Nick Daw's Writing Blog - Inside the writing world of Nick Daws
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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Two Opportunities to Nominate Your Favorite Writing Blogs

It seems to be the season for 'best writing blog' awards at the moment. There are at least two such high-profile contests running right now.

The first is the annual Top 10 Blogs for Writers contest on Michael Stelzner's Writing White Papers blog.

It's the fourth year this well-respected contest has been held. Anyone is welcome to nominate their favorite writing blog (one only) by commenting on the relevant post. Nominations close on 11 September 2009.

The other is the Editor Unleashed Top 25 Writing Blogs contest on Maria Schneider's Editor Unleashed blog. In this one you can nominate any number of blogs (including your own) in any of five categories: Fiction Writing, Freelance Writing, Creativity, Marketing and Social Media, and Publishing Trends.

Nominations for this contest close a little sooner, on 1 September 2009. The top nominations will then be posted on the blog, and readers will be invited to vote for seven days to determine the top five sites in each category.

Obviously, I'd be honored if anyone would like to nominate my own blog in either contest; but my main reason for mentioning them here is because of the great resources you can discover just by reading the nominations. I've added quite a few blogs from both these contests to my feed reader already. To me this is really more valuable than finding out what the 'winning' blogs are. Though clearly, winning either of these contests will be a considerable feather in the caps of the bloggers concerned!

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Review: How to Write a Children's Book in 14 Days

How to Write a Children's Book in 14 Days is the latest in WCCL's range of products and courses for writers, which also includes my courses Essential English for Authors, Write Any Book in Under 28 Days and The Wealthy Writer.

How to Write a Children's Book in 14 Days is written by successful children's author Mel McIntyre. It's provided as an instant download in the universal PDF format, and is therefore suitable for all computing platforms: Microsoft Windows, Macintosh and Linux. The main manual and bonuses are all password-protected (you'll find the password in the email you receive when ordering), but this is only a minor inconvenience.

Like all WCCL products, How to Write a Children's Book in 14 Days is beautifully produced, and it has obviously been professionally written and edited. The main manual weighs in at a substantial 178 pages.

The manual provides a practical, step-by-step guide to devising, planning and writing a children's book in the shortest possible time. It's divided into three main sections.

Section 1 (Day 1 to Day 5) takes you through planning your book. Its sub-title is The MAGIC Formula. Regular WCCL customers won't be surprised to discover that MAGIC here is an acronym. In this case it stands for Message, Audience, Genre, Imagination, Chapters & Verses.

Under each of these headings, Mel discusses the requirements for a successful modern children's book. The approach is hands-on throughout; for example, in the section about Message the student is required to complete a form summarizing the 'message' his or her book will communicate to readers.

Section 2 (Day 6 to Day 11) is where you get down to the nitty-gritty of writing your children's book. Its sub-title is Building BLOCKS, and yep, once again, BLOCKS is an acronym. B stands for Bang-On Beginnings - the rest I'll let you discover for yourself!

Section 3 (Day 11 to to Day 14) covers proofreading and editing your book. It's called Putting it to Bed (and no, for once bed isn't an acronym). There is also a short fourth section, which discusses getting feedback on your draft book and giving it a final polish.

Everything is clearly explained, with diagrams used where appropriate. There are also plenty of examples from successful, published children's books to illustrate the points made.

In addition to the main manual, there are also various bonuses. Perhaps the most useful is A Pocketful of Publishing. This discusses how to market your children's book (a topic not really touched on in the main manual). It includes details of publishers and agents who are currently looking for children's books. Self publishing is also covered, along with useful resources for those who want to try going down this route.

The other bonuses include a list of the author's top 50 recommended children's books that any aspiring children's author today should read. This is a mixture of acknowledged classics such as Alice in Wonderland, through to more modern books with which you may not be familiar unless you are a parent yourself!

Finally, the course includes an in-depth interview with the author himself, conducted by his wife.

Overall, I was very impressed with How to Write a Children's Book in 14 Days. If you want to write a saleable children's book, there is no doubt in my mind that this course will help you to achieve this.

Do I have any criticisms? Only perhaps that the recommended approach, with its heavy emphasis on planning and outlining, might not suit everybody. If you are the sort of writer who prefers to trust to inspiration and 'go with the flow', you might find it a little restrictive.

