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Monday, March 30, 2009

Five Things I Wish I'd Known as a New Freelance Writer...

I've been a full-time freelance for nearly twenty years now. I've made a few mistakes along the way, but I've learned a lot as well. So what advice would I give to anyone starting out on this path today? Here are five things I really wish I'd known all those years ago...

1. You Don't Have to Know Everything

When I was beginning my writing career, I worried a lot about what I didn't know.

Every time I came across a word I hadn't seen before, rather than view it as an opportunity to learn something new, I took it as a further sign that my vocabulary wasn't wide enough to succeed as a writer. (In fact, I now realise that while having a good vocabulary is definitely an asset, you could go through an entire writing career without ever knowing the meaning of palimpsest, clepsydra, ursine, and many more...)

It wasn't just vocabulary either. I worried that I didn't know whether I should use "toward" or "towards", "forever" or "for ever", "continuous" or "continual", and many more. And I could waste a whole morning agonizing over whether I should use a dash or a colon in my opening paragraph.

What I realise now is that most of these things matter little. Quite often, either choice will be acceptable. My advice to a new writer today would be to get a good dictionary and style guide, and refer to these whenever you're in doubt. But if you're still not sure, just make your best guess and move on. The chances are that whatever you choose, your editor will change it anyway!

The Americans have a very good expression for this: Don't sweat the small stuff.

2. It Pays to Specialize

There are lots of other would-be freelance writers out there, so you need to do whatever you can to make yourself stand out. For me, anyway, that has meant specializing.

Specializing has all sorts of advantages for a freelance writer. If you are regarded as an "expert" in your field, editors and publishers will turn to you when they need a writer on the subject in question. In addition, because of your perceived expertise, you may be able to charge a higher rate than an "ordinary" freelance.

Don't just stop at one specialism, though. Try to develop a number. My specialist subjects include self-employment, advertising and PR, careers, the Internet, gambling for profit, popular psychology, English grammar, writing for profit, and several more. At least then, if there is a fall in demand for one of your specialisms (as has happened for me in recent years with careers writing), you have other strings to your bow.

My advice to a new writer would be to start with an area you know a lot about, or have a particular interest in, and make it your business to become an "expert" in that field. Write a few articles about it, perhaps for low-paying markets when you're getting started. Once you have published some work on your specialism, people will start to regard you as an expert in it, and more work is likely to follow. By researching more articles and talking to "real" experts, you will build up your store of knowledge, until you really are something of an expert in your chosen field. It's worked for me, anyway ;-)

3. Don't Take Criticism Too Seriously

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you shouldn't listen to constructive feedback on your work. However, you should evaluate it carefully and be prepared to reject it if you don't agree with it.

Remember that judgements about quality (or otherwise) are often subjective. There's a story I tell in my CD course Write Any Book in Under 28 Days about a time when I regularly wrote careers information articles for a large UK publishing house. These were basically four-page articles about different jobs.

I submitted my articles to one particular editor at the publishing house. Invariably they came back to me covered in red ink, with insertions, deletions and transpositions all over the place. I tried to learn from her comments and improve, but still every time the articles came back changed almost beyond recognition. She still put the edited articles through, but I honestly felt like a schoolboy whose report card read, "Could do better".

Then I got a new editor - a man this time, as it happens. I submitted my latest article to him, and waited for it to come back to me covered in red ink as usual. And waited. And waited. So eventually I phoned him up and asked what had happened to my article. "Oh that," he said, sounding surprised I had even mentioned it. "It was fine, so I put it through for publication."

The truth is that in writing, as in life, everyone has different views of what is good and what is bad. So listen to criticism by all means, but try to evaluate it objectively, and always feel free to reject it if you think it's wrong. And never, ever, take criticism personally.

4. You've GOT to Put Yourself About!

However good a writer you are, no publisher or editor is going to beat a path to your door. Especially when you are starting out, you must be prepared to send off torrents of query letters, emails, book proposals, and so on. Look for publishers seeking writers - the Writers Wanted board of my forum at www.mywriterscircle.com is one good place to start - and if a vacancy looks interesting, fire off an application.

Put yourself about in the flesh too. Join your local writers' circle, go on writers' courses and conferences, volunteer to give talks, and run classes in adult education. In the online world, set up a writing homepage and/or a blog, and join at least one writers forum. And sign up at social networking sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and FaceBook. All of this will help raise your profile as a writer, and make it more likely that potential clients will get in touch with you.

And also under this heading I'd add, build up your network of useful contacts. These can come from all sorts of places: fellow writers you meet, proofreaders and editors you work with, folk you meet on courses, people you interview for articles, people you connect with via online services such as Twitter, and so on. Nowadays, at least half of all the new writing opportunities that come my way do so as a result of networking.

5. Enthusiasm isn't Everything - Maybe Just 90%...

OK, I'm being a bit tongue-in-cheek here, but one thing experience (mine and other people's) has taught me is that enthusiasm will carry you a long way as a writer. I'm sure it's true in other fields as well, but clients generally are more inclined to hire writers who are enthusiastic about their work rather than those who seem simply to be going through the motions.

Obviously, you DO need in addition the writing skills and other qualities to deliver a good job. Without enthusiasm, however, you will probably never get the chance to demonstrate that you have these skills and qualities.

Look at it this way. If an editor gets two applications, one from someone who is relatively inexperienced but brimming with enthusiasm, the other from someone with an impressive CV who sounds as though they could barely be bothered to get of bed this morning, nine times out of ten it's the writer with the enthusiasm who will get the gig, even if they may not have as much experience. It's human nature that we all respond better to people who have a positive attitude themselves.

