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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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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Review: Additional Streams of Income for Writers

Additional Streams of Income for Writers is a new downloadable guide for writers by Ireland-based Amanda Evans, the author of Ghostwriting Uncovered.

Amanda interviewed me as part of the research she undertook for her new guide, and she was kind enough to send a review copy once it was published.

Additional Streams of Income for Writers is an 87-page e-book in the customary PDF format. Amanda has written it from the perspective that in these uncertain times authors need a range of income sources in addition to money generated directly by their writing.

Additional Streams of Income for Writers covers four potential income streams, all Internet-based. They are Google AdSense, paid blogging, paid content websites, and paid advertising. As Amanda says, for most of these you will need your own blog or website. The exception is paid content sites (e.g. Helium), where you simply upload your work to the site in question and collect a share of any advertising revenues generated.

Amanda has enjoyed success with all of these, especially paid content sites (she claims to have made $400 a month from Helium alone). She shares her experience of what works and what doesn't in a style that is easy to understand and assimilate (the odd typo aside!). Screenshots are used where appropriate to clarify points, but not excessively.

Although as an experienced online writer I was familiar with much of the guide's content, Additional Streams of Income for Writers opened my eyes to several additional earning possibilities. I was particularly interested to read the section about paid advertising networks. Although I've sold some advertising space on my websites directly, I've never properly investigated the services that match up web publishers with would-be advertisers. Based on Amanda's advice, I definitely plan to look into this in more detail in future.

Additional Streams of Income for Writers concludes with the thoughts of nine freelance writers (myself included) about multiple streams of income. It's fascinating to compare their replies and discover their attitudes towards paid blogging, content sites, and so on. I've also discovered writers listed in this section whose blogs and Twitter streams I'll be following in future.

In summary, if you're a writer looking to diversify your income online, Additional Streams of Income for Writers is well worth the small investment (it's currently selling at a special launch price of just $12). None of the methods mentioned is likely to make you a fortune, but they could certainly generate a very handy sideline income.

Whether or not you decide to buy Additional Streams of Income for Writers, I also recommend checking out Amanda's blog and following her on Twitter.

* See also my course The Wealthy Writer for a broad range of methods for making money online from your writing skills!

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Review: Box of Tricks by Jeff Phelps

I've mentioned Box of Tricks, the new novel written by Jeff Phelps and published by Tindal Street Press, a few times on Twitter, Facebook, and so on recently.

Well, I've just finished reading it and uploaded my review to I thoroughly enjoyed the book, so I thought I'd share my impressions with you here as well. Here's a slightly adapted version of my Amazon review...

Box of Tricks is difficult to categorize. It's part comedy, part nostalgia, part coming-of-age novel. But it also explores some deeper themes of freedom and responsibility, especially towards one's family.

The setting of the book - a British seaside town in the early 1960s - reflects a time when society was changing rapidly. Two of the younger characters - teenage tearaway Ray and aspiring model Julia - are enthusiastically embracing the new freedoms. The narrator, the slightly younger Eddie, finds himself torn between the old and the new.

Box of Tricks is beautifully written, in fluid, evocative prose. Yet though it is undoubtedly a literary novel, the author also weaves a deftly constructed plot, with some surprising twists and turns. Many of these centre on the eponymous back-street joke shop, which plays a pivotal role in the story.

Box of Tricks starts off slowly, then picks up pace as the key characters find their lives changing forever. The novel moves towards a conclusion that is touching without being over-sentimental. It answers enough questions to leave readers satisfied, yet enough unsaid to resonate long after the book has been put down.

Overall, Box of Tricks gets my highest recommendation as an intelligent, thought-provoking, but above all hugely enjoyable read.

Obviously, I may be just a little biased as Jeff is an old friend of mine, but I do read a lot of fiction, and this is one of the books I have most enjoyed for a long time. I've always known that Jeff is a highly talented writer, and it's great to see his work at last achieving the recognition it deserves. If you'd like to know more about Box of Tricks, here is an image link to the book's page on

If you are receiving this post by email, you may need to visit my blog to see the image link.

Incidentally, Jeff was interviewed a while ago on WritersFM about his first novel, Painter Man. He is a thoughtful and engaging interviewee, and I recommend downloading the interview from the WritersFM podcasts page and giving it a listen. Jeff has a demanding full-time job as an architect, and it's particularly interesting to hear him discuss how he manages to find time for writing in his busy schedule.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Review: The $365K Blog Traffic Formula

I recently received a review copy of The $365K Blog Traffic Formula by Pawan Agrawal.

The $365K Blog Traffic Formula is a PDF manual which aims to show you how to attract 365,000 visitors to your blog in the coming year. The $365,000 earnings figure is based on the average potential value of each visitor being $1 (this might perhaps be slightly optimistic in the case of a writing blog!).

The manual comprises in-depth interviews with seven highly successful bloggers (there is also a fast-action bonus report with two more). The bloggers revealing their secrets are Chris Garrett, Daniel Scocco, Darren Rowse, Jack Humphrey, Jason Katzenback, Matt Garrett, Yaro Starek, and in the bonus report J.D. Roth and Tom Kuhlmann. Chances are, if you know anything at all about blogging, you'll recognise at least some of these names.

All of the bloggers are asked pretty much the same questions. They include:

* If you have to bring instant visitors to your blog in the next 30 minutes, what steps will you follow?

* Most bloggers like to get passive traffic... What are the one time actions we can do which will keep on bringing traffic without any effort after that?

* What's your most effective traffic generating strategy which works every time for you and gives the best return in terms of traffic regarding to your time spent?

* What are your top 3 traffic sources and how exactly do you attract traffic from each of those sources?

* Let's say you lose your name, contacts and everything. You have to start from scratch as a "nobody". What will you do then for the next 30 days so that your blog will start getting 1000 unique visitors each and every day?

Perhaps inevitably, there is some overlap between the bloggers' replies, and some of the advice is a bit predictable, but there are plenty of top-notch ideas and insights as well. I thought the last of the questions listed above, about how to get a blog up to 1000 visitors in 30 days, produced some particularly interesting answers. Matt Garrett, for example, set out a 13-point plan for achieving this goal, with some very clever tactics I may well be adopting myself in future!

The $365K Blog Traffic Formula is well written (a few excusable quirks aside) and neatly presented. Some of the interviews also include good-sized screengrabs to illustrate the points made. (As a side thought, I think one of the best reasons for buying e-books rather than printed books is that screengrabs tend to be far more readable in e-books, and you can even magnify them if you need to.)

There are many hints, tips and strategies here any blogger could put to good use to build traffic to his or her blog, regardless of its subject matter. As most of the contributors point out, however, there is no 'magic bullet' for generating huge numbers of readers overnight. Doing this does require some time and effort, but if you're willing to put these in, The $365K Blog Traffic Formula will give you plenty of powerful traffic-building ideas and strategies to apply.

Incidentally, it struck me that The $365K Blog Traffic Formula would make an ideal companion to Super Affiliate Insights by Codrut Turcanu, which I reviewed in this post recently. Both follow the same approach of interviewing leading figures in the field and publishing their replies. Once you've built up your blog's traffic following the advice in The $365K Blog Traffic Formula, Super Affiliate Insights will show you how to then use affiliate marketing to maximize your income from your visitors!

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Friday, July 03, 2009

VocabGrabber: A Free Tool for Improving Your Writing

I've reviewed a few paid-for writing products recently, so I thought today I'd feature a free service.

VocabGrabber is a web-based tool for writers and editors. It aims to help you identify words that are over-used in a piece of text and suggests possible alternatives for them.

VocabGrabber is free to use, although it also links to ThinkMap Visual Thesaurus, which is a paid-for service. Using it is simplicity itself. Just copy and paste your text for analysis (up to a hefty 200,000 characters) into the box and click on Grab Vocabulary.

Almost immediately, the text will be analysed and a 'tag cloud' will be displayed, with the words found most often displayed largest. Here's an example using my recent blog review of the PerfectIt proofreading software.

You can change the display to a list if you prefer by clicking on the 'List View' icon on the left of the VocabGrabber screen. This will produce a list of all 'Relevant' words found in the document, along with the number of times they are found. ('Relevant' words are words less commonly used in English that are likely to be of particular relevance to that document, excluding common words like 'and' or 'then'.)

The list shows the number of times each word is repeated. Highlighting any word ('software' in the example) will bring up a dictionary definition, a diagram showing words of similar meaning, and copies of usages from the text itself. If you click on any item in the list, it will take you to a more detailed page showing related words from the ThinkMap Visual Thesaurus. As mentioned, the latter service is not free, but you do get a few free trials to see how it works.

As the screengrab above shows, VocabGrabber found a lot of uses of the words 'document' (11) and 'software' (8). There isn't really much alternative to 'document' in the post concerned, but if I was editing it now, I might try to use another word in place of some of those 'software' usages ('program', for example).

Overall, VocabGrabber offers a handy service for writers and editors. It's useful for identifying any words that may be over-used in a document (making it read poorly and look amateurish). The alternate suggestions from the free service are a bit limited, so if you find the site helpful you might perhaps want to consider subscribing to the companion Visual Thesaurus service (which is reasonably priced at $19.95 a year for the online version).

Even if you don't want to part with any money, however, VocabGrabber is worth a place on your Favorites list as a quick tool for checking you're not over-using certain words and expressions without realising it.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Review: PerfectIt Proofreading Software

This week I've been checking out PerfectIt, a dedicated proofreading application produced by London-based Intelligent Editing Limited.

Like myWriterTools, which I reviewed in this recent post, PerfectIt operates as an add-in for Microsoft Word.

It works with Word 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2007. In versions of Word prior to 2007, PerfectIt is listed in the Tools menu. In Word 2007 (which I use) you click on the Add-Ins tab at the end of the Ribbon, then click on PerfectIt to run the software.

So what exactly does PerfectIt do? Essentially, it checks that any Word document is internally consistent. For example, it ensures that if you have spelt a word in one way in a document, you haven't spelt it differently somewhere else. PerfectIt runs a series of tests on your document and highlights any possible errors it finds. You can then allow the software to 'fix' these errors, or ignore them and move on to the next.

The screenshot below shows an example of the software in action. In my test document, it has found the phrase 'after school' used without a hyphen once and with one twice.

In this case, my usage was actually correct. The hyphen was required where the phrase after-school was being used adjectivally in front of the noun (an after-school club), but not where it was used adverbially (bored after school). As you can see, PerfectIt appreciates that this could happen and has included a note at the bottom of the box about it.

If, however, I had wanted to make all my uses 'consistent', I could have chosen the preferred phrase from the list. All exceptions would then be shown below this, and I could correct one at a time by clicking on 'Fix', or change them all by clicking on 'Fix All'.

I found the software easy and intuitive to use, and very fast. On my test documents (mostly modules from courses I've written) it found a few inconsistencies, mainly in my punctuation/capitalization of lists. PerfectIt also revealed that I had spelt 'specialize' with both a 'z' and an 's' in the same document. I'll have to correct these errors the next time the courses concerned are updated!

The software highlights any instances where contractions such as can't or won't have been used, and suggests writing them out in full. I'd accept that this would be preferable with formal documents, but that doesn't really apply to most of my writing. Still, you can skip any tests you don't want the software to run, either temporarily or permanently, using the Change Test menu item.

One other small irritation I found is that if you've written a word such as WILL in all caps for added emphasis, the software assumes that this is an abbreviation and asks you to define it. Again, though, I suppose you wouldn't do this in a formal document.

PerfectIt does NOT (oops - done it again!) check the spelling in your document, except for inconsistencies, and neither does it check for grammatical errors. Of course, Word has its own built-in spelling and grammar checkers, or you can use something like myWriterTools or WhiteSmoke. As mentioned earlier, PerfectIt is really a consistency checker. As such, it will work equally well with UK or US English or any other flavour/flavor.

Overall, I was highly impressed with PerfectIt and will be using it regularly from now on. I think anyone who regularly writes long(ish) documents would benefit from it, and it would also be particularly good for ensuring consistency in documents with multiple authors. Incidentally, companies can also get their own customized version of the software, incorporating their own house-style specifications.

If you think you might benefit from using PerfectIt, you can download a one-month trial of the full program free of charge from the PerfectIt website.

  • Finally, just a quick note of caution. Programs like PerfectIt, myWriterTools and WhiteSmoke can save you time and help you spot mistakes/weaknesses in your writing, but they are NOT a substitute for learning the rules of grammar and punctuation. My downloadable guide Essential English for Authors covers all the common problem areas, and will bring your written English up to a publishable standard in the shortest possible time.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Review: AutoBlogging Decoded

I was fortunate to receive a review copy of Autoblogging Decoded, the popular new guide from successful Internet entrepreneur and blogger Marian Krajcovic.

Autoblogging Decoded is a PDF manual which shows how you can automate the process of updating your blog by importing content via other websites' RSS feeds. There are certain legal and moral issues around this, which I'll discuss later, but if you can live with these, Autoblogging Decoded actually makes the process of setting up an 'autoblog' very quick and easy.

The main manual starts by looking at how you can set up autoblogging on Blogger blogs. As a Blogger user myself, I was pleased to see this free service from Google getting a mention. Blogger is still a very popular blogging platform, although these days many people prefer the greater flexibility of the open source WordPress.

In his manual, Marian starts by explaining how to set up a Blogger blog if you don't have one already. He then reveals how to configure your blog for autoblogging, how to find suitable RSS feeds, and how to set up Blogger to publish these feeds (using another free service that converts RSS feeds to email). It's all very clever, and every step is well illustrated with large, easy-to-read screengrabs. You really don't need any technical expertise to be able to do this. I tried it myself on an old Blogger blog I hadn't updated for over a year, and the method worked perfectly straight away.

The second section of the main manual explains how to adapt this technique using a WordPress blog. Again, this is very clearly set out. In addition, Marian explains how you can set up a WordPress blog to autopublish a series of posts from PLR (private label rights) articles you may have in your possession. This requires other software, not all of which is free, but again it's all very straightforward, and avoids any problems with copyright and so on.

Of course, the reason for doing this is to earn a sideline income, and Marian recommends using AdSense ads for this purpose, as they are very easy to set up (on Blogger blogs especially). I would just add a tip of my own here, which is that if you hope to earn decent sums from Adsense, choose a topic for your blog which is in demand among advertisers, e.g. insurance or credit cards. On no account create a blog about writing ;-)

You could also use other ways to monetize your blog, of course, including ads from relevant affiliate networks (e.g. my publishers, The WCCL Network), ClickBank, and so on.

Along with the main manual you also get a number of bonus manuals, some of them (surprisingly, in my view) unadvertised. These include advanced tips on how, for example, to autoblog YouTube videos or Yahoo Answers. There are also guides to driving more traffic to your blog, another very important requirement for making money from it. A regularly updated blog will automatically attract attention from the search engines, but you need to prime the pump as well, and these guides reveal how to do this.

Finally, with Autoblogging Decoded, you get Auto Blog Feeder, a tool for automatically drip-feeding content such as PLR articles into WordPress blogs. This is sold elsewhere for $47.

I mentioned earlier that there may be some legal or moral issues about using content from RSS feeds to populate your blog, and I need to say a word about this now. The republishing of website content from RSS feeds is a gray area in law, and some publishers take a dim view of it, arguing that their feeds are intended for use in personal feed readers only. This blog post has a useful discussion on the issue. In addition, a blog composed entirely of material taken from other people's sites could be regarded as a form of spamming. A Blogger site found to be doing this could be banned by Google.

My own view is that autoblogging is best used in combination with original posts. In addition, you can edit the autoblogged posts to include your own commentary on them; this is then likely to constitute Fair Use under copyright law. Of course, this will reduce the amount of time and effort you save by autoblogging.

Overall, I thought AutoBlogging Decoded provided very clear and detailed explanations for a range of techniques which I can see would have many possible uses - some more widely acceptable than others. If you are looking for ideas for a money-making sideline, or simply a method to update your blog/s more often, I recommend checking it out. If nothing else, it will open your eyes to what is possible.

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Review: How to Live on Less by Gill Govier

I must start by admitting that I know How to Live on Less very well, as a few months ago I was hired by the publishers to copy edit it.

As a freelance writer/editor, I get to work on all sorts of books, some more interesting than others, but this one definitely fell into the 'very interesting' category.

