• Writing Tips

    Hand writing or keyboard tapping? Which is best?

    Do you prefer the creative connection of putting favourite pen to beautiful notebook OR the speed and efficiency of onscreen typing?

    Putting pen to pagePutting pen to notebook

    • You can write anywhere with a notepad and pen
    • When friends and family know you are a writer they tend to buy you notebooks! And if they don’t you can indulge your love of stationery.
    • Waterstones and Paper Chase do some lovely notebooks.
    • You write more slowly and have more time to think about it
    • You get a truer connection to yourself and your deepest thoughts
    • Fiction, which is more of a creative process, may lend itself better to hand writing.
    • Putting pen to paper is a more fluid experience
    • Going back through what you’ve written and making changes can get very messy

    The cool efficiency of screen typing

    • Quicker if you can type at a reasonable speed. If you are still at the two fingers stage it might be worth doing an online touch typing course e.g. www.typingclub.com
    • typing
    • Easier to go back and edit
    • If you hand write you will still have to type it up making that process even longer (although speech to text software may help with this.)
    • Non-fiction might lend itself more so to typing as it is a more structured form of writing
    • To ensure you don’t lose anything you have written make sure you back up. I use Dropbox so my files are available to me on any computer. So, if like Louis de Bernières you lose your laptop with 4 chapters of a brand new novel on it, you will not lose your work too (as he did).


    So which do I advocate?

    I do both.

    I love scribbling in a cafe as I watch the world go by and I always have a notebook with me wherever I go. So if the mood takes me, I’m ready to go.
    I have Dragon software which enables me to talk my work into a Word document but I can’t honestly recommend this as there are always mistakes in every sentence. The danger is that it will type something that is not what you said but that is correct grammatically and spelt accurately so that spell check doesn’t pick it up. So you have to read it back with a beady eye.
    By the time you have corrected the piece, it most definitely isn’t quicker but it does cut down on the amount of typing which for those who are still at the two fingers stage is a bonus!

    If I’m at home I tend to go straight to a computer. I have a writing desk set up downstairs in the living room which looks out onto the summer room and the garden beyond so I have a nice view!

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  • Writing Tips

    The power of writing your own story

    My friend Julie Willard read my novel, Unlikely Neighbours, and then gave me Hidden Talents by Erica James to read. 

    ‘Have you thought about writing more? she asked me. Looking at the near-500 pages in my hand, I realised she meant a longer novel. (Mine is around 200 pages.)

    It was a question, I pondered, as I read Hidden Talents.

    I really enjoyed the book. The characters became like friends, all well penned and I felt I pretty much knew them by the end. The storylines, whilst quite dramatic in places, are gentle with you and everyone turns out to be basically good even if they have had their moments.

    Woman with book in parkIt is about a group of writers who meet once a week and, to that extent, it was very interesting for me as I started writing in the same way. Dulcie is a retired sixty-something and decides to advertise for local writers to join her on Thursday evenings. As they read their work to each other, you hear storylines of infidelity, marriage breakup, romance and dramas various.

    One thing that struck me about the newbie writers was that they were writing their life stories.  They say that to begin with you should write about what you know, and this was definitely a case of that.  It meant that the members of the writers group inadvertently got to know each other through their life stories.

    I thought about my own writers group and wondered if the same thing had happened. Perhaps it did but in my naivety, I hadn’t realised. Although, John’s book, which was a sci-fi thriller seemed an unlikely scenario for his own life! However, his book on the struggles in Northern Ireland which started in the late 1960s was more likely to be a cathartic scribbling, as he grew up during the troubles.

    When you write from experience you write from the heart and this makes your work more powerful. Whilst it doesn’t have to be a completely true story, many people’s ‘real’ story is rich material to draw upon.

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  • Writing Tips

    First draft complete? Now for the edit…

    When you’ve finished your first draft and you’re happy with it – let the editing begin!

    The good news is that you can’t do all this yourself; you need to get some help. The bad news is that you still have quite a bit of work to do.

    So here are some top tips:Attract readers for your book

    1. Check for consistency

    I keep an Excel spreadsheet going from the minute I start the book and for each chapter I note all the significant things that happen, and also any character features that are mentioned.

    Another tool that might be helpful is a character reference sheet which you would create for each person making a note of hair/eye colour and any particular traits.

    You may find it helpful to look for images online of people that best represent your characters. Alternatively you might like to think of the famous actors who might play the parts when your book is made into a film!

    I’ve decided that the character, Birch, in Forever Lucky would be played by Bill Nighy – mainly because I’ve got a bit of a thing about Bill. Did I mention that?

    2. Grammar – keep it simple

    The main thing is to use commas and full stops correctly to aid the reader. Long sentences may leave the reader breathless if there are no commas. A comma is a pause. It also helps the reader to make sense of it.

    Semi-colons – make sure you know how to use them before you start littering your work with them. Here’s a good example:

    We have paid our dues; we expect all the privileges listed in the contract.

    The bits before and after the semicolon support each other.

    3. Formatting

    Make sure you use consistent fonts for chapter headings etc, and the same amount of indents spacing for paragraphs.

