How To

How to Find a Writing Group

Join a writer's group to share your workWriters can work anywhere with a horizontal surface on which to rest our laptops or pads of paper. But, the process of turning what we imagine into text is a singularly solitary effort. We know what we want and mean to write. We clearly see it in our mind’s eye. Yet our mind is a tricky place. It tends to fill in the blanks we left on the page resulting in under developed characters and unresolved plot lines.

Joining a writing group is one way to fill in those blanks.  Not only can a group make your writing more of a collegial experience, but a group of like-minded writers can also help you meet your writing goals, work out the kinks in your plot lines, and point out any inconsistencies in your work.

So where do you find these mythical people? Here are a place to look:

1. Local writing centers and communities

The first place to start is the internet. A quick search using your city name and “Writing Group” will get you started. If you get too many results, include the genre in which you write to narrow down the list. Once you find a promising group, send a message to the group leader or attend a public meeting / class to determine if the group is a good fit for you.

2. Conferences and Retreats

While you are at it, search for any local writing conferences or retreats to attend. Sharing your contact information with other writers at these local gatherings is the best way to make contact with authors who can recommend or introduce you to an existing group.

3. Bulletin boards

Despite living in the digital age, that old school means of finding like-minded people can still be effective. If you are interested in starting a writing group post a notice at your local public library, coffee house, or arts center. You can even post a notice on your city’s Craigslist > Community > Groups section.

4. Writing associations

Professional associations such as Romance Writers of America and Mystery Writers of America have chapters throughout the country. Check their sites for directories to find members in your local area.

Lulu Joining a writing group

5. People you already know

We all have one good book inside of us – or so we would like to think. So, why not build a writing group from your friends and acquaintances. Most of us don’t live among authors and poets, but that’s not the point. The key is establishing a routine for a regular exchange of work. A word of caution may be needed here. Remember, criticism – even constructive criticism hurts. So choose carefully from those friends who will welcome your suggestions – and vice verse.

6. Online critique groups

Multiple online services are available and are often set up as an exchange: you must critique others’ work to have your own critiqued. Though they are often free, you may need to pay for full access or pay for an unlimited number of critiques. Some groups to to check out: Critique Circle, Review Fuse, Scribophile and Ladies Who Critique. One thing to keep in mind is that the readers in each group may or may not be your target audience and may not be a fan of the genre in which you work.

Meetups are a great place to share your writing

7. Meetup.com

This online service connects local people with similar interests ranging from Spanish literature to Scrabble. If there isn’t a writing group in your city, for a small fee you can start your own – or hold virtual meetings and exchange work via email.

8. Social media

Social media is now the most common way to connect with like-minded individuals and to find potential writing group members. Try these to get started: LinkedIn Groups for Writers, Facebook Groups for Writers, Goodreads Writing Groups and Twitter Lists for Writers.

Another options to just put out a call on your own social networks that you’re starting a writing group. You might be surprised who responds!

As you can see, finding a writing group takes time but it is well worth it to have the support, feedback and encouragement a group provides.

Are you part of a writing group, or do you have tips of your own on finding people to share your work with? Let us know in the comments!

7 Simple Grammar Mistakes You Should Never Make

Don't make these grammar mistakes

There’s no easier way to lose readers – and sales – than by publishing a book full of simple mistakes. After all, if you don’t care enough to catch basic errors, why should readers care about your book? Spellcheck can go a long way, but it won’t always save you from grammar mistakes that might go overlooked.

A good editor is never a bad thing if you’re serious about building your audience. But whether you’re hiring an editor or striking out on your own, you can make life easier by making sure these simple mistakes don’t pop up in your book.

Your vs You're

Your vs You’re

Your is possessive – as in, “That’s your dog.” You’re is a contraction of “you are.”

Its vs It’s

Along the same lines, its is possessive, and it’s is a contraction of “it is” (or “it has”).

Who’s vs Whose

Whose is possessive. Who’s is a contraction of “who is” or “who has.” Are you sensing a trend?

