Skip to content

Category: Advice for Authors

Is Finding Freelance Gigs Using Job Boards Worthwhile?

The number one issue with being a freelancer is discoverability. Of course, you are already treating your writing career like a business, but how do you market your work and get your name into the hands of the right recruiters? Truth be told businesses are looking for freelancers with your particular skills and areas of knowledge. You just need to find them, and they need to find you.

While there are advantages and disadvantages to the disruptive nature of the freelance gig economy, businesses are hiring more freelancers for more tasks. They look for freelancers in several ways, and just one of them is through the use of job boards.

The one thing we freelancers never have enough of is time: marketing is vital, but not wasting time is essential. Job boards and content mills like Upwork and Demand Studios are a waste of time for the most part since well-paying jobs are so few and far between. So are there any job boards that are worthwhile?

The answer is yes, but very few. Putting in an alert for a freelance writer on job sites like CareerBuilder and other similar sites will fill your inbox with job suggestions from car wash attendant to security guard, but few if any will be for writing positions or have anything to do with your particular skill set.

Here are a few places where the search can be worthwhile. You will still have to vet clients, but they are more likely to be professional and the kind of gigs you are looking for in the first place.

DISCLAIMER: Job boards and these sites do not take the place of good marketing of your freelance business.

Ebyline

When looking at job boards, Ebyline is what is referred to by Carol Tice of Make a Living Writing as a “move-up board.” You are expected to be more professional, and clients who come to the board expect to pay, and for the most part pay well, or at least better than an Upwork or worse, a Fiverr gig.

This is also a good place to find fill-in work when things are slow, or you just need a gig to tide you over to your next client payment. Jobs typically pay quickly, something relatively important to freelancers when they are just starting out.

Skyword

Skyword is another “move-up mill,” and offers reasonable pay. For the most part, you will be creating branded content or other types of writing for the web. This is a place where you can potentially develop long-term relationships, and it is definitely worth being a part of.

As with any job boards, be sure to vet clients. There is nothing wrong with offering a free initial consultation, but don’t give away too much at the outset. Share your ideas in a more general way, and only get as specific as you need to to get hired. This is good advice for any job board, but especially more “content mill” like sites.

LinkedIn ProFinder

One of the better places to look for freelance gigs and to find other freelancers is LinkedIn, but if you have a strong profile, this can be a great tool for you. Since you are already using LinkedIn, it is a simple matter of upgrading to at least a Business Plus membership, and sharing your profile on their job board, ProFinder, designed to help businesses find the best local and regional freelancers.

This will cost you $59.99 a month, but it shows clients you are serious about your career. If you are going to make this move, be sure that your profile is complete, and that it includes all of your accomplishments and a job history. Ask your connections who know you for recommendations, and give them out as well.

LinkedIn can be a great place to showcase your skills and to find new clients, even using their regular job board. Due to the professional nature of the network, though, LinkedIn Profinder may be one of the best job boards currently out there.

There is a balance between working and marketing when you are a freelancer. You need to satisfy the needs of your current clients, but you also need to constantly develop new leads. Job boards, if used properly, can help you do that.

Comments closed

Taxes for Authors: Before You File and the Year Ahead

I’m not an accountant, but I have seen the movie and written about a few in my books. Not that any of those things make me an expert, but I have filed my own taxes as a freelancer and author for the last 10 years or so, and for five of those I had no “traditional income” from an employer: I started with only stacks of 1099 forms and a list of business expenses.

Before you panic thinking I am going to launch into some professional jargon, don’t. I’ve got some solid, simple advice for you that might affect how you file this year, and will certainly affect how you look at the year ahead.

Get Organized

This used to mean getting out a shoebox, or a file box if you were really organized, and labeling and cataloging your receipts. It also meant sitting down with 1099’s and your company books and totaling up your income. Much of this can be done digitally now but gathering all of your data into one place is still a necessary task.

Note that small businesses have longer to file than individuals, and even though your individual return is actually the same as your small business return, you can take advantage of these extensions if you need more time to get your paperwork together,

Tracking Expenses

You sit in front of a computer all day, and that computer should do some work for you. You should use a single debit or credit card (or a combination of the two) for business expenses. You can then use an accounting program that will track and categorize your expenses for you. These programs are not 100% accurate, so you should check them monthly to make sure expenses are properly labeled, but you can keep the manual tracking you have to do to a minimum.

You can then export these into a spreadsheet to share with your accountant or import them directly into your tax software when tax time comes around.

Where You Work

There are many different places you can work if you are an author or freelancer, from coffee shops and libraries to your own office at home or outside of your residence. When choosing where you will do your work, taxes should factor into it.

Home: Even if you work at coffee shops and libraries, you should also have a home office if possible. For one thing, you will be more productive in a structured environment, even one you have created yourself. The second is that you can write off a part of your expenses including mortgage, rent, and utilities as business expenses.

A few things you should keep in mind about your office expenses, especially if you are a new homeowner:

  • Don’t Overspend. You may be tempted to buy a new desk and totally revamp your office, but not only are you limited on how much you can deduct, but you also need to stay within your business budget. Resist temptation and be patient, doing things as you can afford them.
  • Get Good Insurance. You will need good renters insurance that is enough to replace all of your items in case something goes wrong. Be sure you have enough in savings to cover the deductible so you can get back to work as soon as possible.
  • Save for Unexpected Expenses. Just as your household budget should include emergency savings, so should your business account. This should be enough to cover your operating expenses including the salary you pay yourself for approximately three months.
  • Keep Records of Everything. Printer ink. Paper. Batteries for your mouse and other computer accessories. Carpet cleaning and other cleaning supplies. Upgrades to furniture and decorations. All of these are deductible.