So before sending off an application for any writing job, ask yourself honestly: Do I really sound as if I want this job? Do I appear excited by the prospect of working with this company? Can the client see that I am bursting with ideas and raring to do a good job for him? Or, conversely, does my application sound half-hearted? Does it sound as though I don't really expect to get the job, and don't much care one way or the other? If the latter is the case, hit "Delete" and start again. You MUST, MUST, MUST convey enthusiasm in all your applications and proposals!

If you have any other useful hints or tips for new writers, feel free to add them below as comments.

Happy writing!

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Two Free Events in April to Sign up to Now

I wanted to give you a heads-up today about a couple of free events running next month you might like to sign up for.

The first is ScriptFrenzy. This is an annual event run along similar lines to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), though a bit less well-known.

As the name indicates, ScriptFrenzy is aimed at scriptwriters. Participants commit to writing 100 pages of scripted material for any dramatic medium in the month of April.

As with NaNoWriMo, there is no fee to participate, and no prizes are awarded for the 'best' scripts. Every writer who achieves the goal of completing 100 pages gets a ScriptFrenzy Winner's Certificate and web icon proclaiming this fact. But really, the main aim is to challenge yourself to get a substantial script-writing project completed in 30 days, and have fun while doing so.

You can visit the ScriptFrenzy website by clicking on any of the links in this blog post. Here you can register for this year's event and check out the wide range of writers' resources on offer. You can also join the ScriptFrenzy Forum and get help and advice from fellow ScriptFrenzy participants.

Incidentally, don't forget that my sponsors, WCCL, produce a CD called called Movie in a Month, which could be an ideal resource if you want to complete a movie-writing project for ScriptFrenzy.

The other event running in April is aimed squarely at bloggers. It's called 31 Days to Build a Better Blog, and is being run by Darren Rowse of the hugely popular Problogger blog.


Each day from 1 April to 1 May Darren will be posting an assignment for participants with two aspects to it:
  • a teaching component (theory)
  • a practical component (a task/homework)
Darren says the tasks are designed for beginner and newer bloggers, but many will be relevant to intermediate and more advanced bloggers also.

If you want to participate in this event, click on 31 Days to Build a Better Blog to go to the relevant post on Darren's blog, where you will be asked to register your email address. You will then receive one email per day over the 31 days from 1 April to 1 May, notifying you that a new post is up and giving you the link to it, as well as providing some extra information for registered participants.

You don't have to register to take part in 31 Days to Build a Better Blog - you could just read and follow the instructions in Darren's daily blog posts - but registering will give you access to more information and (apparently) a couple of special bonuses.

Good luck if you decide to sign up for either of these events. I've registered for 31 Days to Build a Better Blog, so hopefully you may see a few improvements around here in the weeks ahead!

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Monday, March 23, 2009

An Easy Way to Promote Your Book on Amazon

If you have a book (or books) for sale on Amazon, here's a quick and easy way to promote it.

It's also free of charge. And don't worry, it doesn't involve submitting a five-star review under a pseudonym (which I'm sure none of my readers would do, of course...).

The technique is based around tagging, which Amazon has recently introduced as one of several ways of making its site more interactive and 'Web 2.0'.

Registered users of Amazon can apply up to seven tags to any book. The tags are meant to provide useful information on the content of the book in question. So a book about writing might be given tags including 'writing', 'creative writing', 'article writing', 'writing for money', 'screenwriting', and so on. As a matter of interest, I have copied below the tags from the Amazon.co.uk listing for the popular On Writing by Stephen King.


Tags help people searching on Amazon. Someone wanting a book on writing stand-up comedy, for example, might search for all books with a tag of 'comedy writing'.

Tags improve the experience of Amazon users, so in my view it is quite legitimate for an author to apply tags to his or her own books (and I have done so). Not only will this mean that people interested in the topic of your book are more likely to find it, the tags may also help Amazon with its 'You might also enjoy...' recommendations which appear on the site and in emails it sends out. It's not clear at the moment how extensively Amazon uses data from tagging, but as the system becomes more widely known it's a good bet it will increase.

So if you have any books on sale on Amazon do take a moment to go along and tag them, and do it also on other countries' Amazon sites where they are sold (.com, .co.uk, .de, .fr, and so on). It could give your sales in the coming months a very handy boost!

* My sponsors, WCCL, produce a guide called The Best-Seller Secret, which reveals a raft of other techniques you can use to drive your book into the Amazon Top 100 List. Check it out!

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Contests Week: Final Round-Up

Last week was Contests Week on my forum at Mywriterscircle.com, and this week the winners were revealed.

In this post I'll be publishing the winners of all five contests, and also setting out a few thoughts on the contests from a judge's perspective.

The first challenge, set on Monday, was to write a story in exactly 100 words including three essential words (envelope, jocular, precursor). The prize, a copy of WCCL's Novel in a Month, was won by Grognoth, with the following entry:

The Fear of All Mothers Whose Sons Went to War
by Grognoth

The news was bad; the fleet had come under attack at night. Philip's ship had been torpedoed. Few men survived, many were unaccounted for.

Having read the naval letter, Sally believed it was a precursor for worse to come. "Missing in action; presumed dead." No words of comfort, just the official cold line.

Sally waited before nervously picking up the beige envelope. An hour and three cups of tea later, she opened it.

"Dear Mum, in hospital and in jocular mood, though don't know why; so many friends gone. Love you."

Sally returned the paper to the envelope and cried.


You can read the winner and runners-up, and members' comments about them, on this forum topic. All of the entries are also published here anonymously as a Word attachment.

Tuesday's contest was to write a haiku including two out of three set words (smoke, lake, paper). The prize was a copy of WCCL's Writer's Block CD. The winner of this challenge was a new member, Rohi Shetty, with the following beautifully crafted entry:

Haiku: an ink-clad
thought on paper; lovely like
the lake at sunrise.