There vs their vs they're

Their vs They’re vs There

Ready to throw in a third option? Their is possessive, and they’re is a contraction of “they are.” There will cover pretty much everything else, from “There goes the bus” to “Put that box over there” to “There aren’t any cookies here.” (Note: pirates may be inclined to throw in “thar.”)

Lose vs loose

Lose vs Loose

This is best with a few examples. You can lose your dog if he gets loose from his leash. Your clothes will be loose if you lose a lot of weight. If you have loose change in your pocket, you might lose it. If all else fails, read your sentence aloud; if the word sounds like it ends with a ‘z’ then it’s lose; if it sounds like an ‘s’ then it’s loose.

Compliment vs Complement

The only difference is an ‘i’ and an ‘e’. So what’s the real difference? Compliment – with an ‘i’ – means you’re saying something nice to someone. Or, as an easy way to remember, “I am saying something nice to someone.” If you complement something, you’re adding to or improving it.

Farther vs Further

Farther refers to a physical distance – long distances are always far. “His house is farther away than mine.” Further is more figurative and means an extent of time or degree, as in “Tom wanted to talk further about the plan.” Farther and further are more readily accepted as being interchangeable than other examples in this list.

Do you have your own grammar pet peeves, or any tricks you use to keep words straight? Share them in the comments below!

3 Reasons Why You Should be Writing in the Cloud

Tips for writing in the cloud

Imagine: you’re an author hard at work to independently publish your book (stop me if you’ve heard this one before). You finally have time to write but…you’re at your work laptop instead of your personal one. Or you only have your phone or tablet on you. Or you’re waiting on someone’s feedback about a crucial detail that you need to continue. The list goes on.

In short, it can be a hassle to keep track of your in-progress work when you want to sneak in some writing time or show your book to someone. That’s where “the cloud” comes in.

You might have heard of the cloud and thought of it as an overused business term. To some extent, you’re right. But it can also be a valuable tool for any writer. The cloud lets you access and edit your work from anywhere, and there are programs out there specifically for writing.

What program should I use?

First things first: if you’re going to write in the cloud, you’ll need to decide where you’ll be doing it. A lot of this will come down to personal preference; what meets your needs, what you’re comfortable using, and even what platform is the most aesthetically pleasing all play a big role.

Google Drive is a good place to start. Most people have a Google account that they use for Gmail and other services, and using Drive is free to use. The convenience makes at least giving it a shot a low-effort task, and it’s straightforward enough to be very easy to use.

There’s also Evernote, a popular choice in its own right – so popular, in fact, that it surpassed 100 million users last year. You can pay a little extra for bells and whistles, but the basic program is free and more than enough for most writers.

Again, there are a lot of choices out there, but both Google Drive and Evernote have features that every writer can use (and will be discussed below), and they’re available on computers and mobile devices so they’ll never be out of reach. Play around until you find something you’re comfortable with!

Regardless what where you write, here are three ways the cloud will help make your writing efforts that much smoother.

Take your work anywhere

Do you save files to USB thumbdrives? It’s hard to believe we ever did such things, isn’t it? If you’re writing in the cloud, though, this all goes the way of carrying around CDs or floppy disks or – gasp! – even folders and binders full of printouts. Today, you can start writing, have it saved automatically, and pick it up whenever and wherever you want.

“But that’s not a problem,” you say. “I write on my laptop, and that’s portable. I can already take that anywhere!”

Sure you can – assuming you have that laptop. What if inspiration strikes while you’re in bed with your tablet, or while you’re waiting at the airport and only have your phone to tap away on?

That’s the beauty of the cloud: wherever you are, that’s where your work is, too.

Collaboration

Writing is often thought of as a solitary endeavor, but we know better, don’t we?

Maybe you have a small group of people with whom you’re collaborating on your textbook. Or you have experts and thought leaders double-checking your work. You might have people proofreading for you, whether it’s a professional editor or friends and family you’ve enlisted to give your book a once-over.