The full title of Gill's book is How to Live on Less - A Guide to Everyday Budgeting and Self-sufficiency. As she says in her introduction:

How to Live on Less is about taking a new and exciting look at financing our everyday life and the ways in which we can achieve the same, or similar, for less. Just because we want to economise doesn't mean resorting to penny-pinching or drastically reducing our quality of life in order to afford what we want. It's about understanding our spending patterns, learning new habits and taking advantage of a range of smarter, cheaper ways of sourcing, acquiring and using those products we want or desire.

How to Live on Less is definitely not just for the Tom and Barbara Goods of this world (characters in the classic BBC sitcom The Good Life). It's for anyone who wants to save money, become more self-sufficient, and reduce their environmental impact on the planet.

How to Live on Less is divided into five chapters. The Introduction is quite short and explains the philosophy behind the book and how it is structured. Chapter One - A Toolkit of Techniques for Living on Less - offers a wide range of tips and advice on budgeting and saving money, including smart use of credit cards, charity shops, the Internet, and so on.

Chaper Two looks at ways to save on Energy, Water and Fuel. This is where the book becomes impressively detailed. You will learn not only how to save money on these commodities, but how (if you wish) you can achieve self sufficiency, e.g. by generating your own electricity. Gill has included detailed calculations showing the likely cost of these strategies, and the time it will take to break even on them.

Chapter Three is titled Home and Leisure. This looks at ways of saving money on everything from travel and fitness to clothes, books and music. There is also a section on self sufficiency around the home, looking at how you can use natural products to replace shop-bought ones (natural cleaning products and cosmetics, for example).

Chapter Four - Food, Drink and a Few Bits More - is the longest in the book. It focuses on growing your own food, with lots of advice on stocking your garden, natural pest control, composting, and so forth. The chapter also covers keeping animals - bees, chickens, pigs, etc. - with examples drawn from Gill's own experiences and those of her livestock-keeping friends. There is also a selection of food and drink recipes for using produce from your garden. I particularly recommend the courgette (zucchini) pie!

How to Live on Less is written with a UK audience in mind, although much of the advice would be relevant world-wide. Obviously, though, specific information, e.g. about government grants available for installing solar panels, would not apply outside these shores.

Overall, however, if you want to beat the Credit Crunch and enjoy the many other benefits of a more self-sufficient lifestyle, I highly recommend this well-researched, informative and entertaining book.
  • For more information about How to Live on Less, click through any of the links in this review to visit the book's page on

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Special Guest Author: Casey Quinn

Today, as previewed in this post, I'm very pleased to welcome to my blog the American poet Casey Quinn.

Casey is on a virtual book tour celebrating the publication of his first anthology Snapshots of Life from Salvatore Publishing. You can read a poem from the anthology in this blog post from last week.

Without further ado, then, let's get the interview rolling...

ND: Welcome to my blog, Casey. Can you start by revealing when you first became interested in poetry writing?

CQ: My interest in poetry definitely expanded as I got older. I have always read a great deal since I was very young but mainly fiction, mostly short stories but also a good share of novels. I always appreciated poetry and read the classics growing up, but never dove in head first to really understand the beauty of poetry or see the strength of it.

If I had to put my finger on when 'the awakening' took place, I would say somewhere maybe five years ago or so. I think it was related to the time where I decided to try and lose weight by only drinking wine and cutting out all of the beer. Well, the beer commitment never really stuck, but the poetry world was opened and kept pulling me in. The next thing I knew I had stopped buying fiction and my bookshelf was filled with poetry. It sort of just happened.

Since 'the awakening' I always jotted down notes of lines, moments or simple observations into random sheets of paper and stored them away in a little marble notebook. The more I read poetry the more I realized how many flavors of poetry really exist, and I started to pick up tastes for what I liked and didn't, sort of how I figured out I like cabernet sauvignon a great deal more than merlot. You just keep doing something long enough; you really refine your tastes. I think once you have your tastes and tone you can become serious about writing poetry. Once I found a few poets that I admired and really just loved the words they wrote, their message, their style, it motivated to take my years of random notes and ideas and try to do something with them. From there, I began writing poetry.

ND: How did 'Snapshots of Life' come to be published? Was it difficult deciding which of your poems to include?

CQ: It really took a while for me to get comfortable with my poetry before I sent anything out, but once I met a few poets whose own work I respected and started to receive great feedback I got more confident in my word choice, my form and style. In the first few years I received a great number of rejections, but a few poems here and there snuck in to fuel my motivation.

After I had about thirty or forty poems published in different print or online journals and had written another two hundred or so poems, I wanted to try and just pick the poems I felt best defined my style of poetry and would work together as a group, and see if I could get the collection published. Every day I see something and I feel propelled to write it down. Could be simple and/or comical, could have a bigger meaning. Whatever it is, I see something and I want to share it with people. Selecting the poems was not too hard, as I belong to three or four pretty active forums where I post a good deal of my work for critiques, and had most of the poems I was going to include accepted already somewhere for publication. I felt pretty confident with a subset of the poems based on all of the feedback I had gotten. I had a good idea about which poems were total bombs and which ones had value. From there it was trying to pick the ones with the most value.

Right about the time I had my collection about ready to go it was toward the end of fall, early winter of last year, and I read a post on the greatest forum in the entire internet, also known as, about one of the members starting a publishing company and looking for submissions. I sent in the only query letter I wrote and Guy Cousins, the founder of Salvatore Publishing, responded and asked to see the collection. About six months later the book was released.

ND: Are there any particular poets whose work has influenced you? Do you have a favorite poet?

CQ: As part of the process of defining taste you will come across poets whose work you admire, whose every line teaches you something about how to write good poetry. Poets whose poems inspire you to write a poem and read their book over and over again just in case you can find another meaning, or just to appreciate the meaning you already took away the first time.

For me, these poets include Raymond Carver, e e cummings, Walt Whitman, Charles Bukowski, Allen Ginsberg, and many others whom I started to read after trying out a sample here and there of so many different styles. These people spoke to me the most, both in their presentation of the words and the messages they spoke.

My favorite poet has to be, hands down, John Yamrus. John writes and people relate. He could kill a big bug and spin it into a poem that is humorous and interesting. He could sit in his backyard and listen to his neighbors argue and find something poetic in the moment and write it in such a way that, as a reader, you feel the poetic moment as well.

I wrote a poem and posted it for a review on a forum and the feedback I received was that the style and tone reminded the reader of a poem that Yamrus would write. I won't lie, I really felt honored. To write something and have someone compare it to someone whom you admire sort of made my day.

ND: Have you any tips for my readers who want to improve their poetry writing?

CQ: Really, the best way to improve your writing is reading. I think everyone has a unique voice, which is what makes poetry so interesting to read. Two people can see the same exact thing yet write it out completely differently. Even two people who write in the same form and style will say it differently and present the words on the page differently. Poetry is unique to the individual, and that has to be the strength of the poet. Learn what your voice is and write in it.

After reading everything you can, write every day. Write about something that happened to you, something you saw on the news, anything. Just write a poem every day and be very specific about the event. There are enough poems out there about death, life, happiness, suicide, teen angst, hate, and every other vague, cliche word I can throw at you. Be specific and write it so the reader can live it. Don't write from the 10,000 foot level, but as if the reader was watching it happen.

Show feelings. If someone broke your heart, don't tell me they broke your heart. Write that the picture of the two of you on the counter is shattered and in the trash, and that your box of tissues is empty. I will get the point that your heart is broken. Reading good poetry you will just naturally pick up why it is considered good poetry - because it deals with specific moments in time and a specific event.

Listen to people whose own writing you respect and love. Everyone has their own style, and groups of people can write in similar styles. I have found people tend to critique poems trying to convert the poem to their own style rather than accepting it in the style it was written. Many poets believe their style is good and other styles should learn to be more like their style. Listen and work on improving your poems, but maintain your own voice. Listen to people whose own work you respect. Do not get defensive about your poems. When people critique a poem of yours, they are only critiquing the poem. They are not picking on you as a person or your writing in general. If someone does pick on you as a person or your style of poetry in general, just write 'thanks for your review' and ignore them. Don't get upset over feedback.

ND: What do you think about poetry writing contests? Do you ever enter them yourself?

CQ: I think money should flow to writers, therefore I am usually against poetry contests that charge an entry fee. I think poets do not make any money as it is, and really have only a few venues to make a name for themselves and, for me, poetry contests are not one of them. There are too many scams out there looking to make their money by taking advantage of writers. All contests generally end in an anthology or collection being created. The sponsor of the contest should make money by selling the books, not by the entry fees.

I will enter a poetry contest if I know the person running it or if I belong to an organization sponsoring it. I only do this to help the organization; I see it more as a donation then really participating in a poetry contest.

ND: As well as writing poetry, you also run an online magazine called Short Story Library and a publishing house called ReadMe Publishing. Could you tell me a bit more about both these ventures?

CQ: Short Story Library is now officially a one year old! I love to read short fiction and poetry, and in addition I write a good deal of short fiction and poetry. As I looked for venues online to submit work to, I realized that many sites were done poorly and decided to try and create a nice looking, professional magazine for people to display their work in. To be honest I had no idea of the amount of work it really takes to properly run a magazine.

We get about 25 submissions a week and only publish 3 or 4 items each week. It took a while for me to get used to the process of rejecting others and editing the writing of the ones I did accept. The first few months were a little rocky, but after about four months I really felt comfortable with my editor hat on and publisher hat on. We started out with a small number of subscribers, but now one year later we have over 2,000 readers each month, or about 500 a week for each issue we publish. My goal was to help short story writers and poets find an audience and I am pretty happy with the growth of the magazine. I think each week we put out quality writing and it shows in the loyalty of the readership.

ReadMe Publishing is a newer venture started at the end of last year, early this year. The more I got interested in publishing online, the more I realized that the printed word is what will last. I had a thought about one day loading up Short Story Library and the site was down. I would call the host and they would say there was an error and the database crashed. All the data is lost. It hit me that online, nothing lasts. Websites and blogs come and go, and when they go, so does the record of the publication ever existing. Only the printed words will remain. ReadMe Publishing was created really just to help more writers see their work in print and know that long after they leave this earth, their name will be in a book somewhere, maybe being read by someone.

ND: Finally, a question I like to ask all my visiting writers: What are your three favorite websites and why?

This is a tough question, as really so many websites out there have helped me improve as a writer, editor, and publisher. I think for me the site that has helped me learn the most about the writing world is the AbsoluteWrite forum. This place is filled with professional writers from all genres and styles. It includes bestselling authors, well-known poets and publishers with many titles in bookstores all over the world.

Number two on my list will be, of course, the MyWritersCircle website. I tend to not stray too far from the poetry section of the forum, but the feedback from the poets that reside on the site has been priceless. They are tough, honest and constant.

The third on the list has to be my own writing forum at Short Story Library. While not as big as AW or MWC, the Short Story Library folks have been around really since the beginning of the site and pop on to say 'Hi' and talk about general things in addition to writing. Many of the folks on the site have encouraged me over my time there with my writing and let me know when I have just written a piece of junk or when maybe there was potential. There is also just a great general feel to being home and knowing the folks on the site.

ND: Many thanks for answering my questions today in such detail, Casey - and thanks also for your enthusiastic testimonial on behalf of my forum at! I wish you every success with Snapshots of Life. I really enjoyed reading it.

CQ: Thanks, Nick, for the interview. It has been great, and best of luck with your own upcoming release from Salvatore Publishing.

Finally, just my customary reminder that Casey's book Snapshots of Life is available via the website of Salvatore Publishing. It's an entertaining and accessible read, and I'm very happy to recommend it to anyone who enjoys good modern poetry.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Review: MyWriterTools

I was lucky enough recently to be sent a copy of myWriterTools, a new program designed to help writers create better documents.

In view of the name, I should perhaps start by clarifying that this is not a WCCL product (WCCL sponsor My Writing Blog and My Writers Circle, among other sites for writers).

myWriterTools operates as an add-in for Microsoft Word. It works with Word 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2007. Once it's installed, you can access all the functions it offers via a special toolbar.

In versions of Word prior to 2007, the myWriterTools toolbar shows up directly above the document and is visible all the time. In 2007 (which I use) you have to click on the Add-Ins tab; the toolbar then appears under this and you can access all its functions there. I actually rather like this, as it means the toolbar is hidden until you need it. Here's a screengrab with the drop-down tools menu activated...

So what does myWriterTools actually do? It's designed to help writers in a variety of ways. For example, it will help you fix common formatting problems (e.g. replacing all double spaces with a single space), find and replace incorrectly used words, make documents gender neutral, convert US to UK English (or vice versa), and so on. There are also tools to help you improve the readability of your work, e.g. by finding and fixing long words and sentences, and built-in style guides. Other features include:
  • lyRemover - finds and changes unnecessary adverbs ending in -ly
  • JargonBuster - finds and fixes commonly misused words and jargon
  • ClicheCleaver - finds and changes overused cliches
  • GenderBender - finds and replaces sexist language to make documents gender neutral
There is also a built-in back-up tool, which time stamps back-up files with your comments.

myWriterTools does not include generic spelling or grammar checkers, presumably because Word has these already. The program is really designed to extend the range of tools provided within Word and make them more specific to the needs of writers.

Overall, I was impressed with myWriterTools. It is much cheaper than similar products such as WhiteSmoke, while still offering a wide range of features. In fairness to WhiteSmoke, I should point out that their software (which I do also recommend) operates rather differently. It has its own built-in spelling and grammar-checkers and can be used with other text-based applications, including word processors, email programs, web-based forms, and so on. myWriterTools, as I said earlier, can only be used with Microsoft Word.

Nonetheless, if you're looking for help bringing your writing up to the highest possible standard - and you use Word, of course - myWriterTools is well worth the modest price being asked. There is also a slightly more expensive version for proofreaders and editors, offering additional features such as format tags and style sheets.

Incidentally, the latest addition to the myWriterTools product range is myWordCount (scroll down the myWriterTools homepage to see this product). This is a standalone program that will analyze your Word document for word and phrase usage and sentence length. It then produces sortable tables of counts for all words and phrases, and graphs sentence lengths. It looks like a useful tool for polishing your writing, and I'm planning on buying a copy myself (it's on offer for just $9.95 right now). I'll review it here soon.

Finally, just a small note of caution. Programs like myWriterTools and WhiteSmoke can save you time and help you to identify mistakes and weaknesses in your writing, but they are NOT a substitute for learning the rules of grammar and punctuation. My downloadable guide Essential English for Authors covers all the common problem areas, and will bring your written English up to a publishable standard in the shortest possible time.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Review: Super Affiliate Insights

I was lucky enough this week to get my hands on a review copy of Super Affiliate Insights, the brand new downloadable guide from Internet marketing guru Codrut Turcanu.

As the name indicates, Super Affiliate Insights is all about affiliate marketing - a method of making money by advertising other people's products and services on the Internet and earning a commission on any sales you generate.

Although Super Affiliate Secrets is not directly related to writing, as I know that many of my readers are interested in affiliate marketing - and also because I was very impressed with the guide - I thought I would review it here.

I should start by saying that I'm not a complete beginner where affiliate marketing is concerned - I earn a sideline income of several thousand dollars a year by this method, notably from the WCCL affiliate program and Clickbank.

Nonetheless, I was surprised by how much I learned from this well written and attractively presented PDF manual. In fact, Codrut himself keeps a low profile in it. Instead, he has conducted in-depth interviews with five successful affiliate marketers, who reveal the secrets of their success and offer a generous range of tips and advice. The five are as follows:
  • Colleen Slater - An Aussie mother of three who spent over $10,000 on worthless products until she found the 'magic ingredient' that brought her from zero to $20,000+ per month in three years.
  • Stephen Carter - A former physicist (and published novelist) who stumbled upon the 'giveaway' secret that generates massive traffic, leads and affiliate income for him. Stephen is giving away via this manual a valuable tool for Clickbank marketers that sends notification every time you make a sale.
  • Rod Beckwith - A marketer who found a proven way to grow his lists into thousands and generate multiple streams of affiliate income without bidding on AdWords or spending a cent on advertising. Here's a clue: He's also known as Mr Joint Venture.
  • Ian del Carmen - A guy from the Philippines who discovered how to automate his entire business via outsourcing, to generate extra affiliate commissions for minimal time and effort.
  • Eric Holmlund - A programmer who found the key to unlocking ClickBank's full potential. He makes more money in a month than most people make in a full year in a salaried job.
Each of the interviews is presented in a Q & A format. The advice is wide ranging, and includes generating affiliate fees from niche marketing, blogging, website building, article writing, Squidoo, HubPages, pay-per-click advertising, and more.