You can read the winner and runners-up (which included another of Rohi's poems), and members' comments about them, on this forum topic. All of the entries are also published anonymously here as a Word attachment.

Wednesday's Contest was to write a radio commercial for Mywriterscircle.com. The prize was a copy of WCCL's Ultimate Copywriter guide. The winner was brimstone with the following entry:

Female1: What are you looking so chuffed about?
Female2: I've just had my first short story accepted by a magazine.
Female1: Didn't know you could write!
Female2: Neither did I. Then I joined this website called MyWritersCircle.com. It's for people who like to write. You should check it out Jill.
Female1: I'm hopeless at writing.
Female2: Me too. But on MyWritersCircle.com we review each other's work. Share ideas. It's improved my writing a lot. It's fun and it's free.
Female1: Free?
Female2: That's right. And I've met some lovely people online.
If I can learn to write, anybody can.

Male announcer: Want to improve your writing? At MyWritersCircle.com we help each other write. Visit us now at MyWritersCircle.com

Female1: I checked out that website last night.
Female2: And?
Female1: You were right it's fun.
Female2: Told you.
Female1: Booker Prize. Here I come!

They chuckle.


You can read the winner and runners-up, and members' comments about them, on this forum topic. All of the entries are also published anonymously here as a Word attachment.

Incidentally, our forum administrator and sponsor Karl Moore has already recorded this ad for possible future use on his online radio station WritersFM - click here to listen to it on YouTube!

Thursday's challenge was to write a travel article about your best-ever or worst-ever vacation. The prize was a copy of WCCL's Travel Writing Secrets, and the winner was Sellit with this entry:

Wet and Wild Dominica, an Island for the Adventurous

Dominica is for nature lovers who crave a taste of the wild side. Don't expect resorts, gourmet cuisine, and upscale shopping. Pack your hiking boots and a swimsuit. Prepare to encounter 365 rivers, lush rain forests, waterfalls, amazing sea life, and narrow mountain roads. Dominica remains a largely undeveloped island where tourism and ecosystem coexist.

When our cruise ship docked, we anticipated a day of adventure. We were not disappointed. Two shore excursions provided memories we'll cherish for a lifetime.

Skirting the rugged volcanic shoreline aboard the Sting Ray II, dolphins set a tone of expectation as they frolicked beside our vessel. The boat's hydrophone picked up the clicks of conversing whales. Words cannot capture the thrill of racing to intercept these fascinating creatures. A pod of ten sperm whales surfaced like enormous gray submarines. Giant waterspouts blew from their noses. They posed for pictures and waved perfect flukes as they departed with the precision of a choreographed diving team.

A unique glimpse of motherhood came when a young whale surfaced to swallow and then dove several times to nurse. Both mother and child provided a splendid view of flukes when they departed.

Sun-baked by our morning with the dolphins and whales, we departed for a jeep ride into the mountains. These aptly named Wacky Rollers traversed riverbeds and wound along narrow roads high in the rainforest.

A short hike crossed a river via a footbridge and led to a dark opening between sheer black cliffs. Brave souls entered the river's frigid water and swam between the towering cliffs. A magnificent waterfall, plunging into Ti Tou Gorge, was our reward. Sunlight filtered through overhanging foliage at the top of the narrow chasm as we drifted out on the current. Invigorated by our adventure, we stood in the water of a warm spring that drops into the pool outside the pseudo cave.

'The Pirates of the Caribbean' movies used Ti Tou Gorge and other locations around Dominica during filming. It wasn't hard to imagine pirates sailing the shores or roaming the trails of this wet, wild island.

You can read the winner and runners-up, and members' comments about them, on this forum topic. All of the entries are also published anonymously here as a Word attachment.

The winner of this contest (real name Melinda) wrote to thank me, and added, 'I'm hoping to break into the travel writing area, so this win is a big bonus for me. I really wanted this prize.' Great to hear that, Melinda!

Our final, Friday challenge was to write a scene for any dramatic medium featuring three people in a restaurant. The prize was a copy of WCCL's premium product Movie in a Month. The winner was sue91353 with the following entry:

Meeting at the Angry Yeti

Man and woman seated at table in center of room. Both wear chain mail armor.

Serving wench drops off drinks and food and winks at man, whispers something in his ear. He grins.

Food and drink are consumed. Man stands.

Beauregard: I'm off, don't wait for me. I'll see you in the morning.

Elspeth: How do you do it? Every town we go to, there's a wench with room in her bed for you. And you're not even pretty.

Beauregard: (Shrugs) I treat them right.

Elspeth waves him away and sits back with her drink.

She looks around. A man is staring at her, looking her up and down. He looks at her face and she raises an eyebrow. He smiles. She turns away.

Tall, red haired man, bearded, muscular, leather armor, stands in front of table.

Tannik: May I join you?

Elspeth: (points to chair and nods)

Tannik: Your friend left you.

Elspeth: He had obligations.

Tannik: (Looks off in distance) So I see.

Beauregard and serving wench are climbing the back stairs.

Elspeth: What brings you to my table?

Tannik: (Smiles) I have obligations. And you are the most interesting one I've seen in a while.

Elspeth: (Laughs, shakes her head) I've been on the road all winter, I'm only here to drink.

Tannik: Then I'll escort you home when you've had your fill.

Elspeth: I need no protection.

Tannik: I suspect not. But I would like to anyway.

A chair flies by, loud voices in background.
Elspeth chugs her drink, stands.

Elspeth: Last thing I need is a brawl. You can escort me home now.

Tannik: Indeed. I'm glad I'm not on duty.

