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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Tip Top Traffic - Site On Steroids Update

Last week I told you in detail how I optimized my website, based on the excellent advice from Rosalind Gardner's Super Affiliate Handbook. (If you're interested, I've reviewed it here.) So how has it been going?

Stats on the rise

Swimmingly, as they say in the UK. This month, I've had more than 20,000 hits and, more importantly, more than 16,000 page views. That's 7 pages a visitor (double what I was told a good count would be). About 40% of my visitors are staying longer than 30 seconds. That's good, but there's no time to rest on my laurels. I've still got to find a way to keep the other 60% on my site for longer. I'm learning a few more techniques that I'll share with you once I've seen how they work out.

Using my traffic

So what am I going to do with all this traffic? Launch a monthly newsletter, of course. The newsletter will be available from the end of March and will contain freelance writing tips, resources and articles. I'm also going to add more free-to-reprint articles to my site to keep visitors interested in what I have to offer.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Related posts:
How I Put My Site On Steroids
How To Optimize Your Website: Keyword Research
How To Optimize Your Website: Keyword Placement
SEO: What's Under The Hood?
There's Life Beyond Google
How To Keep Your Website Traffic
Quickish Fix

Monday, February 27, 2006

Write - Share - Learn

A number of posts I've been reading over the last couple of weeks have got me thinking about why I came to WritingUp and why I stay. I think the WritingUp motto has a lot to do with it, though as you can see, I would make one small change.


As a writer, I like WritingUp because it gives me a chance to practice my craft and to talk to other people in the profession (such as danahinders, gracepub, lisaloganwrites, J Harker and Ed Butts, to name only a few) On my other blog, I do a lot of creative writing, reviews, travel tales and so on. Here, I mostly stick to writing about writing (which is what I know most about), web development and promotion and resources for writers. The reason I do this brings me to the next part of the motto.


I write about these things because I enjoy sharing what I know and there are lots of people here who share their expertise as well. When people read and comment (and even when they don't) I learn a lot about what interests them and whether the way I write works for readers. Other people who are sharing include treyster, believin, synchronicity, AmberCentral, keywoman, and many more.


By the same token, I have learned a lot from people here, about networking, about markets for my writing, about the publishing business, about the internet and so much more. I like to think that this is part of the community building that is the latest part of WritingUp to come under the microscope (see posts from wcbelew, Mitch, Ashok and others.)

What about earning?

Yes, of course I hope to make some money from this, but I'm not expecting to get rich. The real value of WritingUp for me lies in the friends and acquaintances I've met, in the the sense of community and in the writing, sharing and learning that goes on.

I'm tired of seeing the same old names

Yes, you probably are. So here are the other people I've bookmarked; I've learned a lot from them, too: Atlastorm, deorre, jjarrett, Katryn, majansa, nikithal, saphirdragonfly, velvetdreams. There are more, but I've only listed the ones who've updated their blogs recently.

So now it's your turn. Which blogger or which post have you found most valuable here?

Friday, February 24, 2006

How To Put Your Site On Steroids: A Quickish Fix

For the past week I've been sharing with you everything I know about website development and promotion. If you've been following the series, then skip to the next section to see which of these strategies have worked best for me. If not, then here's a recap:

Website Optimization And Promotion

First, I looked at why it's important to do keyword research and where you can find free tools to help you do it. I then looked at how you can place keywords within metatags. Visitors to your site may not see them, but the search engines certainly will! Third, there was the importance of cross-linking, the use of a sitemap to help search engines find all your content, and the use of a robots.txt file to be in control of who is allowed to search your site. Part four considered other tools for site promotion, including directory submission and deep submission of particularly interesting links. Article marketing was the subject of part five and I highlighted a couple of ways to use this strategy to best effect. Part six gave you additional options for promotion, including networking, syndication with RSS, tagging and keeping the content fresh.

Site Promotion Quick Fix

I'll admit that all this promotion is a slow process. It's taken me nearly eight months to get my traffic to its current levels. But if you don't have a lot of time, here's my quick fix solution. These are the strategies that have proved most effective and have brought the most traffic to my site.

  • Write articles for Ezinearticles
  • Distribute the same articles through Article Marketer
  • Blog about the issues in your articles and link back to your articles or site
  • This will create inbound links and regular fresh content for your site.
  • Watch your hits and page views rise and find your site in the search engines.

Best of luck, and thanks for reading.

Related posts:
How I Put My Site On Steroids
How To Optimize Your Website: Keyword Research
How To Optimize Your Website: Keyword Placement
SEO: What's Under The Hood?
There's Life Beyond Google
How To Keep Your Website Traffic

How To Keep Your Website Traffic

If you've been following this series of posts, by now you should know almost everything I know about website promotion. We've talked about keyword research and placement, the importance of a sitemap, search engine submission and article marketing. But it's not over yet. There are still a few things you can do to increase and retain the traffic you've started to build up. Here are a few suggestions to keep those numbers on the rise.

Speak out

Join a few forums that are relevant to your area and post regularly. Like WritingUp, most forums allow you to customise your signature so that every comment you make has a link back to your site or blog. These posts are also indexed by search engines. I must admit that maintaining three blogs and growing a writing business doesn't leave me much time for forum posting, but the posts I made a few months ago are still appearing in search engine results.

