Give It a Week

“Give it a week” is a piece of advice I heard many years ago when I was starting out as a freelance writer.

I believe the phrase is commonly used in advertising agencies, though as I’ve never worked in one of these myself I can’t confirm this – I simply read it in a book, the rest of which I’ve long forgotten.

Anyway, the idea behind the advice is that, before signing off any piece of work, you should put it to one side for a week. When you return to it, with fresh eyes you are almost bound to see ways in which it can be improved.

Of course, in our frenetic world, you may not always have a week to spare – but even if you can only give it a day, the principle still applies.

I have always tried to apply this guideline in my writing, and when I haven’t I’ve often regretted it. I think there are two reasons why it is such a worthwhile principle to follow.

First, you return to the project with fresh eyes. It’s a well-known fact that if you spend hours continuously working on a project, you become so close to it you no longer see “obvious” mistakes and infelicities – e.g. repetition of the same long word within a couple of sentences. This is otherwise known as the “can’t see the wood for the trees” phenomenon.

But, even more important, if you leave the project for a while, you give your intuitive right brain the chance to come up with its own suggestions. Readers of my course Write Any Book in Under 28 Days will know that I’m a big believer in the right brain, left brain theory – the idea that we all have in effect two brains, a rational, logical left brain and an intuitive right one.

The right brain cannot communicate directly the way the left brain does – instead it works by sending ideas bubbling through in dreams and moments of inspiration. Giving the right brain time and space to work often results in better ideas than if you just sit down and try to complete an entire project in one sitting.

Personally, I find that a lot of my best ideas come when I am doing something totally unconnected to writing. Best of all, for some bizarre reason, is gardening, but shopping, walking, driving and washing-up are also good.

On the other hand, I can’t say I have ever had any especially good ideas whilst watching TV – I think it’s because TV occupies all our senses and drowns out any attempt by our intuitive right brain to communicate with us.

Anyway, my main point is, when you think you’ve finished any writing project, if you possibly can, set it to one side for a week, then return to it for a final revision. I’ll be amazed if you don’t find mistakes you didn’t notice before, and sections you can polish and sharpen.

If you don’t have a week, give it a day at least, but any break before tackling the final version is better than none. Otherwise, I can guarantee that, soon after pressing the “Send” button, you will think of at least three ways the work in question could have been improved!

Note: This is an updated version of an evergreen post originally published on my old blog at www.mywritingblog.com..

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Spotlight: Write Any Book in Under 28 Days

I am probably best known online as the author of a number of writing courses that I created for the electronic publishing house WCCL (also known as The Self Development Network).

I am no longer working with WCCL (except as an affiliate) but I still get lots of queries about these courses. So I thought today I would take the opportunity to highlight one of them…

Write Any Book in Under 28 Days (also referred to as The Nick Daws Course) is the first course I ever wrote for WCCL. It’s also the first they ever published. Nowadays they offer over seventy products in a range of categories, but this course is the one that started it all!

Although I have written a dozen other courses since, in many ways Write Any Book in Under 28 Days is still my favourite. It could be sub-titled “Everything I know about writing a book”. It is packed with tips and advice based on my experience as the author of over 100 books, most of which were traditionally published. At its heart is my unique four-step system of outlining and “blueprinting”, which thousands of new writers have used successfully to create their first books.

The course has, as you might expect, been updated a few times, but thankfully much of the content is “evergreen”, so it doesn’t actually date that quickly. It is aimed primarily at non-fiction writers, but there is a substantial section on fiction writing within it. My only slight reservation is that, as far as I’m aware, the publishers haven’t updated the bonus items for a while, but that doesn’t affect the value of the course itself, in my opinion.

Write Any Book in Under 28 Days is shipped on a CD that runs in Microsoft Windows. I know that’s slightly less convenient than the usual instant download, but when it was first launched the course was pirated remorselessly, so WCCL had to take this action to protect it from copyright thieves.

So there will be a little wait before you can access the course content, but it will – I promise – be worth it!

I’ve published an extract below, to give you a taster. It comes from the section of Module Two about getting ideas. Note that, like the whole of the CD, it is written in US rather than UK English.

