Friday, July 30, 2010

Five Writing Tips to Help You Write Like a Pro

Guest post by Jim Schakenbach 

Not everyone is comfortable writing. Email, blogs, and other digital media have forced many non-writers into the unenviable position of having to crank out prose on a regular basis. If you'd rather have a root canal than face a blank text screen, here are some tips that will have you writing like a pro in no time:

1. Short sentences are your friend.

Anyone can string together a lengthy, unclear, and ineffective sentence. Many people are afraid that short sentences make them look stupid. But the more you struggle to add phrases, lengthen a sentence, and try to look smart, the worse it gets. Instead, relax and write as simply as possible. Once you embrace brevity, it is remarkable how much clearer you can write. 

2. Banish the exclamation point.

Many people mistake the use of an exclamation point as a way to express the importance of something. In reality, it just makes you sound shrill. Avoid it. Exclamation points - especially in business documents - look amateurish, over-excited, and irritating. 

3. Use quotation marks correctly. 

Quotation marks are used by many for emphasis or to identify a statement or phrase, such as a tagline or slogan in business. Both are wrong. Quotation marks are for identifying the exact words spoken by someone; for example: "This year's fourth quarter sales figures are significantly better than last year's," stated Acme Corporation's vice president of corporate sales. It's simple - if the specific words did not come from a person's mouth (or keyboard), do not stick them between quotation marks. 

4. Stop random capitalization.

Nothing is more distracting or confusing than random capitalization - the irrational sprinkling of capital letters throughout an article, white paper, sales report, or news release. The only time initial capital letters should be employed is to abbreviate a longer name or phrase or to identify proper nouns such as the name of a person, place or thing (John, Texas, General Electric, Congress) or someone's title (Senator Mary Smith). Do not capitalize a job function (vice president of corporate sales, technical manager, senior engineer) unless it precedes a person's name as their specific title and do not capitalize generic products. An electronics company might manufacture circuit boards, but not Circuit Boards. 

5. Avoid obfuscation.

Huh? I'll bet some of you Googled for a definition, right? My point exactly. Stop needlessly torturing the English language. If you're reaching for a twenty-five cent word when a five-cent word will do just fine, you're unnecessarily complicating things (which, of course, is the definition of obfuscation). Even worse, you're probably just confusing your audience. Is that what you really want to do? 

I'll let you in on one final little secret to good writing. If you have not noticed it already, all five points above have one thing in common: simplicity. Good writing is simple - that's what makes it both hard and easy at the same time. If you strive to simplify your writing, you'll be well on your way to becoming a better writer.

Jim Schakenbach, owner of BIGWORDS Content Development, is a freelance writer and marketing communications consultant working primarily with B2B and technology accounts. He specializes in creating clear, compelling marketing messages for complex products and technologies. Email him at, visit his website at

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Top 10 Mistakes Authors Make When Promoting a Book on Facebook

Guest post by Dana Lynn Smith

Facebook can be a terrific way to promote your book and yourself, but you may be wasting your time (or worse) if you don't learn how to use it effectively. Below are ten common mistakes authors make on Facebook, along with tips on how to avoid them.

1. Diving in without a plan. Before you start using Facebook (or any other social network), think through your goals first. Are you using it primarily for business? Should you separate your business and personal identities? What are you hoping to accomplish through social networking? How will you measure your success? How can you monetize your efforts? How can you tie Facebook to your other networks? How much time will you budget for promoting your book on Facebook?

2. Setting up a Profile the name of a book or business. There's nothing wrong with using your personal Facebook profile to promote your book, but Facebook's rules require that Profiles be set up in the name of a real person and they limit each person to one profile. If you set up a Profile under a business name, you risk having your account cancelled by Facebook. To create a presence in the name of your book or business, you need to set up a Facebook Fan Page.

3. Not using a professional looking author photo. You may want to use your book cover as your Facebook image sometimes – for example during your book launch. But most of the time I recommend using a photo of yourself. Facebook is a social network and people want to befriend a person, not a book. Don't sabotage yourself by using a fuzzy shot of you with someone's arm draped over your shoulder. On all your networks you should use your standard author publicity photo. See this post for tips on creating an effective author photo.

4. Being too aggressive. We've all seen people who use social networks solely to promote themselves. They post a constant stream of promotional messages and even make purely promotional posts on other people's profiles and pages. Don't forget that Facebook is a social network – you need to develop relationships with people first. If you interact with others, post useful comments, help others out, and participate in the community, most people won't mind if you make some promotional posts. Just be somewhat subtle about it and don't overdo it.