Regardless of your circumstances, you’ll never run short of reasons to share your writing with a lot of people before you even get the first hard copy published, and working in the cloud makes that process that much easier.

In the cloud, you can give anyone you’d like access to your work. Services like Google Drive and Evernote come with chat functions, allowing you to discuss changes and brainstorm on the fly. You’ll never be out of touch with those you’re working with, removing a huge barrier to the old way of writing.

Research

Research is a key part of any book. Whether you’re writing a textbook full of facts and figures or you want to make sure you’ve got your indigenous plant life straight for your post-apocalypse novel, you never want to be called out for misinformation.

It’s important to get things right, and the Internet has revolutionized they way we find information. Since you’re working in the cloud, integrating your research into your writing is seamless. Take Google Drive: you’re already using Google for most of your information-gathering, right? Well, click on a word or a phrase in your document and get Google search results instantly, including the option to cite results in the format of your choice. Footnotes have never been easier!

Or maybe you’re using Evernote. Did you know that it comes with a web clipper tool, letting you save articles and websites right in Evernote for easy access and reference? Or how about that you can link related notes to keep track of everything? Or, for you non-fiction authors, store things like business cards and recipes? All the information you could want is at your fingertips, and you never have to leave your writing.

A new way to work

You might have noticed that these tactics go together hand-in-hand: collaboration is a lot easier because you can take your work anywhere, and research is simple when you can have other people make notes and suggestions in an instant. They fit together like pieces of a writing puzzle. And that’s why using cloud-based tools to write makes so much sense.

There’s something to be said for old habits, like sitting down at a notebook or a typewriter, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t embrace new and innovative ways to do things. After all, you’ve seen the benefits of self-publishing over going through the old, outdated publishing process. If you’re in the market for convenience, speed, and ease of use, there might be something in the cloud for you.

Helpful Hints from Distribution Henry: Making eBook Metadata Match

We’ve spoken before of metadata, but let me refresh. Metadata is, well, meta. It’s self-referential. It’s data about data–so it should match the data to which it refers.

If your eBook’s title (the data) is “The Adventures of Meta-Man” then the metadata about your title has to be “The Adventures of Meta-Man.” If the title page of your EPUB says “The Adventures of Meta-Man” and your marketing image says “The Adventures of Meta-Man” then your metadata (those fields you fill out as you create a project on Lulu.com) should NOT say “Metaman’s Adventures.”

Don’t feel bad if you’ve done this. Happens all the time–particularly when you start throwing in subtitles, volume numbers, and multiple authors. Things get complicated. Bits of data slip through the cracks and metadata sometimes gets a little less meta.

Bottom line:

Metadata helps readers find you and identify the content they’re looking for. Have a trilogy? Make sure your metadata tells readers the series title and in what order to read the volumes. Otherwise your would-be audience might get confused or lose patience. There’s a ton of content out there; if your metadata isn’t clear or seems less than polished, it’s a fair bet that readers will keep searching for something a little more friendly and professional.

Take an extra minute or two to double check everything–title, subtitle, contributors. We know you’ve already done a lot of proofreading while preparing your eBook for publication, but bear with us for just a few words longer. Making sure your metadata matches your content means a quicker, easier journey into retail distribution–not to mention into your readers’ hands.

 

10 Tips for Creating the Best Photo Book

Footsie

Sitges, Spain 2014

In the northern hemisphere, summer travel season is almost upon us. We will soon be packing our sunscreen, bathing suits, hiking boots, reading material, and digital devices for our next big adventure. While on vacation, it is great fun to post pictures of our feet on the beach or group shots taken at arm’s length, but footsies and selfies don’t tell the story of our great adventure in the same way as a photo book.

 

With today’s technology, your images, and a little know-how, you can create photo books equal to your experiences.

1) Why make a photo book?

Online photo galleries are convenient, free, and a great way to view your images from anywhere in the world with internet access. These galleries are quickly becoming the electronic equivalent of the box of printed images stored under your bed or on the back shelf of your closet.