Start by thinking about your job (and if you’re a student, a carer, a home-maker, a full-time parent or an unpaid volunteer worker, that counts just as well). Think about whether there are aspects of this that would be of interest to ordinary people, or people who do similar jobs to you (or would like to). Remember, you don’t have to be an ‘expert’ now – you can always research what you don’t know later. But clearly it helps if you already know something about your subject. And by the very fact of doing a certain job, you already know more than the great majority of the population about this subject.

However, suppose your job doesn’t suggest many ideas – or you simply don’t find it interesting or exciting enough to inspire you. Try thinking about jobs you have done in the past. Think about your hobbies and leisure interests, from baseball to gourmet cookery, astronomy to travel. Could any of these provide the inspiration for a book?

And think about experiences you have gone through in your life. The topics below (an expanded version of the list in Module One) have formed the basis of many thousands of books already. How many of these could you write about from experience yourself?

    Getting Married
    Having a Baby
    Bringing Up Children
    Living With Teenagers
    Dealing With Bereavement
    Being A Student
    Shopping for Bargains
    Coping With Divorce
    Buying/Selling a House
    Learning to Drive
    Buying a Car
    Extending Your Home
    Making Your Own Clothes
    Designing a Garden
    Getting a Job
    Starting Your Own Business
    Managing Staff
    Negotiating a Payrise
    Employing People
    Managing Your Time
    Travelling With Children
    Investing Your Money
    Overcoming Disability

Remember, the experience itself is just a starting point. From the list above, take ‘Being a Student’, for example. Here are just a few ideas for books which might derive from this:

    Leaving home: a guide for young people
    Study skills for students
    Improve your memory
    How to work your way through college
    Cooking for cash-strapped students
    The Internet for students
    Making the most of student life

Hmm. I might have a go at one or two of these myself! Seriously, the point I am making is that most people have the seeds for hundreds, probably thousands, of books within them already. All you need to do is spend a little time thinking about your life – things you do now and things you have done in the past – and consider how your knowledge and experience might be of interest to others.

And here’s a further idea to make your idea even more attractive to potential readers and publishers: develop your own technology around it! And no, I don’t mean you have to produce some clever gadget to accompany your book. By technology I mean a plan or system around which you can structure your book (or part of it).

An acronym is a good example of what I’m talking about here. For those who don’t know, an acronym is a word made up from the initial letters of other words or phrases. It acts as an aide memoire for the words concerned, and in many cases forms the basis for a set of guidelines or instructions. For example, advertising copywriters are often taught that any ad they write should meet the AIDA requirements. These are as follows:

1. ATTRACT the reader’s ATTENTION

2. Arouse INTEREST

3. Create DEMAND for the product or service

4. Prompt the reader to ACTION

Acronyms aren’t the only example of a technology you could invent for your book. The truth is, ANY original idea can work as long as it is snappy, easy to remember, and preferably contains at least a granule of truth! One example is Declan Treacy, the writer and entrepreneur behind ‘Clear Your Desk Day’. Treacy’s Big Idea (in a nutshell) was to tell harassed executives they could handle incoming paperwork more efficiently by assessing each item as it came in and allocating it to one of four categories: act on, pass on, file or bin. From this simple concept he created a world-wide best-seller, an international business organization and a highly paid career lecturing on the subject of managing your paperwork.

Or, if you want another example, take Stephen Covey. His book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People was based around a system for developing personal effectiveness through seven ‘habits’ or principles. None of these is exactly rocket science – for example, the first is ‘Be Proactive’ and the second ‘Begin with the End in Mind’. Covey’s Seven Habits have been widely adopted by consultants and trainers, and were even incorporated by Microsoft into some of their software (e.g. Microsoft Outlook). Covey’s book has been translated into 32 different languages and has sold over 6 million copies to date. First published in 1989, it is still riding high in the best-seller lists today.

All very well, you may say, but I’m not an international business guru – maybe I don’t even want to become one. It doesn’t matter! Whatever area you plan to write about, create your own technology around it. Say you’re going to produce a book about bringing up teenagers (a subject I know nothing about, by the way). A few moments’ thought gave me the acronym RAILS, made up as follows:

Set RULES

Make ALLOWANCE

Show INTEREST

Don’t LECTURE

Give SPACE (or SUPPORT)

As we’ll see in the next section, an acronym can also help provide the title for your book. In the above example, one obvious possibility would be Keep Your Teenager on the RAILS. I must admit, I can easily imagine this climbing high in Amazon.com’s Top Sellers list! I don’t think I’ll be writing it myself, even so – but if any reader wants to pick up the idea and run with it, I’ll be happy to settle for 10 per cent of your royalties!