Exit pub. Warder at door hands back their weapons. Elspeth straps on great sword, dragon-hilted, ruby eyes, outspread wings form guard. Tannik hoists battle axe.

Tannik: I see you really don't need protection.

Elspeth: (Smiles) No, but you might.

Laughing, exit building.


You can read the winner and runners-up, and members' comments about them, on this forum topic. All of the entries are also published anonymously here as a Word attachment.

I and my fellow judges really enjoyed judging the Contest Week entries, although it was a lot of work for us as well! Here are a few tips based on our experience of judging the contests that I hope may be helpful to anyone entering writing contests on MWC (or anywhere else) in future...

1. Most important of all, obey the contest rules. We didn't actually disqualify anyone for failing to do this, but nonetheless an entry that clearly didn't follow the instructions had no chance of winning. A good example was the radio commercial contest, where several people wrote ads for other products or services, and not for Mywriterscircle.com as instructed.

2. It's also very important to pay attention to the instructions and how they are worded. In Friday's Challenge we asked for a script that would 'reveal something interesting about the characters' and also 'make us want to see/hear more'. Our winner and runners-up did this, but some of the other scripts were really more like comedy sketches, with two-dimensional characters whose sole purpose was to lead up to a punch-line. As such they might have worked well, but it wasn't really what we were looking for in this challenge.

3. Try to come up with an original slant. In contests where certain elements are required (as in many of the Contests Week challenges) a lot of people inevitably adopt a similar, predictable line, and this can become a bit wearing for the judges. When we see someone who has found an original slant different from anything we have come across before, inevitably we take a bit more interest.

4. And finally, check and double-check your spelling, grammar and punctuation. The overall standard was actually quite good, but a few entries were let down by lack of attention to the basics. Again, no entry is likely to win a writing contest if it is littered with mistakes of this nature.

Once again, thank you very much to everyone who took part in Contests Week, to the moderators who put so much time and effort into judging the challenges, and (of course) to Karl Moore from WCCL, who generously donated the prizes. Don't forget you can see a wide range of WCCL's great-value courses and products for writers on their dedicated website at WriteStreet.com.

Watch out for more exciting contests and challenges on the world's favorite writing forum soon!

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Special Guest: Kristin Callender

As previewed in this post, I am delighted today to welcome new novelist Kristin Callender to my blog. Kristin is visiting as part of a Virtual Book Tour to celebrate the publication of her novel The Truth Lies in the Dark.

Without further ado, then, let me hand you over to Kristin, who will tell you all about her book, and share some tips for other aspiring novelists...

* * *

Hi, writers and readers. I am Kristin Callender, author of The Truth Lies in the Dark. First, I would like to take a second to thank Nick Daws for having me as a guest on his blog. And, of course, I thank you for spending some of your time to read about my publishing journey.

The Truth Lies in the Dark is a mystery about Amanda, who has no memory of her life as a child. Raised by her protective grandparents, she knows only what they have told her about her past and her family. But reoccurring nightmares tell her something different, and leave her feeling like a stranger in her own mind. Then her grandfather leaves her an unfinished letter that confirms her doubts and fears. As she begins to search for her true identity she finds that everyone in her life has been keeping a life-changing secret from her, even her loving husband, Nick. In the end she must answer the two most important questions: Who is trying to help her, and who is trying to make sure the truth remains 'in the dark'?

Before I share my experiences with you, let me just say that I am not an expert telling you the right and wrong ways to get published. I am still an aspiring author myself, and want to share what has worked for me. With that said, I hope that you find something here to help you in your writing and publishing journey.

I had wanted to write a book for a long time, but with four children and a million other things always going on, I didn't think it could be done. My own self-doubt didn't help either. I had been taking college classes, one a semester at first, for years. In 2006 I finally earned a degree and was planning on working in my town as a substitute teacher. I had started The Truth Lies in the Dark that summer, with a pen and a pad while I watched my kids at the park. Very quickly the characters and their stories came to life in my head, but it was harder finding the time and confidence to get it all on paper. I actually set it aside and began getting ready to start substituting. Then, as the school year got closer, I started having dreams about the book. That was how I got the idea for a part at the end when Amanda uses the natural echo of a lake to confuse someone who is looking to harm her (I don't want to give away too much, LOL!). I knew then that I had to seriously try to finish, just to prove to myself that I could. So the kids went back to school and I sat down at the computer and wrote. Once I took it seriously, I finished the book in two months. By November I was sending out queries to publishers.

The question I am always asked is, How did you know what to do and whom to send your book to? I researched and read everything I could get my hands on, mostly online. I came across John Kremer's website (www.bookmarketing.com), which I still visit regularly when I get stuck or frustrated with marketing. John's advice and links have helped me better understand this new world of publishing and led me to more helpful sites, like this one. Many writers' websites said to get the newest edition of Writer's Market, published by Writer's Digest Books. I remember cringing over the price at the bookstore, still not completely believing that I would actually be published.

Writer's Market helped me with everything from what a query letter was, how to write one, and what every publisher was currently looking for. I sent out about 12 queries, and then waited day after day for any response. I would meet the mailman at the edge of my lawn, until he started looking at me strangely; like I was interested in him and not what mail he had for me. Then the rejections started coming. Then, just when I figured that every publisher I chose was going to say 'no thanks', I got two requests to see my whole manuscript. In June 2007 I signed a contract with Blue Water Press out of Florida. The Truth Lies in the Dark was published in November 2008.

The most surprising thing I learned during this process was how much work is takes to market a book. Like a lot of new authors, I thought that writing the book was the hard part. I researched it enough to anticipate some involvement in my own marketing, but never did I expect it to become a full time job. I have learned so much and am surprised how much I have enjoyed most of it. Meeting other authors, joining writers' groups and sharing publishing stories has been great.