On the other hand, if you want a realistic, practical, step-by-step guide for creating your first children's book, How to Write a Children's Book in 14 Days would probably be ideal for you.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"Call Yourself a Writer?" Meme

I was recently tagged on this meme by Linda Jones of Passionate Media on her You've Got Your Hands Full blog.

In her post, Linda asked and then answered a number of questions about her own writing. She then tagged several other writers, including me, to answer the questions as well. So, without further ado, here are my responses...

1. Which words do you use too much in your writing?

However, therefore, great

2. Which words do you consider overused in stuff you read?

Neat, suddenly, cool

3. What's your favourite piece of writing by you?

Possibly my novella The Festival on Lyris Five, recently published by my friends at Salvatore Publishing. This is a humorous (I hope) science fiction story I wrote a few years ago, when I had a bit more time for fiction. I had a blast writing it, and I hope readers will share some of that enjoyment now. The book also has some wonderful illustrations by Louise Tolentino. You can buy it in printed form or as an instant download.

4. What are your other favorite blogs?

There are some wonderful writing blogs out there. Here are just a few I keep coming back to:

The Creative Penn
Fuel Your Writing
Nail Your Novel
Copyblogger

There are also a number of non-writing-related blogs I'm a fan of. Two of the best are Mashable (for all the latest news about Web 2.0) and MakeUseOf (for an endless stream of software advice, free tutorials, website recommendations, and more).

And finally, if you're a blogger yourself, Darren Rowse's ProBlogger blog is a must-read, along with his TwiTip blog for Twitter users.

5. Regrets, do you have a few? Is there anything you wish you hadn't written?

There are a few things over the years I've written that I haven't been paid for, so clearly I regret those!

I also rather regret trying to correct some criticisms of me and my publishers, WCCL, that had been published a while ago on another writer's blog. I rather naively thought I could put the record straight, and that would be that. Instead, it proved to be the online equivalent of stirring up a hornets' nest. Nowadays I follow the wise precept, Don't Feed the Trolls!

6. How has your writing made a difference? What do you consider your most important piece of writing?

A lot of my writing consists of courses and other instructional materials. I like to think I've helped a lot of people to get started as writers, and in other small businesses too. Certainly, the huge number of messages I receive from students of my courses telling me about their successes is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work.

Possibly my most important/influential piece of writing has been Write Any Book in Under 28 Days, my original and best-selling course for WCCL. I've lost count of the number of buyers of this course who have written telling me about the books they have written as a result of following my advice, in some cases sending copies of the books as well. I am truly humbled by some of the stories they tell me (such as this one, for example).

7. Name three favourite words

Opportunity, commission, holiday

8. ...And three words you're not so keen on

Deadline, scam, refer to drawer

9. Do you have a writing mentor, role model or inspiration?

Two writers I admire hugely are Dean Koontz and Stephen King. Both are prolific to an extent I could never dream of, and both write consistently to an extremely high standard (I'm really enjoying King's Duma Key at the moment). Because they both write genre fiction they do not receive the critical recognition they deserve, but I'm quite sure in future they will be regarded as the Charles Dickens's of their time.

10. What's your writing ambition?

I'd like to have more time to write fiction, and especially to work on a novel I've had in the back of my mind for ages now.

I'd also love to be asked to write a novelization for a movie, stage show or TV series. If any producers out there are reading this, I'm your man!

11. Plug alert! List any work you would like to tell your readers about.

I've already mentioned The Festival on Lyris Five and Write Any Book in Under 28 Days.

In addition, I'd like to mention in particular The Wealthy Writer, my latest downloadable writing guide to be published by WCCL. The Wealthy Writer was co-written with Ruth Barringham, and it covers a huge range of ways writers can make money by applying their skills on the Internet. I've already had some amazing feedback on this course, and anyone buying it via my website can get some unique extra bonuses from me as well.

And, if I can mention a website as well, please do check out my forum at www.mywriterscircle.com. It's a free, open-access forum with around 8,000 members from all over the world. It's a great place for getting feedback and support from your fellow writers, asking (and answering) questions, finding market information, and so on.