Finally, suppose you want to write fiction rather than non-fiction. The same principle applies – use your own experience as a starting point, and build on this using your imagination and research. For example: a friend of mine writes detective novels from a police perspective; I believe they’re called police procedurals by those in the know. He doesn’t have a police background himself and wrote his first novel entirely from his own imagination, aided by a little research from books. He particularly treasures one glowing review from a police magazine which congratulates him on the authenticity of his characters!

Of course, the real point is that people are the same the world over, whatever the occupation they happen to work in: some are conscientious, others slapdash; some are sociable, others solitary; some court trouble, others aim to avoid it. The same would doubtless be true in medieval times, the present day or the far future. All writers have to do is start from their own experience of the world and the people in it, and extend this.

As I said above, I hope this will give you a flavour (or flavor) of what Write Any Book in Under 28 Days is about. It is (still) a course I’m very proud of, and I recommend it if you would like advice and guidance on writing a full-length book.

If there is anything else you would like to know, feel free to post a comment below, or click through to my publisher’s sales and information page.

I will be publishing further “Spotlight” posts about some of my other WCCL writing courses in the near future.

Nick Daws Course

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BookLinker: A Great Free Service for Amazon Authors and Publishers

A little while ago I wrote a post about GeoRiot. This is a link management platform that allows you to create universal links to books and other products on Amazon. These links automatically detect where visitors live and redirect them to the appropriate page of their own national Amazon store, optionally with your affiliate link attached.

GeoRiot’s Cole Lakes kindly pointed out to me that GeoRiot also run another service, BookLinker, that may in fact be a better choice for many independent authors and publishers.

BookLinker only works with Amazon (unlike GeoRiot, which also works with iTunes), but it also uses GeoRiot’s patented link translation technology to automatically redirect visitors to their own national store. And unlike GeoRiot (which charges $10 for every 10,000 clicks after the first 1000), BookLInker is always free.

I initially assumed you couldn’t apply Amazon affiliate tags to your links with BookLInker, but that turned out to be wrong. The procedure works a little bit differently from GeoRiot, however, and I did find it slightly confusing at first.

To create BookLInker links with your affiliate code attached, you must first enter the Amazon sales page URL for any book (or e-book) you want to promote in the box at the top of the BookLinker homepage and click “Create Universal Link”. You will then be invited to create a BookLinker account. This is free and only takes a few moments.

You can then click on “My Account” in the right-hand menu (you may need to click on the box with three horizontal lines in order to see this). A new page will open, and you can then enter your Amazon Associates codes for all stores you are an affiliate with. Eight stores are covered currently, these being Amazon.com and the national stores for Canada, UK, Italy, Spain, France, Germany and Japan. Of course, you may not want to bother signing up as an affiliate with all these stores if you don’t expect to get many sales from them.

All of your BookLinker links will then automatically apply your affiliate code to visitors to the store in question. To give you an example, here is a BookLinker link to my Kindle e-book Three Great Techniques for Plotting Your Novel or Screenplay: http://mybook.to/ThreeGreat. Click on this and the book’s sales page should open in your own national Amazon store.

There are a number of possible root domains you can choose for your links, incidentally, including myBook.to, viewBook.at, getBook.at, viewAuthor.at, and Author.to.

From your “My Links” page you can access statistics on how many clicks your links have generated and which stores they have been redirected to. There aren’t as many stats as you get with GeoRiot, and not as many bells and whistles generally. But if all you want is a straightforward service that redirects people clicking on your Amazon links to the relevant national Amazon store, with or without your affiliate code, it may be ideal for you. As already mentioned, BookLinker is free however many times your links are clicked. Another attraction for some people may be that, unlike GeoRiot, you don’t have to provide your credit card details.

Finally, I should emphasize that there is no obligation to enter any affiliate codes if you don’t want to. BookLInker will then still perform a valuable role in ensuring that all your visitors are directed to their own national Amazon store when they click on any of your links.

If you have any comments or questions about BookLinker, as ever, please feel free to post them below. Please note that I am shortly off on vacation, though, so comments may not be approved as quickly as usual.