If I could give other new authors some advice it would be find out everything you can about writing, publishing, and marketing. That way you will have a good idea what to expect and be able to stay focused on your goals during the frustrating times. And there will be a lot of frustrating times, but that only allows you to enjoy the good times more.

I am currently working on another mystery, and have a romance under consideration at a publisher in New York City. I hope to have more news about that soon.

Nick asked me what my three favorite websites were (I gather he asks all visiting writers to his blog this!). I have found something I liked about so many of them, it is hard to pick only three, but here goes...

www.bookmarketing.com - A great site that offers advice and ideas for every step of the publishing process.

http://bookblogs.ning.com - You can join specific groups or just talk to other writers and readers in the open forum. I have joined more writing groups like this. It is good to have a place to talk about the frustrations and good days with other writers.

And finally, I have to say Twitter. I am new and still figuring it all out, but am enjoying it. My Twitter address is http://twitter.com/KCBOOKS. Do follow me if you want!

You can continue to follow my Book Blog Tour by going to my website and checking out my schedule. You will find a lot more information there too. You can see pictures of the original artwork used for my cover, which was painted by my teenage son. He is a talented artist, and I am proud to be able to share this accomplishment with him.

Thank you again for taking the time to get to know me a little better. If you have any questions or comments you can find contact information on my website. I wish all of you good luck on your own writing journeys. The Truth Lies in the Dark is available from this page of the Amazon.com bookstore and is the 'Featured Book of the Month' at www.bluewaterpress.com.

* * *

Thank you very much to Kristin for providing such a detailed and interesting account of her publishing journey. I hope that it may have inspired other would-be novelists among you, and that if you enjoy thrillers you may want to check out The Truth Lies in the Dark for yourself.

I look forward to hearing about further publishing successes by Kristin soon. Remember where you read about her first!

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Review: Blog Carnival Submitter

Regular readers will know that recently I've become a fan of blog carnivals as a way of generating more traffic to a blog. I blogged about the subject earlier this year in this post.

So when I heard about a new piece of software called Blog Carnival Submitter that promised to automate the process of finding blog carnivals and submitting links to them, I had to get a copy to check it out.

Blog Carnival Submitter works in conjunction with the BlogCarnival website, which opens by default in the lower panel of the software (see screengrab below). The BlogCarnival site acts as a kind of central clearing house for blog carnivals, although there is of course no obligation for carnivals to register with them.


Most of the things you can do with Blog Carnival Submitter you can also do on the BlogCarnival website, but Blog Carnival Submitter makes the process quicker and simpler, especially for multiple submissions.

You start using Blog Carnival Submitter by clicking on Find Blogs in the upper left-hand panel. This enables you to search the BlogCarnival site by keywords. You can search for a number of different keywords to produce a longer list (using the keyword 'writing' produced fewer carnivals than I expected, so I added other terms such as 'author' and 'work from home').

Once you have a list of suitable blog carnivals, the software will check if they are valid or not. You can delete any that aren't, and save the list for future use if you want.

You can then choose any posts you want to submit to these carnivals from your own blog/s, using the panel at the top right. It takes only a moment to add the necessary details, and you can then set the software to automatically submit all your chosen posts to all your selected blog carnivals (or select what to submit where manually if you prefer).

Blog Carnival Submitter also has a range of additional features. In particular, as the BlogCarnival website for some reason blocks users from certain countries, Blog Carnival Submitter lets you submit your blog posts using an anonymous proxy server. This is a very useful feature if it applies to you, although thankfully for me in Britain it isn't an issue.

Overall, I think Blog Carnival Submitter is a neat, if not earth-shattering, piece of software. It will be most relevant if you regularly submit links to a range of blog carnivals, or you plan to. If you just want to test the water with a single post, you may as well use the BlogCarnival website itself. But if you get serious about this method of traffic generation, in my view it's well worth paying the modest fee for Blog Carnival Submitter. I shall definitely be using it myself from now on.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Contests Week: Monday Challenge Results

Last week was Contests Week on my forum at Mywriterscircle.com, and this week the winners will be revealed.

Monday's challenge was to write a story in exactly 100 words including three essential words (envelope, jocular, precursor).

We received over 50 entries to this contest, and the overall standard was amazingly high (so much so that the judging took a lot longer than anticipated). There can only be one winner, however, so I am delighted to reveal that this was Grognoth, with the following entry:

The Fear of All Mothers Whose Sons Went to War
by Grognoth

The news was bad; the fleet had come under attack at night. Philip's ship had been torpedoed. Few men survived, many were unaccounted for.

Having read the naval letter, Sally believed it was a precursor for worse to come. "Missing in action; presumed dead." No words of comfort, just the official cold line.

Sally waited before nervously picking up the beige envelope. An hour and three cups of tea later, she opened it.

"Dear Mum, in hospital and in jocular mood, though don't know why; so many friends gone. Love you."

Sally returned the paper to the envelope and cried.


I will be in touch with Grognoth to arrange delivery of his prize, a copy of WCCL's Novel in a Month.

There were two runners-up in this contest, both of whom came within a single vote of the winner. Both Annvh and kk should consider themselves Highly Commended, therefore. I'm sorry there was only one prize! Here are their entries:

Never Again
by Annvh

Jenny's eyelids remained defiantly shut, ignoring the insistent beep of her alarm clock. As she eased one arm from beneath her duvet to tap the snooze button, her hand brushed against a package lying on the pillow next to her. Consciousness surfaced with jagged shafts of light flickering at the edge of her vision; the precursor of a blinding migraine; and images of last night's excesses forced her eyes wide open.

