Category Archives: Writing

How To Write Articles For Others

As some of you know, I do writing on the side from all the other stuff I do. You know about my book writing series which is listed above, and of course I’ve talked about writing articles for pay and creating article packages, of which one is now off the market.

A question I wanted to address is how one can write articles about things one knows nothing about. Most of us adults have forgotten what it was like to have to write research papers when we were in school, and truthfully, I’m not sure that skill hasn’t been lost with today’s kids. Anyone can parrot back what they can find on the internet. The real test of skill is taking researched content and putting it into your own words.

I’d like to talk about a writing project I did last Sunday for a new client, which will give an example of how it can be done. I was tasked to write 7 articles on a subject that I knew nothing about. Though I was given some keyword phrases, the purchaser told me I could pretty much write on anything I wanted to, as long as I got the topic right.

The first thing I did was copy his keyword phrases into Excel. Then I went to Google and typed in the main topic, just to see what came up. Based on the first page, and I have my main Google page set to give me 50 links at a time, I came up with 13 article topics I thought I could write on. I wasn’t sure those would be the final choices, but I was going to start there.

I went to 25 of the first pages that were listed, just to see what they were all about. When I saw information that I thought would help me, I copied it and pasted it into a different Excel spreadsheet, then formatted the columns so I could read it all. I then looked at certain words I was going to highlight, and looked to see how many different articles I felt I could get out of the original content I’d copied.

I came up with four ideas immediately, and three of them fit the topics and keywords that I’d initially been asked for. I decided to start off writing about the main topic, which I knew would lead into writing the other articles. This is always how I do things; for instance, when I wrote my first article package, which was on Twitter (that’s the one that’s now been pulled), the first article was on what Twitter was all about. That’s always the easiest article to write when you know something about the topic, but even when you don’t, it’s usually the easiest topic.

Next I went ahead and wrote the other four articles based on the information I already had. I didn’t plagiarize a single thing; every line I wrote was original, even if I used the same content. It was easy to do because I had multiple sources for each topic, and they all described the same thing either with the same exact words or different words. If the words were all the same, I’m creative enough to figure out other words; if they were different, I just altered some of them, rearranged others, and still came up with original wording.

At this point I still had three articles to write, so I decided to do some research on a couple more specific topics the client had mentioned, just to see what I could come up with. And I was able to figure out how to write two more articles on those keywords, and it really wasn’t all that difficult in the end. The thing is, if there’s enough research information on any topic, it’s fairly easy to write articles, and on these topics, there was.

Now it was time for the final article, and with the original research, I actually already had another topic in there, so I decided to go ahead and write it, and then I was done.

I shared the first article with the client to see how he liked it; he loved it! He liked it so much he went ahead and paid me before I’d even asked him to; how’s that for writing love? Two days later, he commissioned some more articles, and life isn’t so bad writing for him, even though one of the topics was somewhat difficult, as it didn’t have as much original material to pull from.

These articles ended up being between 439 and 656 words, and he only wanted each article to be more than 400 words. And, for that first set, it took me less than 2 hours to write them all. What’s he using them for? I didn’t ask, as, when you’re writing for someone else, you just write and give them away, and that’s that.

Anyway, that’s how I did it. If you have any more detailed questions, other than what the articles were on (no, I’m not giving that up), I’ll be glad to answer. For those of you who do write articles on something you have to research, how do you go about it?

Book Writing Series Part Seven – Contacting Publishers

As many of you know, I started a series of articles that I called the book writing series, for which I also have a link at the top. I went through some issues on planning, writing, then publishing. Well, some people still want to try to get a real publisher for their books, which is a laudable goal, but may not have any real idea of how to go about it. That’s what this article is about. Of course, I hope you go through the other issues first before you get to this one if you’re a new visitor, but you don’t have to.


the Pen

To begin with, if you’re going to try for publisher’s, a must have book is Writer’s Market, because that’s where you’re going to start looking for the names and addresses of publishers you’re hoping will accept your book. However, the book doesn’t tell you everything you need to know, so stay tuned.

To start off with, whether you submit your book by regular mail or email, you’ll need to supply an outline, or synopsis, of the book. My book was non fiction, so I supplied an outline of what each chapter’s topic was, along with its title, and an outline of what was covered in the chapter if I was touching upon more than one theme. Also, every publisher or agent either wants one of two things: a complete copy of the book, which, if you print it out, has to be on individual pages, double spaced (that’s kind of costly and wasteful, but if that’s what they want then you give it to them); most publishers only want a sample, maybe like the first 50 pages or so. If you’re sending something by email, you may need to contact the publisher first before sending an attached file. This is one place where having Writer’s Market helps, because it will tell you how the publisher wants you to contact them.