Even though you should be careful not to overspend, once you do undertake improvements and remodels, be sure to take advantage of the tax benefits that offers.

Commercial Space: Some freelancers do not work as well at home and find it to be distracting. You can office share or use other creative ways to rent your own commercial space. The best thing about a commercial office is that all of those expenses are deductible, and they are easy to keep separate. Remember to include all of the expenses related to an outside office when doing your taxes, including your commuting time and mileage.

Health Insurance Coverage

One of the toughest things about being an author or a freelancer ins finding and keeping health insurance, especially if you are not covered by a spouse or significant other. You have a couple of choices.

Individual Coverage: You can use an insurance agent or even on your own search for individual coverage. With the ACA, there are some tax credits available if you do so, but that may change under the current administration.

This is still more expensive than group coverage, but you can choose if you want a lower premium and a higher deductible plan supplemented by a health savings account, or a more traditional insurance plan with co-pays and lower out of pocket costs in the case of an emergency.

Group Coverage: Even if you do not have a regular employer, you can find group coverage. One of the best places to compare coverage and options for writers is Freelancer’s Union, although they do not have coverage in every state. However, there are insurance co-ops for contractors and other self-employed individuals, and you should search for those in your area.

Google has shut down its insurance comparison tool because it was not working well, but there are dozens of other places to compare insurance coverage, including healthcare.gov and private insurance comparison tools.

Retirement

As a self-employed person, you need to provide your own retirement. You don’t have the benefit of an employer matching your contributions, but you should still donate the maximum amount allowed each year into a 401 K of some sort. You can choose either a Roth or a traditional IRA, depending on how old you are when you start, and what you anticipate you will need to retire and maintain the lifestyle you want.

Since you are self-employed, limits are higher for you as you can contribute as both your employer (since you employ yourself) and as an employee. Be sure to factor in these limits when deciding how to handle your taxes.

These contributions are tax deductible, as are other investments. A large consideration of how you invest for your retirement will depend on your tax situation, and how much you can afford to put towards it. Remember that as a freelancer, you will have to pay your own social security as well, and because you do not have an employer matching your costs it will be more expensive.

Tax Savings Accounts

More than likely you will owe taxes at the end of the year no matter how diligent you are with deductions, investments, and savings. To prepare for this, you need to have a tax savings account. You should save approximately 30% of your income, and make quarterly estimated tax payments. The self-employment tax is the combination of social security and medicare that an employer would normally contribute to you paying and is 15.3%. This is separate from income taxes, which is why you should save 30%.

The IRS demands that taxes be paid on money when it is made, so if you fall behind on quarterly payments not only will you have a huge bill at the end of the year, but you also may face penalties for not paying on time.

There are countless other tax tips and deductions for freelancers, but these are a few of the more common and often overlooked ones. As you prepare for tax time, be sure you are organized and know all of the deductions you have a right too.  Use what you learn from preparing for your taxes this year to plan for next year.

While doing taxes is not fun, having a solid tax plan is essential to having a profitable business and being an effective entrepreneur.

Comments closed

Why Self-Editing is Not Enough

Double commas. Simple typos. A word that is not misspelled, per se, but is just in the wrong place.

Software grammar checkers like Grammarly are getting better all the time, but we as humans keep thinking of ways to trip them up. Microsoft Word is even getting better without the Grammarly plugin, but it still misses things from time to time. That is because it uses a machine learning program: it learns from us as we type, tell it to ignore certain issues or add words to our personal dictionaries.

Google docs have another delightful feature: the dictionary will even correct the spelling of celebrity or popular athlete names, just as if you had searched Google for them. Once again, machine learning and an enormous database mean spelling and grammar correction is getting better all the time.

But it still isn’t human. Sometimes sentences are too long, or the word order just does not make sense. You are not clearly getting your point across.  This is where a human editor comes in.

Think of your story, or your article, or whatever you have written as a fire. When you created it, you created a lot of smoke. An editor’s job, really, is to clear away all of the smoke. The problem is, since you created it, you often don’t see the smoke yourself.

Repetitive Words and Phrases

As writers, no matter what level your experience, we tend to repeat words in close proximity to one another. “That” is extremely common, and most of the time unnecessary. But we repeat other words, like the phrase “as well” or “in light of.” We often use “though” and “however” much too often and too close together, especially in non-fiction.

You can catch these when doing self-edits, but it takes a conscious effort. Often, if you read your work aloud or have it read to you by a program like Natural Reader, you will notice your mistakes before you submit your piece or publish that blog post.

Someone else reading your work will probably catch the error right away. They can then flag the word for you so you can substitute a synonym or somehow reword your sentence to eliminate it.

Word Blindness

Sometimes we use the wrong word in place of the one we actually want. But when we read over our own work, we see the word we meant to put there. This is called being word blind and is why editing and proofreading by another set of eyes is so critical.

The editor will see the wrong or odd word usage even when software does not catch it. These types of errors not only make you look unprofessional in some venues, but they often throw the reader out of your narrative, making them wonder what you meant.

Clarity

A software grammar checker can tell if your grammar is wrong (sometimes) or if your spelling is off (most of the time) but it does not know the point you are trying to get across.