Each of these images, whether stored in digital or print format, is a moment in time you experienced. Each snapshot captures and records a bit of your story. Photo books allow you to choose those special moments that when viewed together tell your story – or the story you wish to create.

2) Choose the best book format for your story

On Lulu you can create photo books in both hard and softcover formats in a variety of sizes. When making your choice consider the following:

  • Where will this photo book be displayed – on your coffee table, bookshelf, etc.?
  • Is this photo book for personal use or will you be purchasing lots of copies for friends and family?
  • Is the subject matter of momentous import – does it tell the story of your life, your child’s milestones, the vacation of a lifetime?

The story you are telling will help determine the proper format for your book.

Keywest

Key West, Florida 2015

3) Tell your story with photos

The best photo books have a cohesive theme and tell a story. They are not just a collection of your very best photographs. Think about the story you wish this book to tell and select images that tell that story. This is not to say that you can’t include those beautiful sunsets, landscapes, and pictures of lovely buildings, but you should use these as a means to set the stage for your story rather than allowing them to be the star.

4) Select the right images

A well-crafted story requires atmosphere, character development, and a tight plot. The same applies to your photo book. Careful image selection is the first and often most difficult step of putting together a photo book. Our natural tendency is to include every picture from our latest adventure. When selecting images for your photo book, remember you have a limited number of pages to tell your story and think about how can you tell this story with the images you captured?

5) Include what you want to remember

When sorting through your pictures, you may think, “How silly – who would want to look at a picture of ___?” If the answer is “I would,” that’s reason enough to include it in your photo book. We all want to make an interesting and beautiful keepsake from our experiences, but in the end, these are your memories and this is your book. Make it yours by including images of the moments you don’t want to forget.

6) Image order – Telling the story

Once you have selected the images that best tell your story or tell it the way you want it told, start putting them in order. Consider the flow of the narrative provided by the pictures. Avoid grouping all the landscapes, buildings, and food shots together on a page. Instead, use these images as filler to provide atmosphere to your story.

One way to present your story is to create your photo book in a linear fashion (“On the first day we did this. On the second day…”). Another option is to place complimentary images on adjacent pages or in a collage of similarly themed pictures such as food, shopping, or selfies. Remember, it’s your story, how do you want to tell it?

7) Presentation is everything

Once you have selected your photos think about how they are going to appear on the page. The Lulu photo book wizard provides a variety of book themes and page layouts. Choose a theme befitting the story you are telling, then have a look at the available page layouts. Themes and layouts help you to further organize and more effectively present your images. Depending on the book size and selected theme, page layouts will include full-page images for your best photos, as well as pages with two, four, six or eight frames for grouping similar shots.

8) Is your picture worth a thousand words?

Text and image captions are not required, but they can add useful details to your photo book. Include information like the date, place, name, or event if it is not readily apparent from your image. When adding text to your photo book, use the same font throughout to provide cohesiveness and place text so that it compliments your images rather than overwhelming them. Text should serve as a prompt to help you tell the story and recall the details.

9) What about the cover?

There are several cover designs to choose from in the Lulu photo book wizard. You can choose to insert a picture into a frame or select a cover that is created entirely from your image.

Regardless of the cover format you select, the image you place on the cover of your photo book should capture the feeling of the book as a whole. It can be an image included in the book or an image you select specifically for the cover. The image should be high quality and immediately identifiable with the book’s story. For example, a wedding album cover should include a picture of the happy couple, a travel album cover may include an iconic picture from the destination, and or course a baby book would include a picture of the baby on its cover.

Scrapbook supplies

Photo Books: No supplies needed

10) Keepsake albums

Like the scrapbooks of yore, today’s photo books allow you to capture, organize and present your digital memories. Instead of paper, tape and glue, you choose a theme, upload your pictures, then drag and drop them onto the page. The best part of creating a digital album is that you can experiment with different themes and page layouts until you have a photo book that’s perfect for you. A bound photo book printed on high quality photo paper is a much better way to tell the stories of your life than either that forgotten box of prints or those electronic photo galleries.