Get a blog

This strategy also works well for blogs. The advantage of blogging is that that you can write more or less what you like and there's nothing to stop you from putting in affiliate links. This is perhaps the quickest way to get your content found as, for the time being at least, Google, Yahoo and MSN can't get enough of blogs and bloggers.

Network like crazy

Sign up with Ryze, a networking site where you can find people with similar interests. Most networks have promotion days where you can advertise your products or services. WritingUp members can go straight to the Vertical Blog Tunnel, which is moderated by Mitch Allen and is a good place to start.

Bookmarks on steroids

Make use of tagging. Posts or sites that are tagged by Technorati and del.icio.us (a social bookmarking service) are picked up very quickly by search engines.

Keep it fresh

If you've got your own site, you can keep the traffic coming and rise higher in the results pages by keeping the site content fresh. Add a couple of pages to the site or update something at least once a week. Better yet, add a blog to your site and update it regularly; this will keep the site fresh as far as search engines are concerned. You can then use a service like Pingoat to alert sites when your blog content has changed; there is also a blog directory where you can list your blog. One option I'm also considering when I finally get around to hosting sharonhurleyhall.com is to just have a blog with a few static pages. (I think this suggestion came from Ashok.)

Syndicate to accumulate

Finally, add an RSS (really simple syndication) feed for site updates and news (or include updates in your blog, which is likely to have its own RSS feed). Use the pinging service to alert people that your content has changed. See Haven's post on RSS for more information. If you then burn your feed with Feedburner, then you can make this happen automatically.

If you do all this, the traffic will keep increasing. Just so you know there's hope, this month I have had 700 unique visitors, more than 15,000 page views and 19,000 hits on my doublehdesign website.

In the final instalment of this series, I'll offer my quick-fix solution for increasing site traffic and a quick recap of the key points.

Related posts:
How I Put My Site On Steroids
How To Optimize Your Website: Keyword Research
How To Optimize Your Website: Keyword Placement
SEO: What's Under The Hood?
There's Life Beyond Google
Shameless Self-Promotion: An Article Marketing Guide

Thursday, February 23, 2006

How To Market With Articles: Shameless Self-Promotion

Now that you've made your site search engine friendly and submitted it to search engines and directories, it's time to up the ante and use a few more tried and true methods of raising your site's (or blog's) profile. If you're blogging here, you already have a head start, as you can use your posts to promote yourself, your site or your blog.

How To Promote Yourself With Article Marketing

Article directories are websites that have articles on almost every subject. Some are all-purpose, covering everything from family issues to healthcare, while others have a niche, such as computer advice or art. All of them are hungry for content. Here's how you can provide that content and promote your site, blog or business at the same time.

  • Step 1: Write an article. This can be about almost anything, as long as it's useful. Your blog posts here are a good starting point. Keep the articles short (250-500 words) and remember to spell-check.
  • Step 2: Sign up with an article directory and submit your article. Many article directories will vet your work before approving it. Whatever their guidelines, stick to them and your article should be approved. Avoid self-promotion or promotional links in the body of your article. Most article directories disallow this.
  • Step3: Make the resource box work for you. The resource box is where you can put your bio and a few links to your site, blog or product.

Example:I have three different resource boxes that I use on EzineArticles - and I have changed the content a few times over the last few months. Click on a couple of my articles to have a look (try this one on interviews and this one on funeral planning ). In the first, I link to my WritingUp blog; in the second, to a resource I'm promoting.

Article Submission

Article submission services extend the strategy. Although I recommend EzineArticles, I have also found the Article Marketer service to be effective. Article Marketer is NOT an article directory. Like EzineArticles, you submit your article (with bio) and get it approved. The article is then sent out to hundreds or thousands of publishers and article lists, depending on the service you choose. I'm on a budget, so I'm using the free service, which claims that 3500 people see my articles. You can set release dates, which is great if you want to submit articles while on holiday, and they just KEEP ON SUBMITTING your articles. Another option for article submission is Isnare, but you have to pay for this.

How To Automate Your Article Submissions

Many of the article directories run on the Article Dashboard script, and there's a free article submission tool that targets these sites. It's called Article Distributor. It incorporates signup details and an article formatting screen and will automatically paste your article into the correct boxes on these sites. Don't worry, it doesn't allow spam. You still have to select the category and press enter on each site. (Please note: The Article Distributor developer has stopped downloads while he works on the next version.)

Multiple Article Submissions: Pros and Cons

Pros: Your work is everywhere, with links back to your site. Inbound links are GOOD.
Cons: your work is everywhere; Google hates duplicate content

Some of my free to reprint articles are published in 20 or 30 locations, and as far as I can tell, this hasn't affected my appearance on Google, Yahoo or MSN. Perhaps that's because the articles are all relevant to the locations where they've been reprinted. I don't really know, but so far the strategy is working.

In the next part of this series, I look at other ways you could promote your website or blog.