Hopefully, your work makes enough sense and you have structured it in a way that your editor can tell what information or plot point you are trying to convey. If not, and editor can simply say “I don’t get it. What do you mean by this?”

So far, software editors, at least those available to the general public, are not able to do this effectively. As machine learning matures, they may get better, becoming very IBM Watson-like in their evaluation of your work.

Until then, and maybe even then, you need another set of human eyes on your work, one that will see your repetition, decipher your word blindness, and help you clarify your language.

Self-editing is not enough. You need an editor, someone to take an objective look at your work with a fresh perspective. It is one of the many ways to make your work the best it can be.

Comments closed

5 Steps in Building A New Website


Typically, building a new website is something that, at least initially, you can do yourself. At some point, you will probably need at least a little help, unless you do this for a living. In which case, good for you. You can skip this post.

But if you are an author or you just want to start a blog with your own domain name rather than a generic Blogspot or WordPress, or you have a small business and want to have a solid online presence, read further.

Planning

Probably the most important thing to have before you start to build your new website is to have a plan. The plan should involve a few simple things:

Your Name. Even if you don’t plan to build a website right away, you should snag your name as soon as possible, if it is available. What do I mean by your name? I mean firstnamelastname.com. If that is not available because you have a common name, you can add what you do, like troylambertwrites.com or add an underscore or your title to the end of your name, such as firstname_lastname.com.

It is the same if you are looking at the name of your business. Also, to protect your name, you may want to buy more than one domain, including the .org, .net, and other extensions, then redirect them to your primary site.

A Subject Matter. Your website needs to be about something. What do you write about, or will your site be about writing? What does your business do? Need ideas? Try this:

  • What do the protagonists in your books do? What are their hobbies and what do they do for a living? Would your readers be interested in learning about those things?
  • What hobbies do you have that might relate? You do things besides writing, right? What are they, and how can you make them interesting to your reader?
  • What is your emotional biography? Not your normal bio, this is about you. How do you feel about life? Writing? Current events? (Avoid being too political or religious)

There are thousands of other things you can write about related to you or your work, even if you run a business. Attorney and dental websites can be full of rich content, but you need the next step to get there.

A Content Strategy. A strategy is just that, a road map. It describes where you are and where you want to go. Your content strategy is not just to sell books. That will be a byproduct of a good content strategy for a writer.

So what should your strategy be? That depends on what you want to write about and what you want your new website to do for you. Do you want to use it to connect with other writers? With readers? With both?

Do you want readers to get to know you and your characters? Do you want to use it to keep them up to date? What is your content going to inform them about?

Once you have a content strategy, plan out your blog posts for at least a few months. Plant titles and subjects. You don’t have to write them all at once, as long as you have a plan for what you will write. Your plan, of course, can be flexible. But having a target and a blog strategy will help you be consistent.

Choosing A Host

Once you have a content plan in place, you need to pick a host. You can do this at one of two times: you can do it when you buy your domain name, or you can do it now. Your host is the server or group of servers where your website lives. Think of it this way: the cloud is not really a cloud, it is someone else’s computer.

There are a number of host options, from small to large and expensive to cheap. Overall, you will probably spend close to the same no matter where you host your site, it will just depend on the special deals they are offering at the time how that cost will be broken down.

Speed and reliability are the most important things to look at besides customer service. Finding the best web hosting company for you just involves some shopping around and looking at features.

Picking A Website Builder

There are also a number of ways to construct your website and run your blog. My favorite is WordPress, even though it is actually a content management system (CMS) it is one of the more robust ways to build a website. It can be used by beginners and professionals alike, and some of the biggest and best sites you see are WordPress based.

There are other platforms that are equally as good. The more you know and research about what website builder you are comfortable using, the better. Even if you have someone else construct the site for you initially, you will have to do a lot of the work unless you are going to pay someone for everyday tasks like simple updates or posting blogs.

You can learn almost any website builder, but having one you are comfortable with from the beginning certainly helps.

Designing Graphics, Logos, and Banners

At first, stock photos and graphics will be okay, but to make your site look more professional, you will probably need to hire someone unless you are a designer yourself.

This means you need to select what your site would look like, using a theme. You can then work with the designer once you know the size of the banners you need and what you want your logo to look like.

Unless you have experience in this area, don’t do this yourself. Beware of deals on Fiverr and other such sites: often you get what you pay for. Reliable designers like EJR Digital Art are good to work with and priced reasonably.

Backing Up Everything

Once you have taken all the time to create a great looking website and a whole bunch of content, you need to protect it. Not only should you have good security but you should plug ins in place, but you need to have a data backup and recovery plan.

While most websites have backups of their own, if for some reason your host were to fail, you too should have a backup of your site. It should not only be stored on your hard drive, but stored in the cloud as well.

Do backups regularly. Any data, changes, or posts not in your backup will potentially be lost. Your writing may not be a large business, but time and effort put into recovering your website, not to mention the time it is off line will cost you.

Ready, Set, Go

Of course, all of these tips are general advice. There is a ton of material out there about the details of each step. But if you are a writer or a small business on the fence about creating a website, these are some ideas about how to get started.

Your presence and reputation on the internet is one of your most precious assets, and building a website it just the first of many steps in the process of developing it, growing in, and guarding it.

2 Comments

What Do You Know About That?: The Myth of Writing What You Know

If writers only write what they know, the world, and their writing, will be very boring spaces. Well, with a few exceptions.

