18 August 2011

New website

I have recently revamped the main website, accessible here, so feel free to browse around to get a feel for it and any feedback good or bad is appreciated.

9 August 2011

The importance of a backup (and Dropbox)

Backing up is something that most people know they should do, but for one reason or another don't do it. Some find the process too complicated, see it as unnecessary (how likely is the computer to crash anyway, right?) or can't justify the expense of a hard drive.

This morning i sat down at the laptop to start my day's work and was instead confronted with a blue screen that said Windows had to shut down to prevent serious damage. When it rebooted it refused to log me onto my profile, taking me to a temporary user profile instead. The upshot of this is that i haven't been able to access my documents, files, email client or bookmarks all day.

Fortunately I have a spare PC that a month or so ago i sat down with to 'mirror' the other one, using a Firefox sync add-on my tabs, bookmarks etc are synced across computers and my phone, my email client is setup with IMAP so all folders and mail are downloaded into the folders i created on the other machine, and both have Dropbox. I also do a nonstop backup using Acronis, which backs up any changed file in real-time.

Despite these precautions my day has been seriously altered because i've had to work on fixing my main computer. Nonetheless, in between running one check after another, I have been able to be on the PC and use Dropbox to access all my work files, allowing me to do my work without worrying about it only being on the one computer that's kicking up a fuss after only 7 months.

The lesson here is take precautions - it is far cheaper and quicker to be prepared than to wait for the inevitable and then buy a new computer. Just yesterday i purchased a 1TB hard drive for just £50 from Amazon, and the portable 500GB one i have permanently connected will now be cheaper than that. So that's 1,500GB of backup space for less than £100. It takes moments to create an automatic backup setting, and Dropbox (or Microsoft's Skydrive if you prefer) is free with 2GB space, syncing to their website and any computer or device you install the program. This allows you immediate access to any folder you tell it to sync, regardless of what machine you are on.

Don't put it off any longer - you never know when the fateful day will come, take less than an hour out of your day to create that failsafe and rest easy in the knowledge that when the computer dies, your work will live on.

7 August 2011

What do eBooks Really Mean For Publishing?

Yesterday I read this article about an author named Amanda Hocking, who has no publisher but sells 100,000 copies of her book a month on the Kindle for between 99cents and three dollars. What interested me most was the comments, with many people there saying this is the end for publishing and that the future lies squarely in digital.

I spent the evening pondering this. Was it true? What will happen in the long term? Could the industry really just die? And what would it all mean for someone like me, a humble editor?

Despite having self-published in the past, the concept is now somewhat worrying to me. With a reported 98% of submitted manuscripts rejected from publishers, there are many authors out there wanting to get their work known. Whereas previously there was very little or nothing these people could do to get their work released, now they can just sell it as an ebook. This is fine in itself, of course; it means good work can be found and purchased, with the author earning higher percentages from their work and consumers spending less. The problem that i see is, in my experience, a lot of those books get rejected for a good reason; indeed as my position now as a self-employed editor, i see a lot of books that require much work before being in a publishing-ready state. And looking at the comments from the article, there seem to be some people who take rejection far too personally and will now be able to release their book while believing it needs no work - and trust me, every book needs work from a detached party before it should be sold.

Where am i going with this? Simple: the daunting reality is that scores of authors will dump their work into cyberspace to be downloaded immediately and at low cost, while possibly bypassing editors. Not only will countless books be bured in obscurity by sheer weight of volume of titles on the market, but there will be a marked increased in the number of poorly written books now available, thanks to authors being able to sell their work commerically without professional advice, an edit or even a proofread. What happens when everyone is a writer and can sell their book with one click? I predict an increase in volume and a decrease in quality.

Is this how it has to be, though? Frankly, i think no, it doesn't. For a start, in no way do i think the traditional book is going anywhere. Sure, sales may decline but an even plateau will probably be reached at some point, in the same way that people can download music legally but CDs still exist. This works for authors too, because there is a definite sense of pride from seeing your book available in print as well as digitally, and it's an avenue many writers will continue to pursue.

