Weigh up whether you really need a blog
Blogging on your website can increase content and therefore bring more visitors to you. But many businesses survive perfectly well without a blog. Not every business lends itself to a blog – and not everyone can be bothered to do one. If the thought of blogging doesn’t inspire you, think again.
Plan what you will write about
To be successful at blogging, you need a theme and you need to be focused. You then need to be able to come up with something to write about. If you find writing difficult, or struggle over what you will write about, having a blog probably isn’t for you.
Consider if you have the time to devote to blogging
Blogging is a commitment. Most people believe you should be posting a blog at least three times a week to gain visitors – and the very minimum is once a week. Will you be able to sustain writing pieces a this rate? Nothing looks worse on a website than an abandoned blog – if you’ve abandoned yours, it is probably best to get rid of it completely.
Think where your blog will be located
You can either blog on your website – or set up a separate blog, with a link to your site. Which you choose depends very much on what you want to blog about. A blog on your website might be your best bet if your articles are all going to be related to your business and you are writing them with a professional voice. But if for example, you decide to use your blog as a platform for strong views – that might not be the sort of thing you want clients to read – your best bet might be a separate blog.
Choose the blogging platform you will use
If you don’t put your blog on your website, then you can use free platforms such as wordpress.com or blogger.com. These are great because you just sign in and off you go. They also have a mechanism that can hide your blog from search engines at first – this can be a good idea while you experiment with your writing style and get into the swing of blogging. Once you’ve got some posts, you can lift the mechanism and let the world see!
Consider how your blog will be designed
WordPress.com has a host of themes, which you can customise to a degree. But if you want it to look the same as your company website for example, you will need to invest in a web designer. At the same time you need to consider what to call your blog. Your name or company name can be used within the wordpress theme – or you can opt to use a domain name you already have or buy another one altogether. For example, there is an option on WordPress.com that allows you to do this.
Decide if your blog will just be written by you
Many people now set up a blog between them. So several people might contribute to a company blog or a group of people might set one up together. This can be a great idea as the amount of work can be spread amongst you. But if your blogging partner doesn’t pull their weight and leaves all the work to you – or is a lazy blogger and lets things slide, it can be frustrating. Another option is to have contributors writing on your site too – this can work well as long as you like what they write…
Ask yourself if you’ll want to have advertising on your blog
For many people, a blog is a way of promoting their business, books or themselves in some way. However, actually monetising your blog with paid-for advertising such as Google Ads or even paid for posts is not permitted on a platform such wordpress.com and if you allow this, your blog can be taken down. So if you want to make money from your blog by allowing ads, you will need to invest in your own bespoke blog or website. Most experts also believe you need to have hundreds of posts on your site and to be getting at least 1000 daily views on a blog before you have enough visitors to make advertising worthwhile.
Think how you will promote your blog.
If your blog is on your own website, it will simply come under the umbrella of promotion you have do for your site. But if it is separate from your site, you need to think of ways to get it known. In this case, as with a website, you might want to get it linked to a Facebook or Twitter page or have it listed on blog websites so it gains visitors that way.
Consider paying a professional blogger to blog for you.
Finally, if you’re keen to have a blog but you’re not a professional writer or simply don’t have the time, you could think about paying someone to blog for you. Many marketing companies will, for a price, take care of all your blogging requirements and can write posts so they stand the maximum chance of being ranked well in Google. They will think of ideas and also be able to promote your blog. Bear in mind however, you will still need to regularly provide them with the basic information they need to write about.
The shortlists for the Communicative Relations Awards from PR Professionals (The CRAPPs) have been announced today, with finalists in categories ranging from ‘the most likely to tell you to sling your hook’ to the ‘least twattish Twitterer – the must-follow journo’.
To celebrate the relationship between journalists, bloggers and PRs, http://www.theCRAPPs.com was launched by national PR agency 10 Yetis in 2010, returning again this year, in association with DWPub.