5. Being a wall flower. On the other hand, some authors never mention their book anywhere, even on their own profile! Writing and publishing a book is a major accomplishment—list it prominently in your profile. Mention it in the info box beneath your photo and include a link to your book's website or Amazon page on your information tab. Mention your book promotion activities or articles regularly in your status updates. If you're still working on your book, say so in your profile and talk about your progress in your status updates.

6. Missing out on Groups. Facebook groups are one of the most important ways to promote a book on Facebook. Use the search box at the top of the screen to find groups that cater to your book's topic, genre, or target audience, and then become active in those groups. Don't forget groups geared to authors and publishing. Join in the discussions, comment on wall posts, post your own discussion question, or send a message to the group leader with a suggestion. You can even start your own group. For more tips, see Promote Your Book With Facebook Groups.

7. Failing to use Fan Pages. In addition to setting up a Fan Page for your book or business, it's a good idea to join (or "like") other relevant pages. Some fan pages have discussions or allow fans to make wall posts. Drop by occasionally to make a comment, without appearing too promotional. Check out the fan pages of well-known authors who write books similar to yours.

8. Waiting for friends and fans to find you. Once you become active in Facebook, you will start to receive friend requests and fans. But don't just sit and wait for people to find you. Include a prominent link to your Facebook profile and other pages on your own website, blog and email signature. As you visit other blogs and websites, actively look for the Facebook icon on those sites so you can connect with them on Facebook. Also, look for new friends in the Facebook groups that you join—the people in relevant groups probably share some of your interests.

9. Ignoring your privacy settings. In their efforts to generate revenue, Facebook continues to look for ways to use the personal data on their site. As a result, Facebook has made a number of changes to their privacy policies and default privacy settings over the past few years. Make time today to review your privacy settings. Click on the Account link in the upper right corner of your Facebook screen and select Privacy Settings. Review each of the privacy pages and think about how to best adjust the settings to protect your personal information, while still making information accessible for business purposes. And be careful about revealing too much personal information anywhere online.

10. Spending too much time on Facebook. Social networks like Facebook can be addictive, and it's easy to get sucked in and spend way too much time there. I recommend scheduling a set amount of time each day for networking.

When you plan for success on Facebook and other social networks, they can be an enjoyable and effective way to promote your book and yourself. Have fun with it!

Dana Lynn Smith is a book marketing coach and author of several marketing guides, including Facebook Guide for Authors. For more book marketing tips, follow @BookMarketer on Twitter and get Dana's free Top Book Marketing Tips ebook when you visit The Savvy Book Marketer blog.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Writing Tips - Whose Story is It?

by Mark David Gerson

About a year ago, I was listening to a guest speaker -- let's call him Tom -- at a writer's group. He was talking about characters.

"In the first half of your story," he said, "let your characters do what they want. But when you get to the second half, you've got to reign them in."

Tom was pretty insistent, and it was all I could do to not jump up and shriek NO!...not to the first half of his statement, but to the second.

I was reminded of that story some months later when I began working with a new coaching client. She'd written a powerful memoir -- so powerful that it had been nominated for a literary award. Now, a fictional character had accosted her in a misty Irish glen and was insisting that she write his story.

"But I've never written a novel," she exclaimed. "I don't know how!"

"You don't have to know how," I replied. "All you have to do is write his memoir."

Thing is, whatever story we're telling -- whether it's a novel, short story, stage play or screenplay -- we're writing someone's story.

What we're writing is their story. And what we're often discovering in that first draft is not only what that story is but who that character is...who all the characters are who make up that world.

Tom's point was that we spend the first half of our story discovering who the character is. From there, we spend the rest of the story making sure the character hews to that portrait.

My point is that we may only truly discover who that character is and what she's about by writing through to the end. Why stifle the creative process just when we've finally surrendered to the story's unfolding? Why limit ourselves and our characters by insisting that at a certain point in the draft, character and story are fixed for all time?

When I was working on the first draft of my latest novel, I had a pretty good idea who the villain of the story was and to what unpleasant end she would come in the final scenes. At least, I thought I did...

Then, on my last day of work on that draft, as I was letting one of the final scenes write itself, something unanticipated happened: Instead of the ugly death I was expecting, the villain had a profoundly redemptive experience that, within a few paragraphs, had transformed her from ugly antagonist into a positive force for continuing good. I was stunned.

In that moment, I had two choices: I could follow Tom's advice and refuse the villain her redemption, or I could surrender to the character's higher imperative and permit the alchemy to occur. I chose the latter, not only because I believe my stories and their characters are smarter than I am, but because my villain's transformation supports one of the story's central themes in ways I would have been hard-pressed to consciously manufacture.