At the end of each interview there is a page of questions for the reader to answer based on what they have just read, e.g. 'What is the most important piece of advice you got from this interview?' Space is provided for your answer. Although a simple idea, this is a really good device for making you think carefully about what you have learned.

All the interviews are very informative, though I particularly enjoyed the one with Colleen Slater, who talks in detail about niche marketing, blogging and article marketing. I picked up a lot of useful tips from Colleen that I will definitely be implementing myself in the months ahead.

As you might expect, there are lots of product recommendations throughout Super Affiliate Insights, with links to their sales pages; but, of course, you don't need to buy any of these items if you don't want to. The advice itself is still worth many times the modest asking price.

I have printed out my own copy of Super Affiliate Insights, and already it's covered in notes of things I intend to implement or investigate soon. If you are at all interested in affiliate marketing as a sideline or even a full-time business, I strongly recommend taking a closer look at this info-packed guide.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Brain Evolution System Review

I have mentioned the new Brain Evolution System from my colleagues Karl Moore and Lee Benson a few times in this blog recently.

I have been trying this system out for the last three weeks, and am now in a position to provide a review of the product. But first, for the benefit of new readers especially, I thought I should start with some background information.

The Brain Evolution System is a six-CD self-development program. It uses advanced scientific methods for 'entraining' your brain, with the aim of helping you control stress, become more productive, sleep better, increase your creativity, and so on.

This has nothing to do with self-hypnosis, 'positive thinking', or any mystical mumbo-jumbo. The Brain Evolution System applies scientific techniques to help you control your brainwaves to achieve peak performance. It uses audio CDs, which you have to listen to via headphones to get the full benefit from.

The Brain Evolution System uses a mixture of technologies to achieve its goals, but probably the most important is binaural beats. To explain this, I need to start with a bit of theory.

If you've studied psychology (which I have - a long time ago!), you'll know that scientists can measure the electrical activity in our brains using a device called an electroencephalogram (EEG). It has been known for a long time that different mental states are associated with different patterns of electrical activity.

Someone who is fully awake and alert will exhibit relatively high frequency, low amplitude, electrical activity patterns (15-40Hz), known as beta waves. Someone resting or meditating will produce lower frequency alpha waves of 9 to 14Hz. This state is often associated with creativity, and is the frequency that WCCL's Writers Block CD (which also uses binaural beats) aims to entrain. Below that are theta waves (5-8Hz), associated with daydreaming and free-flowing thoughts - this is also a highly 'creative' frequency. And finally, there are delta waves (1.5 to 4Hz), the lowest frequency waves that occur in sleep.

For people such as writers who want to increase their creativity, there is clearly a lot to be said for any system that can help get brainwaves into the alpha and theta ranges. Unfortunately, you can't achieve this simply by playing sounds at these frequencies, as they are below most people's hearing thresholds.

However, it has been discovered that if you play sounds of slightly different frequencies to each ear, they combine within the brain to create a low frequency resonance. If you play a tone of 320Hz in one ear and 330Hz in the other, for example, it will create a resonance at a frequency of 10Hz - the difference between them. 10Hz is an alpha wave frequency; so by using this method, your brain can be entrained into a high alpha state.

The Brain Evolution System uses binaural beats, and two additional, complementary methods, to entrain the brain to a variety of mental states. The company calls this the 3P DEAP Method, for reasons you can read about on their background info site if you want to.

The six CDs in the set will take your brain through its entire range of 'operating frequencies', from beta through to delta, though with a particular emphasis on the alpha and theta ranges. For greater effect several layers of entrainment are applied simultaneously. The diagram below shows, in simplified form, the frequencies targeted by each of the six CDs. As you will see, CD5 - titled Neptune's Cave - takes you down very low indeed!

So much for the theory - how does it work in practice? Well, the CDs come in a handy carrying case, and you simply load them into your PC or music center to play them (you can also get MP3 versions for iPods and such like if you prefer, though CDs are recommended to get the best results). As mentioned earlier, it's best to listen through a pair of headphones rather than loudspeakers. The CDs work by producing slightly different frequencies in each ear, and if you listen through speakers, inevitably the sounds from the left and the right side will get mixed up.

To use the system properly, you are meant to listen to each CD six days a week for a month, then move on to the next. For the purpose of reviewing the system I didn't want to have to wait six months, however, so I tried all the CDs over a three-week period, including some 'days off' so that I could compare the effects.

I found listening to the CDs quite pleasant. The sound of running water is used on all of them, but in addition there are other sounds, including birdsong, bells and musical chimes. Thankfully, unlike WCCL's Writer's Block CD (which I do otherwise recommend), there is no irritating 'introduction' on these CDs - in each case, you get straight into the main track, which is half an hour long.

So what benefits did I derive from listening to the CDs? The effects I experienced even after my first few uses were actually quite noticeable. In particular, after listening, I felt an immediate sharpening of my mental processes.

To give an example, recently I had to review some quite complex software for a client, all within a three-day period. It was a challenging assignment, as not only did I have to master three pieces of unfamiliar software in a short time, I then had to produce a 4000-word comparative review for a knowledgeable readership. I was pleased to discover that focusing on the task after listening to the CDs was much easier than I expected. I quickly got to grips with the software, and the writing flowed really well. The article was finished in two days, and I got some great feedback on it too. I really don't think I could have done the job, or at least not nearly as well, without the Brain Evolution System.

The other benefits I experienced were more surprising. One was that I actually seemed to have a lot more energy. In some cases this could be slightly counter-productive, as I found myself wanting to get up and do something physical rather than sit and work at my computer. Still, I guess I can live with that!

I also found myself sleeping better. I've not been sleeping any longer than usual - the reverse, actually - but somehow the quality of sleep I've been getting has been better since I started using the system. I dare say this has contributed to the higher energy levels and better concentration I am noticing as well.

In any event, I am very pleased with the benefits I have been getting from the Brain Evolution System so far, and definitely intend to go on using it over the coming months. I will keep readers of this blog informed of how I get on.

There is one other thing I should mention: as well as the CDs, you also get a month's supply of Acuity capsules. Acuity is a supplement designed to complement the Brain Evolution System CDs. To quote from the website, 'Its powerful ingredients help enhance clarity of thought, mind power, and provide instantly-noticeable focus.' Each capsule includes energy-boosting Guarana and Kola Nut, memory-enhancing Huperzine A, brain-building DHA, and so on. To be honest, I haven't tried Acuity yet, for two reasons. One is that I wanted to test the CDs reasonably scientifically without changing any other variables as well; and secondly, I find the CDs stimulating enough on their own anyway!

The Brain Evolution System is currently on offer at a special launch discount price. In addition, you can test it out free and without obligation for 21 days, to assess exactly how it works for you. There is also a seven-months' money-back guarantee if you are in any way dissatisfied with the results you get. In my view there is nothing to lose - and a lot potentially to gain - by giving it a try.

For more information about the Brain Evolution System and to request your free trial, click through any of the links in this blog post, or on the banner below.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Review: Research Wizard Pro

I was lucky enough recently to be offered a free review copy of Research Wizard Pro, also known as Search Accelerator Pro. So, now I've been using it for a little while, here are my thoughts on this premium research tool.

The first thing to say is that Research Wizard Pro is NOT a search engine or search engine aggregator (a tool that combines the results of a number of search engines in a single list). Rather, it is a software tool that aims to help you use the wealth of research resources on the Internet as quickly and effectively as possible.

The first thing you notice when you launch RWP (as I'll call it from now on) is that it offers a wide array of icons, buttons and boxes. Here's a screen grab of just one set of controls, the search categories toolbar.

Fortunately, RWP comes with a highly professional, 73-page user's manual in PDF form. And for those who learn better visually, you also get a series of instructional videos, including a Quick Start Video to get you up and running as soon as possible.

You start searching on RWP by entering any keyword or words in the box at the top left of the screen. The results of this search in Google (or whatever default search engine you choose) will then appear in the results panel in the middle of the screen.

So far, so unexciting, but with RWP this is just the start. You can refine your search in all sorts of ways. For example, you will see a list of other suggested search terms in the panel down the left of the screen. The terms listed include tutorials, websites, articles, blogs, newsletters, reviews, top tens, and so on. Clicking on any of these then launches a new search for your original keyword/s plus the term in question, helping you to narrow down your search.

Of course, you could do this yourself without RWP, but using the software makes the process much quicker, and it also suggests other search terms you might not otherwise have thought of. You can also set it to show only PDFs or images if you prefer.

Even this, however, is only the beginning. Using the search categories toolbar pictured above, for example, you can access a huge range of search tools.

The way this works is that the top row represents a particular category of search, e.g. the camera represents image search and the film icon is video search, while the RSS icon represents RSS feeds, blogs, blog articles, and so on. The lower row changes according to which item in the top row you have selected, and includes links to specific search tools in the category concerned.

Finally - although this by no means exhausts the options offered by RWP - the Related Searches toolbar features a number of links that will suggest related searches you might also want to try. For example, there is a link to the Overture search term suggestion tool, which will suggest other search terms related to your original one, with stats showing how often these terms have been searched for recently. If you are researching a how-to guide or article, this could be useful for discovering what people most want to know about the subject concerned.

I have been using Research Wizard Pro for about a month now. Although initially I found the huge range of options a bit daunting, it didn't take me long to get the hang of it, and I wouldn't want to be without it now. Although RWP does save me time, even more important to me is the way it suggests search options and resources I would never have thought of myself. I'm sure the quality of my work has improved as a result.

Do I have any reservations about RWP? Well, only a couple of minor ones. One is that when I first downloaded it I got an 'Access Denied' message when I tried to launch it - no other explanation given! After some research, I found out that this was caused by the User Account Control in my Windows Vista operating system. Setting the program always to Run as Administrator solved the problem. I blame Microsoft for this rather than RWP, but it's something to be aware of if you use Vista.

Second, I was a bit surprised to discover that to access some of the bonus videos, I had to provide my name and email address over again. I couldn't see the point of this, since the publishers obviously had my contact details already. I hope they will scrap this requirement soon. You can watch the main instructional videos without having to do this, by the way.

Overall, I am happy to recommend Research Wizard Pro to anyone who does a lot of online research - it WILL save you time and it WILL improve the quality of your research. It's not the cheapest tool you'll ever find, but it is produced to a very high standard, and the instructional manual and videos are exemplary. I also found the company quick and helpful in responding to my queries.

LATE ADDITION: Good news for My Writing Blog readers! Because I like this software, I've managed to persuade the publishers of Research Wizard Pro to give a HUGE discount to readers of my blog. When ordering, just enter WRITER2008 in the coupon code box and click on 'Apply'. The cost will then be cut by a whole FIFTY PERCENT! I'm honestly not sure how long this offer will go on, however; so if you are interested in taking advantage of this discount, please don't delay too long.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Review: The Best-Seller Secret

The Best-Seller Secret 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 Quick Cash Writing.

The Best-Seller Secret is written by Dan Strauss, Senior Editor of the WCCL Network, and successful 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.

Like all WCCL products, The Best-Seller Secret is beautifully produced, and it has obviously been professionally written and edited. I should make one point clear right away, however. Despite the title, The Best-Seller Secret will NOT show you how to write a best-seller (for that, try Novel in a Month or my own Write Any Book in Under 28 Days).

Rather, The Best-Seller Secret is for anyone who has written a book, or is on the way to doing so, and wants to know how they can get it into the Amazon online bookstore's Top 100 Books list, with all the benefits that can flow from this.

You might perhaps think that only a major publishing house would have the resources (and budget) needed to propel a book into best-sellerdom. But, as this guide reveals, the Internet has changed all that.

The main manual - I'll get to the bonuses later - sets out a ten-step strategy to make your book an Amazon best-seller. It would be unfair to the publishers to reveal too many of its secrets, but they include getting celebrity endorsements, building up a pre-launch network of people who will help to promote your book, and using free bonuses to encourage people to buy.

The Best-Seller Secret really does make this whole process seem realistic and achievable. Yes, it will involve you in doing some work, but the returns (both direct and indirect) from having an Amazon best-seller should justify this many times over. It definitely can be done, and the guide includes several case studies of successful campaigns.

One thing I particularly liked about The Best-Seller Secret was the 'Campaign Flow Chart', which shows visually over several pages how to organize your publicity campaign. It's good to see WCCL using a few more diagrams and illustrations in its products these days. I was also impressed by the way the authors weren't afraid to discuss potential pitfalls and what to do if a particular aspect of your publicity campaign goes wrong.

In addition to the main guide, you get three additional bonus items. These are as follows:

Guide to Promoting Yourself & Your Book - This is a list of twenty 'quick-and-dirty' techniques for getting news of your book out to the world.

What's It Worth?- This mini-guide looks at pricing your book and, more importantly, easy techniques you can use to justify giving it a higher price tag.

Sample Letters & E-mail Templates - This is a set of templates you can use for e-mail messages to help market your book. It includes sample messages for endorsement requests, joint venture proposals, sales letters, and so on.

Really, my only reservation about The Best-Seller Secret is that it won't be suitable for every writer. As mentioned above, it's only likely to be relevant to you if you've written a book, or are well on the way to doing so. And it's likely to work best with non-fiction books, although many of the strategies would be effective with novels too.

I also think that the methods set out in The Best-Seller Secret would work best - or at least be easiest to apply - if you are self-publishing. It could undoubtedly work with conventionally published books too, but you would need to liaise closely with your publisher. Of course, it's hard to imagine that your publisher would have any objections if your efforts result in your book becoming a best-seller!

In summary, if you're writing a book or have written one, this guide to turning it into an Amazon best-seller could be one of the best investments you'll ever make. If you haven't yet written a book, a guide such as my Write Any Book in Under 28 Days might be more useful to you now, and then buy The Best-Seller Secret once your book is well on the way to completion!

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Amazon Vine Review: The Painted Man

I recently read and reviewed my latest book from the Amazon Vine programme. I thought perhaps you might be interested to see it.

The book in question is The Painted Man, by Peter V. Brett. It's the first book in a planned trilogy of fantasy novels. With certain minor reservations I found it an enjoyable read. Here's a (slightly edited) version of my review.

The Painted Man is the first book of Peter V. Brett's Demon Trilogy.

It follows the lives of three young people growing up in a world where demons are very much real rather than fantasy figures. They rise from the world's core at nightfall to attack human beings, who can only protect themselves by hiding behind 'wards' - magical sigils the demons cannot (usually) pass.

The three main characters are Arlen, a talented warder (drawer of wards), Leesha, a healer, and Rojer, a jongleur (travelling minstrel). All three feel destiny pulling at them to finally rid their world of the demon plague.

Peter V. Brett has crafted a compelling fantasy novel with some original ideas, generally sympathetic characters, and an absorbing, fast-paced plot.

The Painted Man is decently written in a plain, unadorned style, though it is never going to win any literary awards. Brett's prose lacks the depth and lyrical qualities of, say, a Robin Hobb or a Robert Silverberg, two distinguished current fantasy world-weavers. There were also a few places where I felt the plotting creaked a bit, notably in the strand concerning Leesha.

Nonetheless, this is a promising debut by a new fantasy author. Anyone who enjoys reading an exciting adventure novel, without expecting it to be a literary masterpiece, is unlikely to be disappointed. I'll certainly be looking out for the second volume.

Here's a permalink to my review on, in case you'd like to read it in situ. As ever, if you like the review, a 'Helpful' vote is always appreciated!

Finally, I've included image links to the book's sales pages at and at the foot of this post. Note that, while The Painted Man is available from now, the US version won't be available till March 2009 (and for some reason it will be called The Warded Man in the US). Note also that if you are receiving this post by email, you will need to visit my blog to see the image links.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Review: Novel in a Month

Novel in a Month is the latest in WCCL's range of products and courses for writers, which also includes my courses Write Any Book in Under 28 Days and Quick Cash Writing.

