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Review: Writing Your Non-Fiction Book by Alex Gazzola

Review: Writing Your Non-Fiction Book by Alex Gazzola

Writing Your Non-Fiction Book is a new, low-cost Kindle e-book by my colleague Alex Gazzola. Alex is a UK-based author and writing teacher who runs the popular Mistakes Writers Make.blog

Alex was kind enough to send me a review copy of Writing Your Non-Fiction Book, so here’s what I found…

Writing Your Non-Fiction Book is a guide to writing a non-fiction book and getting it published by a traditional (print) publisher. With all the attention devoted to self-publishing on Kindle, CreateSpace, and so on, this approach can almost seem old-fashioned nowadays. Nonetheless, there is still a strong argument for seeking a conventional print publisher, not least for the support with the publishing process and the potentially better financial returns. Most of my own books have been traditionally published non-fiction.

Those who have read Alex’s other books such as 50 Mistakes Beginner Writers Make and 50 More Mistakes Beginner Writers Make won’t be surprised to hear that Writing Your Non-Fiction Book is exceptionally well written and presented. It takes you step by step through planning, writing and promoting your book.

Alex starts by discussing why you might want to write a non-fiction book and what to write about. There is good, sensible advice about building your reputation as an ‘expert’ in your chosen field first, e.g. by writing articles and getting them published in magazines.

Alex doesn’t recommend writing a book and then casting around for a publisher. Rather, he advocates sending out a proposal first, and only going ahead with the writing once you have a contract from a publisher. This approach is discussed in detail, and I agree it is definitely the way to go with non-fiction books.

He goes on to discuss researching and writing your book, and the subsequent proofreading and editing process. The final part then covers promoting your book (working with your publisher’s publicist) and ways you can boost sales and generate additional income (e.g. by registering with the PLR Office and ALCS in the case of UK authors).

Writing Your Non-Fiction Book is quite concise, but it provides a great introduction to writing a non-fiction book and getting it published. At the low asking price (just $1.26 in the US Amazon store and 99p at Amazon UK) it would be a valuable addition to any aspiring author’s library.

  • If you are interested in writing a non-fiction book, you might also like to consider Write Any Book in Under 28 Days, my own top-selling course on non-fiction book writing. My course is obviously more expensive than Alex’s e-book, but it does go into a bit more detail about the writing and editing process.

If you have any comments or questions about Writing Your Non-Fiction Book, as ever, please feel free to post them below.

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How to Punctuate Thoughts in Fiction

How to Punctuate Thoughts in Fiction

It’s a question that arises regularly among new fiction writers – what is the best way to represent a character’s thoughts in print?

In reply, the first point I would make is that this is a stylistic matter, not one of grammar. There is no single “correct” way to punctuate or otherwise represent a character’s thoughts. Some authors put them in quotation marks, others use italics. I’ve even seen thoughts put in parentheses or ALL CAPS, although I certainly don’t recommend that!

In fact, though, the most common approach nowadays is to avoid using any special punctuation or formatting to represent thoughts, and that is the style I would strongly recommend.

A crucial point here is that most stories today are written in scenes portrayed through the eyes of a single viewpoint character, whether first person (I) or third person (he/she). In such cases there is no need for any extra punctuation to signify a character’s thoughts. The whole scene is, in effect, the thoughts and perceptions of the ‘viewpoint’ character. The example below – written in a third-person limited viewpoint – may illustrate why extra punctuation for thoughts is usually unnecessary.

“What time is it?” Sarah asked.
That’s the third time you’ve asked me in the last twenty minutes, James thought. Still, he checked his watch. “Five to eight,” he said.
“Why aren’t they here?” Sarah asked. She stared at him. “Do you think they’ve been in an accident?”
“I doubt it,” James replied. “Probably they just got held up in the traffic.” Unless Phil’s car has broken down again, he thought to himself.

If you tried putting quotation marks around the thoughts in this passage, you would end up with almost everything in quotes, and total confusion over whether the character was speaking or thinking. 