The awards have received thousands of nominations but here are the finalists in each category:
1. The journalist that makes you feel warm and furry on the inside
• Adrian Bridgwater – freelance
• Amy Duncan – Metro
• Becca Caddy – Shiny Shiny
• Hilary Osborne – The Guardian
• Jane Hamilton – The Sun
• Matt Warman – The Daily Telegraph
• Olivia Solon – Wired
• Stuart Dredge – Freelance
• Vicki Chowney – Econsultancy
• Vicky Woolaston – WebUser
2. The ‘most likely to tell you to sling your hook’ award
• Alan Burkitt-Gray – Global Telecoms Business
• Charles Arthur – The Guardian
• Fiona Harvey – The Guardian
• Gary Flood – Freelance
• Geoff Ho – Sunday Express
• Joe McGrath – Insolvency Today
• Lisa Salmon – Press Association
• Sean Poulter – Daily Mail
• Pete Swabey – Information Age
• Ruki Sayid – Daily Mirror
3. The ‘best PR blogger’ award
• Adam Vincenzini – COMMS Corner
• Ben Cotton – Social Web Thing
• Brian Solis – briansolis.com
• Drew Benvie – Drew B’s take on tech PR
• Jon Silk – PRGeek.net
• Max Tatton-Brown – MaxTB.com
• Stephen Waddington – Wadds’ PR and Social Media blog
• Steve Earl – Earlin’ PR abuse
• Stuart Bruce – stuartbruce.biz
• Will Sturgeon – The Media Blog
4. Least twattish Twitterer – the must follow journo
• Adrian Bridgwater – Freelance – @abridgwater
• Caitlin Moran – The Times – @caitlinmoran
• Fleet Street Fox – Unknown – @fleetstreetfox
• Josh Halliday – The Guardian – @joshhalliday
• Harry Wallop – The Daily Telegraph – @hwallop
• India Knight – The Sunday Times – @indiaknight
• Neal Mann – Sky News – @fieldproducer
• Olivia Solon – Wired – @olivia_solon
• Sally Whittle – Freelance – @swhittle
• Tom Wiggins – Stuff – @wiggowiggo
5. Least twattish Twitterer – the must follow PR
• Andrew Bloch – Frank PR – @andrewbloch
• Andrew Smith – Escherman – @andismit
• Beth Murray – Lansons – @bmbm
• Camilla Brown – Manifest Communications – @girlterate
• Dan Bulteel – Hill and Knowlton – @danbulteel
• Neville Hobson – Freelance – @jangles
• Rupert Walker – Immediate Future – @rupinjapan
• Sherrilynne Starkie – Strive PR – @sherrilynne
• Stephen Waddington – Speed Communications – @wadds
• Steven Davies – Freelance – @stedavies
6. Journalist you’d most like to bring to the dark side (employ as a PR)
• Amy Duncan – The Metro
• Dave Masters – The Sun
• Emma Barnett – The Daily Telegraph
• Harry Wallop – The Daily Telegraph
• Jack Schofield – Freelance
• Jane Hamilton – The Sun
• Mark Dye – Freelance
• Stuart Miles – Pocket-lint
• Tim Weber – BBC
• Verity Burns – MSN
7. Most approachable daily national newspaper
• The Daily Express
• The Daily Mail
• The Daily Mirror
• The Daily Telegraph
• The Daily Star
• The Financial Times
• The Guardian
• The Independent
• The Metro
• The Sun
Voters now have the chance to vote for their favourite per category.
Final results will be made public in time for Christmas, on Wednesday 15th December.
Rich Leigh, account director at 10 Yetis PR Agency said: “Our intention has always been to highlight the relationship between the PR industry and journalists.”
Daryl Willcox, chairman of Daryl Willcox Publishing, http://www.dwpub.com, said of his company’s involvement in the awards, “In their second year it looks like the CRAPPs have already become a bit of an institution and it’s great to see both PR professionals and journalists getting stuck in with the nominations. The next phase of voting will be great fun and I’m looking forward to discovering who the CRAPPS winners will be!”