However, here’s the big part that no one ever tells you. Unless you’re already famous, you have to put in your greeting letter, and you must ALWAYS have a greeting letter, not only what the book is about and the characters and synopsis, but how YOU would sell and market the book if it were totally up to you. You have to tell them who the target audience is, and why that’s the target audience. And it needs to be a big audience, one that has the possibility of selling at least 100,000 books. That was one of my problems; my non fiction book might have had a big market, but books on management and leadership rarely sell that many books unless you’re a big name. The One Minute Millionaire really was a fluke (I met Ken Blanchard, by the way, and he actually read a copy of my book). Anyway, the marketing aspect has to include things like book signings, certain types of radio shows you’d try to get on, television interviews, how much travel you’d be willing to do, etc. The problem with that is that a lot of that stuff would come out of your own pocket; they’ll pay you something up front, but you then have to figure out how to fit everything else into place with that money.

The best thing to do then, obviously, is to try to get an agent, but they’re tough to get through to also. They don’t like signing what they consider as a “one trick pony”; in other words, they usually want to know that you’ve written more than one book, no matter how good they are, because they want to pitch the writer as being somewhat prolific so they can get multi-book deals. So, unless your first missive is just so fantastic that the agent knows you’re the next coming of J.K. Rowlings, it’s a difficult sell. She’s actually someone who’s a great example of how to do it. She got an agent not because of the first book, but because she had a full outline for the entire series of books, and the agent just loved that, even though she’d only written the first book at the time. Even then, he had a tough time getting it to someone initially, but that was then his concern, not hers, since agents still work on commission. I don’t think any of them are unhappy at this juncture.

If you’re looking for an agent, you pretty much have to go through the same process you do for a publisher. There are only so many agents, and because most of them are one person operations, they only have so much time to read only so many books. The reason you might shoot for an agent, though, is because some publishers will only work with agents, not directly with writers, and agents have access to many more publishers than you might on your own.

Now a little bit more on figuring out the categories for your book. Though I love the idea of a book falling into multiple categories, publishers won’t. In the Writer’s Market book, many publishers only market a few types of genres, so they’d need something specific. These days, more publishers are starting to get scared of “true story” books because of the ones that have been outed as fake recently, so if you reference anyone specific in the book they’re going to want to know who those people are, and of course want to obtain releases from those people, or most of those people, and that gets expensive. If it’s me, I’d probably want to market it as fiction based on your own experiences. In any case, deciding upon your genre will help you decide how to help market your book.

It can be a tough environment, but if you’re committed to trying, I hope those steps above help.

Samsill Sterling Writing Pad

Samsill Sterling Writing Pad

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At Least Be Professional In Your Writing

I understand that we’re living in different times. The need for some to communicate their thoughts faster, and sometimes in fewer words or characters, is more common now than ever before. Schools seem to be more interested in grading students on the content of what they’re written, rather than the words and sentence structure used to create those words. I asked this one awhile ago, and I’ll ask it again; does anyone except me still use semicolons?

What am I commenting on now? This is an email I received yesterday:

Hi,

I visited ur site n am interested in doin Link Exchange wid ur site, if u
r also interested thn pls get back 2 us on the above email.

i too got few automotive sites and blogs with good visitors on it ….
would u like to link exchange for betterment of both our sites ?

let me know if interested 😉

Link Exchange wid Blogroll

What the heck is that? Did a 10 year old just send me a marketing email? Oddly enough, I was insulted, and I’m still not sure why. Just an hour later I received another one, though longer, on my TFB blog, which I just sent to spam and deleted, written the same way. Not to mention that it had nothing to do with the topic at hand, just a stupid generic sales letter. Here’s a portion of that letter, and remember, that particular blog of mine is on financial issues:

I am a webmaster maintaining some finance related sites & blogs with good pr & good traffic. I have just seen ur sites, it is really very informative & related to my topic also. If u don’t mind I want u as my link partner.
I think this is the only way to get high traffic & pr soon, in other side this is very safe way in front of the search engine. I do interested abt healthy content or banner link exchange with my top quality finance sites & blogs. If it is needed I will go for article or useful finance widget link exchange.
If u agree with my proposal plz feel free to reply me with ur good finance sites & blogs urls. I will also do the same with a revert mail.

That’s exactly how it came. No spacing for paragraphs; lots of truncated words; nothing about my topic at all. Is this serious business? Would anyone in their right minds consider this as appropriate business conversation?