Novel in a Month is written by Dan Strauss, Senior Editor of the WCCL Network and a successful author/novelist himself.

The course is provided on CD-ROM in the universal PDF format. It is therefore suitable for all computing platforms: Microsoft Windows, Macintosh and Linux.

Like all WCCL products, Novel in a Month is beautifully produced, and it has clearly been professionally written and edited. The main manual (I'll get to the bonuses later) takes you step by step through everything you need to know to write a novel in the shortest possible time. Not surprisingly, I guess, the method set out in Novel in a Month bears a close resemblance to the one I set out in Write Any Book in Under 28 Days (though, of course, the latter is aimed primarily at people who want to write a non-fiction book).

I don't suppose I'm giving away too much if I reveal that the system described in Novel in a Month involves writing your first draft in three weeks, then editing it in the fourth. There is also a preliminary stage of planning and outlining, which takes up the first day or two.

Novel in a Month is packed with hints, tips and guidelines for novelists. Among the things I particularly liked were the 'population index' chart for developing characters, and Dan's P.L.O.T. plotting method, neither of which I had seen before.

Indeed, I thought Novel in a Month was particularly strong on plot and plotting methods. As well as the P.L.O.T. system, the course includes five top tips for plotting your novel, six universal plot archetypes, and so forth. My only slight reservation concerns the index card system that Dan advocates as an aid to plotting. Don't get me wrong, it's a great system, but personally I'd much prefer to work on my PC rather than start fiddling about with bits of cardboard. Still, it wouldn't be hard to adapt Dan's system to something a little more 21st century.

Other areas discussed in depth include dialogue, characterization, pacing, editing, viewpoint, writing in scenes ('show, don't tell'), and descriptive writing. Dan (correctly) emphasizes the importance of economy of style and resisting the temptation to overwrite. I can't help thinking, however, that he might have chosen a better example of this art than the late US science fiction author Isaac Asimov, entertaining though some of his short stories undoubtedly are (have you tried reading any of his 'Foundation' novels, though?). Perhaps I'm being a bit picky, however!

In addition to the main guide, you get five additional bonus items. These are as follows:

1. Getting Dialogue Down - a mini-guide to writing convincing (and correctly punctuated) dialogue.

2. How to Get Free Publicity for Your Novel - a 15-page guide showing how to get your book promoted on a shoe-string budget.

3. How to Get Celebrity Endorsements for Your Novel - if you've bought my Write Any Book in Under 28 Days course you'll know this already - but if not, the advice in this report will tell you exactly how to put this powerful technique to good use.

4. The Hottest Agents in the US and UK - this bonus guide contains over 40 pages of agent contact details, e-mail addresses, websites, guidelines, requirements, and so on.

5. 33 Techniques for Fine-Tuning Your Fiction - personally I think this is the most important and valuable of the bonuses. It shows you how to fine-tune your novel so that it stands out from the competition. Applying these 'advanced' techniques could make all the difference between having your book rejected and getting it accepted for publication.

Overall, Novel in a Month gets my recommendation as the most comprehensive course I have seen on writing a novel in the shortest possible time. If you are thinking of joining in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this November, it could be the ideal guide to have at your side and on your PC. But even if you don't intend to try writing a complete novel in a month, it would still be a very useful guide to plotting and writing your first best-seller!

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Monday, July 21, 2008

My Latest Amazon Vine Book Review

I recently read and reviewed my latest book from the Amazon Vine programme. I thought perhaps you might be interested to see it.

The book in question is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer. It's fair to say it's not a book I would have read normally, although the fact that it is partly set in Guernsey - which I visited earlier this year - piqued my interest.

Anyway, I'm pleased to say I enjoyed it a lot more than my previous Amazon Vine selection. Here's a (slightly edited) version of my review.

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I must start by saying that I have an innate prejudice against books written entirely in the form of letters. However, this novel went a long way towards curing me of this.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is set just after World War 2, when the German occupation of Guernsey in the Channel Islands had only recently ended. The central character is a writer, Juliet Ashton, who begins a correspondence with the members of the eponymous society. They are a group of disparate individuals who met regularly during the occupation to read and discuss books, keep their spirits up, and provide mutual support (and as they tell their stories, it becomes clear that the support given was very much practical as well as emotional).

I found reading this book a bit like listening to a radio play. Each of the letter-writers has his or her own distinctive voice, and gradually you get to know and understand them better, through both seeing what they write themselves and what others write about them. Although I do still have some reservations about novels written entirely in this form, I have to admit it works well at showing readers the characters from different perspectives and bringing them more vividly to life.

The book is perhaps a little slow in the beginning, as we read letters sent between Juliet and her publisher and other people in her life such as her friend Sophie. As the correspondence with members of the society gets into its stride, however, the book becomes much more gripping. There is a lot of presumably well-researched information about what life was like in the Channel Islands during the German occupation, and it really does bring this lesser-known aspect of WW2 into vivid focus. To the author's credit she pulls no punches about the worst aspects of life at that time, both in Guernsey itself and in the Nazi concentration camps. Some readers might find certain scenes described in the book quite disturbing.

It does, however, have a happy ending. A harsh critic might say that it has a touch of the Mills & Boon about it as Juliet finally finds True Love, but of course I would say no such thing!

In summary, then, this is an entertaining and at times moving novel, with a fascinating background. I will certainly look out for Ms Shaffer's next book, though I might prefer it if next time she uses a more conventional narrative format!

Here's a permalink to my review on, in case you'd like to read it in situ. By the way, if you do visit, and you like the review, a 'Helpful' vote is always appreciated!

Finally, I've included image links to the book's sales pages at and at the foot of this post. Note that, as this was an Amazon Vine selection, the book won't actually be available to buy until next month. Note also that if you are receiving this post by email, you will need to visit my blog to see the image links.

Happy reading!

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

How Well Read Am I?

Linda Jones recently tagged me on a meme about what bloggers have and haven't read. You have to look at the list and:

1) Bold those you have read.

2) Italicise those you intend to read.

3) [Bracket] the books you LOVE.

4) Reprint this list on your own blog.

Incidentally, as I understand it the list in question comes from the American Big Read survey of the 100 most popular books there. The list differs somewhat from the UK Big Read list. As you might expect, a few more American titles are included!

Anyway, here's my version...

1 [Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen]
[The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien]
3 [Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte]
4 [Harry Potter series - JK Rowling]
5 [To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee]
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 [Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell]
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 [Catch-22 - Joseph Heller]
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare

15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 [The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams]
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 [Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll]
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis

37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 [Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres]
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie-the-Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 [Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy]
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 [The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon]
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 [Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding]
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby-Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - A. S. Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 [The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro]
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 [Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle]
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

I make that 59, so I still have quite a few titles left to read! Although there may be one or two books in the list I read long ago and have now forgotten about - Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree Collection, for example.

Looking at my list also makes me realise that I seem to have steered away from reading most Russian authors. That's definitely something I shall have to remedy before too long...

I must admit also that there are one or two books in the list I know almost nothing about - in particular, the titles by Rohinton Mistry (86) and Mitch Albom (88). Perhaps these books are better known in the US than in the UK? Anyway, if you've read either of these titles, I'd be interested to hear your opinions on them.

I'm tagging Suzie, Carrie and June next, because they all volunteered when I posted a request on my forum (I didn't like to just nominate people). You can also see Linda's list here. Between us, it seems, we've actually read the great majority of the books in the top 100!

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Friday, June 20, 2008

My Holiday Reading

Before it becomes too much of a distant memory, I wanted to mention a couple of books I read on my recent Greek holiday.

The first of these was What Was Lost, a novel by Catherine O'Flynn. This is actually quite a short novel, but I highly recommend it. So far as the content is concerned, I can't really do better than quote the review by Jenny Colgan on the back cover:
"It's quite extraordinary. There's an amazing insight into the mind of a young girl, a very funny account of working in a high street record store, an entirely sympathetic hero in the form of a security guard, a cracking mystery, a brilliant sense of place in the form of a modern shopping centre, and a ghost story to boot. I adored every page of it and recommend it to everyone."
I agree with every word of that. I suppose it helped for me that it's set in Birmingham (England), a city I lived in for 20 years and am still close to now in Staffordshire. Even so, I thought it was a brilliant book, both funny (don't miss the description of a butcher's shop window on page 10, which had me chuckling for days after) and also poignant. If you're looking for something to pack for reading on the beach or beside the pool, I reckon it would be an excellent choice.

Here are my usual links to the book's pages on and As ever, if you are receiving this post by email, you will need to visit my blog to see these.

Unfortunately I didn't enjoy the other title I took with me as much. This was The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway. I've put links to this below, although the book isn't officially published yet.

This was actually my first free book I got as an Amazon Vine reviewer, and I had high hopes for it. As it turned out, I admired the quality of much of the writing, but thought that as a novel it was fatally flawed. I've copied my review below...
Well written, but lacks narrative drive

Good things first: The Gone-Away World is beautifully written. At times I was blown away by the almost musical quality of Nick Harkaway's writing. And the basic concept of the book - that most of the Earth has become uninhabitable after a nuclear disaster, save for a narrow band of land surrounding the mysterious Jorgmund Pipe - is unusual and intriguing.

On the minus side, though, I felt at times the author was so in love with his prose, the actual story almost became secondary. None of the characters really engaged me, although there are some nice cameos (notably the narrator's mentor, Master Wu). Neither do I share the author's fascination with martial arts and (believe it or not) Tupperware, though I can appreciate that others may find these aspects of the book quirky and amusing.

The Gone-Away World does include some quite funny (and caustic) observations about the nature of business, bureaucracy, international relations, and so on. They reminded me a little of the asides in Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, although they lacked Pratchett's warmth and sly humour.

The most serious problem with this book, in my view, is the lack of narrative drive - a compelling storyline, in other words. This is partly down to its structure. The opening chapter sets up an intriguing scenario, and I wanted to know what happened next. But then the story goes back in time to the narrator's childhood and on through his adolescence and early adulthood; and this rambling narrative takes up most of the rest of the book. I didn't find the 'coming of age' stuff particularly interesting, and completing the book - to find out how the action in the opening chapter was resolved - ultimately became a bit of an endurance test for me.

There are things to enjoy in this novel, but overall I was rather disappointed by it. Nick Harkaway is clearly a talented writer, but in my view he needs to take a few lessons from his father (spy novelist John Le Carre) on how to create a compelling plot, and try to reign back his obsession for style over substance. I'll await his second novel with interest, but I doubt if I'll be reading this particular one again.
As you'll see if you check out the link in particular, other Amazon Vine reviewers weren't exactly bowled over by this book either. At the time of writing it has an average rating of 3 stars out of 5, which I think is about right (it's what I gave it). I'm afraid that if the publishers had hoped to whip up anticipation by getting an avalanche of glowing reviews pre-publication, they'll be disappointed. Obviously, I can't recommend this book myself, though some reviewers have liked it.

Fingers crossed, I'll enjoy my next Amazon Vine selection a bit more!

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Best UK Market Directories for Writers

We may not even be half-way through 2008, but already the 2009 market directories are coming out.

So I thought in this post I would take a look at the three main UK directories. I'll save the US market guides for another post.

As a UK-based freelance, I buy at least one of these guides every year. The content varies between them, but they all include comprehensive lists of UK publishers, agents, magazines, newspapers, and so on. Nowadays, as well, they include a growing range of articles and ancillary information. If you're serious about making a living from your writing, and UK-based or want to write for UK markets, having a current edition of one of these guides on your bookshelf is, in my view, essential.

The best known, and longest-established, guide to the UK market is The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, published by A&C Black. I've posted a link to the 2009 book's page at below. As ever, if you're receiving this post by email, you will need to visit my blog to see this.

The 2009 WAYB is published on 15 June 2008, and has a foreword by Kate Mosse. It weighs in at 832 pages and is available for 9.89 UK pounds from Amazon.

The WAYB is still the favourite UK market guide of many writers. It has a good range of publishers and markets, and unlike the other guides includes information specifically aimed at freelance artists and photographers as well. It has a website at, which includes a free search facility (although the only info given for a magazine or publisher is its website and email address). You won't go far wrong with the WAYB, but its two main competitors are ahead in some respects.

The WAYB's longest-standing rival is The Writer's Handbook, published by Macmillan. You'll have a little longer to wait for this one - the 2009 edition is due out on 25 July 2008. Here's a link to its Amazon page...

The 2009 Writer's Handbook also has 832 pages and costs 9.89 UKP on Amazon (what a coincidence!). It is edited, as usual, by Barry Turner. The Writer's Handbook has been my favourite market guide for a few years now. There's more information on writing for newspapers and magazines, and more on radio, TV, small presses and theatre companies. The new 2009 edition also apparently includes free online access to The Writer's Handbook website, offering a directory of markets and some additional resources and advice for writers. I don't have a URL for this, however, and assume the site is not operational yet (unless you know otherwise?). The obvious URL at seems to be owned by someone else and is currently up for offers. I assume some frantic behind-the-scenes negotiation is going on!

The last of the three UK directories is the 'new kid on the block'. Writer's Market UK comes from David & Charles and is edited by Caroline Taggart. The 2009 edition was published back in April this year at a slightly cheaper price of 8.99 UKP on It weighs in at an impressive 976 pages.

I bought Writer's Market UK for the first time this year, and was impressed by what I found. The presentation is more attractive than either of the two rival guides, who will have to start looking to their laurels. There are nearly 100 pages of articles on most aspects of writing, as well as a particularly wide range of publishing houses. There is a also a good selection of writing websites.

One thing I found a little bit confusing was that some magazines were listed under Publishers - so having looked for, and failed to find, the details for Readers Digest under Magazines, I fortuitously discovered them later under Readers Digest Association in the Publishers section. To be fair, I could have looked up Readers Digest in the index at the back of the book and found it there, but at the time I assumed it just wasn't listed.

Buyers of Writers Market UK also get a one-month free trial of their online service at After that, I assume you have to pay, but despite my best efforts I haven't been able to find out what they charge.

These are all excellent guides, but my overall recommendation goes to Writer's Market UK at the moment. When The Writer's Handbook 2009 comes out, with its promised free website, that may also be worth considering. The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook is slightly behind the other two in my view, but if your interests also extend to photography and art, it may nevertheless be your best choice.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Review: Book Proposal Secrets

Book Proposal Secrets is the latest in WCCL's range of products and courses for writers, which also includes my courses Write Any Book in Under 28 Days and Quick Cash Writing.

The author of Book Proposal Secrets is Mel McIntyre, who has also written several other WCCL courses (and will soon catch up with me as WCCL's most prolific author of writing courses!). It is provided as an instant download in the universal PDF format. It is therefore suitable for all computing platforms, Microsoft Windows, Macintosh and Linux. Book Proposal Secrets is password-protected, but that's only a minor inconvenience. Once you have opened it, you can print out all or any of the pages as you wish.

Like all WCCL products, Book Proposal Secrets is beautifully produced, and it has clearly been professionally written and edited. The main manual (I'll get to the bonus items later) is 61 pages long, and takes you step by step through everything you need to know to create a book proposal that should knock the socks off a potential publisher.

For those who don't know, I should explain that writing a proposal is an alternative method to trying to sell a completed book. The method has the big advantage that if you can 'hook' an agent or publisher with your book proposal, you may be able to get a contract before you have even written the book itself. At the very least, if you get an expression of interest, you can go ahead and write the book with every expectation that it will be published. And even if you have already written your book, many publishers and agents nowadays prefer to receive a proposal initially rather than the whole manuscript.

It should be mentioned that this method is best suited to writers of non-fiction books, however. A new novelist would be highly unlikely to sell a book on the basis of a proposal and outline alone (though it's been known!).

Anyway, Book Proposal Secrets explains exactly how to craft the perfect book proposal. At its core is the author's ten-step method for creating and structuring your proposal - from Step 1, 'The Hook', through to Step 10, 'The Query Letter'. Mel explains how to write each section of your proposal, with links to other useful resources where appropriate. The advice is given with particular reference to the US market, but most of it would apply equally to writers in the UK and other parts of the world as well.