In my first novel much about one of the principal characters shifted -- not only through the first draft, but through many of the drafts. He shifted not because I couldn't reign him in. He shifted because, through the writing, I began to understand more clearly who he truly was, both within himself and to the story.

In the "rules for character-building" that I use when I teach workshops on characterization, Rule #10 reads "How did John become Jane? And why is she suddenly the villain?"

Often, characters in our stories want to undergo radical changes through the course of that first draft. Too often, we follow Tom's advice and refuse them that freedom.

My view is that our job as Writer God is to give our characters absolute freedom through the entire first draft of our story...and, sometimes, beyond.

Unlike Tom, I say, Let your characters be as inconsistent and mercurial as they want to be. Let them veer off in completely different directions partway, if that's what they choose. Let your villains become heroes and your heroes become villains. Let them change names, physical characteristics, motivations and story-significance. Let them change gender.

Only by allowing them that freedom in your first draft will you learn who they truly are and be true to their story.

Let your first draft, as I said earlier, be your journey of discovery: of your characters and of their story. Through that journey, you will grow into your story and its characters. You might, as I did, only discover something of major significance about an important character on the final page of the draft. That's okay. Use your next draft to bring consistency to the characters you now know more fully.
Remember whose story you're telling...and get out of the way!

• How can you better trust your characters to reveal themselves to you?
• How can you stop trying to control your stories and, instead, let them emerge organically?
• How can you better surrender to the magic out of which all creativity is birthed?
• How can you trust that your stories and characters know themselves better than you do?
• How can you let yourself be surprised -- by your characters and by their stories?

(c) 2010 Mark David Gerson

Mark David Gerson has taught writing as a creative and spiritual pursuit for nearly 20 years in the U.S. and Canada. Through classes, workshops, coaching and consulting, Mark David has guided groups and individuals to connect with their innate wisdom, open to their creative power and express themselves with ease. Poets and playwrights, novelists and educators, amateurs and professionals, people who don't believe they can write and people with a compelling call to write -- all have benefited from working with him, as have nonwriters seeking to move through life's challenges and awaken to their highest potential.

Author of two award-winning books, The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write and The MoonQuest: A True Fantasy, Mark David has also recorded The Voice of the Muse Companion: Guided Meditations for Writers. Mark David is host of radio's The Muse & You with Mark David Gerson and is a regular featured guest on's Spiritual Coaching show. Mark David lives in Los Angeles, where he's working on a memoir, a screenplay adaptation of The MoonQuest and the first of two sequels to the novel.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

6 Ways to Make Your Writing Upbeat and Fun

You've probably read enough articles, news stories, press releases and books to distinguish different tones and moods in the writing style used by the author. Simply, by changing a few words, adding punctuation and pauses for effect and using a different way to separate related topics, a writer can change how the reader feels about what they are reading. So you think you're too serious, businesslike and 'heavy'?  Here are ways you can make your writing upbeat and fun:

Don't assume.

When writing, avoid wrapping your content in a veil of secrecy and enigma. Being mysterious is fine for puzzle makers and fortune tellers, but it doesn't always work with writers. Use an unassuming tone in writing instead.  Avoid being overbearing or condescending. Just write clearly and use a light, undemanding tone.

Use humor.

Humor is a universal language, which means that with the right words, you can affect the way people see things an cause them to break into a smile or laughter. 

To make your writing upbeat and fun, inject humor into your writing. Be lively and write with enthusiasm. If you're bored, it will be reflected in your writing.  Don't be afraid to make people laugh because it's often the easiest way to show them what you mean.

Don't overdo the words.

Some of the best and well-loved writers of the past and present centuries used simple, easy to read language. Anne Rice, Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Paulo Coelho and Isabel Allende are the kind of writers who did not require their readers to read their works with a dictionary next to them. As a result, their readers find it easier to understand and appreciate their efforts.

To keep the mood of your writing upbeat and fun, don't try to exert too much effort to impress your readers. They want to be entertained and to be informed not bewildered or confused. Don't make it too hard for them. Use long, complicated words only when necessary or as a requisite in what you're writing.

Lighten up the language.

To make your copy upbeat and fun, you might have to use colloquial terms or slang.  This is sometimes the case when the term you're considering is too technical for your readers to appreciate. 

Do not use offensive words.

Sometimes, in an attempt to make writing upbeat and fun, some writers make the mistake of using words that are entertaining only to a few but highly offensive to the majority.  Words that reflect bigotry, hatred or prejudice can seem upbeat but may not be effective in the context of the whole.  Avoid these words.