We talk often about writing new, good, and original content for our visitors on our blogs. One shouldn’t suppose, however, that blog writing is more important than business writing. When I was a director, I used to edit every letter that anyone on my staff wrote that they were planning on sending out to our clients, if you will, not because I wanted them to write as I write, but because I would see examples of their writing and formatting “skills” and decided that wasn’t the image I wanted to convey to our clientele. At some point I created templates for them to use, where they could just fill in the blanks for those issues that were common. Unfortunately, that type of thing doesn’t work across the board, and sometimes you do have to craft original letters.

I don’t begrudge anyone an occasional typo, but those two letters above were written that way on purpose. Frankly, the only reason I kept a copy of each of them was so I could write this post; I’m not responding to either one of them. If that’s how someone wants to write on their blog, or if that’s how someone wishes to comment on another person’s blog, that’s just fine for them. But when it comes to business communications,… well, if they start wondering why they’re not getting much of a return on their marketing, I bet we could tell them why.

Or am I talking like an old person? Someone let me know.

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Book Writing Series Part Six – Publishing Your Book

This is the final part of the book writing series, and today we’re going to talk about the process of trying to get your book published by someone else, as well as self publishing your book. Before we get there, though, let’s do a quick recap of what I’ve talked about thus far.

Part one talked about coming up with the concept for whatever it is you want to write about. Part two discussed how to plan the steps you want to take before writing your book. Part three talked about determining when you wanted to write and what method you were going to take. Part four talked about ways to tell your story, no matter if you’re writing fiction or nonfiction. And part five talked about the editing process.

Now we’re up to the publishing part of the story, which is the final piece of it all. This presumes that you’re looking to try to do something with what you’ve written; if not, you can skip this part.

You’ve now edited your book and it’s time to find a publisher, or an agent. There are a few things you need to know before you try. Publishers don’t have any idea how to promote your book; plain and simple. Sure, if you’re already a big time writer, or a famous person, they’ve got a clue. But don’t expect any publisher to even look at your book unless you can sell them on what your book is all about. Not only that, but you have to try to convince them why your book is worth their attention, who the market will be, and how they should market it. You’ll need to have a catchy title, which can be a major problem for some, and it has to make some kind of sense to the rest of the story. You’ll need to have an outline of what the book is all about. You may need to send either the first few chapters of the book or even the entire book. And you’ll need to have a killer cover letter that’s not too long, or not too short.

Yes, that’s confusing, but here’s how you end some of that confusion. There’s a book called the Writer’s Market, and it’s where you’re going to find the list of publishers of all types of books or magazines and the genre’s they cover. Each publisher lists their guidelines for how they want you to submit your book to them. Some of them are going to say they don’t take any original manuscripts directly from the writers. This always means they only work with agents; some publishers will tell you that directly. You can either buy this book, or go to the library, as every library in the country probably has this book in circulation.

Either way, you’re still going to have prep work to do, whether you’re trying to pitch to an agent or a publisher. There’s a debate as to whether you should send your book to only one publisher or agent at a time; some say yes, some say no. I tend to go with the side that says it’s okay to submit your book to more than one publisher at a time, for two reasons. One, if you’re a new writer, you’re probably going to have difficulties cracking through in the first place, so why not get as much early feedback as possible. Two, if you’re lucky enough to hear from more than one publisher, you get to pick which one to go to, and it will probably be the last time you get to make a decision for yourself for a long time.

My tale is that I sent my book out to ten publishers at a time. Some of them accepted email submissions, which made it easy. I started at the beginning of the alphabet, which made it easy to keep track of. Sometimes you might have to submit something more than once to a publisher after the time they say they’ll take in the book, but you get to make that decision for yourself. When I’d heard from at least five publishers, I’d try again. All in all, I sent my book to 67 publishers, and heard back from 47 of them. Of course, every one of them rejected my book, but not all of them rejected it without a reason. About half of them rejected it saying they weren’t publishing anything of that particular genre “this season”; this was back in 2002, and remember, the genre was leadership and management, which hadn’t quite grown at that point.

Just over half of the rest of them said they didn’t know how they’d market the book; that was purely my fault, because I didn’t know at the time how to tell them to market it. Truthfully, before I’d written my book, I had never read any other books on the topic, because I didn’t want to be influenced by anyone else’s process. If I’d done it properly, I should have checked out the market after I’d written my book so I’d have had a better understanding of how to promote my book. I also had a problem with the title; I didn’t have the title Embrace The Lead until over two years after I’d written it, so I really hadn’t given anyone much to go on. Some of these people must have actually read whatever I’d sent them, because they said some nice things about it while saying they didn’t know what to do with it. The last bunch just rejected it outright, with the standard “no thank you” letter, and left it at that.