In general, the problem with using quotation marks around a character’s thoughts is (a) it makes the text look cluttered, and (b) it invites confusion with speech.

So what about the alternative of using italics for thoughts? Yes, you can do this, but as mentioned above, when a scene is written from a limited viewpoint anyway (as is usually the case in modern fiction), there is no need to represent thoughts any differently from the rest of the text. And if it’s unnecessary, why do it?

Using italics to represent thoughts also has a number of drawbacks:

  • You are likely to waste a lot of time agonizing over whether a particular line is a thought or a description.
  • You will end up with much of your text in italics, which looks ugly and distracting.
  • And finally, you will lose the option of using italics when, for some dramatic reason, extra emphasis is required.

If you want further evidence for my case, browse through any popular novel published today. You will be hard pressed to find ANY examples of quotation marks or italics used specifically to represent thoughts. In the vast majority of cases, thoughts are presented in plain text without any other punctuation or adornment.

So my advice is clear. NEVER use quotation marks for thoughts. If it’s absolutely necessary to indicate thoughts in a special way, use italics (but mostly this shouldn’t be required). And keep italics for their proper purpose, which is providing extra emphasis.

Don’t forget – there’s much more advice on grammar, punctuation and spelling in my downloadable course Essential English for Authors.

Note: This is a revised and updated version of an article originally published on my old blog at Mywritingblog.com.

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Companion Publishing Profits Review

Review: Companion Publishing Profits by Amy Harrop

Companion Publishing Profits is a new self-publishing guide from my colleague Amy Harrop.

Amy is a successful author herself and the publisher of many guides and software products for authors. She was kind enough to allow me a review copy, so here’s what I found…

Companion Publishing Profits is a guide to making money by publishing books that are intended to accompany or supplement existing content. An example would be a study guide.

The main guide is a 75-page PDF. As you would expect with any of Amy’s publications, this is well written and attractively presented. It is illustrated with screen captures, mainly of related Amazon books and listings.

Amy starts by saying that services such as Amazon’s CreateSpace and Kindle have made it easy for anyone to self-publish. She adds that companion publishing can be a great way to capitalize on this, as you are effectively piggy-backing on the popularity of other products.

The types of product discussed in the manual include workbooks, journals, study guides, planners, and so on. One big attraction of producing this type of book is that the reader typically provides much of the content him/herself. In effect, you are simply providing an attractively formatted product for them to write in.

Of course, this type of product only really works in print format. So Companion Publishing Profits focuses mainly on using Amazon’s CreateSpace (print on demand) service. Kindle is mentioned as well, though, and there is also a bonus guide to self-publishing on Lulu.com.

There are 11 main chapters, as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Companion Publishing as an Income Stream
  3. Finding Hot-Selling Topics for Companion Publishing
  4. Popular and Effective Companion Content
  5. How to Create Workbooks
  6. Creating Workbook Templates
  7. Creating Journals and Planners
  8. Publishing
  9. How to Position Your Content
  10. Making More Sales
  11. Conclusion

Companion Publishing Profits takes you through a wide range of companion products that are quick and easy to produce, with plenty of examples to set you thinking. It also suggests ways of researching ideas for your own companion products.

The manual goes on to discuss various methods for creating templates for your companion publishing projects. These include buying ready-made templates (including PLR) and making your own using Microsoft Word or Canva. Once you have a template or templates you like, you can of course use them again and again to create your own range of companion publishing products with relatively little extra work.

Publishing on CreateSpace is covered in some detail. As well as the ‘nuts and bolts’ of publishing on the platform, Amy also discusses choosing categories for your book, optimizing your title and description, targeting search keywords, and so forth.

The manual also covers the tricky subject of avoiding copyright and trademark infringement. Amy advises using public domain or out-of-copyright content as much as possible. For example, the Bible offers lots of opportunities for companion publishing, including devotionals and prayer journals. But you can also choose topics that are covered in popular books without mentioning them specifically (e.g. tidying your desk). You can also quote short extracts from popular books under the ‘Fair Use’ exemption in copyright law.