Don't try to please everyone. There is no way your writing will appeal to every reader. Not even the best and brightest writers have been able to do that. This is why writers have targeted audiences or niches and why writing is characterized by genre. 

Can you imagine if horror master Stephen King wrote a romance novel in the style of Harlequin books? Writers will always have their own styles and a segment of the audience that admire them. 

To keep your writing upbeat and fun, avoid trying to cover several genres or styles of writing. Use one or two at most. Whether you're writing non-fiction, a humorous story, a satire, a critique, or are simply offering your opinion, stick to a tone of voice that is the best vehicle for the message you want to share.

Monday, July 26, 2010

How to Write After Midnight

Guest post by Tom R Bentley

Ha! You thought I'd open with a clever bon mot about torturing your kidneys with pots of coffee here, didn't you? Silly! I'm going to do that later in the post. No, first we need to talk about the best time of day to write. Simple: Any time you can. Of course, if you're a freelancer like me, some projects require you to grind through successive hours, some can be grazed over a period of days, a paragraph here and a transitional phrase there, and some can be surveyed and then dispatched: I saw the hill of that essay, I saddled up my sentence steed, and I surmounted it, verily!

In that regard, learning how to parcel out your time when you're working on multiple projects is a valuable skill, and one that will endear you to your clients. It has taken me a while to be able to judge how long it will take me to edit a 200-page book, write a case study or come up with an ad's headlines, but now I'm much more comfortable about projecting (and meeting) deadlines. Until it's second nature, it's a good habit to track how long it takes you to work with a certain type of writing. One good method with new clients is if you're given something lengthy to write or to edit, work on the assignment for an hour or two to see what it tastes like, and you'll be better equipped to know when you'll finish eating. Don't give them your milestone schedule until you've snacked on the copy a bit.

Morning Becomes Electric (Coffeemaker)

Related to how much time you can or must spend on a project is what times are most suitable for for the spending. I'm a morning guy, love to get up early, coffee in bed with a magazine to start the day, and then to the computer before 7. Unless there is something truly pressing, I'll sift through email, check out the antics of fellow Tribesters on Seth Godin's Triiibes site, glance at the news, vomit over the news, and then begin work on whatever's workable.

Now when I say working, I mean working with clients if I have some, or working on essays or magazine/newspaper pieces if I don't--or a combination when everything's clicking. I normally have a number of queries out to various editors, and also some just at the note-taking stage. Some of the material that goes into a query is boilerplate (like your writing credentials/clips and your sign-off), so if you know well the core of your proposed article, the meat of the query can be massaged (oooohh!) a bit and then quickly stitched with the boilerplate. It might take as little as 30 minutes to write an article query, so if you find a gap in your day, why not? Of course, it might take 30 months for an editor to answer your query, but we won't address those sins here.

Back to those morning pages: I write with more focus in the morning, and with renewed focus after the afternoon nap (really, the miracle of the 20-minute refresh), but not with any real afternoon sustain. Thus, when my monitor's eye begins to look as bloodshot as my own, I start to crank down its shade in the waning afternoon hours. Then, I'll often do the busywork of cleaning out the inbox, boxing with the outbox, and wondering if I need botox. I've never been one of those types that can merrily scribble away in the evening hours. I'm both fascinated and horrified by (and middlin' jealous of) those industrious souls who can bang out another five or six hours of writing after the five o'clock cocktail-hour bell has rung. (Though perhaps my religious adherence to that magic hour is what makes liquid all my after-hours writing resolve?)

In the Midnight Hour (Softly Snoring)

So, how to write after midnight? There is that coffee-pot cascade that I was talking about earlier. But since too much of that stuff makes me sneeze out automobile parts, I'd rather sleep. The only way I can write after midnight is to let the pinball machine of my brain zing around the bumpers and ping-ping-ping the lights while I snooze. I really have found that if you nest on a writing problem in the sunlight hours, you'll sometimes find a fresh egg of a writing solution in the morning. Of course, that doesn't help when you need a gross of eggs to finish a book, but it might help you realize that your main character should be named Zeke and not Arbogast.

(Oh yeah, I do keep a notepad by my bed and indeed I have jumped up to madly scribble an idea a'borning. But so often when I've eagerly scanned it in the morning, I see that I've inscribed something like "Blizzard muffins not naysayers. Harken Wheaties. Bilge, breathless, truth.")

Better wait for the sun to come up; at least I spell better in the mornings.