In addition to the main guide, you get various bonus items. These include a set of book proposal templates you can use to help produce proposals for a number of different types of book. These include how-to and self-help books, gift books, sales and marketing books and true crime books, as well as a generic book proposal template. These set out exactly what items your proposal should contain for the genre in question, though it must be said that several of them are actually quite similar!

You also get a bonus guide titled 'People you MUST know to get published'. This doesn't list agents and publishers as you might expect, but rather points you to various resources and (especially) websites that have the relevant information on them. This is a sensible approach, as contact details for agents and publishers are constantly changing. It therefore makes sense to list specialist websites that publish this info, rather than compiling a directory that would swiftly go out of date. Some of the websites listed in the bonus guide are free, but others charge a modest subscription.

The other bonus is a guide to 'power words' to punch up your proposal. This sounds quite useful, though as I haven't seen this particular item (it was only added to the package after I received my review copy) I can't actually tell you any more about it!

Overall, Book Proposal Secrets is the most complete guide to writing book proposals I have seen, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know how to produce a professional-looking proposal that has the best possible chance of being accepted. My only slight criticism is that I would like to have seen a few more examples of successful proposals that resulted in a publishing contract being offered. Still, maybe that's something for the next edition!

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Review: Travel Writing Secrets

Travel Writing Secrets is the latest in WCCL's range of products and courses for writers, which also includes my courses Write Any Book in Under 28 Days and Quick Cash Writing.

The author of Travel Writing Secrets is Mel McIntyre, who has also written several other WCCL courses. It is provided on CD-ROM in the universal PDF format. It is therefore suitable for all computing platforms, Microsoft Windows, Macintosh and Linux. Travel Writing Secrets is password-protected, but that's only a minor inconvenience. Once you have opened it, you can print out all or any of the pages as you wish.

Like all WCCL products, Travel Writing Secrets is beautifully produced, and it has clearly been professionally written and edited. The main manual (I'll get to the bonus items later) is a substantial 220 pages long. It takes you through pretty much everything you need to know to get started as a travel writer. The content is well organised and crammed with useful, practical information. For example, in chapter two alone you will discover the three things travel articles MUST do, the seven types of travel article, and five secrets for gathering information for your articles.

Travel Writing Secrets also covers interviewing techniques, outlining and writing skills, and how to pitch ideas to editors. And it has in-depth advice on marketing your work, with details of large numbers of potential markets, mainly in the US and the UK. The market info, which is largely in a separate 'bonus' guide, includes website details (with links to contributors' guidelines where available) and unpublicised email addresses to which you can submit your queries. This is invaluable information; and obviously as the guide has just been published, it is currently bang up to date.

If I was to make one very small criticism, it is that Travel Writing Secrets is strongly orientated towards selling travel articles to newspapers and magazines. Nothing wrong with that, but I might like to have seen a little more about selling your work to travel companies, for their brochures and so on. This is referred to as a possibility in the manual, but no more. I'd also like to have seen more details about how you can get yourself invited on free press trips to exotic destinations by travel companies and their PR agencies. Well, I can dream, can't I?!

As well as the main manual, you get a range of bonuses. These include the markets guide I have already mentioned, a guide to writing query letters (the best way to get commissions), and a set of 'templates' that take you step by step through writing three different types of travel article. The latter would be great for beginners who are still feeling their way, though later on you might prefer to dispense with them or adapt them to your personal style.

Another bonus is a guide to taking travel photographs that sell. Obviously, your chances of selling a travel article will be much better if you can offer photos as well, and this bonus manual is packed with hints and tips on how to do this. It's all good stuff, although rather surprisingly it doesn't include any actual photographs!

Overall, Travel Writing Secrets gets my recommendation as a comprehensive introduction to the exciting world of travel writing. Just about everything you need to know is here, written in a chatty, entertaining style, with real-life examples to back up the points made. If travel writing appeals to you, I'd recommend ordering a copy today. Your first commission should cover the modest sale price several times over.

BONUS! Readers of this blog seem to like my special bonuses, so I'm offering one for Travel Writing Secrets as well. I've been able to source a half-hour downloadable video that explains how you can make money from your digital photos, even if - like me - you're far from being an expert photographer. The video reveals a range of websites that will let you make money from ANY photo (with a few obvious exceptions), as well as setting out some ingenious strategies for putting your photographic skills to profitable use.

The video has been produced to a high standard by an Internet marketer called Dr. C, and I have had to pay a fee to get the rights to it. However, it seemed to me an excellent match with Travel Writing Secrets, as it sets out a range of extra ways you can profit from your travel photos (and any others you take).

I'm giving away the video to anyone buying Travel Writing Secrets via a link in this review. It will play on your computer in the free Windows Media Player, and also includes a text file with URLs for all the sites referred to in the video (and other useful links). To claim this extra bonus from me, just forward a copy of your email receipt showing the purchase of Travel Writing Secrets to (change the -at- to the usual @ sign). I will then get back to you with instructions for downloading your extra bonuses. Of course, these are in addition to the usual bonuses being offered at the Travel Writing Secrets website.

Good luck, and happy travel writing!

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Review: The Ultimate Copywriter

The Ultimate Copywriter is the latest in WCCL's range of products and courses for writers, which also includes my courses Write Any Book in Under 28 Days and Quick Cash Writing.

The Ultimate Copywriter is by professional copywriter Mel McIntyre, also known as Top Copy Guy. It is provided on CD-ROM in both PDF and audio (MP3) format. It is therefore suitable for all computing platforms, Microsoft Windows, Macintosh and Linux.

The first thing I noticed about The Ultimate Copywriter is that it is very well written. Some advertising copywriters I know seem unable to write in normal English, but that is evidently not the case with Mel McIntyre. The content is neatly set out, and (like all WCCL products) it has clearly been professionally designed and edited. The usual 24-hour customer support is available from WCCL's dedicated help site at

The main part of The Ultimate Copywriter is a substantial manual of over 180 pages. It is divided into eight sections, plus appendices. It begins by explaining what copywriting is, and how writers can break into this lucrative field. After that, it gets down to the nitty-gritty of how to write good advertising copy.

The manual covers various copywriting tasks. Three that are discussed in particular detail are writing copy for websites, writing a sales letter, and writing a press release. Other avenues such as article writing are also covered, though in less detail.

The advice in the guide is backed up with copious examples. Mel has written and/or edited advertising copy for WCCL, and I found it especially interesting to read his in-depth analysis of the website sales copy for their Write a Movie in a Month course. Mel shows how the '15-point sales letter formula' described in his guide was used to create and structure the web page in question. As this is one of WCCL's best-selling products, it certainly appears to have worked.

There are not one but two sections devoted to how to get work as a copywriter, and these will be of particular interest to new copywriters. I found Mel's advice - and the examples of how he got his first copywriting jobs - quite inspiring, and I will definitely be trying out some of these strategies myself. He also lists a number of websites that regularly advertise opportunities for copywriters, including several I was previously unaware of.

How does The Ultimate Copywriter compare with WCCL's other copywriting guide, Power Copywriting by Bob Serling, which I reviewed in this blog post a few months ago? The most obvious difference is that The Ultimate Copywriter is aimed four-square at writers who want to break into this field. Power Copywriting is good, but it has a different target readership. It is basically a tool for website owners and entrepreneurs who want to write their own copy. The Ultimate Copywriter also covers a wider range of copywriting tasks than Power Copywriting, which is basically all about creating website sales pages.

In fact, though, you don't have to choose between them, as if you buy The Ultimate Copywriter, for the launch period at least you will get Power Copywriting thrown in free, along with various other special bonuses. Considering that The Ultimate Copywriter is currently selling for almost the same price as Power Copywriting, this looks like a good deal to me.

Do I have any criticisms of The Ultimate Copywriter? To be honest, very few. It is a well written, comprehensive guide, and most aspects of freelance copywriting are covered. There is perhaps a slight bias towards online copywriting, but I guess this is understandable in a guide sold via the Internet! The online marketplace is of course huge and growing every day, but it might have been nice to see a bit more about the 'traditional' opportunities for copywriters that still exist, e.g. writing brochures, leaflets and newspaper ads.

Still, this is only a minor criticism. If you want a guide that will get you started in the exciting world of freelance copywriting, I highly recommend The Ultimate Copywriter, especially with the range of free bonus items currently on offer.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Review: The ABC Checklist for New Writers

I was kindly sent a review copy of this new book for writers by Lorraine Mace and Maureen Vincent-Northam, both of whom I know are readers of this blog. The book's full title is The ABC Checklist for New Writers - How to Open Doors and Get Noticed the First Time Around, and it is published by Orana Publishing Limited (2007). The book's ISBN is 978-0-9550751-7-9.

I'd better get one admission out of the way first. I have a certain prejudice against books such as this where the content is organised alphabetically (apart from dictionaries, of course!). The effect is almost inevitably that the book zig-zags from topic to topic, and is difficult to sit down and read from start to finish. And even looking up particular subjects isn't always as straightforward as you might wish, if the writers have chosen a different way to organise the material from what you expect.

Lorraine and Maureen have done their best to counter this problem by including a full list of contents at the start and plenty of cross-references throughout the book - so, for example, under the subject heading Cliches you will find the direction to 'see also Consistency, Dialogue, Final Checks, Originality and The X Factor' (don't worry, the latter is nothing to do with Simon Cowell's TV show!). Even so, incongruities do exist. I looked in vain for Copyright - one of the key topics that worries new writers - under 'C', only eventually to discover it as a sub-heading of the section 'Legal'. A conventional index at the back of the book would have helped.

With that reservation out of the way, however, I have to say that this book is very good indeed. It is beautifully produced in trade paperback format, very readably set out, and extremely well written and edited. The book includes lots of practical advice on topics that often puzzle new writers, including manuscript layout, agents, vanity publishers, writers' groups, research, multiple submissions, invoicing, and many more. The advice is concise but helpful, and at the end of each article there is a handy bullet-point summary.

To some extent the book also serves as a writer's style guide, and includes articles on setting out dialogue (which can be a minefield for new fiction writers), grammar, punctuation, spelling, and so on. Inevitably the book cannot go into great detail on these huge topics, but the advice given is sound enough, even though it may not always address the particular question you want answered!

It is interesting to compare this book with another title aimed at new writers, The Greatest Freelance Writing Tips in the World by Linda Jones, which I reviewed recently in this post. The two books are quite different, but both are very good. Linda's book contains some great 'inside tips' based on her long experience as a freelance journalist and PR, and will probably do more to inspire you. On the other hand, The ABC Checklist for New Writers is a very good general reference book for new (and not-so-new) writers, and I suspect that buyers will refer to it more often from day to day. If I was a new writer, I would definitely want both of these titles on my bookshelf.

The ABC Checklist for Writers can be ordered from any bookshop or the Internet store (see image above). It is aimed at UK writers, but much of the advice would be equally relevant to writers in other countries. At the end of the book, and out of alphabetical order, are short sections of useful addresses, awards and prizes (all UK and Ireland based), a glossary of writing terms, and resource lists of books, magazines and websites. Incidentally, the latter includes the excellent Writelink forum run by Sue Kendrick, but not my own forum at I hope that Lorraine and Maureen will rectify this in the next edition!

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Review: Power Copywriting

Power Copywriting is a new course just released by my publishers WCCL. It's written by top US copywriter Bob Serling, and is provided as an instant download in the standard PDF format.

Power Copywriting is 149 pages long. My first impression on opening it on my PC was that it was well written and neatly presented. However, this is the sort of manual you really do need to print out to get the most from. Fortunately WCCL have not built in any copyright-protection features that stop you doing this, so you can print all or any of the pages if you like.

Power Copywriting is primarily about writing website copy, though many of the principles set out would apply equally to other forms of copywriting, e.g. sales letters.

At the heart of the manual is Bob Serling's "32 Step Power Formula" for creating compelling website copy. In general I was highly impressed with this. I always like how-to guides that provide easy-to-understand, step-by-step instructions, and Bob certainly delivers here. One point that came across very clearly to me is that website copywriting is about much more than just sitting down and spinning out a few paragraphs of purple prose. Bob emphasises the importance of researching the product or service you are marketing in great depth. As he says, if you have all the facts about the product at your fingertips, actually writing the sales material becomes quite easy and straightforward.

Another point I gleaned from the manual is that successful copywriting is very much a two-way street with your client. Bob regards it as an important aspect of the copywriter's work to come up with a compelling offer that a customer simply can't say no to. That may mean getting back to your client and suggesting that he offers more and better bonuses, a beefed-up money-back guarantee, and so on. This is certainly something I can identify with from my own experience of copywriting. You must be prepared to liaise with your client to help him come up with the strongest possible offer (while still allowing him to turn a fair profit!).

After the (long) chapter devoted to explaining the 32-Step Formula, there is a Workshop section where Bob shows how he applied the formula in an actual copywriting assignment. He goes through all 32 steps in order, showing how he incorporated them in the finished sales copy (which is reproduced in the manual as well). This is very informative, and actually includes some additional advice and information that is well worth taking on board.

As an occasional copywriter myself, I picked up a lot of useful tips from this manual, and I'm sure my copywriting is going to improve massively as a result. There was just the odd thing I disagreed with, including Bob's recommendation to split long copy over a number of different web pages with a 'click to continue' button at the foot of each. In fact, in my experience this is seldom done on the web today, and I think for good reason - each time the prospect gets to the foot of a page he has to click to continue, and if he can't be bothered to do this, you have lost him. Personally I think it is better to keep your sales copy to a single page, even if it does end up quite a long one!

In addition to the main manual, buyers of Power Copywriting also get five bonus audio interviews in MP3 format, from copywriting gurus Joe Vitale, Marlon Sanders, Audri Lanford, Corey Rudl and Declan Dunn. I must admit I haven't listened to these yet, as the total file size is over 300MB, and even with my broadband connection Firefox tells me it will take over two hours to download! I definitely intend to do this, however, probably overnight, as these guys really are the creme-de-la-creme of Internet copywriters.

Finally, I should emphasise that Power Copywriting is all about writing web-based sales copy. If you want to know how to do this, whether for your own sites or on behalf of your clients, I recommend it highly. It's well written with lots of examples to support the points made, and would be suitable for beginners as well as people such as myself who have some knowledge of copywriting but realise they still have plenty to learn. One thing Power Copywriting doesn't do, however, is tell you how to set up your own copywriting business. Still, I understand that WCCL have a new course on that subject coming out next year!

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Review: The Greatest Freelance Writing Tips in the World

I was pleased to be invited recently to the book launch of The Greatest Freelance Writing Tips in the World. This is the first published book by my near-neighbour Linda Jones.

Linda is a highly experienced newspaper journalist who now runs the PR and journalism agency Passionate Media. She is also a student of my Quick Cash Writing course, and kindly wrote in the acknowledgements section of this book, "Thanks to Nick Daws for inspiring a more 'rounded' writing career, when all I feared I was fit to write about was local news." Aw, shucks, Linda, it was nothing...

Anyway, I got my copy of the book at the launch (along with several plates of the very nice buffet). My first impressions were highly favourable. Unlike earlier books in the Greatest Tips series I have seen, The Greatest Freelance Writing Tips in the Worldis in small hardback form. It is beautifully designed and produced, even including a ribbon for use as a bookmark. Full marks to the publishers for making such an excellent job of a book that sells for just 6.99 UK pounds (around $14.00 US).

Of course, the main thing with any book is the content. As you might expect of a writer with Linda's pedigree, The Greatest Freelance Writing Tips in the Worldis exceptionally well written. The book is particularly strong on freelance journalism. As I do not have a journalistic background myself, I found these sections especially informative. The book really does make you feel that writing features for top newspapers and magazines is an attainable goal, and the advice on pitching an idea in particular is invaluable. This applies all the more so as Linda does this sucessfully herself every day - so she really does walk the walk as well as talking the talk.

Other sections of the book look at interview and research skills, writing for the Internet, and commercial writing (writing for business clients, in other words). Again, this is all stuff Linda does regularly herself in her day-to-day work. Her advice is based on years of experience, and it shows. Again, I made quite a few notes in these sections.

Of course, in a 160-page book not every aspect of freelance writing can be covered in depth. There is not much on fiction writing, book writing, or writing for the broadcast media, for example. However, if you are interested in freelance journalism and related areas - and these are often the best fields for new writers seeking to establish themselves as freelances - The Greatest Freelance Writing Tips in the Worldoffers essential guidance for (as noted above) a very modest price. It would also make a nice Christmas present for any would-be writer!