That being said, however, this is a transition period for the publishing companies and they do need to adapt to the modern age. Whether they like it or not they need to update their modus operandi to incorporate the new way of writing, selling, marketing and, ultimately, buying. When all is said and done, the only reason writers will ever self-publish is because they either get nowhere with publishers or they don't think they're getting a good deal.

In my opinion, publishing companies need to embrace the Internet. This does not just mean offer their books on the Kindle or have an email address. If there's one thing that authors really need publisher for it's marketing - with no marketing, no one will be aware of a book's existence, and with no budget it is tough to advertise. So publishers need to utilise viral marketing campaigns, create an author bio page on the publisher's website, perhaps offer reduced-price digital copies, and generally create a new method of working that unites old with new.

Publishing will not die, but it can make an effort now to change ways in order to keep flourishing. Right now the entire book industry is in turmoil, not just the publishers but also the book stores, so now is a time when the entire system can be recreated in a way that will benefit the author more than it does currently while simultaneously securing a strong future for the publishing companies. If things remain unchanged for too long then it may be difficult to regain much mindshare and confidence, but by showing a commitment now to being flexible and adaptable, we could see an end to the war-of-words between ebooks and physical books, instead seeing them coexist without hyperbole about one killing the other.

1 August 2011

Guest Post by Stef Gonzaga - Writing Perfect Web Content

If you're interested in diving in to the freelance writing business, excellent!

Writing for the web (and for an online audience) is now one of the most popular industries freelance writers thrive in. This is because:
  • Millions of people use the internet to find information about, well, anything that interests them.
  • Companies want to reach out to these people through digital marketing.
But what most writers do not realize is that writing for the web is completely different as writing for print. With print, you're inclined to be creative, powerful with vocabulary, and are able to relate to your readers in large paragraphs.

With web content, it's almost the complete opposite. And it has more to do with who you're writing for than the writing itself

Good vocabulary and creativity are certainly key elements of good writing, but there's something you need to know about the audience you're writing to: they don't have the time in the world to read your stuff.

With web content, readers skim, scan, and will jump from your article to another if they think you're blabbering too much. They are so distracted with everything else on the page that their eyes dart in diagonal directions. To solve this, you need to create content that will keep their eyes still and their attention engaged in what you wrote.

With this in mind, here are 5 basic tips to help you create engaging content:
  1. Research before anything else. Before you even begin typing up your first draft, gather as much information as you can about your topic. Don't just depend on stock knowledge or on your personal musings. If it's an article meant to inform, it should supply enough facts to support your statements.

  2. Enclose your ideas in short paragraphs. Most articles and blog posts published online contain paragraphs that are between 1-3 sentences. You can even leave a single sentence as a paragraph if it can stand on its own.

  3. Use natural and understandable language. As much as you'd like to sound creative, intelligent, and knowledgeable through your vocabulary, your audience won't appreciate it as much. Try to write in a direct and straight-to-the-point manner. Here's a trick: Use words you'd normally use in a personal conversation.

  4. Write properly. Nothing turns a reader off than bad writing, and we all know what bad writing is. Terrible grammar, comma abuse, misspelling, subject-verb disagreements, and so much more. Content will always be king in web content, so if you want your clients to keep hiring you, you have to at least know how to write properly.

  5. Engage readers with media. Inserting images and videos that support your topic will certainly interest your readers. Just make sure to use media that can explain your topic further.

Writing for the web takes practice, especially when you're not used to such brevity or consistently writing in the 2nd or 3rd person point of views. But as you continue to learn and grow as a freelance writer, you'll be able to produce engaging and informative content that will be of great use to your clients.

Stef Gonzaga is a freelance writer who has provided original content to many online locations. You can learn more about her and her work from her website http://journal.stefgonzaga.com/pages/about-stef or follow her on Twitter @stefgonzaga