One big advantage of writing and publishing companion books is that there is a large group of people interested in the subjects concerned, who in many cases are actively seeking content related to the topic concerned. If you can publish a book that comes up high in the results when they are searching (either online or on Amazon), you could potentially generate a lot of sales.

Although the guide is fairly concise, it includes links to a range of other resources – some by Amy, some by other people – covering specific issues and questions. The links to templates you can use for your companion-publishing projects are worth the price of the product alone in my view.

As well as the main guide, there are various bonuses. These include a 22-page PDF guide to self-publishing on Lulu (as mentioned earlier) and a 29-page PDF guide to marketing your book. The latter would be relevant to any self-published book, not just companion-publishing products.

There are also five training videos covering various aspects of the process. These are as follows:

  1. Companion books research
  2. Canva for journals and worksheets
  3. Tips for Creating journal prompts
  4. Cresting Worksheets from PLR
  5. Creating worksheets from table of contents research

The videos are attractively produced in the usual screen-capture style. They range from around 3 to 8 minutes in length. The commentary is provided by Amy herself. She speaks quite slowly and clearly, and I had no problems following what she was saying.

In summary, Companion Publishing Profits is a comprehensive guide to writing and publishing books of this nature. It is currently on a launch special offer, after which (as is Amy’s normal practice) the price will be rising by at least $10. If you are looking to build a growing additional income stream for relatively little effort, it is well worth a look.

If you have any comments or questions about Companion Publishing Profits, as always, please do post them below.

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Check Out These Content Writing Tips from 70 Experts

Check Out These Content Writing Tips From 70 Experts

I was recently asked to contribute a writing-related tip to a blog post that was being compiled by my colleague Camilla Hallstrom. Camilla runs the popular Influence with Content copywriting blog.

The post has now been published, and it is such a comprehensive resource I thought I would share a link to it here. The title is Writing Engaging Content – 70 Powerful Expert Tips.

The 70 experts are divided into categories, as follows:

  • Entrepreneurs and Bloggers
  • Digital and Content Marketing Specialists and Strategists
  • Content Writers and Copywriters
  • Writing Experts
  • Social Media Experts
  • Branding Experts

If you’re interested, you can find me (and my tip) about half-way through, in the Content Writers and Copywriters category.

Here is a sample tip from one of my fellow experts, Kayla Hollatz, a professional copywriter and brand strategist.

My best writing tip for engaging your audience is writing in your unique brand voice. You don’t have to sound like everyone else in your industry. In fact, you shouldn’t. The more you deep dive into who you are and what you offer, the more you’ll be able to communicate that in a clear, concise way. That builds trust which then builds engagement. Also, it never hurts to sprinkle in some personality, too!

Although the article is aimed primarily at copywriters and content writers, many of the tips would apply equally in other types of writing. So it’s well worth scrolling through the advice and making notes on any parts that seem particularly relevant to you.

Camilla has also created a free writing workbook that incorporates many of the tips offered. You can download this via the blog post.

If you have any comments or questions about any of the advice in Writing Engaging Content – 70 Powerful Expert Tips, of course, please do post them below as usual.

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Cookbook Empire Review

Review: Cookbooks Empire by Alessandro Zamboni and Lucrezia Aria

Cookbooks Empire is a guide to making money by writing and publishing your own cookbooks as Kindle e-books (and in hard copy form using Amazon CreateSpace).

Cookbooks are an attractive option for self-publishers. They are steady sellers, and there is a huge range of niches you can target, from gluten-free to low-carb, vegan/vegetarian to Indian, Italian or Greek. A further attraction of cookbooks is that they are ‘evergreen’. A good cookbook has the potential to go on selling well for many years to come.

Cookbooks Empire by Alessandro Zamboni and Lucrezia Aria is a 74-page PDF e-book. The content is presented in chapters as follows:

Introduction
Chapter 1 – Why do we love cookbooks?
Chapter 2 – The ingredients of great cookbooks
Chapter 3 – 10 golden ideas for your books
Chapter 4 – Cookbook creation process
Chapter 5 – Cookbooks advertising
Last words

The book is generally well written. There aren’t many illustrations, but you do get lots of links to useful resources, recipe sites and published cookbooks on Amazon.