Related posts:
How I Put My Site On Steroids
How To Optimize Your Website: Keyword Research
How To Optimize Your Website: Keyword Placement
SEO: What's Under The Hood?
There's Life Beyond Google

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

There's Life Beyond Google

A little submissiveness goes a long way, especially when you're talking about website promotion. Once you've finished all the on-page optimization of your site, by doing keyword research, keyword placement and creating a sitemap, it's time to get the word out to Google, Yahoo, MSN and others. Haven has a tip on search engine submission, which has the submission addresses for Google, Yahoo and MSN. As Haven points out, you only need to submit the main - or index - page of your site; if you've got a good sitemap, the search engines will do the rest - eventually.

Beyond Google, Yahoo and MSN

It can take a while for your site to show up on the 'Big 3' (Google is a particularly tough nut to crack), so there are a few strategies you can use to improve your chances. Google, Yahoo and MSN also crawl other search engines, so submitting to some of the lesser known ones (which are likely to list you faster) will help to get you on their list. A resource I found really useful was WebCEO, free software that automates website management and tracking. It includes keyword and page optimisation tools and a very good submission tool. (See Gracepub's review)

What else can I do to promote my website?

Glad you asked. You can also submit your website to relevant directories, and I know of another free resource that will help you to do it. The SEO friendly directory list catalogues directories by interest and country and includes PageRank information for each directory listed. That means you can decide which directories are worth bothering with. I started with the 9s and 8s and worked my way down to the 3s and subnmitted my site to so many directories that I've forgotten which ones they are. Be warned, this will take time, as in many cases you'll have to submit your site manually. But if you're listed by external websites, Google, Yahoo and MSN will start to like you.

How can I make the most of this site promotion strategy?

Resubmit your site every six months to keep the listing fresh and practice deep submission - submitting links to individual pages that you think are important. (Samishra has a good post on this.) This works for blogs, too. I have submitted the URLs for most of my posts and they show up on Google (if you click on 'show omitted results').

One final tip: you might want to set up a disposable email address just for site submission, because you will get a LOT of email. You'll also find that you've been subscribed to lots of site promotion newsletters, most of which are a waste of time, IMHO. I set up a new one on my domain and once I've confirmed my directory listing, I can then ignore everything else that comes to that address.

Related posts:
How I Put My Site On Steroids
How To Optimize Your Website: Keyword Research
How To Optimize Your Website: Keyword Placement
SEO: What's Under The Hood?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

SEO: What's Under The Hood?

In Keyword Placement, I talked about using keywords in metatags and content to optimize your website. Now we're going to extend the strategy a bit further. Remember that you can highlight keywords within the text on your page. To make your site more search-engine friendly some of these keywords into links going further into your site. This will tell Google, Yahoo and MSN and other search engines which have found your home page that there's something else to look at.

Why do I need links to optimize my website?

Google, Yahoo and MSN and other search engines like pages with lots of links. Inbound links are best (those are links from other sites to your page) - and will improve your PageRank quickly, but cross-linking of pages within your site is also good. Cross-linking shows that different pages of your website are relevant to each other - and relevance is a big factor in improving PageRank. If you know what you want to do with your site, this will be an easy step to take.

Why do I need a sitemap?

A sitemap is one of the best ways of letting the search engines find the rest of your site. You should have a link to it off your home page and it should contain links to all the pages you want the search engines to find. A sitemap makes it easy for search engines and users to find everything on your site.

If you have a big site, this can take a while, but luckily there are lots of free tools that will do it for you.

Freefind provides a sitemap and free (ad-sponsored) search box for your site. Their free service will create a sitemap page, which you can customise to suit your web template. They will also search your site at specified intervals and update the sitemap. If you use the search box, they will also provide statistics about what visitors to your website searched for. The ads are quite unobtrusive, but if you don't want them you can upgrade to the paid service.

You can also create a special Google Sitemap (here's why) and upload it to your server. Two free online services are:

You can also download Google's own Sitemap Generator.

How else can search engines find my site?

Some search engines look for a special file called a robots.txt file. This stays on your server and tells it which search engines can search your site and which can't. The reason to have one is so that you can block any search engine bots that bring spam in their wake. (This is only a basic level of protection, which relies on spam bots respecting the boundaries you have set.) However, you can also specify which folders search engines are allowed to spider just in case you're storing anything confidential on your server.

You can create a robots.txt file here then upload it to your server. It also provides an example of a robots.txt file.

How can I use this on my blog?

Even if you don't host your own blog, you can use some of these techniques to improve its position in the search engines. You can certainly highlight certain keywords and link them to other posts you have made - and you can do an index post, which links to all your posts (or to all posts in a certain category). Haven has a good example here. If your webhost is providing your blog software, then you can also use a robots.txt file.

On-site links, a sitemap and a robots.txt file are all useful tools in search engine optimization, but there's still more you can do to get your site noticed. In part four, I'll look at strategies and tools for search engine submission.

Related posts:
How I Put My Site On Steroids
How To Optimize Your Website: Keyword Research
How To Optimize Your Website: Keyword Placement

Monday, February 20, 2006

How To Optimize Your Website: Keyword Placement

Optimizing your website content so it is found easily by Google, Yahoo and MSN doesn't have to cost you anything. In Part 1, I listed some free tools to do keyword research. Now I'm going to show you how to make those keywords work for you. Search engines search text and rely on metatags to come up with the titles and descriptions they list in their search results. Metatags can be seen when you select 'View, Source' in your browser menu. They are found in the head section of the page.

What are the most important metatags?