Like many writers, I had a series of “careers” and a diverse education before I figured out a way to write for a living. I’ve described before how I do other things than just writing: editing, formatting, and other tasks, most of them relating to publishing. They all have one thing in common: writing about them is boring except to other writers.

So as an author, what do you write about? I mean, they say write what you know, but in many ways what I know sucks. There are only so many stories of fast food workers, Fed Ex delivery drivers, and ski bums that people can stand, right?

When we say “write what you know” we don’t mean your job, past occupations, and the criminal activities you may or may not have participated in in college. That is what research is for, and if you are not a writer you will often find them to be quite knowledgeable on several topics if you engage them in conversation.

This is because we, as writers, write what we get to know. We research, study, and become unqualified experts on any number of topics to make our stories richer. Therefore, from time to time, we get it wrong in our stories. Many of us are not police officers, doctors, lawyers, or other professions we write about. We’ve just researched them.

But there are things we can write about that we do know, and that is what we mean when we say “write what you know.”

Fear

If anyone is familiar with fear, it is a writer, regardless of how sheltered the rest of their life might have been. For the most part, though, writers have endured fear in many areas of their lives.

Every time you sit down to look at a blank page, whether it is to write an article or blog post or to start that next story or novel, a writer experiences fear: fear that the words won’t come this time, or that someone will discover how poorly we write, or worse that no one will read our work at all.

This fear is something we can put into our stories and our characters. When they are afraid, we can describe it accurately, show it to our readers. To do so, we must be open and allow our own fear to show through.

This is tough: it means we are making ourselves vulnerable. It means that in every moment of fear in our work, our readers catch a glimpse of what is inside us, and that makes for great fiction.


Blue October, Fear [Explicit]

Love

If there is one thing artists do an astonishing job at, it is love. We also tend to love imperfectly, because we are flawed, and our attention is often drawn to things it should not be. It’s hard to walk through the day and not be distracted by something that is the next story idea, even just an odd creative spark.

However, when we love, we love with everything we are and are loyal to a fault. Sometimes that love is misunderstood because our loyalties are so divided. We are loyal to our craft and our stories, often even our characters. It does not mean we don’t have enough love for others too, it just means we struggle with the balance between the real world and the fantasy we live in.

Writers are often broken and dark, and our writing is where the darkness goes so we do not spread it to those around us. When we are not writing and creating, we are dangerous, hurtful people, the gods forgive us. When we create and channel that darkness, we love with a fierce passion, and take our place among the gods.

Can we write of this struggle to love? Of course we can, because every story is a love story, whether it is in the romance genre or not. Every story has love of something woven into it. To be effective, though, we must show this love to our readers: the pain of it, the struggle, and the triumph.

Darkness

Speaking of the darkness we release through our writing, we must understand that to make it effective, we must not fear showing it to our readers. This is the thing we know so well, yet is difficult to write about. It reveals something inside us we don’t always want the world to see.


I don’t care what genre you write in, there is at some point darkness in your story. The moment the love interests part in a fight over some silly little thing, the moment the husband dies and the woman has to move on, or the moment the murder kills or the monster appears.

The monster is us. Those that are most real contain elements of our darkest secrets, our hidden flaws, the secret desire to destroy that lives within us, shrouded in the shadows of our hearts.

We must provide this darkness a place to play, to live in the light so that we do not harm those around us.

Triumph

Our victories sometimes are small. That one publishing credit. The one book or article acceptance. The one moment when we feel validated as a writer. The time when our child is actually kind or shares a story of their own. The time when we actually do get the girl (or guy), the one who understands us to our very soul and supports us.

These are the triumphs we know. These are the feelings, the emotions, the joy we can infuse into our stories the moment our hero slays the dragon, gets the bad guy, gets the girl, or finally overcomes that one issue in his life.

We must, whenever we can, balance the darkness with triumph. We must impart to our readers the one thing that keeps us going: hope.

You know more than you think as a writer. But it is the things you know in your soul that matter the most. These are the things you must write about. Write what you know. Learn what you don’t.

Comments closed

Digital Marketing for Authors: Infographics

Make no mistake, if you are an author, you are in the digital marketing field. You need to market your work to as many places as you can.

One of the ways we have discussed here to improve Google ranking is through creating backlinks to your site from other sites. Here is a guest post from James Franklin about the role of infographics in digital marketing.

You, as an author, can use your book covers to create infographics about your series, your characters, or other aspects of your work, and share them with other websites who might find them useful. This is a simple way to earn links back to your site without creating a bunch of content. Here’s James’ take on infographics from the perspective of a digital marketer. And hey, the infographic is about gaming monitors. What writer doesn’t want one of those to game on after a hard day of writing?

For all of those in the digital marketing field, you all know how much of a task it can be to build links up to other sites to improve Search Engine Optimization. Why are they important? Because links are the number one thing you need to rank. By building up multiple backlinks, a site will move up on search engines like Google.

This post is about my favorite format of content: Infographics. Why are they my favorite? Because it’s one of the simplest ways to get links. Infographics mean link building doesn’t require you to type content all day long until your fingers ache. I have been using infographic’s to get my clients some great domain authority. Here’s why it works. Links are the reason for content marketing. It isn’t to “tell Google we know what we are talking about.”. It’s to get links. Links is what helps rank websites at the top of the SERPs. Good links are earned by providing good content.

Most people think that websites are pleading for guest posts since it is “free content” but that isn’t the case. I can ensure you that any large website that is considered an “authority” has a large group of staff dedicated to its content. They have staff that plan, review, edit, and scan it. Even a “free” guest post goes through several sets of hands the website employs.

