manual, and could save you from making an expensive mistake.

Do I have any criticisms? Well, I must admit I was a little disappointed to discover that the manual only covers self-publishing in hard copy form and not as an e-book. I appreciate that this was not Ruth's aim, but I had hoped that, as the manual was published using the popular Clickbank service, Ruth might discuss how she had done this. Also, nowadays many self-published books are published simultaneously in e-book and hard copy form, so people wanting information about publishing their book in printed form might appreciate being told something about e-book publishing as well.

In addition, I was a little uneasy about some of the services Ruth defines as 'vanity publishing'. Lulu.com, for example, is put in this category in the manual, and yet in my view Lulu is actually a POD (and e-book) publishing service. I normally think of vanity publishers as companies who charge writers quite substantial sums to publish their books for them. This is not the case with Lulu.com, which (with a few exceptions for its premium services) charges writers only when a copy of their book is actually ordered.

Nevertheless, if you are thinking of self-publishing your book in print form, in my view you cannot fail to benefit from reading this well-researched and well-written manual.

* If you're interested in self-publishing, do check out also my review on this blog of Self Publishing Secrets, written by Carol Ann Strange and published by WCCL. Incidentally, I will match my bonus offer on Self Publishing Secrets with Self-Publish Worldwide as well. Just forward a copy of your Clickbank e-mail receipt for Self-Publish Worldwide to e-writer(at)nickdaws.co.uk, and I will send you my unique report on how to publish an e-book on Lulu.com, along with a copy of my actual published e-book titled Fifty Great Ideas for Creative Writing Teaching.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

A Musical Interlude...

On my recent holiday in Greece, a particular song was played a lot around the pool and bar at the hotel where we were staying. I'd never heard it before, but it had a haunting quality that I liked, and I found myself humming it when I got back home as well.

With the aid of the Internet (what did we ever do without it?) I discovered that the song was called Last Kiss, and it was performed by an Arabic singer called Ishtar. With a little more research, I found this YouTube video of the number being performed live...



If you are receiving this post by email, you will need to visit my blog to watch the video.

I hope you enjoy listening to this song, which for me brings back happy memories of lazing around the pool or sitting by the pool bar with a chilled Mythos (Greek beer) or milk shake. Ah well, back to reality now!

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Flash Fiction Contest Results

I'm pleased to announce that the winners of the WCCL Flash Fiction Contest have been decided. To remind you, the contest was to write a short story in exactly 100 words, which included the six words mirror, subliminal, genius, white, cliff and clepsydra. In addition, entrants were asked to provide a title for the story of up to 15 words, which didn't count towards the 100 words for the story. The prizes for the three winning entries were copies of the full version of the popular WriteItNow novel-writing software from Ravenshead Services.

The contest was judged by me and my colleague Karl Moore, the managing director of WCCL. Overall, we were impressed with the standard of the entries, and in particular by the many ingenious methods that were used to incorporate the six key words, especially clepsydra. As you will know if you followed the hyperlink, a clepsydra is an ancient water clock, though if we had a suitable consolation prize to award, it would go to the contestant who decided to make it the name of an alien race!

Karl and I were looking for stories that, even in just 100 words, engaged us both intellectually and emotionally. Ideally we wanted to read stories where the six 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, and had been checked for spelling and grammatical mistakes. I'm pleased to say that our three winning stories, which I'll reveal shortly, met all of these requirements.

One small criticism concerns the number of entrants who failed to follow the rules set out in my original post, in particular the following, which I am copying verbatim: "Include the story in the body of your email (no attachments), and put the title of your story in the subject line. Please do NOT put anything else in the email apart from your story, as we will be judging the contest anonymously." I was surprised and disappointed by the number of people who failed to observe some or all of these rules. As we only had around 50 entries we decided in most cases not to disqualify these stories, but it made judging the contest anonymously (and therefore fairly) much more difficult. Judges in other contests may not be as forgiving as we were on this occasion, so please, if rules are set out, do try to observe them.

OK, that's the end of my mini-rant! Here then - in no particular order - are the names of the winning entries and their authors, followed by the stories themselves.

Long Distance by Anitra Budd
Magic to Die For by Amanda Hyatt
The Visions of My Life, as Seen Through Eyes That Grow Dim With Age by Shirla White

LONG DISTANCE

"White Cliff Palace." The voice was a Manhattan, all smoke and clinking ice.

"Mom? It's me."

"I know who it is, sweetheart." The subliminal murmurs of her clepsydra played in the background. "Now, what does my little genius want?"

"Just making sure you're alive."

"Charlie, save the sermon. I'm completely, utterly happy with my life and I don't intend to change. So you've got two choices: accept me, or go to hell and stop calling." Click.

No Mom, I thought as I slid to the restroom floor. There's another way. My fingers began redialing the numbers scrawled on the mirror.

MAGIC TO DIE FOR

I gazed in the mirror and marvelled at what subliminal lies lay submerged in the blurred reflection there. "A pretty face," they used to say, and "What beautiful hair." I'd come to believe them - even to see what they saw. Until Arthur. Clever, handsome Arthur. Genius - even in his beatings. But who was the genius now? I could see his white shirt, unbuttoned, blowing gaily as he stood on the cliff face, unaware that, like a clepsydra, the ebbing tide measured his final moments. I flung the white-shirted straw doll into the wind and watched him leap to his fate.