The main ones are:
title This comes up at the top of your browser and is the first line of your entry on a Google search. This should be short, or the most important aspects should be at the start
description: This comes up as the second part of your Google, Yahoo or MSN listing. Your description should be relevant to the site content
keywords: this is where you put the keywords that you found in Part 1. It is usually best to put a few, relevant keywords, rather than cram in as many as you can type. Search engines usually downgrade you if they perceive that your keywords are not relevant. When I researched my own site, I found that people searching for freelance writers also search for ‘write articles’; those searching for ghostwriters also searched for ‘write your life story’, so I've included those in my metatags.

Where else can I put keywords?

You can also put keywords into
author: put your name and company name here; people will use these to search for you.
alt tags: these are used to give additional information about images. When you hover your mouse over an image the text you sometimes see is contained in the alt tags. You can put keywords in these as well. They are also indexed by search engines.

Example: hover your mouse over the picture on any WritingUp blog. The text you see is in an alt tag.

How do I put keywords into my website content?

So far, so good. Now you need to make those same keywords part of your content (again, avoiding putting too many in an obvious way). Make a list of the keywords you want to use, then start to write your page content, using the most important keywords a couple of times each.

Tip: One of the ways you can make search engines take more notice of these keywords is by using emphasis. Heading tags (h1, h2, h3), strong or b (to make text bold) highlight the parts of the page you think are worth paying attention to and Google, Yahoo and MSN will take notice of them too.

Now you know how to find relevant keywords for SEO and what to do with them once you've got them. In part three, I'll look at another technique for on-page search engine optimisation.

Related posts:

How I Put My Site On Steroids
How To Optimize Your Website: Keyword Research

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Alphabet Soup Results

A post I did earlier in the week on character development proved to be great fun, and sparked another one on plot development, which was just as much fun but harder to complete. Here, for your edification, are the ABCs of plot development, as suggested by a few hardy contributors.

A is for Agenda
B is for Betrayal
C is for Characters
D is for Development
of plot - do you know where the story is going?
E is for Environment: Where are you anyway?
F is for Focus: back story, direction, characters
G is for Good googy moogy: twists and turns
H is for Hurry up..the plot sure is dragging now
I is for Interest (as in love interest)
J is for January, June, July...just what time does your story take place in?
K is for Killers
L is for Links
between plots and subplots
M is for Motivation - whether it is money, murder, or madness.
N is for need. What does the plot need ? What do the characters need?
O is for Offshore bank accounts
P is for Plot twists and protagonists.
Q is for Quick: Let's not drag the plot on too long
R is for Redundancies, as in, make sure your plot and dialogue have none.
S is for Sex and you'd better have some and make it dirty
T is for Teleplay (and hope we can get a movie out of the book)
U is for Upsets - things that you just didn't think were going to happen
V is for Vivid description, make sure your audience can see, taste, and feel.
W is for Whispers, warnings, wickedness and other plot spicers
X is for Xanadu - that elusive paradise your readers should enter if you've done your job correctly.
Y is for Yesterdays and youth - events in the past that affect the story in the present.
Z is for Zenith: the climax of the story


Related posts:
Do You Know Your ABCs? (the original post that set us all off)
Alphabet Soup(the ABCs of plot with all the comments in full)

Saturday, February 18, 2006

How To Optimize Your Website: Keyword Research

Search engine optimization (SEO) costs money. There are lots of people out there who will charge you lots of money to make sure that Google, Yahoo and MSN will find your website. But when I wanted to increase my search engine ranking a few months ago, I didn't have the budget to pay anyone to do it for me. What I needed was a do-it-yourself approach to website promotion. I did some reading, tried a few things and realised that it was easy to promote my site myself if I could devote a couple of hours a week to doing it properly. This is how I started:

What is SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a way of making it easy for Google, Yahoo, MSN and other search engines to find and index your pages. The easier it is for search engines to find your pages, the more likely it is that someone will come to your website and offer you work or buy a product you've offered for sale. SEO increases traffic to your site or blog and, in the case of WritingUp, makes it more likely that someone will click on your ads and rack up those Adsense earnings.

How do I optimize my website?

If you're launching a site from scratch, you start with keyword research. If you're updating an old site, start with keyword research. If you want to bring traffic to your blog (and can write about anything), start with ... (you get the idea). You need to think about what keywords best describe your website, business or blog and what similar keywords people are looking for on Google, Yahoo, MSN and others.

What will keyword research cost me?

Zilch. Zip. Nada. Bupkes. You can pay if you want to, but there are a few free tools you can use that will work well if you're on a tight budget. They are:

Adwords analyzer

These tools are simple to use. You type the keywords you want into the form, enter and you get back a list of related keywords or the number of times those keywords have been searched in the past month. Once you've identified the keywords that are best for you, you need to put them into your page content. This is covered in Part 2 of the series.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Blogging Made Easy

A few weeks ago I came across a great article on Performancing, which I've been meaning to share with you. The article is titled How To Launch A New Blog The Easy Way. In it, Chris Garrett gives seven steps you should follow to launch your blog. It covers:

  1. Planning
  2. Design
  3. Content
  4. Links
  5. Promotion
  6. Publish
  7. Advertise

Along the way, it references a lot of other Performancing posts that we here at WritingUp could learn from (although our blogs have already been launched). Chris advises patience in waiting for the traffic to roll in:

there is not much here that is not just plain common sense. Luckily, common sense is not necessarily common practice so by doing these basic things and plugging away eventually you will have a success on your hands.