The CRAPPs can be found on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/thecrapps
BY MANDY BAGGOT
I always had a passion for writing. When I was at senior school I wrote an on-going EastEnders’ style saga featuring my school friends, various members of the Italia 1990 England football squad and New Kids on the Block. They would eagerly grab the daily four or five A4 pages to read what was happening to them next. When it eventually came to an end it was over 4,000 A4 pages long! It was a bit like an early Footballers’ Wives I guess! I was robbed!
After I left school I didn’t write that much and the bits and pieces I did write I never thought too seriously about. It was a hobby and that was all. I had my dream romance (yes they do happen!), I got married and then I had my first daughter.
After having my daughter I started to write again.
I wrote my first novel Excess All Areas, a holiday romance about a large, feisty girl called Freya and a Hollywood heartthrob. I don’t really know why, but I sent it off to Headline publishing. Their response was really positive, but ultimately they turned me down. At the time I put it down to experience (after crying for a couple of days!) and put the novel away. However, another baby later, despite advice to the contrary, another novel written (Breaking the Ice) and I stumbled upon a website called Youwriteon.com. They are funded by The Arts Council of England and were creating a scheme to get a certain number of new authors published before Christmas 2008. You had to pay £49.99 to allow your book to go on Amazon, Waterstones etc. but they would do the rest. I saw this as my chance to get my book out there. And on December 8 2008 Excess All Areas was published and showing on websites for people to buy. It was a landmark moment but I wasn’t fully satisfied. I had got the writing bug back but I knew Excess All Areas wasn’t as polished as it could be and I wanted more.
I made a decision then to keep sending manuscripts out to agents and traditional publishing houses knowing that if they all rejected me I could fall back on self-publishing. I am still agentless, but now the industry is changing that doesn’t seem such a daunting position to be in.
In 2010, when my eldest daughter was going to need mum at home for the long summer holidays, I made the decision to give up my job as a Probate paralegal at a firm of solicitors and be a full-time writer. I didn’t go into this lightly. I knew I wasn’t going to suddenly be able to create a Booker prize winner and lie back and reap the rewards, but I knew I had to concentrate on my writing if I ever wanted to make a career out of it.
In February 2011 Knowing Me Knowing You was published, again by Youwriteon.com, but it was really in preparation for launching Strings Attached in November this year, that I stepped things up a gear. I knew I had to do something to attract people to my book. I was serious about this, I wanted to make a living from it, I needed to be professional.
I found an amazing cover designer and together we came up with a fantastic cover that people love. But the cover alone wasn’t going to be enough. I needed more and it needed to be different. So, I set up a Twitter profile for the male lead. He can be found at @quinnblakemusic. It was amazing how many people responded to his tweets and enjoyed interacting with him. I also set up a blog and website tour for launch day and the two weeks after, on sites in the UK and Canada and I really pushed my novel to book review sites and bloggers. I also created a trailer for Strings Attached to increase interest and get anticipation going.
And then there are the singing videos! Yes I love to sing and perform. This year I joined a local vocal group called Raise the Roof. We are a group of all different age ranges, male and female, who sing an eclectic mix of songs from Lady Gaga to The Everly Brothers, from Take That to The Beach Boys, from Alexandra Burke to Frank Sinatra. Well, I had to make use of singing to promote my books didn’t I? So I loaded up a video of me singing Poker Face and left links to my novels. To date it has had 477 views! Not exactly viral but a lot more than I would ever have dreamed of. I don’t know whether this has directly affected sales, but it has definitely attracted interest! Around the time the video was put on Twitter The Hoff began following me! Now that is A-List!
So I sing for promotion and I dress up. This year I dressed as a chicken at The Festival of Romance in Watford, to represent my character The Love Dove who stars in my Mr and Mrs meets The Generation Game novel, Knowing Me Knowing You. I was probably the most photographed individual of the weekend and the great writer Carole Matthews was also in attendance. It’s all about the outfit Carole!