THE VISIONS OF MY LIFE, AS SEEN THROUGH EYES THAT GROW DIM WITH AGE

As my days grow shorter now, I am subliminally drawn to the mirror again. Here I can look back on my past. The vision of a young girl with long brown hair and enormous hazel eyes flits in and out of view. The white dress she wears billows in the wind as she laughs and plays.

This girl soon vanishes, and in her place is a weather worn cliff side manor. An ancient clepsydra in the court yard still measures the passing of time; the genius of this timekeeper still intrigues me.

Soon my visions fade, and I'm alone again.

The other short-listed entries were as follows. No prizes for their authors, I'm afraid, but all are highly commended:

Leap of Faith by Cherry Walker
At 98% of the Speed of Light, Your Clock Can Kill You! by Mark Jensen
Cliff's World by Constance Gardner
An Interlude by Nigel Edwards
The Curse of the Ancient Clepsydra by David Fredrickson

Congratulations to the winning and short-listed writers, and commiserations to those who did not win on this occasion. I hope all of you enjoyed entering the contest, and it will perhaps have stimulated your interest in writing these ultra-short stories. If so, there are many websites devoted to the form that you might like to check out - just enter "Flash Fiction" in a search engine such as Google and thousands of such sites will be listed.

Happy flash fiction writing!

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Decline of the Hyphen

An interesting article was posted on the BBC News website today titled Small Object of Grammatical Desire.

The article concerns the decline in recent years in the use of hyphens. Apparently the new, sixth edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary has knocked the hyphens out of 16,000 words, many of them two-word compound nouns. According to the article, "Fig-leaf is now fig leaf, pot-belly is now pot belly, pigeon-hole has finally achieved one word status as pigeonhole and leap-frog is feeling whole again as leapfrog."

It's interesting to see some of the other words that have lost their hyphens in the latest edition of this widely respected reference guide. The following are now shown as two separate words: fig leaf, hobby horse, ice cream, pin money, pot belly, test tube. By contrast, the following, which previously contained hyphens, are now shown as single words: bumblebee, chickpea, crybaby, leapfrog, logjam.

The article suggests that the Internet may be partly responsible for the decline of the hyphen, with people rushing to send their e-mails (or, more likely nowadays, emails), and rejecting hyphens as just too time consuming.

In any event, one thing the article does illustrate is that the English language is constantly changing, and no-one can afford to be too dogmatic about whether hyphens are or are not required in any particular case. The best that writers and editors can hope to achieve is consistency, and this is often best achieved by referring to a reference book such as the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary or the The Chicago Manual of Style and following its recommendations. Many publishers nowadays produce their own house style guides, or require editors to follow a particular guide such as those mentioned above. Again, this is done not to ensure grammatical correctness (there is no final arbiter on what is "correct" in the English language) but consistency.

On a totally different note, thank you to those readers who have expressed concern that this blog hasn't been updated for a while. No, I wasn't ill, just enjoying a much-needed holiday in Greece. Normal service - as normal as it ever gets - will now be resumed!

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Visit The Self-Appointed Grammar Police!

I recently discovered an entertaining website by the name The Self Appointed Grammar Police, or SAGP for short. It won't win any prizes for cutting-edge design, but I enjoyed its tongue-in-cheek humour, and there's also plenty of genuinely useful info for anyone with an interest in English grammar.

The site has a number of sections, but the largest and most useful is Casebook, which can be accessed from the menu at the foot of the screen. This is where the 'grammar police' list grammatical errors and other examples of bad English they have seen, along with their comments and corrected versions. As an example, here's Case 9 - 'Tripping Over a Dangling Modifier'. Note the pseudo-legalistic style!

The Offence: Increasingly, the error known as a 'dangling modifier' is becoming endemic. Here's an example, from Douglas Kelly, 'The Captain's Wife' (NY: Dutton, 2001), p. 23: Mary was thrilled by the sight from the quarterdeck of the canvas straining before the wind. With all sails out, she could barely see the tops of the masts ...

I can just see Mary with all her sails out, can't you? At least three more instances of similar gaffes mar this book, and I'm seeing the same sort of thing in other novels and in newspapers. The Verdict: Kelly is guilty of perpetrating a dangling modifier. He wants 'With all sails out' to modify the tops of the masts (or maybe the ship itself - which isn't even mentioned.) But it doesn't: it modifies the subject of the sentence, which is Mary.What he meant to write is something like: With all sails out, the tops of the masts were almost hidden from her view.

The Sentence: Mr. Kelly is a corporate pilot, and this is his first novel. The writing is undistinguished, but he has told a good story, and told it well. Though it would be nice if he turned over to his publisher an immaculate manuscript, I don't blame him much for making a few errors. I blame the publisher (Dutton, a member of the Penguin Group), who is obligated to correct authors' errors. So let's hang the publisher from the yardarm, and let Mr. Kelly off with only one stroke of the cat-o'-nine-tails.

Incidentally, the spelling checker for Microsoft Works 4.5 thinks Mr. Kelly should have put a hyphen between 'quarter' and 'deck.' Let's keelhaul the landlubber who's peddling that particular piece of idiocy. Next case!

There are currently over thirty 'cases' listed, and they all make interesting - and entertaining - reading. Other areas of the site include a short how-to section, a list of recommended books about English, and a frequently asked questions section.

Overall, I recommend the The Self Appointed Grammar Police website as entertaining light reading for anyone with an interest in English grammar (which should include all writers, of course). It's only a shame that the site no longer appears to be regularly updated.

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