"Well, open the envelope," a teasing, jocular voice called from the doorway. "It'll help you remember."

Photos, of bits she didn't know she had.

"Call it a hangover cure."

Kids Rule!
by kk

We met at Fenway Park, huge fans of the Red Sox, never missing a game; a precursor to falling in love. We married; had babies. Life together was perfect; agreeing on everything - where we lived; children; life was good.

Finding that envelope with the photo of him and Marybeth - together - like that - it nearly killed me. Nothing could have prepared me. Devastated, I confronted him one fateful day.

"What's this?" I demanded, presenting the photo of little Marybeth; Yankees cap ruining her toddler's jocular innocence.

"Well," he replied, "I couldn't resist"; "As she says, 'Yankees rule, Red Sox drool.'"

Congratulations again to our winner and runners-up, and thank you to everyone else who entered. For those who are interested, on my forum post I have attached a separate Word file including all the entries, listed anonymously. See if you agree with the judges or not!

The results of Tuesday's challenge will be published on the Writing Games and Challenges board tomorrow. Note that I will not be publishing the results on this blog every day this week as well - I have a few other things I want to blog about - but I will include a round-up of all the winners on Friday.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Coming Soon to This Blog: Kristin Callender

Just wanted to let you know that next Thursday, 19 March, I will be welcoming US author Kristin Callender to this blog.

Kristin is visiting my blog as part of her virtual book tour to launch her novel The Truth Lies in the Dark.

The Truth Lies in the Dark is a mystery about Amanda, who has no memory of her life as a child. Raised by her protective grandparents, she knows only what they have told her about her past and her family. But reoccurring nightmares tell her something different, and leave her feeling like a stranger in her own mind. Then her grandfather leaves her an unfinished letter that confirms her doubts and fears. As she begins to search for her true identity she finds that everyone in her life has been keeping a life-changing secret from her, even her loving husband, Nick. In the end she must answer the two most important questions: Who is trying to help her, and who is trying to make sure the truth remains 'in the dark'?

In her post, Kristin will be talking about how she came to write her book, and passing on her tips for new novelists. She will also be revealing her three favorite websites (something I like to ask all my visiting authors!).

You can read more about Kristin and her novel on her website, and also discover where else she is visiting on her tour.

The Truth Lies in the Dark is available from Amazon.com and it is also the featured title of the month from her publishers, Blue Water Press.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Contests Week: Friday Challenge

All this week has been CONTESTS WEEK on Mywriterscircle.com.

Every day we've posted a quick-fire 24-hour writing challenge, with great prizes of software for writers donated by our sponsors (and my publishers) WCCL.

The final, Friday Challenge is now open - and as it's 'lucky' Friday 13th, it's a humdinger! This time, we're asking you to write a short scene set in a restaurant, in any dramatic medium of your choice!

The prize for the winner of this challenge will be a copy of WCCL's flagship product (well, one of them) Movie in a Month. This is a complete guide to film screenwriting on CD-ROM.

Movie in a Month was written by three successful screenwriters, two in the US and one in the UK. As well as a set of informative manuals, it also includes over 850 actual TV and movie scripts and treatments, and a complete, fully-featured screenplay writing and formatting program. The full normal price of Movie in a Month is $97.

As always you have just 24 hours to complete this challenge, with a final deadline of 9 am GMT on Saturday 14 March. For full details of this exciting contest, see Contests Week: Friday Challenge.

Just to remind you, the results of all the Contests Week challenges will be announced next week, with Monday's winner announced on Monday 16 March, and the winner of today's contest on Friday 20 March.

Good luck in today's challenge. Whether or not you are one of our winners, I do hope you have enjoyed Contests Week, and that you will continue to return regularly to Mywriterscircle.com!

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Contests Week: Thursday Challenge

All this week from Monday to Friday it's CONTESTS WEEK! on Mywriterscircle.com

Every day we're posting a quick-fire 24-hour writing challenge, with great prizes of software for writers donated by our sponsors (and my publishers) WCCL.

The Thursday Challenge is now open. This time we're asking you to write a short travel article describing your best-ever or worst-ever vacation!

The prize for the winner of this challenge will be a copy of WCCL's Travel Writing Secrets. This is a complete guide for any writer who enjoys travelling and wants to make money writing about it.

For full details of this exciting contest, see Contests Week: Thursday Challenge.

By the way, following the huge response to our first two challenges, we have had to delay announcing the results slightly, to allow more time for the judges to discuss the entries and vote on them. All results will now be announced next week, with Monday's winner announced on Monday 16 March, and so on.

Good luck in today's challenge, and watch out for the biggest prize of the week in Friday's final contest - all brought to you by courtesy of our sponsors WCCL, in association with the world's favorite writers' forum!

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Contests Week: Wednesday Challenge

All this week from Monday to Friday it's CONTESTS WEEK! on Mywriterscircle.com

Every day we're posting a quick-fire 24-hour writing challenge, with great prizes of software for writers donated by our sponsors (and my publishers) WCCL.

Tuesday's challenge is now closed. I'm pleased to say we received a huge response to our haiku contest, so please bear with us while we judge the winner. This will be announced on the forum, and we will also publish all the other entries, so you can see whether you agree with our decision or not!

In the meantime, Wednesday's Challenge is now open. This time we're asking you to put on your copywriter's hat and write a radio commercial for Mywriterscircle.com.

The prize for the winner of this challenge will be a copy of WCCL's market-leading guide The Ultimate Copywriter. This is written for any writer who wants to break in to the exciting and well-paid world of advertising copywriting.

For full details of this contest, see Contests Week: Wednesday Challenge. And watch out for more writing challenges with great prizes every day this week on the world's favorite writers' forum!