Why do infographic’s get more views and more social media shares than a standard blog post? It’s because website visitors are often looking for simple answers in visual form. They often skim articles. That is why formatting is so significant. It’s imperative to have something that while informative is also fun, colorful, and a provides the information the searcher is looking for.

This infographic created by The Gaming Monitor has clear headings, a bold and clear structure, great content and is a great example of the type of infographic which sites need to be using to improve links and SEO rankings.

Comments closed

Guest Blogging: An Ultimate Guide for Writers

As a writer, you are encouraged by many to include blog tours as a part of your platform building and marketing strategy. Why? There are two really good reasons, but the second one is often lost on authors.

Building Your Audience

The first reason is that you are building your audience, introducing yourself to new readers, reviewers, and other bloggers. (You do have your own blog, right?) If not, there are many guides on how to get started blogging as a writer. Read them, follow the steps, and come back when you are done.

Why do you need your own blog? As you introduce yourself to readers, reviewers, and others you need to tell them where they can find you consistently. This does not just mean giving them your social media handles, though you should be sharing those too. At the minimum, you should be on Twitter and Facebook, but Instagram and Pinterest sometimes work well for writers. This is where you can share visuals like book covers, along with photos about you and your life.

Readers want to get to know you. You can put forth a persona if you wish, and are consistent. For instance, many people have the image that I drink Scotch all day, starting well before noon, and that I work in sweatpants and t-shirts. While this is not true, since I usually don’t start drinking until at least a little bit after noon, and most days I get dressed.

You can publicly portray whatever writing image you want, but readers want to know that image. They want to see pictures of you and your cat, and they like knowing your struggles, what you are working on next, where you are traveling, and more.

Digital wins over physical. You can use a bunch of methods to promote yourself and your work. Everything from business cards to posters, bookmarks, and even calendars and t-shirts. None of these things are a bad idea, in fact if you order them in bulk, you can save a ton of money. Not long ago, I ordered 6,000 business cards. It bears mentioning at this time of year that a number of these things are tax deductible (along with other expenses you incur as an author like book covers and writing courses and conferences).

But who are you going to give those things to, and how are you going to reach them? This is where your blog and website come in. This is where you keep them most informed. You can certainly do so through social media, but your website offers another opportunity: this is how you can inform your readers where to find (and buy) your work.

There are other methods to building your audience and getting visitors to your website which include email newsletter lists and of course, guest blogging.

Building Backlinks to Your Site

How Google Works. This is the part authors often miss. Your site ranks in Google according to how the search engine giant perceives it. It’s helpful at this point to understand how Google works: when you type in a search it does not search the web “live.” Instead, Google (and any other search engine) searches its own index of websites. That index is created by virtual “spiders” who go out and “crawl” websites. How often your site is updated in that index depends on how often your website is updated. Google is looking for updated information, as the goal if for it to provide the best, most relevant search for its users.

If the “spider” crawls your site, and it has not been updated in three days, it will come back and check three days later. If it has still not been updated, it will crawl it six days later, and so on. So if you post or make updates to your website once a month, that is how often Google will “crawl” your site.

If the “spider” comes back a month later and sees you have made four changes since it’s last visit, it will start to look at your site more frequently again. News sites like the New York Times and ABC can be crawled dozens of times a day, as they are updated as news breaks.

Backlinks. While frequent updates are important, equally important is how often (and how) other websites are linking to yours. First, if sites considered to be spam are linking to you on Google, it is possible that your site could be “de-indexed” or removed from the Google search index altogether. This is often called a penalty, or being penalized. This means that while someone searching your name might find your Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, but they won’t see your website at all.

This is not only disastrous because you have taken all the time and expense to build your site, but because recent studies have shown that 64% of your web traffic comes from organic search, or someone searching for your name or the topic of your website in Google. This means that you could potentially lose 6 out of 10 of the visitors to your website.

So be careful of deals on Fiverr and other sites where individuals or agencies offer to help your website rank by selling you a block of links. Building good backlinks takes time, and if you hire someone to do it, it will probably be expensive depending on the type of links you want, another blog post for another time.

Guest Blogging. Guest blogging is one of the best ways to do this, although you do have to be careful about what sites you guest post on. Most of the time, reputable companies like Writer Marketing Services offer blog tours, and vet the blogs you are posted on.

You can set up your own blog tours, but it does involve a huge time commitment to do outreach, follow up, and research each sites guidelines. However, even if you do blog tours, you should also attempt to write for other sites as well.

This is why you see writers on Huffington Post and other sites. Often they are writing about other subjects, maybe even what they do for work. I write a lot about content marketing, GIS, sports for Last Word on Sports, and even just fun topics for sites like Elite Daily. Why? Because it creates more authority for my site, and exposes me to an entirely different audience.

Building the authority of your site does not have to be about writing, but at least a part of it should be. If you are just blogging about your interests, it is possible the readers of those articles will not even know that you write fiction.

The links you build to your site should be relevant. They should have diverse anchor text (the text that points the reader to your site) but text that doesn’t just look natural, but is. There are a number of tools you can use that will provide you with information about the backlinks pointing to your site, including Moz and SEM Rush. Both have free trial periods, and Moz has a free version that allows limited searches and some free information. (also, if you want to learn more about SEO, search in general,and marketing strategies, you should follow their blog and Rand Fishkin, their founder and an all around fun and brilliant guy)

What to Write About

One of the number one arguments I hear from writers against guest blogging and blogging regularly on their own site is simply “What do I write about?” They seem to run out of topics pretty quickly. But I call foul.