There have been other bonuses to promoting my book. I have made loads of new friends and supporters on social networking sites, through book websites and blogs and I have also joined two websites helping self-published and new authors raise their profile and connect with readers. These are Loveahappyending.com and Famous Five Plus. We work as a group to proactively support each other and our writing.
At the moment I am self-published, using a new website called FeedARead.com. I would really recommend them for anyone who wants to self-publish their novels. It costs £88 to have your book published and made available on Amazon and Waterstones etc. Presently they only deal with paperback versions so I upload my books onto Kindle myself.
So what’s next? Well, I am signing copies of Strings Attached at Waterstones Salisbury on 8 December from 5.30pm-8.30pm and I have numerous other store signings booked in for 2012. Waterstones have been extremely supportive to me as a self-published author and this year I have approached stores further afield. I just dropped them an email with a press release and had a fantastic response!
And as far as the actual writing goes, I am doing final edits for my summer 2012 release Taking Charge and have put the trailer on YouTube.
It’s amazing what you can achieve when you have a great book cover, a great story and you’re singing and blogging royalty! Watch out Jackie Collins, Lady Baggot is on her way!
Mandy Baggot is the author of four novels, Excess All Areas, Breaking the Ice, Knowing Me Knowing You and her latest novel Strings Attached is out now in paperback and on Kindle. She lives near Salisbury, Wiltshire in the UK with her husband, two daughters and two cats. When she isn’t writing she likes to read, sing and travel – sometimes all at the same time!
Find out more here: Mandy Baggot’s website
If you like reading celebrity magazines or about celebrities in the newspapers, according to an article in The Times, such articles might eventually not exist – at least in their current form. Writing in the paper, Phil Hilton, Editorial Director of Stylist magazine says the Leveson inquiry – which has seen celebrities such as Hugh Grant, Sienna Miller and JK Rowling giving evidence – could mark the end of this celebrity-led era.
Writes Hilton: “Having worked in magazines for all my adult life, I now feel nothing will ever be the same again. And despite the snarky commentary about the testimony of those richer and better looking than ourselves who sought fame, I believe we are all sick of haunting them too.
“I’m not immune to the odd fascination we all have with the famous – but Leveson has exposed the ugliness of our national addiction, and I suspect, ended an era.”
The article also quotes two readers. However, they don’t agree. Nicole, 24, who works in recruitment says: “Everyone loves a gossip and it can be inspirational to see people who’ve made a business out of being a nobody.”
And another reader quoted in The Times – Nicola, 22, who wants to work as a showbiz reporter, says: “It’s unrealistic for a celebrity to expect their life to stay completely private and maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is so integrated into our culture people would still speculate even without the celebrity magazines.”
Meanwhile, some of those who represent celebrities are also appalled at what they see as ‘censoring of the media’.
PR guru Richard Hillgrove, who has consulted on PR to BBC Dragon’s Duncan Bannatyne OBE and James Caan, says: ” Far from being an intrusion, being covered in the tabloids and celebrity magazines is why so many people see Hugh Grant or Sienna Miller’s films and why they achieve such high fees for advertising endorsements.
“But if the media is completely neutered, then next step will be people’s personal email on Google and Facebook being monitored through automated keyword searches. Ultimately, legislation will make all media data, including social media, becoming the property of the State. Censoring will create a police state.”
Whether this inquiry signals the end of celebrities being in the news remains to be seen. It might be celebrities are only featured in a paper or magazine with their approval – for example when they have a film or book to promote.
What are your views? Let us know below…
The news that Pippa Middleton, younger sister of Royal Kate, is to be paid £400,000 by publisher Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Books, to write a guide to being the perfect party hostess is bound to irritate many authors. After all, as far as we’re aware, Pippa isn’t known for any writing talent – although as previously she worked in the family business, Party Pieces, she must have picked up some tips there.
But it seems her publishers are already predicting big things for her book, which is likely to be launched next Autumn after the Queen’s Jubilee but in time to catch Christmas sales.