Tom Bentley lives in the hinterlands of Watsonville, California, surrounded by strawberry fields and the occasional Airstream. He has run a writing and editing business out of his house for more than ten years, has published over 100 freelance articles, and is a published fiction writer. See his blog and his other lurid website confessions at

Bonus! Download writing-tip PDFs at my site:

Friday, July 23, 2010

Becoming Larger Than Life: Public Speaking as an Author

To say there is no ego in a person who does public speaking regularly would be a false statement. But for those of us who only speak from time to time, when you see a speaker who can walk out in a room of 30 people or a auditorium of 3000 and "own the room", it really is an amazing transformation. To imagine how  you could ever be that much larger than life is mind boggling.

In many ways, when you step out to talk to a group of people, you do become larger than life. That is because you are doing the impossible. You are having a conversation with dozens of people all at once. Whether you feel like you are having that conversation or not isn't important. If your talk is not interactive, you may not know the dialog is happening. But in the minds of every single individual in that hall, they are interacting with you. What you are saying is getting down inside of them and they are reacting to it. But even more than what you are saying, how you are saying it is having an even bigger impact.

So, are there things you can do to become larger than life? There are some ways of behaving in front of a crowd that differ from daily life. You will develop a stage persona that is different from your daily personality. Does that make you a phony? No. Both of the personalities are you. It is just a different you when you relate to a group than to people one on one. It seems strange because that form of you only comes out on stage. But it isn't a Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde thing. Just as you speak to a child differently than an adult, you will develop a way of talking to a group that differs from speaking to an individual.

Part of becoming larger than life is learning to "own the room". This may sound strange, but it works when you are about to speak. Owning the room means when you step out in front of that crowd, they are no longer some random group of people, they are YOUR people. They are there to listen to you and what you say is of value to them. If you had any ego problems before you stepped out in front of that audience, check that ego problem at the door.

You must assume that you are adored when you speak to a group of people. This doesn't mean you strut about like God's gift to the world. But it does mean that you recognize that your value to this group is as a speaker and that your services are wanted and needed here. The only way you will be an effective public speaker is if you own the room. Treat that room like it was your home and these people came here just because being with you is just that great. If you step out there with that attitude, the audience will buy into your attitude and they will give you the room and be glad you took it over.

It can be a bit strange if you watch yourself become larger than life. But you can be humble about it and just recognize it is part of the craft of becoming a great public speaker. If being good at this art means owning rooms and becoming bigger for an hour or so, well then why deny the world that experience? Enjoy it and let others enjoy it also.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Top Ten Ways Authors Can Use Twitter to Promote Books

Guest post by Dana Lynn Smith

Twitter is a great tool for building an author platform and promoting books. Here are some of the top ways authors can benefit from Twittering:

1. Help others by sharing information, while you gain a reputation as an expert. You can post links to helpful articles, recommend resources, and teach mini-lessons.

2. Meet potential customers and stay in touch with existing customers. Promote your Twitter URL everywhere you're listed online, and include keywords in your tweets to attract followers who are interested in your topic or genre.

3. Stay on top of news and trends in your field and get ideas for your articles and blog by reading the tweets of the people you follow.

4. Promote live and virtual events such as book signings, podcasts, virtual book tours, teleseminars, and book launches.

5. Gain visibility and new followers by hosting a Twitter contest where you give away a prize to a randomly chosen winner, or give a free gift to everyone who follows you and re-tweets your contest message. See this post for tips on creating a Twitter contest.

6. Ask for help and get instant responses. When you request product recommendations, referrals to experts, or help with a technical issue, it's amazing how helpful folks are.

7. Spread good will by helping your peers. Introduce other people in your field or genre, or recommend other related books or products.  Re-tweet interesting posts from people that you follow.

8. Promote your book and other products and services. The key is to be subtle and make promotional tweets a small percentage of your overall communications, so people feel like they gain value from following you, not just a stream of sales pitches.

9. Meet other authors, experts, publishers, marketers, and vendors. Twitter is ideal for networking and it's a great place to meet potential joint venture partners.

10. Keep in touch when you're on the road. There are a number of applications that facilitate twittering from mobile devices.

Have fun! It's fascinating to meet people from all over the world, gain a glimpse into their lives, and develop a cyber-relationship.

Excerpted from the Twitter Guide for Authors by Dana Lynn Smith. For more book marketing tips, follow BookMarketer on Twitter and get Dana's free Top Book Marketing Tips ebook when you visit her book marketing blog.  Learn more at Dana's "Boost Your Book Sales with Twitter" teleseminar on August 12.
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