 

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Blog Spam Gets More Sophisticated

 

I’ve been running my new Entrepreneur Writer blog for about a month now. For the most part I’m really enjoying it. It’s great to have total control over this blog (my old blog was owned and sponsored by my publishers) and I’m also enjoying the greater flexibility of the WordPress platform.

There is always a fly in the ointment, though, and in this case it’s blog spam. It took about a week for the spammers to notice this blog, and then the spam comments started flying in thick and fast.

I should say that one of the first things I did when setting up Entrepreneur Writer was install an anti-spam plugin (I chose Antispam Bee). This has been a life-saver, but I still like to double-check what alleged spam it is blocking. And that has been something of an eye-opener…

Some spam is, of course, easy to spot. Where it’s irrelevant to the subject of the post and blatantly an attempt to insert a link to another website, there is no doubting it is spam. Other instances can be harder to identify, though. Without the assistance of my anti-spam plug-in, I would have been quite tempted to approve these comments, and maybe even respond to them.

The one that came closest to fooling me was this one:

When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four e-mails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove people from that service? Thanks a lot!

When I first saw this comment I was quite concerned and all set to respond. I am new to running a WordPress blog, and was quite willing to believe I had done something wrong. A little research and reflection proved that this was not the case, however.

For one thing, Antispam Bee had marked it as spam. In addition, a quick Google search showed that I wasn’t the only blog owner who had received this comment and been concerned about it.

Most significantly, though, at the time when the comment was posted, there was no way for visitors to my blog to subscribe to be notified when new comments were made. Case closed – guilty as charged!

(I do now have a subscription facility for comments, incidentally, by courtesy of the excellent Subscribe to Comments Reloaded plug-in.)

Other comments also flagged up as spam included several like this one:

I am really loving the theme/design of your weblog. Do you ever run into any browser compatibility issues? A number of my blog visitors have complained about my blog not working correctly in Explorer but looks great in Chrome. Do you have any advice to help fix this problem?

Again, without the tip-off from Antispam Bee, I could easily have been drawn into publishing this and replying to it. I don’t want to say exactly how the plug-in knew it was spam, in case this helps other would-be spammers. Suffice to say, it applies a number of clever tests that are designed to weed out comments from known spammers and spambots.

So far, Antispam Bee has a 100 percent record on my blog in blocking spam comments and allowing through genuine ones. I will continue to monitor any it marks as spam in case any genuine ones are wrongly blocked, but so far I am very impressed by how well it works. Of course, there are other anti-spam plug-ins too – Akismet is a very popular one that also attracts high ratings from users.

My recommendation if you run a WordPress blog is therefore to install an anti-spam plug-in at the very earliest opportunity. And if you use another platform, be sure to have comment moderation switched on, and regard any comments such as those I have mentioned above with considerable skepticism!

If you have any comments or questions about dealing with blog spam, please do post them below (as long as they aren’t spammy!).

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Lessons Learned From Putting Up a Garden Trellis

Like many writers, I am not known for my practical skills. However, this year I have been trying to bring my unruly garden under control, and it has taught me (or reminded me of) certain lessons that apply equally to writing.

For example, a few days ago I wanted to put up a wooden trellis on the brick wall that runs down the side of my back garden (see photo above). The previous occupants of the house simply put up trellises by hammering nails through the wood and into the wall, but even I know this isn’t best practice. I wanted to put wall plugs into the wall first, then screw the wooden trellis into that.

So I drilled five holes in the wall and inserted plugs into them, then tried drilling holes in the trellis in the same configuration. But even though I did try to measure the distance between the holes accurately, none matched up properly. If I fitted one screw, all four of the others didn’t align. Doh!

But then I saw a solution. With just one screw in place at the top, I could swing the trellis sideways like a pendulum. With the trellis in the correct position, therefore, I drilled a small hole through the trellis lower down, going into the wall as well. I then swung the trellis across and using a larger drill-bit made the hole in the wall bigger, so a wall plug would fit into it. I then swung the trellis back into position, and fitted a second screw in place through the trellis and into the wall plug.