A report in The Telegraph quotes one literary agent as saying of the advance: “It is a massive amount of money, particularly in the current environment.” Indeed such an advance shows Michael Joseph, the Penguin imprint that won the auction over her book, is expecting high sales.
Apparently ‘everyone who was anyone’ in the industry was after the book. The Daily Mail says there was a ‘fierce bidding war’ and others who wanted the book included publishing giants such as Harper Collins and Random House.
One reason is privately educated Pippa, who is apparently not going to use a ghostwriter and is already immersing herself in writing the book herself, is impeccably placed to be an expert on the subject of parties. As well as working for the family firm Party Pieces, she also worked as a professional party planner at another company, Table Talk.
And undoubtedly the book will sell well. It is bound to be the sort of inspirational must-have book for anyone giving a party – from the mum who wants to give her child a birthday to remember to a corporate event. Parties – particularly childrens’ parties – seem to be one of the only things to have escaped the recession. A recent survey revealed four out of ten parents think nothing of spending between £100 and £500 on their child’s birthday party. And what to do for a party, who to invite and how to make that party special is one of the most discussed topics on parenting websites, such as Mumsnet.
Although Pippa is reportedly keen to not be seen to be cashing in on the fact her sister is the Duchess of Cambridge, one glance at the publisher’s other bestsellers clearly shows it believes celebrity does equal sales. After all, on the Penguin website, Michael Joseph is described as ‘being principally interested in publishing Top Ten Bestsellers’ and other authors include Stephen Fry, Michael McIntyre, Jamie Oliver, Jeremy Clarkson and Ant and Dec.
Generally of course, over the past decade, the publishing industry has been busy tightening its belts, dramatically reducing the number of new concepts or authors – particularly unknown ones – it takes on. Instead there has been a rise in celebrity-led books.
The reason of course is it is much less work – and is much less costly – for publishers to promote a book written by a well-known celebrity than it is for them to push forward a previously unknown author.
And it’s another reason why for most unknown authors – who might well be extremely talented – getting a book deal is proving even harder and why so many are now turning to self-publishing.
You might also like: How I published my own Chick-lit novel
So you’ve written your book – and self-published it. Now what? Getting a book known enough so people know it exists can prove to be the biggest hurdle of all. Here, we give you ten ways to get your book out there…
1. Announce your book with a press release.
If you have published your book with a big mainstream publisher, this is likely to be one of the first ways they announce your book. Google free and paid for companies that will send a press release out. Don’t forget to make your press release interesting by making you, the author, memorable. Too many authors fail to give information about themselves but this is a mistake. If you are a mum of three say so, if your book is based on your own personal experience say so – even saying ‘Secretary publishes first novel’ will make someone read on.
2. Hold a launch party
You might not be able to afford a party in a top London restaurant attended by celebrities. But even a small party at your local toddler group to celebrate your launch will help spread the word.
3. Get local publicity
Many people are so focused on getting a review in a national newspaper that they forget about the local press. Write a special press release, focusing on the fact you live in the area (which is what makes it interesting for them) and send it to all the local papers, magazines, radio and TV stations in your area. Always include a photo of yourself, preferably with book in hand and your contact details. This will enable anyone to simply publish your press release complete with your photo without even talking to you.
4. Approach your local bookshop and library
Even big chains are often very supportive of a local author. Ring up the manager, send him or her a copy of your novel and your special local press release. Offer to do a book signing in the store.
5. Use social media.
A website to promote your book can cost nothing – you can set up a blog free using WordPress.com. A diary about your journey from pitch to publication can make a fascinating blog and gain followers as you write. If you link this to your Twitter and Facebook account, you are immediately publicising your book. When it’s published, consider investing in a small website to promote and sell your book – perhaps as an e-book where people can instantly download your novel onto their computer.