At that point, I could have considered myself at a crossroads. Instead, I decided I would self publish my book. Now, there are four options one can decide upon when it comes to publishing one’s own book. The first option is to go the ebook route, which I started out with. I began by selling my book off my website in two forms. One could purchase the entire ebook, or one could purchase the book in three individual sections, since it’s broken out that way.

The second option is to go to a vanity publisher of some type. There are multiple types of vanity publishers, and you’re going to end up paying some kind of money for all of them. The one I know the best is Publish America, but I’ve also heard some fairly nice things about Lulu. Each of these offers the opportunity to pay someone to help edit the book, which you might want to take advantage of if you decided not to spend all the time I did in self editing mine. What they both offer are custom made covers, print on demand books (this means you pay them if you want more books to sell for whatever reason), assistance in obtaining an ISBN number (International Standard Book Number; this is the publisher number which allows you to sell your book on sites such as Amazon and Google Books), and so many “free” copies initially for however you choose to use them. This isn’t such a bad way to go, but I decided it wasn’t how I wanted to go.

The third option is to go to a copy center such as Kinko’s and have your book made by them. The problem I had there is that they’re not really book binders, so they would have created my book with a spiral binder, and that was unacceptable to me. It would have been very cost effective, but it would have looked more like a manual than a book.

I wanted it to look like a book, so I chose the fourth option, which was taking it to a printing company. The costs associated with doing this will vary based on what you ask for. In my case, I decided that the only color I wanted on the cover was having the title and my name printed in blue ink. Color gets very expensive, and had I wanted every page of my book in color, the cost would have jumped. If I’d chosen a color background it would have gone up a little bit, and if I’d chosen more than one color, the cost would have gone up drastically. That would apply if you decided to put any pictures in your book also; black and white images cost nothing extra. What surprised me is that they wanted the book in a .pdf format instead of a Word document; I gave it to them both ways, just in case.

I decided I wanted an initial run of 300 books. That cost me around $1,300, and I was happy with that price. That came to $4.33 a book, which was well worth doing it. At that rate, I would have to sell 52 books to make my money back if I sold it at $25, which is the price I sell it at now off my website. However, when I take it with me on speaking engagements, which was the reason I wanted so many books, I usually reduce the price to either $20 or, every once in awhile, $10 a book, depending on who I’m speaking in front of. I have easily made back my initial investment; thank goodness. I still have about 150 books left, though, in case anyone wishes to buy one, and I even autograph it if requested. The most important thing for me, though, is that it looks like a book. Sure, a pure white book with no frills, but still a book.

As for the ISBN number, I purchased my own at the link above, paying for 10 ISBN numbers, which means that I can write nine more books and already have a publisher number for them. I didn’t have the publisher number when I published the first book, but when I write my next books, I’m going to be sure that number is on the book. It adds extra credibility to your book to have that number on there, even if you don’t decide to sell it anywhere other than on your own website, or with the assistance from other places.

My book is listed on 10 other sites, none of them paid for, and only one of them asked for a reciprocal link, that being Published.com, and I’m happy to give them that link. Basically, it’s like any other internet marketing venture; the more you can get the word out, the better the opportunities you’ll have to sell your book.

I want to mention this one point, if I may. There are different benefits between getting your book published by someone else and doing it yourself. Big time publishers will give you an advance on your sales, but if your book doesn’t end up selling some request the difference back, though most will just cut your contract and move on with life. Most books that are published by new writers don’t make a lot of money, even some of those that gain nice publicity. There’s a lot of work involved, as publishers expect their writers to travel to support the publicity of the book, but if you’re not a big name, you’re going to pay for your own publicity tour. Therefore, though you got an advance on future sales, you could end up eating some of that while on some kind of tour. And, the amount a writer gets from each sale isn’t all that much; sometimes not even 5% of whatever the book is selling for. If you end up being popular, that’s not a bad deal because your next contract will be much better; if not, the publisher may never recoup their money, and you’ll never make another dime.

By self publishing, if you know how to market, you get full profits from your book sales. That’s how I made my money back. In today’s world, many musicians are finding that they’ll make more money from fewer sales than they did with bigger sales. Prince was the first big time musician to realize that when he sold 350,000 copies of one of his albums online at $15 a copy as compared to how much money he made when Purple Rain sold 18 million copies. When you self publish, you can cross genre’s, because at that point it’s all about the writing and however you decide to market, not the whim of some publisher who wants you to make a lot of changes so that it will fit into a category of their choosing.

And that’s the conclusion of this series on writing a book. Within a week or so it will appear as a headline topic in the header. I hope I’ve given some valuable information to most of you. As always, I encourage your comments and your questions.