Alessandro and Lucrezia talk at some length about how to create recipes for your books if you aren’t a dedicated cook yourself. As a general guideline they say you should avoid copying photos or instructions word for word, but lists of ingredients are okay. If you do copy the latter, however, they recommend acknowledging the original source of the recipe idea and perhaps including a link to it as well.

Cookbooks Empire takes you step by step through researching, writing and publishing your book using KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). It includes details of ten cookbook niches that are selling well currently. There is also valuable information about how best to promote and publicize your book, using social media, forums, classified ads, and so forth.

As well as the main manual – which as stated above focuses on Kindle – you get a 31-page bonus report about publishing a print book (not necessarily a cookbook) on CreateSpace. CreateSpace is, of course, Amazon’s dedicated POD (print on demand) self-publishing service.

Overall, Cookbooks Empire is a practical, readable guide to creating a type of book that doesn’t require huge amounts of content but can potentially generate steady profits for years to come. If you are brand new to publishing on Kindle (or CreateSpace) it may not contain every single detail you need to know (I recommend Geoff Shaw’s Kindling to anyone who wants a comprehensive guide to Kindle publishing). It will, however, definitely open your eyes to a wide range of money-making opportunities in the cookbook field. At the modest asking price of around $13 (10 UKP) I recommend it to any entrepreneurial writer who would like to add another income stream to his/her publishing portfolio.

If you have any comments or questions about Cookbooks Empire, as always, please do post them below.

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Daily Mail Penguin Random House New Crime Novel Contest Now Open

If you’re an aspiring crime/thriller novelist – and you live in the UK or Republic of Ireland – here’s a contest you should definitely consider entering.

The Daily Mail Random House New Crime Novel Competition is free to enter. The winner will receive a £20,000 advance fee, the services of a top literary agent, and guaranteed publication by Penguin Random House UK.

Your story can be detective novel, crime or spy thriller, or psychological chiller. Entrants must never have had a novel published before (in any format, including ebook or self-published) and must be 16 or over.

You don’t need to submit the finished novel, just the first 5,000 words plus a 600-word synopsis of the complete work. The deadline is 5 May 2017, so at the time of writing you have just over a fortnight to get your entry written, polished and submitted.

All entries have to be typed and printed on A4 paper with double spacing in font size 12 point, Times New Roman. They must be posted or couriered to Daily Mail First Crime Novel Competition, c/o Penguin Random House Group, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 2SA. All entries must include the entrant’s full name and contact details (including their home and email address) and confirmation they have agreed to the full terms and conditions.

For more information about the contest, including tips for would-be authors, visit this page of the Daily Mail website. For the full terms and conditions and details of how to enter in PDF format, click on this link.

Good luck, and happy crime writing!

 

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Ten Top Tips for Winning Short Story Contests

Ten Top Tips for Winning Short Story Contests

As well as being fortunate enough to win several short story contests, I have been asked to judge a few. So I thought today I would share some tips that come at least partly from my judging experience..

1. Most important of all, obey the contest rules. It they say the maximum is 1500 words, don’t submit 2000. An entry that clearly breaks the rules has no chance of winning.

2. Don’t enter the same story in more than one contest at a time. It will be embarrassing to both you and the organizers if the same story wins or places in both contests, and you may end up forfeiting your prize (or prizes).

3. Try to come up with an original idea or angle. Remember that your story will be competing with many others, so avoid the predictable plots that have been done to death, or at least give them a fresh twist. A clever double-twist ending that surprises the judges and subverts their expectations can be a winning formula.

4. Twist endings aren’t essential, though (unless that is specified in the rules). A story that engages with the reader on an emotional level and leaves him/her something to ponder can also be a strong contender in a short story contest.