It's definitely worth a read.

And I've had a thought: if everyone tagged their best posts with 'WritingUp, the posts would soon be picked up by Technorati and then Google wouldn't be far behind. That way we'd all benefit.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Alphabet Soup

My last entry was about using the letters of the alphabet to describe your characters and make them come to life. Keywoman and Katryn suggested a new thread for plot. So here it is ... Jump in, everybody.

If you're interested, here are the ABCs we came up with for character:

A is for Age - how old is your character?
B is for Build - is your character short or tall?
C is for Color - what is your character's skin color or ethnicity?
D is for Distinguishing Marks - any scars, marks, scratches?
E is for Eyes - color, size, shape?
F is for Face - shape?
G is for Girth - is your character stocky or thin?
H is for Hair - color, length, style?
I is for Interests - what does your character like to do?
J is for

  • Jellybeans - what's the character's favorite flavor?
  • Jumpy - is the character calm or jumpy?
  • Jocular - does your character have a sense of humor?
  • Jauntiness - does your character have style?
  • Je ne sais quoi - does your character have ... that certain indescribable something?
K is for
  • Kindness (or lack there of)
  • Kin - does your character have family? How do they relate? How have they impacted your character?
L is for Love (who is/was/will be the love of their life)
M is for Motivation
N is for Needs
O is for Opinionated. Does your character have an opinion on everything? Nothing? What issues would your character be stubborn about their beliefs in?
P can be for perfect, priceless, person with preliminary issues about pets
Q is for
  • qualities - what kind of qualities does your character have?
  • questioning - does your character want to investigate everything and find out the reasons why?
S is for Sexuality - and anything and everything pertaining to sex
R is for race or region
T is for temperament - is your character placid? Short tempered? Neurotic? Emotional? Vulcan-like?
U is for uniqueness - what unique characteristics does your character have
V is for virtue and viciousness (or lack thereof) or va va voom!
W is for wisdom, picked up through the years (or again, lack there of)
X is for Xanadu. What are the character's fantasies/wildest dreams?
Y is for Yearnings
Z is for zig zag...can your character make up his/her mind which direction they will ultimately end up going?

The players: Katryn, rosie deerfield, Keywoman1, Haven, ladyscrapper , saphirdragonfly , Ethan Mawyer , wcbelew

Do You Know Your ABCs?

I've written before about inspiration popping up in the most unlikely places and today's post is a good example. One day, about a week ago, I was sitting in the sauna at my health club, when a man I didn't know started to talk to me. It turned out he was an aikido instructor and former military man and somehow we got onto the subject of crime fighting. One of the difficulties in catching criminals, he said, was the inability of victims of crime to describe their attackers properly. Barry said there was an easy way to remember the attributes you needed to describe. Writer that I am, I immediately saw his list as a way of describing characters in a story or novel. Here they are:

A is for Age - how old is your character?
B is for Build - is your character short or tall?
C is for Color - what is your character's skin color or ethnicity?
D is for Distinguishing Marks - any scars, marks, scratches?
E is for Eyes - color, size, shape?
F is for Face - shape?
G is for Girth - is your character stocky or thin?
H is for Hair - color, length, style?

That's as far as we got before the conversation ended. I ran into him again a few days later and asked whether there were any more. As he pointed out, you could use the same letters for different attributes (H for Hands, for example) and you could keep going till the end of the alphabet. So here's my challenge: can you fill in the rest of the alphabet? I'll start you off with this one:

I is for Interests - what does your character like to do?

Come on, writers, have a go!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Paperless Society? Ha!


If you're a writer, there's no such thing as the paperless society. At least, there isn't for me. When I started out in journalism, my desk was always covered with the stories I was working on (this was before computers). As a sub-editor, I also had to deal with other people's stories that I was subbing as well as my own work. When I became an editor, even more stuff was added to the pile: draft page layouts, advertising copy, book proposals and so on. Once I began working from home, I had all my personal stuff to organise as well. And even though I've always known where everything is, at times the mountain of paper has threatened to overwhelm me.

Six Trays

Luckily for me, a piece of advice came along just when I needed it. This came to me third hand, but was originally from a management guru, who suggested that you organise your stuff by filing it into six trays. The trays are labelled as follows:

  • Do now
  • Do soon
  • File
  • Read
  • Awaiting information
  • Pass on

The labels are self-explanatory, but the key to the system is to file your mail as soon as it comes in. Decide which tray it fits into and deal with it appropriately (not forgetting the round file as a seventh option). Then go back to the 'do now' tray and deal with what's in it. Stuff in the 'do soon' tray should be sorted out within the week. Do the reading when you have time and get rid of anything that needs to passed on. Finally, when the information that you're waiting for has come in, you should then be able to put it in one of the other trays.

This has made an enormous difference to me. My stuff is better organised and I have an order in which to deal with things. The paper mountain hasn't disappeared, but it's shrunk to the size of a hill!