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Book Writing Series Part Five – Editing

Now you’ve written your book, or you’re almost done with it; congratulations! At this point, you’ve finished the second hardest part of your overall project, and you’ve done something that the overwhelming number of people in the world have never done. That warrants kudos on its own; but you’re not even close to being done.

The next step is the editing step, and it’s the hardest step of the entire process. It’s the hardest process because if you’re going to do it right, it’s going to take longer to edit your book than it took you to write it. First, you have to confront your own demons while editing it. This is when the gut check takes place, where your confidence is tested, because now you’re revisiting your own words, and some of them are going to look and sound alien to you. If you make it through the first edit, you’re going to be fine. But the first edit is crucial.

I know, you’re saying “first edit”? Yes, I’m saying first edit, because when you edit your book, you’re going to have to go through it more than once. I’m going to describe what I went through, so you can see what I’m talking about. I’m going to tell you my story; sound a little familiar?

After I wrote my book, Embrace The Lead, I knew I had to go through the entire thing again. Luckily, I had written it in Word, which checks your spelling as you go along, so I knew that all the regular words were going to be spelled properly. However, I had also used voice recognition software, so I knew there were going to be some alien-looking phrases that were going to stand out. And I knew one more thing; I was going to rewrite as I went along. Everyone rewrites, unless they can hammer something out in one piece and feel fairly comfortable with it. When it comes to something large, though, you’re probably going to rewrite something; it’s perfectly normal.

The first edit was painstakingly long. I’m a speed reader, so I had to change my own mode of reading and actually study my own text. I have to say that I did a pretty good job with the first edit. Word is a great program to use because it allows you to make some mass changes whenever you need to. For instance, there were many instances in the book when I used my wife’s first name by mistake. So, I was able to mass change the entire book from her name to “my wife” with one keystroke; that was great. I also noticed a consistent typo, where my fingers just wouldn’t let me spell this one word correctly, and I was able to make that change all at once.

The first edit of my book took me 5 days. I didn’t end up rewriting all that much, but I did end up adding more to many areas, trying to explain myself better. Still, after the first edit of my book, I felt fairly comfortable with it; but I knew I wasn’t done.

The next edit is something that couldn’t have been done in the past, but in 2002 it was something available to me, and it’s probably available now. I had downloaded a program where I could paste blocks of text into it and it would read them to me. As odd as this sounds, I felt it was important to hear what the book sounded like if it was being read aloud. This didn’t take as long as one might think, but I’m glad I did it because there were some parts where even I got confused, and I was able to fix those areas so that it would read smoother. I belong to a writer’s group that meets once a month, and whenever it’s my turn to present something, I always ask someone else to read it aloud so I can hear if it’s flowing properly. It’s also a rush to hear someone else reading your material, even if it is just a program on your computer.


Two Steps To Writing

Another thing Word can do for you, which became my third edit, is check your grammar. Although Word and I don’t always agree, I decided to change the settings and let it highlight what I’d written, just to make sure there were no major faux pas. It highlighted many areas, which I expected, but it also found some things that I decided to change, so I didn’t mind doing it.

The final part for me was asking some of my friends, those who I knew would read it and look for something critical, to read it for me and point out things they didn’t understand. I specifically told them I didn’t want them to critique the content, only the grammar, and whether they understood what I was saying or not. Debate can be for another time; what I needed was a critical eye only.

I have found that point to be one of the most important things I’ve ever had to do whenever I’ve asked someone for a critique. You have to tell people what you want from them. If you ask someone to read something and tell you what they think, you never know where they’re going to go, and you lose any value you might have been able to get out of it.

When I wrote my first business newsletter, I sent it to about 20 people and asked them what they thought. I didn’t get a single person who gave me anything that I could use. Instead, they wanted to talk about writing style, the layout, the word justification, the concepts I was talking about in the first article, and some just said “nice job”. That wasn’t helpful at all, but it taught me a valuable lesson; it’s one you should learn also.

Of course, at some point you’re going to want some people to actually read it and give you an honest appraisal, something you hope will come out sounding like a testimonial if they actually liked it, but not during the editing process. If you need to, tell the people you’ve asked to edit to write any other comments down and save them for when you’re ready for publication.

As I indicated, the editing process is where you grow up, where your book has its opportunity to mature, and where you’ll find out what you’re made of. If you’re actually lucky enough to get either an agent or a publisher to accept your book, they’re going to pick it apart even further, and you may not like it. But at that point, it means they’re serious about your book, and that may or may not be a good thing. I wouldn’t know, as you’ll learn in the next part of this series when I talk about trying to get published. See you next time.