6. Sell your own real life story.
This is the fastest and easiest way to gain major publicity. I have helped many authors gain recognition and even to gain a plug of their book in a national newspaper by selling their story – but you do need to have a story to tell. Your real life story doesn’t need to be connected hugely with your book. For example, if your divorce gave you the impetus to write a book, this might form the basis of an article for a women’s magazine.
7. Become a speaker.
Local groups are often interested in having an after dinner speaker. A witty account of how you overcame writer’s block to pen your novel, a story about the ups and downs of getting published or again, the story behind writing your book – all these things make good after dinner talks for local charity groups. Again, you are spreading the word – and don’t forget to take a few copies with you to sell.
8. Leave business cards
Leaving a business card in a hotels and restaurants, perhaps in the rooms if the manager is happy (and perhaps for a small price) can direct people to your website where perhaps they can download your novel. If someone is away on business and has a few hours to spend, they might well decide to spend it reading your book…
9. Send it out to review for journalists, papers and magazines
I have purposely not put this too high up as it is the route so many authors go without much success. While approaching a few well-chosen editors or journalists who are known to review your genre of book is worth doing, mass mailing books to national papers, magazines and TV can not only prove to be incredibly expensive but there is no guarantee your book will be picked up. Unless you are already a known author, a piece in your local paper might well prove more beneficial – and it might also be picked up by a local journalist or agency in your area.
10. Offer to write on blogs and writing websites
Get your story out there by offering for free to write a piece about you and your book. If you manage to gain publicity on a popular blog for example, it might be picked up by a national journalist to review. And if you can gain a link to your website where people can buy your book, it could well take off.
* Sell Your Story UK is about to launch a new facility to help authors gain publicity and sell their books – meanwhile, if you have written a non-fiction book or a novel and had it published, we would love to hear about it – tell us about your book here: My book.
You might also like: Writing a Press Release
Do you ever read a cartoon in a magazine or website and wonder about the person behind the cartoon? Here, cartoonist Mike Flanagan, talks to Sell Your Story UK about his ‘Flantoons’ and how he has become so established in such a niche industry…
So where do you live and how old are you?
In a great little village in Hampshire, top right corner of the UK and I’m 64 (going on 24).
Is being a cartoonist your full time job?
I’ve been a full time cartoonist for 30 years. I was born in South Africa, and have also lived in Australia and in Britain for the past 35 years. I’m an ex art director from big advertising agencies in Jo’burg, Sydney and the UK.
When and why did you start doing cartoons?
I started doing cartoons during science classes at school mainly because the lessons were totally baffling – I had to spend my time doing something!
When was the moment you realised you could sell your cartoons?
I posted some gags off to a small magazine when I was living in Johannesburg. They published three of them, which earned me a grand total of 30 Rand (£3 in real money) which started the ball rolling and now I charge around £60 to commission.
Do you have any formal training?
My parents sent me to art school for three years; great training for partying; this was the swinging sixties remember.
Where have your cartoons been published – Where might we see them?
A very wide range of business magazines, specialist magazines and websites, text-books, you name it. Some of my clients include Travel Weekly, British Telecom and publishers Hodder & Stoughton! A while ago a New York plastic surgeon asked me to do 30 cartoons all based on cosmetic surgery; quite a challenge… After all, how many boob-job gags are there? Only I know…
It mainly comes from the text, the article and the subject matter. I put a humorous spin on an otherwise serious piece of material. People also email me their text and I will come up with a custom-made cartoon illustration to complement it.
Which ideas and cartoons are the most popular?
My cartoons are custom-made to complement an article or product, so I have to take care not distract from the sense of the article or product…. while at the same time make it amusing. I then do a first draft pencil sketch for the client’s approval and if they like it, the finished high res jpeg goes off by email.
Any advice for other budding cartoonists?
Start with a small portfolio, make your presentation as polished and professional as possible. Scruffy scraps of paper are a big no-no, then spend most of your time spreading the word on the internet, and hardcopy mailers to editors.