LATE ADDITION - If you visit this page of Linda Jones's blog, you can read more about the book launch and see a slightly scary picture of me engrossed in reading it!

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Review: How to Write and Publish Your Own eBook in as Little as 7 Days

How to Write and Publish Your Own eBook in as Little as 7 Days is a downloadable guide by Internet marketing expert Jim Edwards and copywriting guru Joe Vitale (recently interviewed on WritersFM ).

This is one of the top-selling guides for would-be e-book authors, so I thought it was high time I got round to reviewing it. It is aimed mainly at people who want to make money by selling "how-to" type e-books on the Internet. As I can testify from my own experience, this is probably the biggest market for e-books right now, though the sales of fiction e-books (e-novels, if you like) are gradually increasing as well.

I had no problems ordering and downloading How to Write and Publish Your Own eBook in as Little as 7 Days from the sales site. Indeed, Jim and Joe have gone to great lengths to make this process painless, even for people who haven't bought this type of product before. I was impressed to receive an e-mail containing frequently asked questions about the downloading process as soon as I ordered. Of course, this probably helps reduce anguished emails to their helpdesk as well!

The manual itself is in the universal PDF format, and it is well written and attractively set out. I was also pleased to see that all the hyperlinks had been made active (not always the case in PDF e-books). It's an impressive 202 pages long, though this does include some of the advertised "bonus items".

As the name suggests, How to Write and Publish Your Own eBook in as Little as 7 Days takes you through every stage of devising, producing and selling an e-book. The authors talk at some length about finding a suitable niche in the market, and this section did remind me somewhat of the corresponding section in my Write Any Book in Under 28 Days course. It's all good stuff, though I didn't find any great surprises in it.

What impressed me more was the section where Jim and Joe analyze the ten reasons why people buy e-books. This makes fascinating reading, and as I went through, it started to give me ideas for new e-books I could write in the future.

At the heart of the guide is where the authors reveal their "7 Day" method for actually writing an e-book. It would be unfair to give away too much about this, but one thing I particularly like is the advice to write the sales page for your e-book first! That's a great idea, and will help you focus your mind on what your e-book needs to include to appeal to its target readership.

Day 7 of the "7 Day" method is when you publish your e-book. There is some excellent advice here, though if you are new to e-commerce, it may not be enough on its own to get your sales site up and running. But the basic advice on writing sales copy and structuring your website is sound, and links are included to other sites and resources that can help you with the practical aspects.

The bonus items include interviews with a number of successful e-book entrepreneurs, and these are all well worth reading - not only for the nuggets of advice they impart, but also to inspire you to try to emulate their success. There are also several short reports, including one which reveals how you can set yourself up to handle credit card payments with a single $50 payment. I don't suppose I'm giving away too much if I reveal that this is by selling your e-book via the popular Clickbank service.

How does How to Write and Publish Your Own eBook in as Little as 7 Days compare with The 24-Hour Ebook Writing System by Melanie Mendelson, which I reviewed a while ago in this post ? As you might expect, the two titles overlap somewhat. Both are very good, and I particularly like the way Melanie's guide incorporates free outlining and PDF-creating software. However, How to Write and Publish Your Own eBook in as Little as 7 Days contains a lot more advice about marketing your e-book, a topic which Melanie's guide barely touches.

As regular readers will know, if possible I like to throw in a bonus for purchasers of items I review on this blog (and like). With How to Write and Publish Your Own eBook in as Little as 7 Days, therefore, I'm giving away a copy of another manual titled "Getting Started With Clickbank". I didn't write this myself - it's by someone with a much greater knowledge of Clickbank publishing than I possess - but I liked it so much I bought the reproduction rights to it. If you're thinking of publishing your e-book with Clickbank - and you could do a lot worse - this guide will get you off to the best possible start.

To get this free gift from me, just order How to Write and Publish Your Own eBook in as Little as 7 Days via one of the links in this review, then forward your email receipt to me at (change the -at- to the usual @ sign). Put the words BONUS CLAIM in the subject line. Once I have verified your order, I will email details of how you can download your free bonus report.

Happy e-book writing!

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

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, 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'., 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, 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), and I will send you my unique report on how to publish an e-book on, along with a copy of my actual published e-book titled Fifty Great Ideas for Creative Writing Teaching.

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Friday, August 31, 2007

Review: How to be Funny

In my recent review of Draw Cartoons Today from WCCL, I mentioned the company's brand new course How to be Funny. Well, I've now managed to get my hands on a review copy!

How to be Funny is intended for anyone who would like to develop their sense of humour. The author, Max Matterson, has worked in the world of comedy for the past 20 years. He has been a headlining stand-up comedian in Los Angeles, and taught comedy to writers across the globe. He has also had eleven comedy productions commissioned by the BBC.

How to be Funny is sold as an instant download. The file is a quite substantial 101MB, so you really do need a broadband/DSL connection to download it in this form. If you only have dial-up access, you might want to ask WCCL's helpdesk service if the course is also available on CD-ROM. I couldn't see anything about this on the sales page, but I might have missed it.

One other point to bear in mind is that How to be Funny is password-protected. You will find the password in the email you receive from WCCL when you purchase the course, so don't delete this.

How to be Funny arrives as a compressed Zip file. When you unzip this - perhaps using an application such as WinZip - you will find that it contains three items: a comedy screensaver, including one-liners from the course set against attractive backgrounds (I love this, by the way!); a "comedy confidence" hypnosis session, designed to build your confidence before performing to an audience; and the main How to be Funny manual in PDF format.

The manual is obviously the centrepiece of the course, so let's look at this in detail. It comprises 95 single-spaced pages of advice from Max Matterson in an attractive, readable font. You are free to print out any or all of the pages if you wish, and I was pleased to see a detailed table of contents at the front (though not hyperlinked, unfortunately).

Following a short introduction, the manual is divided into three main sections. Part One, How to be Funny, explains the basic rules of comedy, and shows how you can use them to make up your own jokes. This section also covers comedic timing and delivery, how to memorize jokes, and so on. It includes plenty of practical exercises to help you come up with your own comedy ideas.

Part Two, Enhance Your Humor, goes into much more detail about jokes and humour generally. It discusses the different types of humour, and how to use humour in a range of situations: the workplace, business presentations, with friends, and so on. Dealing with put-downs and heckles is discussed, as is being sensitive to the needs and expectations of different types of audience.

Finally, Part Three is a collection of resources from the Web. Over 50 sites are listed here, under a range of headings including Jokes, How to Use Humor in the Workplace, How to Use Humor in Presentations, and so on. Following on from Part Three, you also get some additional bonus items, including a large collection of favourite jokes and one-liners.

Overall, I was impressed with the manual, which is well written and comprehensive. It provides some real insights into the art of writing and performing comedy, and the many exercises it includes are a great way to flex your comedic muscles.

In my view, the manual will be of most use to people who actually want to perform comedy - from aspiring stand-ups to those who want to use comedy more effectively in business presentations and such like. It would also be great for anyone who wants to improve their comedic skills in social situations.

There is no doubt, also, that the techniques taught in the manual would be highly relevant to comedy writers. That applies especially to people who want to write gags for comedians, or short comedy items for greeting cards, TV sketch shows, cartoons, and so on. The manual isn't aimed primarily at writers, however, and you will need to look elsewhere for advice on the correct format for writing (say) TV comedy, where to submit your work, and so on. Dare I say it, my course Quick Cash Writing includes plenty of advice on this type of thing.

Finally, I should mention that How to be Funny is currently available at a special offer price of just $29.95 (around 14.95 UK pounds or 21.95 euro). For that money, and when you take into account the screensaver and self-hypnosis script also included, I reckon it represents amazing value for any aspiring comedian or comedy writer.

* In light of a number of queries I have received, please note that the course reviewed above has no connection with the (more expensive) How to Be Funny Course by Stanley Lyndon. I have no knowledge of Lyndon's course, so cannot comment on its merits one way or the other.

Comments on this post are closed. Thank you!

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Review: Draw Cartoons Today

Draw Cartoons Today, also known as the Lou Darvas Course, is one of the range of courses for writers and artists available from my publishers WCCL. It's the only course in this range that I haven't reviewed on this blog, so I thought it was high time I put this right!

As the name indicates, Draw Cartoons Today is intended for anyone who would like to draw cartoons for fun and profit. The author, Lou Darvas, is a highly successful US cartoonist whose work has appeared in national and international newspapers and magazines. His sports cartoons are currently being exhibited at a number of galleries in the USA.

Draw Cartoons Today is produced in the form of a PDF manual. You can either download it from the sales site or pay a few bucks extra to have the course sent to you on CD-ROM. Be warned, however, that the file is a quite substantial 60MB. It took about 20 minutes to download on my broadband (DSL) connection. The process went smoothly enough, but I wouldn't recommend trying this if you only have dial-up access. In that case I'd strongly suggest paying a bit extra for the CD-ROM!

One other point to bear in mind is that Draw Cartoons Today is password-protected. You will find the password in the email you receive from WCCL when you purchase the course, so don't delete this.

The first thing that struck me about Draw Cartoons Today when I opened the PDF was that most of the text is handwritten! That's not a problem, however, as it's perfectly clear and legible. The course itself is highly visual, and every page is crammed with drawings and illustrations (WCCL claim that there are 1028 hand-drawn illustrations, and I'm quite prepared to believe that).

The course is divided into 12 lessons, each of which you are intended to study in one day. Days 1 to 11 are devoted to teaching you to draw cartoons to a professional standard, while Day 12 (the only part of the course that is typeset) provides advice and information on marketing your work and your skills. The latter, by the way, is bang up to date, with advice on useful websites, creating your own homepage, and so on.

The first 11 lessons in Draw Cartoons Today are highly practical and intended to bring you up to a professional standard as quickly as possible. In the first lesson Lou lists a number of tools you will need (pens, brushes, inks, and so on), and buying these will certainly set you back a few dollars. This isn't cartooning on the cheap - the author wants you to do things the right way from the start, so you must be prepared to invest some money in the tools for the job. Once you've read the lessons, however, and seen the sample cartoons, if you are anything like me you will be fired with enthusiasm to see what you can achieve.

Draw Cartoons Today starts with practice exercises to get you used to working with the pens and brushes, and moves on to drawing the human body - both whole figures and parts of the body such as faces and hands. It goes on to cover sketching animals (apparently there is a big demand for this from pet owners), along with portraying emotion in your cartoon figures and "bringing them to life". The tricky matter of perspective is also covered in some detail.

The course also looks at related skills such as producing caricatures and comic strips. It explains how to create professional comic lettering and voice bubbles, and offers a step-by-step method for producing "gag panel" cartoons - all illustrated with copious examples, of course.

Overall, I was highly impressed with Draw Cartoons Today. If you are interested in cartooning and would like to develop your skills to a publishable standard, you shouldn't go far wrong with this excellent manual. And naturally, as this is WCCL, technical support is available 24/7 from their customer service website at

Any criticisms then? Only minor ones. A table of contents would have been nice, preferably with hyperlinks so you could go straight to the lesson you require. As it is, you must be prepared for some scrolling, though with Adobe Reader 8 you can click the Pages icon on the far left of the screen and this will enable you to go straight to specific pages via a strip of thumbnail images.

The course is also heavily focused on developing your drawing skills. It doesn't have much to say about how to devise humorous ideas for cartoons, though it does recommend some resources for this. In addition, WCCL have just released a brand new course, How to be Funny, which I hope to review here soon. And - dare I mention it - my course Quick Cash Writing has a whole module devoted to comedy writing.

Finally, I should mention that Draw Cartoons Today is currently available at a special offer price of just $19.95 (around 9.95 UK pounds or 14.95 euro). For that money, if you're at all interested in learning this highly marketable skill, it really is a no-brainer.

Happy cartooning!

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Review of WritersFM

My colleague Ann Isik has written a great review of the Internet radio station WritersFM. You can read Ann's review by clicking this link.

WritersFM is one of the family of websites for writers operated by my publishers, WCCL. Others include this blog and my forum.

As well as explaining what WritersFM is about, Ann has provided commentaries on many of the interviews broadcast by the station (and available as podcasts). Here's what she says about the interview with Stephen Jackson, for example:

Stephen Jackson is a children's author and illustrator. He describes the journey to publication of MirrorWorld, an illustrated story book and adventure game written for nine to eleven year olds. The work was five years in development. The goal is to help a character called Seymour save the planet with a miraculous mirror (supplied with the book). Stephen describes his exciting UK book signing tour.

In a way, then, Ann's article isn't just a review, it can also be regarded as a listener's companion, providing additional details about the interviews so you can see at a glance which ones might be of particular interest to you. There is also a list of citations - a bibliography, if you like - for each of the interviewees mentioned, so you can find out more about them and their publications.

Ann has done a great job with this review, which is beautifully written and meticulously researched. If you're at all interested in WritersFM, I strongly urge you to check it out.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

My Contact Station - One Answer to the Spam Problem?

One problem facing anyone with a website, writer or otherwise, is how to provide a method for people to contact you.

Of course, you can publish your email address on your site. The trouble is that as soon as you do this you become prey to spammers, who use special software to trawl the net and automatically find and save any email addresses they come across. You will then find yourself getting torrents of spam messages pushing everything from share tips to cut-price pharmaceuticals.

One possible solution - which I have used for a while - is to get a disposable email address from a service such as Sneakemail. Any emails sent here are then automatically forwarded to your actual email address. Of course, if you publish this address on your website it will soon start getting spammed as well, but once this gets too bad you can simply "retire" the disposable address you've been using and get a new one.

That's one solution, but it's not a perfect one. For one thing, every time you change your disposable email address, you have to go through all the web pages where you used the old address and substitute your new one. And second - as has been pointed out to me - quoting your address as or whatever on your website doesn't look very professional.

I recently discovered a much better solution to this problem. It's a program called My Contact Station. Once it's installed, if someone clicks on your Contact Me link (or whatever you choose to call it) a snazzy-looking box opens in which your visitor is invited to enter his or her message. The message is then forwarded to your normal email address, without your visitor (or anyone else on the web) ever seeing this.

I'm now using My Contact Station on my homepage at, so if you go there and click on Contact Me (directly under Site Last Updated...) you can try it out for yourself. Or here's a screengrab of the MCS dialog box, if you just want to see what one looks like...

As you'll see from this, before anyone can send you a message, they have to provide the answer to a mathematical formula or copy a series of 'CAPTCHA' characters (your choice, though not all hosts support the CAPTCHA option). This should help to ensure that only human beings, not spam programs, can use the form to send you messages. The software also provides visitors with the option to submit anonymous feedback, if you choose to enable this feature.

My Contact Station is provided as a compressed zip file. The way it works is that you edit a couple of the files contained in the zip using a program such as Notepad (provided free with Windows), following the step-by-step instructions provided. You then upload the whole MCS folder to your website using your favourite FTP program. Finally, you enter a line of code on your web page anywhere you want the "contact me" facility to appear. I'm no techie, but I managed to get it set up in an hour or so without any major problems (and no need to contact the helpdesk!).

My Contact Station works on most websites. Technically speaking, your host will need to have PHP and SENDMAIL enabled (all but the very cheapest hosting solutions offer this). To use the CAPTCHA feature, you will need GD Support with Freetype enabled. To see if you have these features or not, the README file provided with the software includes a link to a test file you can upload to your domain. If you view it in your browser, it should then tell you whether these features are enabled for your domain.

The best thing about My Contact Station, however, is the price. It's just $7, or around 3.50 UK Pounds. There is a more expensive premium version with more bells and whistles, but I didn't see any need to buy this, and unless you run dozens of websites you probably won't either. And finally, as you may have guessed, it's another of those Seven Dollar Secrets products where, once you've bought it, you can sell copies yourself as an affiliate and keep 100% of the profits!

OK, this product is only going to be of interest to you if you have a website, but if you do, and you need a better method for allowing people to contact you, it's well worth looking into. If you've ever edited a web page and used an FTP program, you should be able to manage the technical aspects, but there is also an optional installation service (costing $25) which will take care of this for you if required.

And incidentally, you only have to install the script once to one site. You can then use it from any web page and website that you like.