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Contests Week: Tuesday Challenge Now Posted!

All this week from Monday to Friday it's CONTESTS WEEK! on Mywriterscircle.com

Every day we're posting a quick-fire 24-hour writing challenge, with great prizes of software for writers donated by our sponsors (and my publishers) WCCL.

Monday's challenge is now closed. I'm pleased to say we received a huge response to our Flash Fiction contest, so please bear with us while we judge the winner. This will be announced as soon as possible, and we will also publish all the other entries, so you can see whether you agree with our decision or not!

In the meantime, Tuesday's Challenge is now open. This time we're asking you to write a haiku - a form of syllabic poetry - incorporating two out of three particular words set out in the contest rules.

The prize for the winner of this challenge will be a copy of WCCL's amazing Writer's Block CD, which is intended not only to help writers overcome writer's block but also to boost their creativity.

For full details of this contest, see Contests Week: Tuesday Challenge. And watch out for more writing challenges with great prizes every day this week on the world's favorite writers' forum!

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Contests Week: First Challenge Now Posted!

All this week from Monday to Friday it's CONTESTS WEEK on Mywriterscircle.com!

Every day we're posting a quick-fire 24-hour writing challenge, with great prizes of software for writers donated by our sponsors (and my publishers) WCCL.

I'm excited to reveal that the first challenge is now open. We're asking you to write a short story of 100 words exactly incorporating three particular words set out in the contest rules.

The prize for the winner of this challenge will be a copy of Novel in a Month, WCCL's block-busting tutorial that guides you through planning, writing and editing a novel in just four weeks.

For full details of this contest, see Contests Week: Monday Challenge. And watch out for more writing challenges with great prizes every day this week on the world's favorite writers' forum!

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

TwitterTitters Now Out!

Last month in this blog post I mentioned a new anthology called TwitterTitters that was being compiled by my near-neighbour Linda Jones and her fellow journalist Louise Bolotin.

The anthology was to be organized and publicized via the micro-blogging service Twitter (hence the name, of course). It was to be self-published on Lulu.com, with all profits going to the British charity Comic Relief.

Well, I'm delighted to say that the project was a big success, with over 70 stories, poems, blog posts and more submitted for consideration. In an amazingly short time the entries were whittled down to the 13 chosen. The book was designed, edited and published, and beside me I have my very own copy, which I bought from the Lulu sales page just three days ago.

So what are my impressions? First off, I was a bit surprised by the size of the printed version (you can also order it as an e-book if you like). It's actually A4 size, so don't expect to carry it about easily in your pocket or handbag. The typeface is large and well spaced out. I quite like this, actually, as it means it's easy to read in dim light or when drunk ;-)

Of course, the main thing is the quality of the writing, and that's one thing that really has impressed me. I've not read all of TwitterTitters yet - I only got my copy yesterday - but I've very much enjoyed all the pieces I've read so far. There was an upper limit of 1400 words, which means that they can all be read in ten minutes or less - perfect for a short bus ride or whatever.

One contribution I particularly enjoyed from those I've read so far is The Creature Between Us by Cally Taylor. This story - about Gordon and Mary, and a frog who is actually Gordon's mid-life crisis - made me laugh out loud, and I loved the clever twist at the end.

Considering the breakneck speed with which TwitterTitters has been produced - to be ready for Red Nose Day on 13th March 2009 - the production quality is excellent, and the very occasional typo doesn't in the least detract from the pleasure of reading it.

Buy TwitterTitters today for a good laugh, and at the same time support a wide range of good causes in the UK and Africa!

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Friday, March 06, 2009

Review: How to Start and Run Your Own Home-based Business

How to Start and Run Your Own Home-based Business is a brand new, printed book by my colleague Matthew Thomas. I was fortunate enough to receive an early review copy.

How to Start and Run Your Own Home-based Business is an attractively produced 235-page trade paperback. It takes you step-by-step through setting up a home business, beginning from assessing whether you are suited to this and choosing a business idea. Plenty of self-assessment exercises are provided to help with these matters.

The book goes on to cover the practicalities of setting up and running your business. It covers most of the areas any aspiring home-based entrepreneur will need to know about, including market research, planning permission, raising finance, marketing, book-keeping, Income Tax and VAT, insurance, and so on. There is even a chapter on deciding whether to expand and the pros and cons of employing others.

I also enjoyed the long chapter near the end, where Matthew sets out 50 home-based business profiles, giving brief details of what each entails and resources for further information and/or training. If you're not sure what business to start, this chapter could be a good source of inspiration.

The profiles include such occupations as freelance writing, proofreading and indexing, but also non-office-based jobs such as gardening, house-sitting and car valeting. Matthew explains that by the term 'home-based business' in the title, he includes jobs where you are based at home but do some or all of the work on your customers' premises.

How to Start and Run Your Own Home-based Business is aimed primarily at people in the UK, so the resources and contacts given are nearly all British, and the information on tax, National Insurance and so on also refers to the UK system. I can't really recommend this book for non-UK residents, therefore; but if you are in Britain and thinking of going down this route, in my view it would be an ideal guide.

The ISBN of How to Start and Run Your Own Home-based Business is 978-0-9561091-0-1 and it is published by W & H Publishing. The cover price is 12.99 UKP, but you can order at a discount from Amazon.co.uk, either by clicking on this link or on the image link below. Note that you will need to visit my blog to see the image link.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Contests Week on Mywriterscircle.com!

Just wanted to let you know that from Monday 9 March to Friday 13 March, it's Contests Week at MyWritersCircle.com!

Every day, thanks to the generosity of our sponsors WCCL, we'll be giving away courses and products from their great range for writers, in a series of 24-hour writing challenges. For more info about WCCL's writing software, please visit WriteStreet.com.