Creativity You are creative. You need to apply that same creativity to your blog writing that you do to writing short stories and novels. You have hobbies, interests, and your books are about something, someone, and somewhere.

Most of the time, writers who say they have nothing to write about on their blog are scared to write the wrong thing. There are a ton of places to find new ideas to write about, but here are a few:

  • Write what readers will be interested in. Don’t just write about writing, but about things people comment on in their reviews of your books, the places, things, and people your books are about. Readers read them for a reason. Give them a reason to learn more.
  • Write about your life. People are fascinated by the writing life, where you get your ideas, and how and where you write. Don’t write about this all the time, but it is a place to start.
  • Share your thoughts. Don’t get overly political or religious, but it is okay to let readers of your blog know what you are feeling when it comes to current events, especially if they are related, even tangentially, to the subject of your books.

Think outside the box. You have things to say, and you certainly have enough to say for one blog post a week. I have met some of you, and you have much more to say than that. Write it down,and get some benefit from it.

Assignments Many times, blog owners will tell you what they want you to write about, or offer interview opportunities, or will put a call out for specific topics. Pay attention, answer those calls, and in short give the people what they want.

You can’t go wrong with a post a blog owner has asked for, or one you have pitched to them that they like. Sometimes you will even have posts that go farther than you imagined, and unexpectedly.

As an author, you should be guest blogging on various sites. It is one way to promote your work and make your writing more profitable. A big part of the dream as an author is for your work to be read. In order for it to be read, readers must discover it and have an easy way to purchase it.

It’s a lot of work to build your audience and find guest postings on various sites. But you should be building backlinks to your sites, and you do have things to write about. It is up to you to explore the world of guest posting, but it can be a real game changer for your work and your website.

Have questions? Want to know more? Comment below or contact me at [email protected].

Comments closed

Simply a Matter of Trust: The Author-Reader Relationship

As a writer, I always strive to “show, not tell” in my fiction. As an editor, it is one of the number one things I tell the authors I work with: Show, Don’t Tell.

What the hell does that even mean? In the non-fiction and content creation world many of you know me from, I write for one primary purpose, although there are others that certainly play a role: I write to educate and to make the internet a better place.

Okay, maybe I write to be funny sometimes too. Like my post about being a writer on career day, or the one about 10 Things Cops Had that You Wish They Didn’t. More often they are serious, like How To Make Long Form Content a Success and one of my most widely shared pieces that appeared first on GIS User and then on Huffington Post about The Map that Made Trump the Nominee.

In those posts, I do a lot of telling. Using a journalistic approach I answer questions like what happened, who was involved, why did it happen, and how does it affect me. Many authors come from a journalistic background, or do technical writing, or just have a lot of college in their background. This is good. You know the rules of grammar and style (sometimes). You can put together a coherent sentence.

Your fiction readers don’t want that though. They want a story, and a story is a relationship. It is a collaboration between the author, the reader, and the characters the author has created. In that relationship, there are a few simple things that are essential. They are the same things that are vital to the success of any relationship.

Trust

This is the foundation of any relationship: while there is a certain amount of misdirection in fiction, especially mystery, there is no room for lying.

“Wait,” you say. “Fiction is a lie. The story is not really true.”

Right. Except that the story is true to itself and the events and characters inside. Once an author starts to lie to his characters and by extension the readers, he loses the power of both. That’s a damn shame. One a reader says to him or herself, “That would never happen in real life” or “Sally would never take Ethan back after he did that” you have lost them.

This is where the suspension of disbelief comes in. For a few moments, I must get my reader to believe that dragons are real, and can be conquered by a knight with a sword. However, if the medieval knight pulls out a 9 mm Glock and blows the dragons head off, I have crossed the line of what is believable in the world I have created.

Even if the rules I have created are new and made up, they must be followed. If I am going to break them, I must do so extremely well and with good reason. Otherwise I lose, and my readers leave.

Clear Communication

Why do we emphasize good grammar? A solid vocabulary but one that uses simple words that fit in with the everyday language of our readers? Because we must communicate with them clearly, concisely, and in an entertaining manner.

No one wants to read dry prose or poetry for that manner. We want words that move and inspire us. For facts, we read non-fiction. For escape, to be transported beyond our everyday lives, we read fiction. Making things too real, to slow and methodical takes away their power.

We are not academics. We write stories to move readers, to inspire emotion and empathy.

No Cheating

Trick me once, shame on you. Trick me twice, shame on me. That is how the saying goes, but truthfully as an author, if you do something stupid and trick a reader, they might not come back and give you another chance.

What do I mean by trick them? It comes back to the trust issue and being honest. Perhaps you are too young to remember the serial stories shown in theaters (I am) but I have seen a few as I have studied the structure of stories.

Many of them would end with the hero in a situation he clearly could not get out of, a cliff hanger. This is all well and good, until the next week, he somehow managed to escape just before going over the cliff, or before the explosion and resulting fire. It was a cheat, a trick, and always a disappointing start to the next episode.

In the theater, this is known as a deus ex machina, or “god from the machinery” usually translated as “machine of the gods.” It’s defined as “an unexpected power or event saving a seemingly hopeless situation, especially as a contrived plot device in a play or novel.”