10 Things You Want to Know About Self-Publishing

The author of this article, Laura Shabott, and I were panelists at last year’s Self-Publishing Book Expo in New York City where we discussed and answered questions about book formats and formatting. Her advice is thoughtful and her tell-it-like-it-is approach is both refreshing and informative.

We all know this is a golden age for writing and publishing. Counterpoint?  The competition has never been more ferocious. With over 5,000 new book releases everyday on Amazon, today’s self-publishing author needs to be shrewd, savvy and prepared. Here are ten empowering things you need to know before entering the playing field.

1) You may write for yourself, but you publish for a defined audience.

Writing is all about you. Publishing is not. It’s about them, your future readers. Who are these people? If your quick answer is, “Well, it’s anyone who can read,” stop right there. Listen to me. You need to know who is going to read your book. Is it a professional network, your yoga students or your blog followers? Will you go to every bookstore within a hundred miles of your home and ask them to carry your book? Will you bite the bullet and plunk down 10,000 dollars for a publicist? Tough, tough question; who is my audience? Answer it and you have a book that sells.

2) Pick a book title that works with Internet algorithms.

Your title is organized by its exact words in search engines. Using the name “Confessions of an eBook Virgin” for my self-publishing guide groups it with “Confessions of a Virgin Sacrifice.” If the focus of your book (yoga, diet, novel, anthology, divorce) isn’t somewhere in your title or subtitle, it will drift aimlessly in the vast oceans of digital content.

3) Editing is EVERYTHING!

People often balk at paying for a seasoned developmental book editor or writing coach, copy editor and proofreader. So WHAT if it costs a couple of grand? Anyone can get a part-time job, but no one can reverse a sloppy book launch.  You, a David against the Goliath marketplace, have a shot at rising to the crème de la crème of books if it’s tight. Use pros to ready your manuscript for market. Skip this part and be relegated to the miles-high heap of self-published typo-filled slush.

4) Choose the formats that work for your readers.

My readers? Every last one wants a book in the hand; digital natives, baby boomers, artists, writers and actors all want that. Once I produced a paperback edition of “Confessions,” sales took off at speaking engagements and local stores. This is ironic, since the book is about publishing eBooks. But, hey, audience is King. Give them what they want.

5) Manage your time wisely.

I manage my 168 hours a week like a dragon guarding a priceless treasure. If I am going have to be my own writer/designer/producer/promoter and financier, the case for any self-publisher, I need to get the most out of every minute – and so do you.

6) Don’t rush the publication of your book.

“Oh, I don’t have to line up 25 to 100 post-launch online reviewers,” thinks the new author/publisher. Or, “I don’t have to have a blog tour or get a professional review service. People will find my book because I am amazing!” No, they won’t and you will cry bitter tears of anguish.

You have to have a marketing plan. The checklist in the back of my book is a good place to start.

7) Beware heat-seeking sharks in the water.

Do your research before hiring or trusting anyone. Get at least three referrals from people like you when going with a vanity press or any publisher who will have control of your edition. Protect your asset; that book you spent months or years on is your intellectual property. But don’t shy away from a collaborative publishing arrangement with a small or mid-size press, a growing option instead of going it alone.

8) People will say bad things about your book.

Amazon trolls, your neighbors, reviewers and friends will say idiotic things about your book. Unless they are in the writing business, in which case you will think that they are cruel. Lighten up or it will crush you.  If you keep hearing the same thing over and over (I don’t like your protagonist), then it’s a real problem that you, the author, need to fix.

9) Self-publishing gives you total control. Use it.

If, after all this work, there is a fatal flaw in your first effort, yank it. Start over. Put the title back out fixed. That is power. You are the boss of your book and anyone on your team.

10) Go Local

Take a carton of your print-on-demand edition or short run and sell directly. Canvas your own region through library talks, independent bookstores, fairs, flea markets; anywhere you can grow an audience. Going local is organic, affirming and actively engages your community in your work.