On second thoughts, pursue another career. The last thing I need is competition 🙂
At Sell Your Story UK’s sister site, Featureworld, we only sell stories to newspapers, magazines and TV that people come to us to sell (interviewees are required to sign a consent form). In fact as publicists, stories are always read back to clients ensure they are happy with them. But it does appear that due to fear within the industry, stories are already not being run … and this is going to affect ordinary people in a way they might not imagine.
Today we received this letter (italics show details and names have been removed) and it is typical of letters we are now regularly sent.
I have just found your site and wonder if you can advise me.
My partner has just been involved in a story with a national newspaper.
After 3 weeks of patiently waiting and after being interviewed, photographed etc, the national newspaper have told us that if the print the story they will get sued on privacy ground by the family involved.
My partner is adopted are there are no human rights for him to find out where he is from!
The family are very famous.
Is there any way we can get our story out?
HI person’s name,
Many thanks for your email and what a fascinating story your partner has.
The national newspaper you mention has one of the best legal departments in the industry and if they feel they cannot print your story then this will be the situation with every single newspaper, magazine and TV organisation.
Unfortunately the climate is such at the moment that many stories – even those that are clearly in the public interest – that might have got into a newspaper even a few months ago now do not.
As you are finding, there is an environment of fear for papers meaning many ordinary people are no longer able to get their story out there. While no-one would condone phone hacking (which in 30 years I have never come across) if the public is not careful, there will be no free press (at the moment there already isn’t, whatever you are reading.)
The national newspaper will have done everything to try to get your story in – they will have tried to check the story out and everyone from the journalist who wrote your story to the editor who commissioned it – will have desperately tried to have your story printed. But papers are increasingly reluctant to take any risk whatsoever and so they will have erred on the side of caution and decided not to print it.
I hope this explains the difficulties and also it is not just you and there is nothing you can do.
Are you worried that stories are already being kept from the public and that claims of ‘privacy’ could stop many stories from ever getting out? Let me know your thoughts below…
Written by Alison Smith-Squire, Publicist and ethical journalist with 30 years experience.
Many people believe they must possess an amazing vocabulary or write long descriptive prose to be a good writer. Sadly the way writing is sometimes taught at school – with much emphasis put on using unusual words and complex sentence construction – people are often put off altogether. But whether you are writing a book, a press release or an article, the key is to keep it simple. Here are the top ten ways to identify good writing – and doing that is the first step to becoming a better writer yourself…
Good writing …
* Isn’t something you notice. When you read a book or a news article, you should be immersed in the story – and not the way it is written.
* Flows. If something is well written you can read it fast – you can even skim read it because it is clear and simple enough to scan.
* Isn’t something you need to re-read to understand. If you need to re-read a page or chapter in a book because you’ve literally lost the plot, it is badly written (and life’s too short to bother reading any further…)
* Doesn’t make you reach for the dictionary. In fact, a good writer can use words you might not have heard of before but because those words are used properly in context within a sentence, you will naturally understand them.
* Gets straight to the point. Any literary agent will tell you make or break for a book is often the first page (or the first chapter at worse) and in a press article or press release, people want the information straightaway. In this case the very first sentence is all-important.
* Isn’t stuffed with adjectives. In fact, a very good writer will use descriptive words sparingly, if at all. They can describe someone’s personality by relaying what they say in quotes and what they do.
* Can bring a scene alive. Tip: Some of the greatest writers only use ‘he/she said’ after quotes because ‘said’ disappears, leaving the quote standing out. But if you put ‘he/she sighed/laughed/guffawed/remonstrated’ – you break the spell and remind the reader this is a (badly written) novel or article.
* Leaves you wanting more. ‘Less is more’ should be tattooed on the back of every writer’s hand. Never ramble and bore your reader.
* Fits in and is appropriate. So a newspaper article will be written differently from a newspaper feature and the same story will again be something else in a book. It will then be described in another way in a press release about the author. Reading the same story, and the way it is dealt with by different mediums can help everyone develop their writing skills.
* Can be compared to a pearl necklace. Clever writing holds together as perfectly as a string of beads. It has a rhythm, it evokes emotion in the reader and is as beautiful.