Don’t use these. Your readers will flee like lemmings racing over the edge of a cliff, every one following the other so closely they don’t know their stampede spells your literary death.

The Timely Resolution of Conflict

You have a conflict with your spouse or significant other, usually over something vital like the fact that you forgot to put the dryer sheet in with your clothes, and now they are all static-filled. So is her favorite skirt, which she just had to wear tonight because otherwise she would have to wear that one red dress, and Veronica Sanders has one just like it, and if they showed up dressed the same at the party it would be a literal disaster and you would clearly be to blame. Or something like that.

The key to moving forward in your marriage is resolving this conflict in a timely manner, whether that means you fluffing your wife’s skirt in the dryer by itself with a sheet this time, so the static is gone, and doing so while she is in in the shower, so she does not even think about it. Or if it is early enough, you can take her shopping for a new outfit, without the usual spending limit, and oh yeah, she could use some new shoes too.

Your readers are the same. If you lead them down a path, the path must lead somewhere. The gun on the mantle must be used by someone, even if it is just to prop something open or to stir a drink. You cannot leave things open entirely, even for a sequel. There must be a clue that something is coming next or an incomplete resolution.

You must show your readers this resolution. Don’t tell them about it as an aside, but let them see it happen, If you do not do this in a timely manner, they will think you have even forgotten to resolve it (you might have) or that it doesn’t need to be in your story at all (also maybe true).

Think of it this way. The first page is your start of a relationship with your reader as you build a story. How much they will forgive the spelling error on page 73, whether they will keep reading when Mandy meets her untimely demise in act two depends on how much they trust you, and how good your relationship is.

Your reader must trust you. You must present your story by communicating clearly. You can’t resolve issues by tricks and cheats. Finally, you must resolve conflicts in a timely manner. The relationship you have between you and your reader depends on it.

Comments closed

Writing from the Heart

I often get a chance to talk to other authors, those just starting out or getting back in the saddle like I am now. I also get a chance to talk to those who write all the time, and one thing is true of nearly all of them: they write from the heart.

It doesn’t matter your genre, or how much or how little you write. From memoirs to nearly any other story, writers write from their heart. Most of us simply cannot help us. A little bit of who we are becomes a part of every story we put words too, whether it is in our journal and never sees the light of day or it becomes a bestseller everyone is reading on Amazon.

It’s pretty scary to put your heart out there. That is the reason almost every negative review affects an author so deeply—so deeply as a matter of fact that many of my author friends never read reviews of their own work. Sure it is courteous to thank every reviewer good or bad for at least taking the time to read your work, but sometimes the negative ones can send you into a tailspin it’s harder to pull out of than the flat spin Goose and Maverick were stuck in.

True it might be healthier to face those fears and overcome what other people might think of your work, and realize it isn’t personal and your type of writing may not be for everyone. Those words are easier to write than to live by, and although I say them I have a harder time swallowing them when the one-star review is next to one of my own titles.

However the fact that writing from the heart is so essential for writing to be genuine and reach others where they live, there are a few things I have said before, but that hold true for every work of fiction.

First drafts should be written quickly.

A first draft of a novel should be written within six to nine months maximum. Why? Think of who you were just a year ago, now two years. If you are a healthy person, you are growing and maturing, and as you do your heart changes.

If it takes you too long to write a draft, your heart changes in the middle, and when you go back to read and edit it, you will see that change. So will your reader if you do not fix things in the revision process, which leads to my second point.

Edits and Revisions should be completed quickly.

Three passes with an editor and one with a proofreader will catch most of the errors in your books. In some cases, mistakes will slip through, and although it is ideal to have an error free manuscript, doing so is almost impossible. Even the best authors and editors working as a team let errors get past them.

A perfect book is probably a dead book. If the grammar, spelling, and every other aspect is perfect, your author voice has probably been silenced and the story is likely pretty dull. People read your work to hear your voice, to get a new perspective on life in general. An over edited book probably lacks the very things readers are looking for.

This is not to say that you should not hire a professional editor and have your work proofread thoroughly. It just means than if there are a few mistakes, but the story is still excellent, readers will be more forgiving.

Let your book go after a reasonable effort. No book is ever done, it is just released into the world. If you hold it too long, your heart will change, and you will revise your work to reflect that change. Then realistically the editing process must be started over again.

Writer’s block is a heart problem.

writers-block

I often get booed when I am around writers and tell them I don’t believe in writer’s block. If you write for a living, that is like a waiter having waiter’s block. If a waiter cannot wait tables that day, they go home and do not get paid. Pretty quickly they have to get over that issue and do their job.

You are a writer. Putting words together is your job. You can choose to work on other projects, do another type of writing, but you are not allowed to stop. If you are experiencing writer’s block, or what you think is writer’s block, check your heart. What is keeping your mind from communicating well with your heart? What is between them?

As a writer, you must work to remove these things. There are a few things that work for me, and might for you as well:

  • Exercise: Get out and run, ride your bike, hike, or lift weights. Let your mind focus on your body and what it needs to do for a while. It may just help reset your muse.
  • Meditation: Meditation is much like exercise. You cannot do it well unless you practice. So practice. Whether you use guided meditation or are advanced enough you can reach an empty minded state on your own, work at setting the conscious things weighing your mind down to the side. Concentrate on now rather than the past or future, This will help your heart reset so you can write effectively again.
  • Talk to Someone: Every writer goes through more productive and less productive periods, and each has their own form of motivation and resetting their heart. Ask someone more experienced than you what they do, and try different things.
  • Keep writing: By moving to a different project or journaling, you allow your muse to tap into and empty your heart, making room for it to be filled again. Journaling can be especially helpful in this case.