I distribute my articles FREE with Article Marketer

Monday, February 13, 2006

Writing And Blogging: Beyond The Wall

It's finally happened. You've hit the wall. The dreaded writer's block has struck and you're being outstared by a blank screen. What do you do? Where do you turn for inspiration? The answer may be closer than you think.

Writers are often told to write what they know. So what do you know? My response: you know more than you think. Here are five places to look for inspiration.

Look inside
How do you define yourself? People describe themselves by age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, nationality or, in my case, by hybridity. This last is a term used by Homi Bhabha to encompass those who have mixed cultural influences. My influences are the British and Caribbean parts of my heritage. Although these haven't yet made an appearance in my fiction writing, they've produced a couple of interesting poems. However you define yourself, there will be characteristics and issues to write about - and you'll have a ready made audience in those who also think of themselves that way.

What's the job worth?
The workplace is another rich source of inspiration. In addition to all my writing-related jobs, I've worked as a sales assistant in a bookshop, a receptionist/typist/temp (for three weeks), a human resources/personnel person and an English teaching assistant in France. All of these jobs have given me experiences and brought me into contact with people who might inspire a piece or pieces of writing. So what's on your resume (or off it) that might inspire you?

Family affairs
Casting the net wider, think about the wealth of experiences that you and your extended family have had. Marriage, divorce, childbirth, parenting and the like are rich fodder for writers. Medical and mental conditions such as gallstones, heart disease, hysterectomies, alcoholism, polio (to name only those that have affected people I know) can give you a starting point for an article or story.

Role play
Continuing the theme, your role within a family or extended family gives you even more to draw on. Are you a wife, husband, father, mother, parent, child, only child, sibling, uncle, aunt or grandparent? What have you learned from that role that you might want to share with others? Have you met anyone who seemed to epitomise the role, or someone who was getting it completely wrong?

Free time
Hobbies and interests are another rich source. I can still remember the pain of cross-country running around the school - and I'll write about it one day. I'll also write about tennis, badminton, volleyball, track and field, racquetball, netball, basketball and swimming. Don't think I'm athletic, I'm not. But I've tried all of these and learned something which I can use in my writing.

My point is that inspiration is all around you - you don't have to look very far. And don't think you have to bare all to make these ideas work. These are merely starting points for material that you may well alter and fictionalise completely. Some things have to stay private, after all.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Breaking Up Ain't Hard To Do

From beginnings to endings ... I've previously given advice on structure and writing for both news and feature articles, but there's one aspect I haven't touched on - the end of your story or article. So repeat after me:

Endings should not just be left to happen

What do I mean by this? That your story or article should have a point. When you get into a car and start the engine, you usually have a destination in mind. Use the same principle when crafting your article or story. Both you and your reader should know where you're going. That's so important that I'm going to repeat it, though with a bit of variety for the pernickety among us. Both your reader and you should know where you're going. That doesn't mean that the destination won't change while you're writing, but there should be no nasty surprises at the end of the journey.

What makes a good ending?

Only you and your readers will know. Your ending will fulfil the promise of the start of your story. To give a few examples:

  • If you're writing a profile of a company, you may have started with some new venture they're undertaking and followed that up with a bit of history. A good ending would either summarise the company's philosophy or talk about next steps in its development (or maybe even both).
  • If you're writing an individual's profile, a good ending may talk about plans for the future or may contain a quote that encapsulates how that individual thinks about life.
  • If you're dealing with an event, a good ending may briefly assess its significance in the context of similar events, or may speculate on where the event may lead.
  • If you're writing fiction, a good ending will tie up any loose ends. (Readers should not be asking: 'So what happened to so and so?')

This last example holds true for almost any kind of writing.

Now, please don't take those examples as a blueprint. They are just strategies that have worked in my own writing career. Since every piece of writing is unique, every ending will be too. So when you're writing consider this (with apologies to Bill Gates): where do you want to go today?

Thursday, February 9, 2006

Do You Give Good Headline?

Headlines are key elements of news and feature articles (and blog posts). A good headline is the difference between catching someone's attention and losing it forever. This may not matter much in every situation, but if you've sent in a piece on spec (that is, in the hope that an editor will publish it) then a good headline is the way to catch the eye of the first reader. This also applies to press releases. Dozens of these cross an editor's desk each day and the ones with eye-catching headlines stand a better chance of being published.

What do headlines do?

Headlines draw attention to the content of your story. In some cases you may choose to refer directly to the story; in others you may prefer to make a pun or joke that will draw the reader in with humour. Be careful of this approach, though, as not everyone will find the same jokes funny. The key elements of good headlines are clarity and impact.Use short, direct, concrete words and avoid punctuation where possible unless you're making a point.

How do you choose your headline?

Easy. What's the main point of your story? If you haven't got one, then maybe you need a rewrite. If you have, then that's what you base your headline on. Brainstorm around the key words of your story. If you're writing a blog post, the words you use to tag it may provide a clue. Another exercise which may work is to imagine you're sending a telegram (remember those? I don't - but I've seen them in films) at $50 a word. What are the essential words that will get your point across? Once you have those, your headline is born.

Headline writing is not an exact science. What works for some won't work for others. However, wcbelew's KISS advice for blogs works equally well for headlines. And a final word of advice: avoid hype. You don't need to use words like shock, horror and the like. They're so overused that most people are impervious to them. Stay away from the hyperbole and stick to the essentials.