At 9 am GMT every day during Contests Week I will post a new challenge on MWC's Writing Games & Challenges board. This will also mark the closing time for the previous challenge.

The challenges will all be quite short. You will need to submit your entry by PM (personal message) to one designated moderator, whose name will be shown in the challenge details. They will then forward all entries anonymously to the other mods, who will vote to decide the winner. We have chosen this method to allow the contests to be judged anonymously.

Of course, this does mean that you will need to be a member of Mywriterscircle.com to enter the contests, but joining is very easy (and free) - just click on the Register tab near the top of the MWC homepage and follow the on-screen instructions.

Although we are keeping the exact details of the contests a surprise, I can reveal that we are giving away the following WCCL products as prizes during the week (though not necessarily in this order):

* Movie in a Month
* Writer's Block CD
* Novel in a Month
* The Ultimate Copywriter
* Travel Writing Secrets

For more details of any of these products, just click on the name in the list above. The sales page will then open in a separate window. The contests will be themed so they are at least vaguely relevant to the prize on offer!

For further info and updates, please see this read-only forum topic.

I do hope you will join in with at least some of the daily challenges. I'd also appreciate any help you can provide in spreading word of Contests Week to the widest possible audience, via e-mail, blog posts, Twitter, social networking sites, and so on.

Here's to an exciting week of contests!

Photo Credit: www.theedinburghblog.co.uk on Flickr

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Precision Matters!

This is National Words Matter Week, so I thought I would take up the challenge set down by the organisers to write a blog post inspired by this subject.

And yes, as a writer and writing teacher I know that words matter very much. That is why it is so important to choose them with care and precision.

Many beginning writers fail to understand this, and their work lacks punch as a result. A common mistake is to shore up a vague choice of words with adjectives or adverbs.

Thus, rather than scour his brain for the precise, correct noun such as cypresses, the novice writer settles for 'tall trees'. Rather than write 'She strode' or 'She marched', he writes the first, vaguely relevant line that comes to mind: 'She walked quickly.'

New writers are often inclined to over-use adjectives and adverbs, but the best writers use them sparingly; indeed, the author D.H. Lawrence once said, 'I would compel a young writer to put down 500 words without using a single adjective.' The reason for this is that, all too frequently, adjectives are used to shore up a weak, vague choice of nouns (and the same applies with adverbs and verbs).

Words matter. Vague words create blurry images in the minds of readers. By contrast, a precise choice of words brings a scene into sharp and vivid focus. Poets know this better than anyone, of course. Here is the poet Dylan Thomas, writing in prose on this occasion, describing A Child's Christmas in Wales...

It was on the afternoon of the Christmas Eve, and I was in Mrs. Prothero's garden, waiting for cats, with her son Jim. It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. December, in my memory, is white as Lapland, though there were no reindeers. But there were cats. Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats. Sleek and long as jaguars and horrible-whiskered, spitting and snarling, they would slink and sidle over the white back-garden walls, and the lynx-eyed hunters, Jim and I, fur-capped and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off Mumbles Road, would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of their eyes. The wise cats never appeared.

I defy you to find a single woolly word in that paragraph, or any of the rest of this charming piece.

Aim to emulate Dylan Thomas and find the right, precise words for every occasion, and I guarantee that your own writing will spring to life for your readers as well!

* National Words Matter Week is an annual, national observance sponsored by the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors to highlight the value of words in communication. This year it runs from March 2nd to 6th. Visit the National Words Matter Week website to download the free NWMW Yearbook and teleminars with top writers, plus find out how YOU can get involved.

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

WCCL Week: Self-Publishing Secrets


All this week I've been spotlighting a range of great products for writers from my sponsors (and publishers) The WCCL Network.

Today is the final day of WCCL Week, and for my last item I'm featuring a personal favorite from WCCL's range, Self-Publishing Secrets.

Self-Publishing Secrets is written by the prolific UK author Carol Ann Strange, who also happens to be a former colleague from my days as a freelance tutor for The Writers Bureau.

Self-Publishing Secrets is an instant download (no waiting for a CD to arrive in the post!). The main manual (there are also various bonuses) is arranged in nine chapters: Introduction, Welcome to Self Publishing, Preparing Your Book for Publication, Going Into Print, Handling Your Book's Sales and Distribution, How to Market Your Book Successfully, Using the Power of the Web to Promote Your Book, How to Increase Your Self Publishing Profits, and Resources.

Self-Publishing Secrets makes a persuasive case for self-publishing as an alternative to seeking out a conventional publisher. It is particularly strong in the advice it offers about promoting and marketing your book. The manual is packed with ideas for getting publicity and sales, and really does fire you up with enthusiasm for getting your book out there and embarking on your first publicity tour!

You can read my full review by clicking on Self-Publishing Secrets Review.

And if you scroll down the review, you will see that I am making my own very special offer on this product when you buy via my blog. You get my own mini-guide to publishing an e-book at the self-publishing site Lulu.com - and you also get a copy of my e-book Fifty Great Ideas for Creative Writing Teaching (co-written with Simon Pitt), as actually published on Lulu. Please read the instructions carefully to discover how to claim these extra free gifts from me personally.

I firmly believe that, in these recessionary times, self-publishing represents the best way forward for many authors today. Self-Publishing Secrets will show you everything you need to know to get started in this exciting field.

This post is the last of WCCL Week, but I would just like to remind you again that you can see all of WCCL's writing products, including some I haven't had room to feature this week, on their writing portal at WriteStreet.com.

Enjoy your writing, and watch out for some very special promotions on WCCL products on my blog and forum soon!

Photo credit: singsing_sky on Flickr

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