So that's me, then. In accordance with Linda's rules (see below), here are the names of four other writer/bloggers I would like to tag:

Coffee With Kate
Kristin Callender
Karl Moore
Joanna Penn

Obviously, there is no obligation on anyone to do this, but I've found it a very interesting experience myself, and would love to see other people's responses too. And, of course, anyone with a blog is more than welcome to take part in the meme - you don't have to be tagged first!

The Rules

If you have time to do this meme, then please link to my post here, then link to three to five other bloggers and pass it on, asking them to answer your questions and link back to you. You can add, remove or change one question as you go (as I did with Question 4 - feel free to revert to Linda's original if you like). You absolutely do not have to be what you may think of as a "published" or "successful" writer to respond to this meme.

Have fun, and I look forward to reading more responses!

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Monday, August 17, 2009

And the Winner Is...


Yes, it's time to reveal the winner of my contest to win a copy of my illustrated science-fiction novella, The Festival on Lyris Five.

There were six entries in the contest, so I asked my partner, Jayne, to pick a number between 1 and 6 (without telling her what it was for). She picked number 4, so I'm pleased to reveal that the winner of a signed copy is entrant number 4, Coffeewithkate. Congratulations, Kate!

I originally advertised that two runners-up would receive PDF versions of the novella. In a contest with only six entries, however, it seems a shame to have any losers, so I've decided to donate a copy of the PDF to everyone who entered. Please write to me with your email address using the Contact Me link on my blog, and I'll send you download instructions.

The competition asked people to name their favorite SF or fantasy books and state their reasons in 50 words or fewer. I've reproduced all the entries below, in case anyone else who enjoys SFF is looking for some more reading ideas...

Brittany
Airman, by Eoin Colfer
A picture-perfect life, dashed by lies. The 14-year-old in the center of this story flies--literally-- through a tumult of treachery, anger, abuse, and hatred on his way to justice and his dream--learning to fly.

Jesse
West of Eden by Harry Harrison
An alternate-history work built around a world in which dinosaurs and humans both evolved into intelligent species. Two extremely different civilizations are brought together in a story full of excitement, intrigue, and conflict.

igotrythmn
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson
Oldie but a goodie, two worlds, alter ego, escaping reality, characters out of this world, stories build, crescend, time travel, ethereal existence, is it real or is it not kind of stuff. Three more books are being written before the end.

Coffeewithkate
Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy- Douglas Adams
An ordinary man thrown into a world of Paranoid Androids, Pangalactic Gargleblasters and deadly Vogon Poetry.
Join Arthur Dent and his quest to discover the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything in this classic sci-fi romp.
Pyjamas optional.

Rosco Fraser
Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers
I have honestly never laughed so much from reading a book in my life. I loved the TV show but the book was so much better, my favourite bit is the hopper ride, comic genius and a definite must read.

Carrie Sheppard
Dragon's Egg: Theodore Sturgeon
This book was written decades ago and yet it is one of the most forward thinking books I have ever read. He challenges our very perceptions of physics and reality and offers a great story too. These old SF writers gave us 90% of our current technology lingo - if you've never read this book, or any work by TS, then remedy it!

Thanks to everyone who entered the contest. I've read Hitch-Hiker's Guide (I'm tempted to add 'of course'!) but rather surprisingly none of the others. I have read some of Harry Harrison's other books, and especially recommend The Technicolor Time Machine if you can find a copy - it's Harrison at his hilarious best. The other books and authors listed above I will have to check out soon.

Happy reading!

Photo Credit: Rufus Gefangenen on Flickr

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Visit Nadine's Blog Party!

Former MWC moderator and successful author Nadine Laman is holding a Blog Party to celebrate the 100th post on her blog - and everybody is invited!

Nadine is running a series of contests and giving away signed copies of books donated by various authors (including yours truly). On her blog, she provides the following explanation of how the 'Blog Party' came to be...

...I thought I'd give away free books. Then I realized everyone might not want one of my books - they might already have all three. So I decided the winners could choose from one of my books or I would buy them an autographed book from a short list of authors I know. How's that sound?

I emailed these authors and ask if they were able to send an autographed book, if I bought one. (Meaning it did not come direct from a third party.) The amazing thing that followed was a sudden flood of emails from the authors not only saying, yes they could get a signed book out if I bought one, they have donated the book! I kid you not! Is that a fantastic group of writers/friends or what?