So that's the theory, what about the practice?

I don't always get it right. I occasionally go back and change the title of one of my blog posts because it's not getting reads and it's obvious that the title is off-putting. For example, Working and Mothering was originally called WAHM, SAHM, Thank You Ma'am (which I think is better, but obviously didn't appeal). I couldn't think of a way to make ghostwriting sound more interesting. (Suggestions, anyone?). My favourite title is How I Put My Site On Steroids. I think it works because it tells you exactly what you're going to get, but does it in an interesting way.

Which of your titles have attracted most attention? Which posts did you think deserved to be read but fell by the wayside? I'd be interested to hear.

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Blogging As Portfolio

Remember when I gave you reasons to get on the net? One of these was to have a quick way to show editors and publishers your work. If you're a freelance writer, a blog can be just as useful as your own website. Think about it. Do any of the following apply to you?

  • You blog almost every day
  • You're constantly thinking of new ideas for posts
  • You try to make your posts useful to your readers
  • You don't mind taking a bit of criticism

If all these things are true, your blog will make a great online portfolio. A blog is a wonderful place to rehearse your ideas for articles, stories, novel chapters, poetry or any kind of writing. If the community is active, the feedback you receive will tell you whether your writing is interesting and whether it's readable (not necessarily the same thing). You'll also be able to see where improvements can be made.

When editors are asking to see examples of your work, you can point them to your blog - I do. With two blogs and a website, I've got lots of examples of the variety of writing I can do - and I'll bet most of the writers here have the same.

A word of warning, though. Most editors want ORIGINAL content for their publication or website, so if you've written it on your blog, you'll have to make it slightly different if you want to publish the material elsewhere. But if you're a writer, that shouldn't be a problem. Happy blogging!

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

A Week Of Promotion

Last week was interesting. I'm beginning to see some real results from all the work I've been doing promoting my site. Here's how the week went. On Monday, wearing my academic hat, I completed a book review for a refereed journal. I've been quite vocal in the past about not working for free, and I still believe that, but in academia, at least here in the UK, it's not uncommon to contribute to journals just to raise your profile. That may lead to research money and a better job, so you get paid by a roundabout method. Anyway, I'd promised I would do it, so I did, though I found myself resenting spending time that I could have spent on paid work. At least my conscience was clear.

On Tuesday, I submitted and was paid for a review of a charity concert organised by one of my former students, who was very, very pleased with it. He's just setting up a website for band promotion, so I expect that more work will be coming my way. His site is down at the moment, but I'll add a link once it goes live.

On Wednesday, I tweaked my website some more and had a phone call from a television producer who had found something I'd written on books and wanted to talk to me about a programme he was making. Score one for Jane Austen.

So far, so good, right? Thursday was mixed. I was very pleased to get a project invitation from Guru.com, but as I've said elsewhere in comments, it turned out to be for a site offering adult material, and I wasn't sure that was where I wanted to go. I also completed a sales letter, uploaded a product onto Clickbank, and started investigating new software for my other blog.

On Friday, I attended an online meeting and came out of it with ideas for a couple of things I could write and earn from. Even though, I was tired, I felt that I'd been in the right place at the right time and my brain was buzzing!

While all this was going on, I continued to post on both my blogs, check my site stats, check on projects I'd bid for at Guru.com (I've just about given up on Elance) and write down ideas for posts for this week.

It was a busy week, but I felt as though some of my hard work on site and self-promotion had paid off. How was your week?

Monday, February 6, 2006

How To Make An Editor Love You

I recently gave you some advice on feature writing but while lying awake one morning, I suddenly realised there were a couple of points I hadn't stated explicitly. I'm going to remedy that lack right now, and keep it relatively short and sweet. There are three ways to make an editor love you:

Meet the deadline

This is crucial. If you submit work late, you mess up the editor's schedule. Most editors only let you do that once before marking you down as a waste of time. If you're particularly well known in your field, you just might get away with it, but don't be complacent. The editor will be looking around for someone equally good who is reliable. Obviously, there are circumstances in which editors might be prepared to be lenient. If you're interviewing a major figure who has suddenly left the country on business, then there's not much you can do about it. Severe illness or bereavement will also count. If this happens, tell the editor in plenty of time so s/he can fill the gap you've left. The editor will appreciate your thoughtfulness and your understanding of the production process.

Meet the brief

If an editor commissions you to write a particular article or type of article, don't submit something completely different. S/he may have built a whole magazine or section of magazine around your article and s/he won't be pleased if you mess up her arrangements. So, if you've been asked to do something specific, do it - and you're likely to be asked to do more in the future. Now, we all know that writing evolves, so it is perfectly acceptable to ring or email the editor (well before your deadline) to explain that the article is turning out slightly differently than expected and to discuss ways of proceeding. Once you've agreed on on revised parameters, then turn in what you've agreed (on time).

Get in style

Make sure that the style and tone of your article is appropriate for your audience. The closer you come to getting this right, the more likely an editor is to think of you the next time there's a commission available. Remember to spell check your work - and remember to double check on the spell-check. Spell-check programmes do NOT catch all errors ('form' for 'from' is an example) so proofreading is essential. Keep your work error-free and you're likely to get hired again.