All in all, My Contact Station is a neat little product, and one I am very happy to recommend to others.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Review: How to Get a Free Cruise

If you've listened to the interview with Anna Rushton on WritersFM, you'l know that Ms Rushton regularly enjoys free cruises just for giving talks about creative writing to the other passengers.

As a cruise enthusiast myself, this idea holds considerable attractions for me. But I've never done anything about it until now because I wasn't sure how to apply or what exactly the terms were.

However, I've just been reading a guide which sets it all out in black and white. How to Get a Free Cruise is a downloadable e-book by Daniel Hall, who has cruised the world as an online speaker and is now teaching others to do the same.

From reading Daniel's guide, I now know that most cruise lines employ guest speakers to give between two and four one-hour talks during a typical seven-day cruise. Apart from when you are lecturing, you are treated exactly like any other passenger, so you get free food, free entertainment, and unrestricted use of the ship's leisure facilities. OK, you aren't paid a fee, but in effect you get a free holiday worth thousands of dollars.

One other thing that had put me off applying before is that I assumed only the lecturer would get the free cruise (and I could hardly leave Jayne behind!). In fact, however, Daniel reveals that you are normally allowed to bring at least one travelling companion with you free of charge. They have no duties, and are free to lie back and enjoy the cruise.

How to Get a Free Cruise is in the universal PDF format and weighs in at a quite hefty 138 pages. At its heart is an eight-step plan for getting work as a cruise ship speaker. This covers pretty much everything you need to know, and if you follow it to the letter, in my view it would be hard to fail to get an offer of work.

Incidentally, this isn't just an opportunity for writers. It seems that cruise ships need people to give talks and presentations on all sorts of subjects, from real estate investment to arts and crafts. They also need speakers who can talk on subjects related to the destinations the ship is visiting.

How to Get a Free Cruise has an extra chapter about how to get work via cruise speaker agencies. These agencies can provide a shortcut to finding work as a speaker, though with the drawback that you have to pay them a fee for their services!

Buyers of Daniel's guide also get a range of bonuses, including tips on preparing and giving talks, and audio interviews with the proprietors of five (yes, five!) leading cruise ship speaker agencies. These are useful and interesting to listen to, even if you plan to apply under your own steam rather than via an agency.

How to Get a Free Cruise is well written - in a slightly homespun way - and is packed with useful info, including details of all the leading cruise lines that employ guest speakers, along with website URLs, contact details, and so on. One other thing I like about it is that - unlike many PDF e-books you buy - it makes good use of the left-hand bookmarks pane. This makes it very easy to navigate (no pun intended) from one section to another.

Clicking on How to Get a Free Cruise will take you to a website where you can apply for a free 18-page report which explains this opportunity in more detail. Once you have received this, you then get a link to the main info page. If you'd rather see the free report before you provide your details, however, I've saved a copy on my website: just click on Free Cruise Speaker Report and it should open immediately in Adobe Acrobat Reader, or right-click and choose Save Target As to save the report to the folder of your choice.

I appreciate that this opportunity won't appeal to everybody - I wouldn't recommend cruising if you get sea-sick, for example! But if you like the idea of enjoying regular free luxury holidays in exchange for a small amount of enjoyable work, How to Get a Free Cruise will almost certainly provide you with your "passport".

See you on the high seas!

Late Addition - I've just found out about a new website that, for a small fee, will submit your CV to over 300 cruise companies. They also have a free email newsletter with vacancy information and so on you can sign up to. Please click here for more details.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Review: The Cheat's Guide to Instant Genius

The Cheat's Guide to Instant Genius is a brand new product released by my publishers, WCCL. It's supplied on CD, and at its heart is a 147-page e-book in the universal PDF format.

Instant Genius, as I'll call it from now on, is essentially a comprehensive self-development guide. As it says in the introduction, "It shows you how to act, think and behave like a genius, giving you techniques and tips on accessing your creativity, improving your memory, accelerating your reading speed, and increasing your overall brain power."

As a psychology graduate and someone with a life-long interest in self development, I found the range of advice and techniques in this guide fascinating. Some of the techniques, e.g. those in the memory chapter, were familiar to me, but many others were new. I was especially intrigued by the chapter on NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), with its advice on how to create instant rapport with anyone, and the following chapter titled "The Persuasion Equation", which sets out some devilishly clever methods for getting other people to see things your way. There are some powerful techniques here that you should definitely be aware of, not only to use yourself, but in case they are ever used against you.

As writers, of course, we want to know how to boost our creativity and our facility with words, and Instant Genius covers these areas as well. There is also a section about Speed Reading, which provides a complete step-by-step guide to mastering this skill. The manual also covers mind mapping, a system of note-making that combines right- and left-brain skills. I regularly use mind mapping for planning writing projects, so can vouch personally for the effectiveness of this method.

Apart from the main course manual, you also get a wide range of bonus items, including free mind-mapping software, bluffer's guides to Shakespeare, Classical Music and the Great Writers, an inspirational audio meditation session, and many more.

Are there any drawbacks to Instant Genius? Well, it would have been nice if the table of contents at the front of the manual had included page numbers, preferably with hyperlinks to the sections concerned. As it is, navigating around the manual can be a bit frustrating at times. Also, I would like to have seen a few more illustrations, especially in the mind mapping section. The effectiveness of mind maps depends to a large extent on their visual impact, so it seems a little odd not to see any reproduced in the chapter concerned.

Still, these are relatively minor quibbles. There are masses of material here to set you on the road to "instant genius", and it is of course easy to follow up any topic that interests you by reference to the Internet (you can, for example, easily find full-colour examples of mind maps just by entering the term in a search engine). References to further information are also provided from within the manual.

Instant Genius is currently available at a discounted launch price - for more info, just click on any of the links in this review. Before you do, however, I'd like to make my own very special offer to you. Buy Instant Genius via one of my links, and I will also throw in an additional bonus item of my own. This is "Secrets of Improving Your Memory", an in-depth report I wrote for another publisher a year or two ago, which features several powerful (and little-known) memory-boosting techniques. Just email your receipt for Instant Genius to me at (change the -at- to the usual @ mark). I will verify your order and send you my report, normally within 24 hours.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Strange Choice of Prize Winner...

I don't often venture into literary criticism on this blog. However, the recent choice of The Island by Victoria Hislop (see below) as Waterstone's Newcomer of the Year in the Galaxy British Book Awards left me both surprised and depressed.

I took this book on holiday to Greece with me last year with high expectations. The book is set in Crete and tells the story of the tiny island of Spinalonga, a now-deserted former leper colony. It sounded an intriguing tale, and as a lover of Greece and its islands myself, the setting was an added bonus for me.

However, I found it one of the worst written books I had read for many a year. Ms Hislop's prose style is flat and dull, and the dialogue is especially leaden. Characters regularly deliver slab-like paragraphs of exposition in the least life-like manner imaginable. And the writing is often lazy. For example, near the start of the book the narrator and her parents go to a Greek restaurant and order the most predictable dishes you could pick: moussaka, stifado, kalamari, needless to say accompanied by a bottle of retsina. There was a golden opportunity here to bring the scene to life by describing some of the many more interesting and unusual Greek specialities, but instead - as throughout the book - the author was content to take the easy option.

What I found hardest to take about The Island, though, was the constant switching of viewpoints from one character to another. This is something every new fiction writer is taught to avoid, and for good reason - it confuses the reader and makes it almost impossible to identify and empathise with any of the characters. Almost every modern novel is written in scenes portrayed through the eyes (and other senses) of a single viewpoint character. If you are going to ignore this convention, as Ms Hislop has, you need to understand clearly what you are doing and why. I am not at all convinced that this was the case with The Island.

I do think that Victoria Hislop, a travel writer by profession, has uncovered a fascinating story here, and as social history it is certainly worth documenting. It is just a shame that she does not have the writing skills to turn it into a decent novel. What depresses me is that The Island was given this plaudit despite being poorly written - presumably because it was an interesting story, and the author and her husband are already well known in the literary world. Meanwhile, other much better written novels by authors with lower public profiles are shamefully ignored.

Anyway, excuse my rant. I have nothing against book awards, but I do think that above all else they should recognise and reward good writing. When a book such as The Island gets feted despite all its shortcomings, it seems to me unfair on the many 'unknown' authors who could have benefited hugely from the publicity generated by this award, not to mention the many readers (myself included) who may buy this book on the back of all the hype and feel short-changed by it.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Review: Self Publishing Secrets

Self Publishing Secrets is a recent addition to WCCL's range of electronic courses for writers, which also includes my own Quick Cash Writing and Write Any Book in Under 28 Days. It 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.

SPS (as I'll call it from now on) is available as an instant download. What you get for your money is a 140-page-plus searchable manual. As you'd expect from a WCCL production, it's attractively designed and professionally written and edited.

When you launch SPS, the Index page will open. This sets out the entire contents of the manual, with links to the main chapters and all the sub-sections (there are getting on for 100 of these). You can return here from any other page of the manual by clicking on 'Back to Main' at the foot of every page. Incidentally, you can also search for any term in the manual by clicking on the search icon at the very top of the screen.

The manual is divided into nine chapters as follows: 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.

SPS makes a persuasive case for self publishing as an alternative to seeking out a conventional publisher. In particular, the author points out that self publishing is NOT the same as vanity press. Modern print-on-demand and e-book technology has made self publishing for profit a realistic and achievable target for many writers. And, as Carol Ann points out, a growing number of authors have self published initially then had their books picked up and bought for large sums by mainstream publishers.

Where SPS is particularly strong is 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! Inevitably, it can't go into the same degree of detail when it comes to exactly how you turn your manuscript into an attractive-looking book, though it does set out all the important points you will need to consider.

Overall, I am happy to recommend Self Publishing Secrets to any author who wants to get an insight into self publishing their work, especially as it is currently on sale at the ultra-low offer price of just $25.95, or around 14 UK pounds.

However, I like to make sure readers of my blog always get the best deal going, so if you order via one of the links in this review, I'm going to throw in not one but TWO extra bonus items of my own. First of all, you'll get a copy of my exclusive 2,500-word report on how I self-published my e-book Fifty Great Ideas for Creative Writing Teaching on the top self-publishing site Starting from a finished Microsoft Word manuscript, it took me just a morning to sign up at Lulu and complete the entire e-book publishing process. In my report I reveal exactly how I did it, with some very important hints and tips for publishing your own e-book at Lulu along the way.

And not only that, I'll send you a free copy of Fifty Great Ideas for Creative Writing Teaching too. This e-book is intended for teachers and writers who work in schools, but the exercises it contains could equally be used by adult writers groups and individuals. More importantly, though, you will see the actual e-book I refer to in my report in its finished form. If you want to dip your toe into self-publishing, an e-book is the quickest and easiest way to do it. My free bonuses will show you EXACTLY how to do this on the world's favourite self-publishing website!

To claim your bonuses, just forward a copy of your order confirmation email for Self Publishing Secrets to me at (change the -at- to the usual @ sign). Please put FREE BONUS CLAIM in the subject line. I will check your order details and send you your bonus items, normally within 24 hours.

Happy self publishing!

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Write a Movie in a Month - Secret Discount!

Write a Movie in a Month is WCCL's blockbusting new course for would-be movie screenwriters. You can read my original review by clicking on any of the links in this post.

Write a Movie in a Month is a massive course. It was written by three professional screenwriters, two in the US and one in the UK. As well as the course material, you also receive over 850 (count 'em!) screenplays, teleplays, treatments, and so on. Along with full advice on how to set out your screenplay, a list of agents, free screenplay writing software, and much more, it really is a complete kit for breaking into this lucrative field.

I'm a big fan of this course, but I do appreciate that at $97 it costs a little more than some folk feel comfortable spending. So I was delighted to discover recently a way that I can offer readers of this blog a twenty dollar discount on the full price. That reduces the cost to just $77, or around 41 UK pounds.

I won't explain the exact method here, as it's all set out at the end of my original review. However, I would say two things. First, it's fully legal and above board. But second, it uses a "back door" method and I'm not sure how keen WCCL will be for me to be publicising it here. That means I may have to withdraw this offer at any time - so please, if you're interested in buying Write a Movie in a Month and want to take advantage of this extra discount, do it sooner rather than later!

And finally, I'm still giving away three extra bonus items of my own to anyone buying Write a Movie in a Month via this blog, even at the discounted price. Check out my review for more information.

That's it. See you in Hollywood!

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Review: The Online Writing Wealth System

The Online Writing Wealth System is a new (2007) downloadable manual by professional freelance writer Christina McDonald. As the name indicates, it's all about making money by writing for online markets.

The manual is in the universal PDF format and weighs in at 128 pages. OK, that's double-spaced (as is common with e-books), but it's still quite substantial. The good news is that it's well written and informative, and in my view any aspiring freelance would benefit from reading it. As I'll explain shortly, I do have one or two reservations about some of Ms McDonald's advice, but overall I'm happy to give the manual my recommendation.

A large part of The Online Writing Wealth System is devoted to a discussion of how writers can get work from online job sites such as Elance and Guru. For those who don't know, these operate as "auction" sites for writers (and other freelances) seeking work. Would-be clients post details of their assignments, and writers can then bid on any project that interests them.

Ms Macdonald has both good and bad news for writers about these sites. The good news is that, in her opinion, any half-way competent writer can get work in this way. The bad news is, because you are bidding against hundreds of other writers (many in low-wage economies), earnings are likely to be on the stingy side.

The author has a lot of experience in this field, however, and she explains in some detail how writers can get better-paid work via these sites. She recommends starting with low-paid work and making a good job of it, however, so as to obtain a good feedback rating. This is undoubtedly the best discussion I have ever seen about getting freelance writing work via job auction sites, and if you're thinking of going down this route, I'd say it was essential reading.

Other aspects of making money from writing online are covered in less detail. There is some discussion of blogging, for example, but no mention of services that will pay you for mentioning specific products and services on your blog, such as PayPerPost. Neither is there any discussion of specific techniques for online writing - the unspoken assumption (which may or may not be correct) is that the reader will know this, so the emphasis throughout is firmly on marketing your services.

On the plus side, there are some great resources listed here, including a long list of job sites for writers. Many of these I was unaware of, and I will definitely be adding them to my Favorites list. She also goes into some detail about a website where you can post articles on any subject and sell them, either exclusively or multiple times. This could be a good little earner if you can write the sort of articles website owners require.

As I indicated earlier, I can't say I agreed with every word in the manual. For example, the author says that it is not important for a writer to have a website. This very day I have been approached out of the blue by a marketing company which wants me to write an e-book for them for a fee of around $5,000. Without my website, it's highly unlikely they would have found me. So I think she is wrong about this, and I do rather disagree with one or two of her other comments too.

Nevertheless, I don't want to sound negative about The Online Writing Wealth System. There is a lot of very solid information here, from a writer who has clearly "been there and got the tee-shirt". I would only say, read it with an open mind, and don't take every word she tells you as Gospel!

Finally, I should mention that buyers of The Online Writing Wealth System also get a range of bonus items, and these are actually well worth having in their own right. In particular, you get The Camera Dollars Income System, an illustrated 119-page e-book about how you can create and sell photographs for profit. This e-book could easily be sold separately for the same price as The Online Writing Wealth System. It opened my eyes to how anyone with a modern digital camera could make a very handy extra income selling photos to "stock photography" websites.

* Special Bonus! Buy The Online Writing Wealth System via any link in this review and I'll send you a copy of my free mini-report on how to get paid for blogging. Just forward a copy of your email receipt with the subject line FREE GIFT CLAIM to (change the -at- to the usual @ symbol), and I'll email your free report to you once I have verified your order.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Review: Seven Dollar Secrets

Seven Dollar Secrets is a brand new e-book by Jonathan Leger. I heard about it via The S-Files, the writing blog of my friend and writing colleague Suzie Harris.

The sub-title of Seven Dollar Secrets is 'How to sell infoproducts for only $7 and make a lot of money doing it'. As you'll gather, the price of the manual is just $7, or around 4 UK pounds.

In Seven Dollar Secrets, Jonathan Leger makes a persuasive case for writing and selling low-cost e-books for profit. He points out that, if you are selling your report for just $7, it doesn't have to be very long (Leger suggests around 30 pages). He also argues that you don't have to be a hotshot copywriter to get people to part with just 7 bucks, and the rate of refund requests is far lower than with more expensive products.