 

Takeaway: Self-publishing a good, if not great, book is a rite of passage. The experience can lead to a career in writing more books, providing support services like editing, reviewing or designing – or something totally unexpected!

Laura Shabott

Laura Shabott

Laura Shabott is a Provincetown based writer, a dynamic speaker and an empowering self-publishing consultant. She is the author of Confessions of an eBook Virgin: What Everyone Should Know Before They Publish on the Interneta five star rated primer for anyone curious about online publishing. Go to http://www.laurashabott.com, tweet @laurashabott or email laurashabott@gmail.com.

7 Questions to Ask When Converting Your Blog to a Print Book

After writing a teblog to bookchnology blog for a UK-based magazine for about three years and notching up hundreds of blog entries, I approached the magazine editor and suggested this interesting collection of articles was worthy of a book.

He immediately began asking questions, including, “Why on earth might anyone be interested in a series of blog posts collected together into a book?” He was also concerned about the complexities of publishing, but having already published with Lulu, I knew this was the least of our worries – I published the book in 2009.

Can anyone turn his or her blog into a book?

In theory yes, but there are some questions worth considering before you initiate that big WordPress download.

Is there an audience for the book?

You don’t need to do a lot of market research on this. You can publish with Lulu even if you anticipate a limited or specialized audience.

How much effort is required?

If you are doing this because you want to see your name on the spine of a book, you should consider that selecting your best posts and formatting them for the printed page will be quite a bit of work.

Will your blog work as a book?

The blog I converted to book format was mainly journalism and commentary, so I could easily imagine it on the printed page. On the other hand, turning your years of Tumblr posts into a book may be a futile exercise – and may even infringe copyright unless you personally own every image you shared. Remember, your posts may work well in the context of a blog where you might feature video clips, Instagram photos and other media that looks great when viewed on an iPad, but is not going to translate to the printed page.

Are the blog posts relevant now and in the future?

Blog content almost always features a date-stamp, which can translate to book content in an epistolary format – dated blogs in sequence – but there is an important time distinction between blogs and books.

Blogs are written and published in the now, usually referencing the exact time they were written. As time goes on, new posts may update or supersede earlier ones. As such, some of your blog entries will be completely unsuitable for use in a book because they are comments on a moment, rather than less time-bound thoughts or comments.

A book needs to be planned with a much longer shelf life than an individual blog post. When you publish a book, it is published at a moment in time and cannot be quickly updated except through new editions. In general, book content needs to be planned so that it will not become quickly dated.

Will the structure of my blog translate to a book?

It is worth viewing your blog in the round. You may have a hundred thousand words of great content, but you may end up stripping away half of that content to preserve your best posts. It is worth thinking about whether you want a literal version of your blogs in book format or whether you can do more with the text when planning how it might be read on the page. For example, you may be able to connect several blogs together and present them as longer essays.

Why should I do it?

If you are already blogging then you are a writer. Many writers have used short publications that were eventually collected together into a longer book format – The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens is one of the most famous examples. In fact, there is little to distinguish the way Dickens wrote then from a blogger today who releases short articles then collects them together into a longer book.

Posterity is as good a reason as any to take a close look at your blog to see if it might be worth publishing as a book. Even if your blog posts are individual and cannot be collected together into a coherent story, there may still be value in collecting them together. In my case, my articles from 2006-2009 that went into my “book-of-the-blog” have now been deleted from the magazine website. Now my book is the only place where they continue to live!

Mark Hillary

Author BIO

Mark Hillary is a British author, blogger and advisor on technology and globalization based in São Paulo, Brazil. He is a regular contributor to journals including The Huffington Post, Reuters, The Guardian, and Computer Weekly.

Mark live-blogged the 2010 UK General Election for Reuters. He was an official blogger at the 2012 London Olympics. He was shortlisted as blogger of the year in 2009 and 2011 by Computer Weekly magazine.

Contact Mark: www.markhillary.com (@markhillary)

Mark on Lulu: http://j.mp/lulumarkhillary