5. Other things being equal, avoid submitting stories that are laden with doom and gloom. As a judge I’ve been amazed (and depressed) by the high proportion of miserable, downbeat tales that are entered in competitions. That’s not to say such stories can’t be good, but judges are only human. Faced by story after story brimming with misery, when we come across a tale with a bit of humour it really stands out. So go easy on the negativity. Witty, humorous stories (even dark humour) are far more likely to catch the judge’s eye, partly because they are so unusual. And even if you don’t end up winning, my fellow judges and I will be grateful to you for brightening our day!

6. Avoid cliches such as ‘she was a mine of information’ or ‘he was as cool as a cucumber’. These are signs of lazy writing and won’t impress the judges.

7. Likewise, try to avoid stereotyping. Just as judges are familiar with all the usual plot twists, so they can recognize flat, two-dimensional characters. Admittedly short stories don’t allow much space for characterization and character development. But if you can go beyond the standard stereotypes and present readers with interesting and surprising characters who spring to life off the page, it will greatly boost your chances of success.

8. Check and double-check your spelling, grammar and punctuation. No story that demonstrates a lack of attention to the basics of good English is likely to win a contest. Ideally, have someone else who is good at this check your entry for you before submitting it.

9. Don’t be too despondent if your story doesn’t win or even place. In most competitions there are hundreds of entries, and luck and the judges’ personal tastes inevitably play a part. I have had a story come nowhere in one contest and win another. If you are confident of the quality of your story, give it another polish and send it out again when a suitable opportunity arises.

10. If possible, though, take the trouble to read the stories that do win and see what this tells you about what the judges were looking for. Compare your own story honestly with those of the winners and see what they did that you didn’t (although bear in mind my comments above).

Good luck, and I wish you every success entering short story contests!

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Sign up now for this free screenwriting course

Sign Up Now For This Free Screenwriting Course

If screenwriting is something that interests you, you might like to sign up for the free introductory course currently on offer via FutureLearn (a UK-based educational initiative that advertises short online courses from British and international universities).

The course title is An Introduction to Screenwriting and it comes from the University of East Anglia. It starts on 8 May 2017 and runs for two weeks with an estimated time commitment of three hours per week.

An Introduction to Screenwriting is an online course for anyone new to scriptwriting and for more experienced writers who wish to raise their scriptwriting to a professional level. It does not require any previous experience of studying the subject.

On the website, it says:

You’ll learn from a mixture of basic theory, script analysis and practical exercises. We will explore key principles as they’re expressed in great films, then immediately apply these concepts. Videos, articles and discussion steps will offer you the opportunity to learn and engage with other learners on key concepts and ideas.

By the end of the course, you will understand the key concepts necessary to write an effective screenplay and be fluent in the language used to discuss the form.

The course is run by screenwriter Michael Lengsfield and his colleagues at UEA’s School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing.

An Introduction to Screenwriting is free of charge and open to anyone anywhere in the world. There is, though, a paid-for upgrade as well (costing 49 UKP) with a few extra features. In particular, you get a certificate at the end and can continue to access all the course materials indefinitely. With the free version you only get access for up to a fortnight after the end of the course – so if you don’t want to pay the fee you may need to do a bit of copying and pasting to keep all the materials for future reference!

For more information about the course (including a video trailer) and to register, visit the Introduction to Screenwriting information page of the FutureLearn website.

FutureLearn have lots of other interesting free courses, incidentally, on subjects ranging from anatomy to physical theatre, cyber-security to discovering dentistry!

I have taken a number of Futurelearn courses myself and always find them stimulating and thought-provoking. Another big attraction is that you get to interact with fellow students from all over the world.

  • If you are interested in screenwriting, you might also like to check out Movie in a Month, a high-quality CD-based course from my publishers WCCL. As well as in-depth advice on screenwriting, this also includes over 800 actual movie scripts and treatments you can learn from.
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Now You Can Publish Kindle Ebooks as Paperbacks Through Kindle Direct Publishing

Now You Can Publish Kindle Ebooks as Paperbacks Through Kindle Direct Publishing

If you’re a Kindle author and haven’t logged into the KDP website recently, you may notice a new option on your Bookshelf.