One thing Leger doesn't go into any detail about in 7 Dollar Secrets is how to actually devise and write your e-book. If you need advice on that subject, I'd recommend my course Write Any Book in Under 28 Days, or the excellent 24-Hour E-Book Writing System by Melanie Mendelson.

However, where Leger's guide really does score is in providing a very clever marketing system you can use to sell your e-book and have others sell it on your behalf. Let me try to explain...

Anyone buying Seven Dollar Secrets gets the right to become an affiliate for the report themselves and earn 100 per cent of the profits from any sales they generate. That means if you buy this e-book and sell a single copy of it via your website or email newsletter, you will get the entire $7 you spent back. Sell more than that, and it's pure profit. All payments are made instantly using the online payment system Paypal.

Not only that, however, if you buy Seven Dollar Secrets, you also get the scripts needed to set up a similar promotion for your own e-book. These are quite straightforward to set up, or you can pay a modest fee to get the job done for you (details are in the report). You can then set up an identical promotion for your own e-book, giving buyers the chance to sell your report themselves and keep all of the profits.

At this point you might be saying, "OK, I can see that's a good incentive for people to buy my report, but doesn't it mean I won't get any money from the sales generated by my affiliates?" Well, yes, in a way it does, but Leger makes two important points about this. First of all, you can embed affiliate links to other relevant products and services in your report. If a buyer purchases via one of these, you will get your usual affiliate commission. And secondly, for every sale that is made by you OR an affiliate, you will receive an e-mail address which you can subsequently use to make other offers.

Overall, Seven Dollar Secrets is well written and sets out a method any writer could use to start selling their own information products. For $7 it's well worth a read, but possibly the main value comes from the scripts that are bundled with it. Anyway, I definitely plan to give the method a try, so watch out for my first $7 e-book, coming this way very soon!

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Friday, February 16, 2007

WhiteSmoke's Weekend Sale

Just when I thought WhiteSmoke's writing software couldn't get any cheaper, they've gone and shaved another 5% off the price. That means for this weekend only, you can buy the standard version for just $55.96 instead of the standard $79.95. For British buyers, that's around 30 UK pounds.

That really is a very competitive price for this popular software that will analyze the spelling, punctuation and grammar in any document, and then suggest corrections and possible improvements. I don't honestly see how they can cut it any further.

Anyway, if you'd like to read my full review of WhiteSmoke's writing software, just click here. Or you can click on the banner below to go straight to WhiteSmoke's main info page. Note that to get the full 30% discount, you will need to enter the coupon code 3030 when prompted. However, this will ONLY work till Sunday 18 February.

Whitesmoke's Writing Tool

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Monday, February 12, 2007

How Long Should It Take to Write a Movie Script?

I've mentioned WCCL's new Movie in a Month course a few times on my blog recently (mainly because I'm a big fan of it). Someone ('Anonymous') left the following comment the other day: 'What kind of film can you write in a month? This has got to be a con. You couldn't even write Scream 7 in a month. What can you write - How to Boil an Egg - the 28 day way?'

Well, everyone's entitled to their opinion, of course, even if they're not prepared to put their name to it. But a recent article by Joe Eszterhas, the world's highest paid scriptwriter, takes a different view. Writing in UK newspaper The Independent, he offers the following advice:
Write six pages of script a day

Stick to this schedule no matter what. You'll have a finished first draft in roughly twenty days. Then go back and edit what you've written. Spend no more than five days on this edit.

Then rewrite your script from page one - with your edits. Spend no more than one week on this rewrite - that means putting out 20 pages a day.

Put the script away for a week; don't even look at it. Then edit it once again. Spend no more than four days on the edit this time. Then rewrite it again from scratch with your edits - taking another week. This will be your third draft. Now begin the process of trying to sell it - this, your official first draft.

So Joe recommends writing your first draft script in twenty days - eight days LESS than the title of WCCL's movie-writing guide! OK, you'll have to go back and polish it before sending it out, but the same would apply with a book or any other literary work. You certainly can, and according to Joe Eszterhas you should, write a movie in a month!

To see my full review of WCCL's CD course by that title, just click here.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

WhiteSmoke Discount Offer Extended

Here's some good news if you were interested in buying the WhiteSmoke writing software but missed the 31 January deadline for their 25% discount offer. I've just heard from WhiteSmoke that due to the amount of interest the promotion has generated, they are extending the offer to the end of February.

To remind you, WhiteSmoke is a unique program that aims to help its users produce better-written documents. It does this by analyzing the spelling, punctuation and grammar in any document, and then suggesting corrections and possible improvements. It will work in almost any text-based application, including word processors, email programs, web-based forms, and so on. You can read my full review of the WhiteSmoke program here.

By the way, I've had some good feedback from readers who have bought the program, including the following in an email:
"...I did purchase the WhiteSmoke Software, and would say that it is very helpful in use. I bought the Creative Writing Software as well. Obviously it does not grasp the sense of the prose and dialogue, and can make some silly suggestions, but it does also pick up on errors which are not immediately obvious.
"One drawback was that it did not highlight where I used the same word twice in adjacent sentences. I thought it should have picked up on that. But there again, I had overlooked this myself, and noticed it because of other prompts from the WhiteSmoke Software.
"Overall, I thought it was a good additional help, and with the discount, not overpriced."

Anyway, if you want to find out more, and perhaps take advantage of the massive 25% discount right now, just click on the banner below and enter the discount code 2525 when prompted. If you're an email subscriber, you will probably need to visit my blog on the web to see this.

Whitesmoke's Writing Tool

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Last Chance Today!

It's the end of January, so I thought I'd just remind you that the opportunity to take advantage of my two great special offers on writing software ends today.

My first offer is on WCCL's brand new "Write a Movie in a Month" course. This is the top-selling CD course that has been making waves across the whole screenwriting community.

Regular readers will know I'm a big fan of this course, which has inspired me to write my first ever full-length screenplay. And to encourage you to buy via one of my links, I'm giving away the following as extra special bonuses: (1) my original report on how to make big money selling movie ideas, (2) my mini-report on how to write a movie treatment, and (3) my recommendation for a program you can try out for FREE which will help you outline your script and "automatically" produce a treatment for you. Not only that, I'm also throwing in a free, downloadable copy of my Short Story Acumen tutorial. Here's a link to my review of Write a Movie in a Month, along with details of my special offer and how to claim your free bonuses from me. Please remember - this offer MUST end today!

Secondly, my unique 25% discount on WhiteSmoke's writing software also ends today. As I've noted before, this is the biggest discount WhiteSmoke have ever given and there is no knowing when (or if) it will be repeated. So again, if you want to buy this popular software, which corrects errors in your writing and suggests ways in which it can be improved, see my review of WhiteSmoke for further details.

Happy writing!

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Reviews from Rob

I was pleased to hear from British freelance journalist Rob Hyde in response to my recent post Join My Marketing Team. Rob took up my challenge and has reviewed both of my writing courses published by WCCL on his website. Thanks a lot, Rob!

You can read the reviews of Write Any Book in Under 28 Days and Quick Cash Writing by clicking on the respective titles in this post. Overall, as you'll see, Rob has given a fair and balanced review of both courses, and I would not quibble with any of his comments (which are, on the whole, very positive).

I would just mention, however, that I have recently updated Quick Cash Writing and completely changed the section on using a pen-name that Rob criticises in his review. Everything is now fully up to date again, and ready for writers who want to earn "quick cash" from their words in 2007!

Incidentally, Rob spends a lot of his time in Germany, and he also has a blog called Brit in Germany which, as he memorably puts it, takes you "beneath the Lederhosen". The blog includes Rob's observations on life in Germany from a British perspective, and makes an entertaining and thought-provoking read.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Deadline 31 January...

A number of writing-related deadlines are coming up at the end of this month. It's only a week away, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to review them.

Firstly, if you want to take up my special offer for buyers of WCCL's new "Write a Movie in a Month" course, this will be closing at the end of January. In particular, I have been told I MUST stop giving away my Short Story Acumen tutorial to people buying the Movie course via one of my links.

So if you want to get your hands on this ground-breaking CD course, plus my two free reports, plus my software recommendation, plus a copy of my Short Story Acumen tutorial, you have just a week to place your order. Here's a link to my review of Write a Movie in a Month, along with details of my special offer and how to claim your free bonuses. If your ambition is to write for the movies, I guarantee it's the best offer you'll see all year!

Secondly, WhiteSmoke have told me that the 25% special discount on all their writing software must also end this month. This is the biggest discount WhiteSmoke have ever given and there is no knowing when (or if) it will be repeated. So again, if you want to buy this popular software, which corrects errors in your writing and suggests ways in which it can be improved, see my review of WhiteSmoke for further details.

There are also a few anthologies and other opportunities that are closing their doors at the end of January. Here are some details, along with links to the relevant items on my forum:

Erotic Short Stories
This e-publishing company is seeking erotic short stories of 12,000 to 15,000 words for publication in electronic and print form. Payment is by royalties on sales.

Literary Appraisers Wanted
Experienced writers and writing teachers are required to provide professional appraisals of work by new writers. You probably need to be UK-based for this.

Short Story Anthology
This new publishing house is seeking contributions of short stories in any genre.

As mentioned above, the deadline for all of these is 31 January 2007. Good luck!

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Review: Write A Movie in a Month

Write a Movie in a Month is the title of the latest writing CD from my publishers, WCCL. I was lucky enough to get an early review copy, and I've become addicted to it. It's even inspired me to start work on a screenplay myself - and while I've written over 50 published books, that's something I've never tried before...

So here's my review of what I confidently predict will become one of WCCL's top-selling products for writers. Apologies in advance for the length of this post, but it is a BIG product, and I really do want to do it justice. Plus, as you'll see later, I'm throwing in a few extra bonus items for anyone who orders Write a Movie in a Month via one of my links.

Write a Movie in a Month is written by three people who have enjoyed considerable success in the screenwriting field: James Lamberg, Steven Wanamaker, and Mark Lewin. The main, 156-page manual is by the Los Angeles-based James Lamberg, who has written (and ghost-written) over fifty screenplays that have been produced both in the US and the UK.

James has a highly readable and motivational style that really does make you feel that writing a screenplay is something you CAN do in a month or less. At the heart of his method is the five-part W.R.I.T.E. formula. I won't give too much away about this, but it sets out five essential tasks that (in James's view) every aspiring screenwriter must complete.

The manual puts particular emphasis on getting to know the characters in your screenplay. James is a development executive with Movie Works (a literary development and production company), and he has developed a special framework to assist writers in creating rich and complex characters. The manual explains this framework in detail, and I found it a fascinating process. In my view this technique could be of great assistance to novelists and short story writers as well as screenwriters.

James's manual also covers formatting your screenplay and marketing it to agents and producers. He is not afraid to point out that this is a very competitive field, and new screenwriters are likely to experience their fair share of rejection. However, as an insider in the industry, he reveals a range of techniques and tactics you can use to greatly boost your chances of success. I especially enjoyed his advice about creating "the elevator pitch". For those who don't know, this is a pitch that is short enough to make to a top producer as you travel betweeen floors with them in an elevator, yet compelling enough to make them want to sign a contract with you there and then!

James's manual is just part of this course, however. Top US screenwriter Steven Wanamaker has contributed a 30-page guide to plotting your movie that again is packed with useful advice. The main manual includes advice on plotting as well, but Steven's guide gives you a slightly different perspective on this crucial task. His approach is a bit more structural, a bit less character-focused.

UK screenwriter Mark Lewin has contributed two items. The first is a guide to movie jargon - this is useful but perhaps not essential. However, his other item, Formatting Your Screenplay Like a Pro, definitely is! There is a particular way in which movie screenplays have to be written and presented, and this is one of the best explanations I have seen of it. Mark reveals how scenes are set out, when to use lower case and when to use block capitals, what size indents to use, how (and when) to write instructions to actors, and so on. I've printed out this guide and keep it beside me while I'm working on my own screenplay. Needless to say, as I'm a newcomer to this field, I refer to it often!

Another invaluable bonus item is "The Screenwriter's Little Black Book of Movie Industry Contacts". I'm not exactly sure who wrote this, but again it's crammed with essential information. You'll find lists here of agents in California, New York, other US states and the UK, along with producers and production companies. But it's much more than just a directory. You'll also find in-depth advice on submitting your screenplay, along with a model query letter you can adapt. There is also a list of reputable screenplay contests you can enter - these can be a great way for a new writer to break into the movie industry.

Finally, there are two other bonus items. One of them is a fully featured screenplay-writing program that will take much of the hard work out of formatting your script. Just to emphasise, this is the full program, not merely a demo or shareware version. And finally, they have managed to squeeze over 850 sample screenplays on to the CD - everything from Ace Ventura to Young Frankenstein (nothing beginning with Z, though!). As well as movie scripts, you will find over 200 TV scripts and treatments as well. Reading these scripts and comparing them with the actual movies is an eye-opening experience in itself.

Write a Movie in a Month is supplied on CD-ROM rather than as an instant download. There is a very good reason for this: so much has been packed into it, even with a fast DSL/broadband connection, it would take hours to download. That means you will have to wait to receive it in the mail, but WCCL say they will deliver anywhere in the world. The CD will run on any computer, including Macs and Linux.

Overall, if you want to break into the big-money world of screenplay writing, this CD would be hard to beat. It combines inspirational and motivational advice with all the practical tips, strategies and information you need to get your first screenplay "in the can" a month after buying the course.

As you can tell, Write a Movie in a Month gets my highest recommendation. OK, even at the discount launch price of $97 (around 50 UK pounds) it's a bit more expensive than my courses Write Any Book in Under 28 Days and Quick Cash Writing. But - as WCCL say in their advertising - that's no more than the price of a couple of nights in a flea-ridden motel. And even if your script only gets optioned by a studio, you can expect to earn that sum back a hundred times over. If it gets made, of course, the sky really is the limit...

But still, I appreciate that 97 bucks isn't exactly a tiny sum of money. So if you order via one of the links in this review, I'm going to throw in a few extra bonus items of my own for you...

1. I'll send you my unique report "How to Make Big Bucks Selling Your Movie Idea to Hollywood". The truth is that you don't HAVE to write a complete screenplay to make money in this field. In my report I'll show you how you could earn up to $20,000 USD or more just by selling a movie IDEA of maybe two or three sentences.

2. One thing that surprised me slightly is that the main manual doesn't say a great deal about writing a treatment. This is an intermediate stage which sets out your movie storyline in prose form. It's not essential to produce a treatment, but some writers find it useful as a blueprint to work from, and some movie-writing contests require them. So I'll also send you my original mini-report on writing a treatment.

3. And finally, you'll get download details for a little-known program that will help you outline your movie and produce a treatment "automatically" for you. This isn't free, but it's shareware, so you can download it and try it out free of charge before deciding if it's right for you.

If you'd like to get your hands on Write a Movie in a Month PLUS all my special bonuses, all you have to do is click on any of the links to Write a Movie in a Month in this review and place your order at the sales site on that visit. Once you've ordered, just forward a copy of the e-mail receipt showing your purchase to me at (change the -at- in this address to the usual @ symbol). Please title your email BONUS CLAIM. I will then send you instructions on how you can claim your free bonuses from me.

NEW FOR 2007! Hey, guess what? I've just discovered a "back door" way you can get a full twenty dollars off Write a Movie in a Month, cutting the price at a stroke to just $77 (about 41 UK pounds). Don't worry, it's legal and above board - it's just not widely publicised!

You can still read all the info about Write a Movie in a Month by clicking on any of the links in my review above, but DON'T buy via those links. Instead, when you're ready to order, click here if you want to pay by credit card, or click here if you prefer to use Paypal. You will then be taken directly to the order page with the discounted price showing!

And yes, you'll still qualify for all my free bonus items as well. Just send a copy of your email receipt to me according to the instructions above, and I'll send you the download links, normally within 24 hours.

But, please, if you want to take advantage of this extra discount, don't wait too long. I've no idea how long this "back door" will remain open, and it's quite possible I'll be told that I'm not allowed to publicise it. If the special links don't work when you try them that's the likeliest explanation, in which case please accept my apologies. Even at $97, Write a Movie in a Month is still exceptional value!

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