Do you have any more tips to add for good writing? Let us know in the comments below…
HARRY BINGHAM is the author of six novels and four works of non-fiction. He also runs the Writers’ Workshop, which is the UK’s leading consultancy for first time writers. He handles loads of book manuscript assessments every year and – while every book and every author is different – he tells Sell Your Story UK the same old issues keep coming round. So here’s his guide to self-editing your work: effectively a checklist for a quick do-it-yourself manuscript assessment.
Manuscript assessment: the top ten lessons
- Check your concept is sound. We often receive books that are unpublishable because they’re poorly conceived from the start. A literary novel where nothing much happens for 120,000 words. A thriller that isn’t very thrilling. A children’s book which is basically one long lecture on the dangers of electro-magnetic radiation. These things are unsaleable in principle. It’s not a question of editing these manuscripts; you need to discard them.
- Check your writing style is strong. A good prose style isn’t a question of punctuation and grammar (although those things do matter a lot). It’s about making sure that every sentence is economical, fresh, and precise. Avoid using 12 words where 9 would do and don’t relapse into cliché or formula. Say what you mean with precision – something that’s a lot harder than it sounds.
- Ensure your plot keeps moving. When you assess your plot, it’s worth writing down the plot movement in every chapter. If you find that there is a single chapter (or long scene) where the plot doesn’t move forward in some key respect, that chapter isn’t pulling its weight and it needs to go.
- Stay in the dramatic present. One of the cliches of manuscript assessment is ‘show, not tell’. That means, you basically need to dramatise your book as much as possible. The reader needs to feel as though they’re watching characters on a stage acting out the scene. The reader does NOT want to feel that they’re standing outside in the foyer where some bored security guard is telling them what would be happening on stage right now … if they could see it. So stay dramatic, stay present.
- Find the essence of your characters. Some characters will be very individual, very eccentric. Others will be ordinary people in remarkable situations. Either way, your character needs to hum with life – they need to feel like themselves and nobody else. That means finding distinctive little details that suit that person and define them. The secret of good character is all in the detail.
- Don’t mess up your points of view. This is too complex an issue for one small bullet point – but manuscript assessors often find that a writer has ruined their entire manuscript by stuffing it with so many different ‘point of view’ characters it’s hard for a reader to get their bearings. Basically, if your book is told just from the point of view of your hero/heroine, you’re doing fine. If you have 2-3 points of view, and those characters are all important to the book, you’re probably doing fine. If you have more than 3 points of view, then you need to be very careful of what you’re doing – in fact, you might want to check in with a pro assessor sooner rather than later.
- Be a perfectionist. Good writers are perfectionist writers. I know one author who edits her book about 40 times before going to her publisher. That’s not crazy. That’s professional.
- Go for it. If you’re writing a thriller, make it thrill. If you’re writing a weepie, make sure your reader will have tears in her eyes. If you’re writing a comedy, make it laugh-out-loud funny. If you’re writing a literary manuscript, make sure it really does have dazzling class. A lot of manuscript failures arise because writers haven’t really gone for the jugular – and you need to do so.
- Start learning about literary agents. You’ll need a literary agent (in the UK if you’re British or Irish, in the US if you’re North American). The more you can learn about how they are, what they want and how to approach them, the better. We’ve got loads of info on our website, and we run the largest writers’ conference in the UK where you can meet dozens of literary agents.
- Get help! Finally, very few writers have what it takes to succeed without any help. Pro authors get help from their agents and editors. If you haven’t yet got that far, an external manuscript assessment from The Writers’ Workshop may be exactly what you need to get your manuscript over that hard-to-reach finishing line. It costs a few hundred pounds (depending on the length of your manuscript) but can be worth a fortune.
Author Harry Bingham runs The Writers’ Workshop, a consultancy for first time writers. Contact Harry for specialist help and guidance with your book here: Writer’s Workshop.
BY HARRY BINGHAM