There is now an option to publish your Kindle e-book as a print-on-demand (POD) paperback via the KDP site. This is quite separate from publishing on Amazon’s CreateSpace platform, incidentally.

I spent some time looking at what is on offer today, so here are my thoughts so far. To start with, it’s not just the case that you click a button and a paperback version is produced from the e-book. Some information is obviously carried over (book title, author name, publishing rights, and so on). However, the text and cover artwork have to be uploaded separately as new files. It does surprise me a bit that you can’t just import the existing text and format it for print, but there we are.

You can download various templates for your book from the KDP website info pages and edit these in Word or other software. Some guidance is provided for doing this, including a downloadable PDF manual. In my case KDP recommended that I use a 9 x 6 inch template. Both blank templates and templates with sample text are available via the KDP website.

Likewise, you can’t just automatically import your existing e-book cover. You have to either create and upload a print-ready PDF (you’ll need software such as Photo Shop to produce this) or use the KDP Cover Creator tool. The latter can produce cover designs suitable for paperback books (front, back and spine) and will import your existing e-book front cover if you wish (and it’s suitable). If you want a consistent look across both the e-book and print version of your book, however, you may face a few challenges.

You can set your own price for the paperback version of your book and receive 60% of the price paid once print costs have been deducted. This is obviously worth doing in order to reach the substantial audience of people who still prefer print books rather than electronic ones.

The KDP paperback creator is still in beta and additional features are promised in due course. One major thing lacking at the moment is any way of purchasing a sample print copy of your book so you can see for yourself what buyers will receive. This is clearly a drawback compared with CreateSpace. Neither do KDP published print books currently receive the extended distribution of CreateSpace titles.

If you currently publish on CreateSpace I can’t therefore see any compelling reason to switch to KDP at the moment. However, the likelihood is that once everything is working as it should KDP will become Amazon’s main hub for both e-book and print self-publishing. The future for CreateSpace after that is uncertain. For this reason if no other, it is a good idea to at least take a look at KDP’s paperback creator tool now.

I have made a start on converting one of my Kindle e-books using the KDP paperback creator, and will post here again once it is available. But I’d love to get your comments and feedback as well, especially if you have tried out the service yourself. Please leave any comments below as usual.

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ALCS March Distribution This Week!

ALCS March Distribution This Week!

If you’re a UK writer registered with the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), you may want to log in to your account this week to check whether you will be receiving a payment in their March distribution due around Friday 24 March 2017, and if so how much.

For those who don’t know, ALCS handles a range of fees and payments for writers, including photocopying fees and payments from various overseas PLR (public lending right) programmes. As long as you have one or more books, articles or stories published, you can register to receive your share. There are two distributions every year, in March and September, though for whatever reason I only ever seem to get a payment in the March one.

If you aren’t already registered with ALCS you will have to pay a one-off fee of £36, but this will be deducted from your first payment, so you shouldn’t have to pay anything up front. In any event, it is definitely worth it. My payment this year is over £120, and aside from a few novelty products most of my work is published on the internet these days!

I don’t entirely understand how ALCS payments are calculated, and gather I am not alone in this. You might therefore be interested to read this recent blog post by my near-neighbour Simon Whaley. He asked ALCS a number of questions about how the scheme works, and published the replies he received. These make interesting reading, although I still found myself somewhat confused at the end!

If you are a member of an authors’ organization such as the Society of Authors, you may find that your ALCS membership is already covered. In that case, all you need to do is register on the ALCS website, providing details of your books and so forth and a bank account into which your payments can be made.

These days I find I make more money from ALCS than from the UK PLR scheme, as for various reasons lending from public libraries has diminished considerably in recent years. It is, though, still well worth registering for PLR if you haven’t already. For more information about this, see my discussion of PLR in this recent blog post.

As ever, if you have any questions or comments about ALCS (or PLR), please do post them below and I will do my best to answer them.

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