So those are my top tips for pleasing an editor. There are other things you can do, of course, such as having appropriate ideas for content and providing added value with your articles (in the form of material for sidebars or photos, for example), but the three areas I've listed are the ones that, in my opinion, editors will care about most.

Friday, February 3, 2006

Working and Mothering

Like many of the people here, I'm a work at home mum. In lieu of any inspiration for another freelance writing tip, I thought I'd share with you what my week is usually like. In essence, it breaks down into two parts. Monday to Wednesday, my daughter is at nursery (because those were my work days when I went back to work). The rest of the week, she's at home and we do kiddy activities. Here's our schedule.

Monday to Wednesday

6.30-7.00am - daughter wakes up and either (a) makes clanking noises in her room as she rummages for toys or (b) comes bursting into our room to tell us something important. Either way, I'm awake and haven't had enough sleep
7.00-8.00am - My daughter and I talk, play and get dressed, then her dad takes her to nursery
8.00-1.00 - check email (since I'm in a different time zone, there's always something in my inbox from North America; check WritingUp for recent posts and comments; write a blog post (or two); work on my house move ebook; check ezinearticles to see if anyone's picked up my articles; check google adsense; check my web stats; check my Ryze page for messages;
1.00-1.15pm - lunch
1.15 -5.15pm - more writing, noting down ideas; website management (what content am I going to add or what am I going to change this week so the search engines keep indexing my pages); if I can I draft a couple of blog posts I can use later in the week (you'll see why soon)
5.30 -7.15pm pick up daughter from nursery, followed by playtime, dinnertime and bedtime
7.15-8.00pm if my husband's on the bedtime shift, time for another quick email and writingup check; if not, it's the shower, story, bed routine.
8.00-10.30pm - grownup time: reading, talking, television

Thursday to Sunday
6.30-7.00am - daughter wakes up and either (a) makes clanking noises in her room as she rummages for toys or (b) comes bursting into our room to tell us something important. Either way, I'm awake and haven't had enough sleep
7.00-8.30am - My daughter and I talk, and play
8.30-9.30am - her dad gives her breakfast and plays for a while (he works from home too) while I do a lightning-quick email and blog check and post
9.30-1.30 - playgroups of various sorts (Thursday and Friday only); followed by lunch and a nap (for my daughter if I can persuade her.
1.30-2.30pm - catch up on email, writing or web management
2.30-7.15pm - playing, reading, singing, television, outing to the park, supermarket or wherever.
7.15-8.00pm if my husband's on the bedtime shift, time for another quick email and writingup check; if not, it's the shower, story, bed routine.
8.00-10.30pm - grownup time: reading, talking, television

So, how does it work? Well, I've never missed a writing deadline, though I'm always playing catchup on the domestic front. I spend a lot of time with my daughter, which I really enjoy. I never begrudge a second of it, because I'll never have that time again. I feel a bit guilty sometimes when I'm working and it's obvious that she's desperate for my attention, but by and large, I think the balance is right, though I am ALWAYS tired. However, there'll be time enough for me to focus even more on writing when she goes to school. So, that's my story. If you're a WAHM/SAHM like me, what's your week like?

Free Ezine For Your Site

I've previously discussed the benefits of writing for ezines in order to build site traffic. One of the other recommendations I've come across is to give something away for free on your site, like a newsletter or ezine. This is going to be the next phase of developing my site, so I've been looking around for resources to help me do it. One of the places I publish my articles is Idea Marketers and they recently launched a new tool automating the process of creating an ezine. It's called (drumroll, please) Ezinebuilder. Using syndicated columnists from the site, you can create an ezine that you can send out by email. It's as simple as filling in the boxes on the page (including site address, header, footer and side notes) and choosing the columnist you want to feature. As far as I can see, that's all there is to it.

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Crafting The Hard Sell

One of my most recent writing jobs was to co-author an ebook based on the content of two websites I had helped to develop. No problem. Then I was asked to write the sales letter to go with it. Panic! I'd never written a sales letter before. Feature articles, yes. News articles, yes. Copy for print ads, yes. But never a sales letter. As usual, I said yes and then began to think about how I could do it. I did a web search and came up with an immensely helpful article by David Frey. Frey, author of the Small Business Marketing Bible describes seven 'the hurdles which lead to buying resistance'.

He then sets out a 12-step plan for overcoming these hurdles and crafting a foolproof sales letter. The 12 steps are:

  1. Get attention
  2. Identify the problem
  3. Provide the solution
  4. Present your credentials
  5. Show the benefits
  6. Give social proof
  7. Make your offer
  8. Inject scarcity
  9. Give a guarantee
  10. Call to action
  11. Give a warning
  12. Close with a reminder

He then goes into more detail on how to carry out each of the steps. The full article is worth a read. It is clearly set out and anyone can follow it. At the very least, following the plan will allow you to produce something credible to present to your clients. At best, you'll have done the job perfectly and impressed the heck out of them. What have you got to lose?

PS. In case you're interested, here's the sales letter I wrote after reading Frey's advice. I'm sure it's not perfect, but I was pretty pleased with it, considering I'd never written one before. If you think of any improvements, be sure to let me know. Thanks for reading.