Writer’s block is only a problem if you let it be one, and is really a heart problem, so when you try to combat it, check your heart first.

No matter what you write and when you write it, you write from the heart. Before your heart changes, get that draft down on paper. Get the words out. And before you heart changes again, get your work revised and share it. Don’t use writer’s block as an excuse: fix your heart and move on.

Your readers will thank you. So will all of those who have to deal with you every day.

Comments closed

Save the Data: An Author’s Guide To Backup and Recovery

I migrated to a new computer this weekend, and it is probably something that was long overdue. My tower stopped working, and while I, in an amateurish way diagnosed the problem as a failed power supply, the motherboard had actually stopped working. Not a simple or cheap fix, and with the price of parts and labor, I could just buy a reconditioned machine.

On top of that, my son, now 14 needs a computer more and more for school. I have a laptop I have been using, or rather overusing, and he needs a device of his own so he doesn’t have to rely on my wife and I, whose devices are often occupied with our own work.

The last time I did this was just a few years ago, but things have changed. Much more of my information and my software licensing is stored in the cloud, which also ensures that they are secure. Fortunately, I had just backed up all of my files before my computer took its final electronic breath.

computer-keyboard

However, I hear stories every day of authors whose laptops or home computers died, and entire novels, short stories, and more are lost, never to be recovered. There is no need for that anymore. Especially if you do the one thing I always tell authors they must do: treat your writing like a business, because it is. You need to have a plan to backup all of your files, and recover them if they are ever lost.

There are several ways authors have used in the past to back up files, and they are still effective. However, in light of modern technology, they are also not as efficient. Still, it’s not a bad idea to use some of them.

E-mail your work to yourself. This one is very common, and I know authors who do this every time they complete a chapter. The good news of this method? As long as you can access your email, you have access to your files. The cons? If you can’t get to your email, or you have a political scandal and delete 33,000 personal emails, and your files are part of those (okay, unlikely), your files can be lost.

Many authors create a unique email account and never delete any of the emails in it, or often don’t even look at them unless disaster strikes and they have to. Something like [email protected] (not real, don’t mail me your stuff at that one) works, since it’s free and if you don’t list it anywhere, your inbox should stay free of spam.

Back up files on an external hard drive. This is still good advice. It never hurts to have a copy of your files on a device that you can take with you anywhere, and recover files even if you do not have access to the internet. A few words of caution:

  • Don’t use thumb drives. They are notorious for failing, and the nature of them being small makes it possible they would be lost. This is a good way to keep files mobile, but a bad idea for long term backups.
  • Migrate your data to new file formats. It takes a long time for files types to become obsolete, but it does happen, and not being able to recover your data because it cannot be converted to new formats is disheartening at best, tragic at worst.
  • Store hard drives in a safe location. Fire proof safes in your home, a safe deposit box (although this makes it harder to access) or somewhere apart from your property is the wisest choice. Fire, flood, and other disasters can destroy your hard work, and while it is not the worst thing that might happen, losing nine months of work on a novel is an additional heartbreak.

Used wisely, external hard drives are a good option, and frequent (at least weekly) back ups are a really good idea. There are of course more modern backup methods. You have to be connected to the internet to recover your data, but in an age of connectivity everywhere access is fairly assured.

Multiple Cloud Backups. The cloud is essentially your data stored on someone else’s secure servers. They have backups and data recovery plans as well. It never hurts to have a writing folder in more than one cloud app. MOst offer enough free space to back up a number of documents, and offer large amounts of storage for a nominal fee.

  • Google Drive: This is storage offered by Google under your Google Account. Depending on how many files you have to store, the free 15G storage may be adequate, or for $1.99 a month you can add more. Just keep in mind that the storage limit includes your Gmail files and Google + photos.
  • OneDrive: This is Microsoft’s answer to cloud storage/ Free storage is limited to 5GB of data, but if you are a Microsoft 365 subscriber (something I highly recommend for authors) the limit is 1TB, enough room for most if not all of your docs, photos, and music.
  • DropBox: Drop Box offers 5GB for free as well, with additional paid options. Of course, if you are just using it to store and share documents, 5GB will be more than enough to back up a ton of text files.

Backing up your files on more than one service ensures that if something happens to that service or you lose access for some reason, your data will still be protected.

damaged-cdData Recovery. More than once those authors have lost all of their data and have had to start over. But it isn’t necessary. Even if your local computer shop tells you the data is lost, there are companies who specialize in data recovery. One of them, Kroll OnTrack, offers data recovery from almost any device, and they offer this advice:

  • Get the device to them as quickly as possible.
  • Know what to expect: not all data can be recovered, but a good recovery service will tell you what can be recovered before you pay for it.
  • Don’t give up on a damaged device. The data may still be intact. Contact a professional before giving up.

The better hardware and software get, the more likely it is that lost data will not really be lost. Even with catastrophic hardware and software failures, data recovery is possible.

You work hard as a writer, and sometimes it takes months to shape a story the way you really want it to be. Edits take time, and can be costly. So taking data backup as seriously as other businesses do is vital to your long-term success.

Using multiple forms of backup and having a data recovery plan makes this possible and worry free even if you are not technologically adept. That way you can focus on what you are best at. Writing.

Comments closed