Now, I know that securing a trellis in just two places might not sound ideal, but it is very light and with two screws firmly in place in wall plugs, I don’t think it will fall off any time soon. I’m quite sure that better methods must exist for fixing trellises to brick walls, but I was nonetheless pleased to have come up with this solution.

So what is the lesson to be learned from this? Sometimes we can’t solve a problem just by staring at it or trying to figure it out entirely in our heads. Sometimes – perhaps often – the best thing is simply to do something. By taking action, whatever it may be, new perspectives and solutions will often present themselves.

As a writing teacher, I’ve had students with potentially great ideas for books who simply couldn’t get started. I always say to anyone in this position, if you can’t see a way forward with your project, just do something with it. If you can’t decide how to start your novel or short story, for example, skip to somewhere else in the story and start there instead, and come back to the beginning later.

The much-missed US science fiction author Roger Zelazny (if you haven’t read any of his books, try the astounding Lord of Light or the shorter but no less enjoyable Isle of the Dead) regularly used this method. Before beginning a novel he would often write a scene or even a story featuring his main characters, just as a way to get to know them better. Sometimes this would also suggest ideas to him that he could incorporate into the novels themselves. A few such stories wound up published separately in anthologies, which I guess was an added bonus for him.

So if you’re feeling blocked right now and can’t move forward on a project, try approaching it from a different angle. Write a new scene or chapter, maybe not even one you intend to use in the finished book. Get something – anything – onto the page, and I can almost guarantee that this will help you see approaches and solutions that might not have occurred to you before.

And if you have any better ideas for fixing garden trellises to my wall in future, please do let me know 😉

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Review: No Writing Needed: How to Profit From No and Low Content Books

No Writing Needed: How to Profit From No and Low Content Books is the latest product for writers to be released by the prolific Amy Harrop.

No Writing Needed (as I’ll call it for short from now on) reveals how to create, publish and sell books that require little to no writing. It’s just been launched at a low offer price of $17 (about 11 UKP), and will be available at this price till May 11 2015, after which the price will rise by $10.

Amy was kind enough to allow me pre-launch reviewer access to No Writing Needed, so here’s what I found…

The main course content for No Writing Needed takes the form of a 41-page PDF. This includes plenty of links to additional resources. Some of these are provided by Amy herself, but most are on external websites.

As you might expect from this experienced author, the PDF is well written and presented. The table of contents at the front has active links, a feature which is always much appreciated. There are one or two screengrab illustrations, although perhaps not quite as many as you might expect.

The manual starts by taking you through an impressive variety of low- and no-content book categories. They include such things as homework and wedding planners and colouring books (children’s and adults). One important thing to emphasize is that these are all print books, not e-books. These are products where the buyer provides much of the content themselves, so they do have to be in hard copy form really.

Having taken you through the (many) options available, Amy then discusses how to go about producing such books yourself. This is clearly a subject she knows well, and she lists numerous suppliers and resources she has used personally.

For some types of book she recommends Amazon’s own CreateSpace print-on-demand service, although she does point out that other bookstores often refuse to stock CreateSpace titles. Nonetheless, she recommends this option if you want to target Amazon customers exclusively. Even in other cases, however, she suggests making use of the free templates on CreateSpace.

Design is also covered in some detail, and there are links to various templates you can use and adapt. If you want a wedding planner template, for example, there are links to six different ones. Amy also includes links to resources for creating colouring books, including free software you can use to create colouring book images. But there are links to specialist designers on Fiverr.com as well, in case you prefer to outsource some or all of the design work.

Finally, the guide talks about how to market and sell your books. Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) is one of several options that is discussed. Amy also has an optional extra module that goes into much more detail about FBA, with lots of extra tips and hints. She was one of the first authors to use FBA for selling books, so she really does know what she is talking about here.

Overall, I thought No Writing Needed was another high-quality product from Amy Harrop. If you’re only interested in writing Kindle e-books, obviously it won’t be relevant to you. On the other hand, Kindle is becoming an ever more crowded and competitive market. Writing and selling the type of book described in this course, while it will undoubtedly entail a bit of a learning curve initially, could potentially provide you with a steady and substantial income that continues over a long period. Once you have your systems and suppliers in place, publishing additional low- and no-content books should then be a quick and simple process. It’s definitely an approach any entrepreneurial writer should consider.

If you have any comments or queries about No Writing Needed, as always, please feel free to post them below.

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