Above all, Nadine's Blog Party is intended to be fun for all involved - there's no money required, and nothing to sign up for. Just turn up each day and take part in the daily contest, then wait and see if you're a winner. Via Nadine's blog, you can also chat with other party-goers, including the featured authors.

I'll be giving away a copy of my new novella, The Festival on Lyris Five. I'm due to be featured on Monday 31 August, so make a note to visit on that day especially :-D

See you at Nadine's Blog Party!

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Amazon Tagging: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I've written about tagging on Amazon a few times on this blog. Here's a link to my original post which explains what it is and how authors with books for sale on Amazon can benefit from it.

To recap briefly, Amazon now allows anyone who has ever bought a product at the store in question to apply 'tags' to any book on sale there. Potential buyers can click on the tags associated with a book to see a list of other titles which have had the same tag applied (and which presumably they might therefore be interested in as well).

Tagging may also be used by Amazon to inform their 'You might also like...' recommendations, and so forth. All this makes it potentially a very powerful promotional tool.

In recent weeks I've been paying much more attention to tagging on Amazon - not only of my own books, but those of other writers as well. It strikes me that the system is poorly understood, and also sadly under-utilized by authors and publishers. It is also, unfortunately, open to abuse.

In my travels across the Amazon (LOL) I've seen plenty of examples of bad and even ugly use of tagging. Let's start with an example of the latter. Here are the tags for Dead and Alive, Book 3 in Dean Koontz's Modern Frankenstein series...

As you can see, these tags appear to have been applied by one disgruntled reader who has taken the opportunity to protest at what he considers an unreasonable delay in releasing the book. (In fact, if you read the reviews, you will see that Dean and his publishers had a very good reason for delaying this New Orleans-set title.)

I call this ugly tagging, because it is simply one person (ab)using the system to make derogatory comments. It's very easy to see how this sort of thing could get out of hand. Amazon might then have to introduce an approval system before any tags are applied (or, more likely, scrap the system altogether).

Fortunately 'ugly' tagging isn't too widespread, but there are lots of examples of 'bad' or pointless tagging. Here are the tags of a randomly chosen example from Amazon.co.uk, The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger...

Among the tags applied to this best-selling novel, you will see book, books, drama, fiction and other terms which are so vague that they are unlikely to be any help at all in telling people whether they might like the book in question. Some of the other tags, such as overrated, probably fall into the 'ugly' category.

What seems clear is that many people are confused by tagging and its purpose. Only a relatively small number of people apply tags, and an even more minuscule number do it in a worthwhile, sensible way. Paradoxically, however, this makes it a particularly powerful tool for authors and publishers, due to the general lack of competition. (Personally I see no objection to authors and publishers tagging their books, as done properly it helps readers understand the content of the book and whether or not it would appeal to them.)

So what tags should you apply to your book to help boost its sales? First and foremost, they should be specifically relevant to the book. If your novel is set in the sixties, for example, '1960s' could be a good, specific tag to apply. Your book will then appear any time someone clicks on the '1960s' tag on the pages of any other books which also have this tag. If a reader is interested in another book set in the sixties, there must be a good chance that yours will appeal to them as well.

To create such a benefit, your tags should of course be shared by other, related titles. Producing unique tags will not generate any immediate benefits for you, although it might do if people apply the tag to other books subsequently.

Ideally, of course, what you want is for your book to be linked to other, top-selling titles whose Amazon pages attract a lot of visitors. Tagging gives you an effective (and legitimate) way to achieve this, albeit at one step removed. Give your book some of the same tags to a best-selling one, and as long as the tags are specific enough to sound interesting, you will get a proportion of readers clicking on them to see related titles. Hey presto! Your own book will then appear.

Suppose that none of the tags currently on the book page you want to attract potential buyers from is relevant to your book, though? No problem! Just apply an appropriate tag to both your book and the top-selling title. Because of the small number of tags which have been applied so far, this technique currently works well even with best-sellers.

Finally, if you want to get multiple tags for your books, you could do a lot worse than join the co-operative tagging service called Tag My Book on Amazon. Members of TMBOA tag one another's books to help boost their positions (the more times a particular tag is used on a book, the higher up the list it is displayed for that tag). The TMBOA website has separate pages for Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. See also my earlier blog post about this site.

Good luck, and happy tagging!

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