    4. The Story

    Make sure you clearly have a beginning, a middle and an end to your story.  Be sure, you can pinpoint these three sections.

    5. Don’t switch tenses

    The easiest way of doing it is just stick to the past tense throughout.

    6. Get someone you trust to read it through

    Ask them to read it with a critical eye for consistency and grammar.

    Note: whilst you might listen to their feedback on particular characters or the plot line, this is really your domain and so consider any comments they have carefully and decide whether or not you, as the writer, want to make the change and how you want to make it.

    7. Cut out the dead wood

    For each section, ask yourself:  Do I really need this?

    It is important that each chapter moves the story along in some way to keep the reader interested.

    Avoid overly long and wordy sentences.

    Take out any repetition i.e. where a piece of the story is re-told in dialogue or by the narrator. We only need to hear it once.


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  • Writing Tips

    How do I get my book on Kindle?

    There are three stages, and the first one is by far the most challenging! Sorry, I don’t make the rules.

    1. You need to take your draft or manuscript (as it is often called) and turn it into a format that Kindle will accept.
    2. You need to have a front cover for your book in JPEG format. You’re probably familiar with JPEG format as it is commonly used for digital photographs and other graphics.
    3. You need to open a Kindle account. Easy peasy when you know how.

    This blog is just going to address the first stage which is: Converting your manuscript into a suitable format for Kindle E-book
    Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) will accept the following file formats:

    • Word (DOC or DOCX)
    • HTML (ZIP, HTM, or HTML)
    • MOBI (MOBI)
    • ePub (EPUB)
    • Rich Text Format (RTF)
    • Plain Text (TXT)
    • Adobe PDF (PDF)

    Amazon says (not me) that for best results, you should upload in DOC/DOCX (.doc/.docx) or HTML (.html) formats.

    So how do you go about it?

    Option 1: Amazon has a free step-by-step guide on how to do it yourself.

    If you decide to go down this route you need to be aware that it can be quite tricky, and if you don’t get it absolutely correct there are likely to be errors in the Kindle version of your book. Anyone buying your Kindle book will have seven days during which they can return it for a full refund. The most commonly cited reason for returning books is poor formatting. So it needs to be spot on.
    Having said that, once you’ve uploaded your file to Kindle, you have the opportunity to view it as it will appear on various mobile devices, including a Kindle and an ipad. In order to do this you have to download a piece of software from Amazon. The download you need is right there on the page when you get to this bit so it’s easy. I would highly recommend doing this, as it costs nothing, apart from your time, and it means that you can be sure that what you are putting out there is correct, and how you want it.

    Click here for your free guide Building Your Book for Kindle 

    Option 2: What I did: buy Scrivener software from Literature and Latte

    This is what I did. It costs $40 (about £25) at the time of writing, and you upload your manuscript to Scriviner so that you can output it as a Mobi file (see list above). Scriviner is an award winning writing tool and is used by writers to produce novels, non-fiction, scripts for plays and more. It makes formatting and editing your manuscript easier and will compile your novel, for example, for Kindle as well as other medium. Originally it was designed for Mac users but there are versions for Windows as well as Mac users now.
    Literature and Latte have support forums which can help you when you get stuck.

    Option 3: You can also pay someone who offers a conversion service.

    I’m afraid I can’t recommend anyone at this stage as I haven’t used such a service but I will let you know if I find someone.

    That gives you a flavour for the different routes and I will explore this topic more in the weeks to come as I produce my own Kindle edition of Forever Lucky, my next novel.

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  • Writing Tips

    The advantages of publishing on Kindle

    E-books are good news for authors as, for the first time, you can get a reasonable level of royalty per book sold, which is difficult through print distribution.

    E-bookThe numbers add up

    • It’s a very fast and efficient way of getting your book in front of literally millions of readers all round the world.
    • There are no setup fees to start selling a book on Kindle.
    • There is no printed item therefore, no print cost.
    • There is no delivery cost – Amazon will deliver the book to the customer for you.
    • As long as you’re willing to charge at least $2.99 for each book sold, you will receive a royalty of 70% from Amazon.


    A ready-made worldwide audience

    • Amazon has millions of customers all searching on their website for   books.
    • You are not restricted geographically to selling your books – the world is your oyster.
    • You can publish in multiple languages: English, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Japanese.


    Publishing made easy

    Publishing your book on Amazon is quick and easy, and your book will appear within 24 hours. You can make changes to your book and republish it on Kindle at any time and at no cost! The new version will be available very quickly. For example, you might want to change your contact details or update a particular section of a non-fiction book that has become out of date. You can promote additional books in your Kindle book with links – when someone gets to the end of a book, if they have enjoyed it, they will be very open to finding out about other books you have written. Particularly with fiction, once a reader is hooked on an author they are likely to want to read more.

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  • Writing Tips

    How do you research ideas for your non-fiction book?

    Okay, so you want to write a non-ficton book and you know you need to do some research first, but how do you go about it?

    First of all look at what genre you are going to write in

    You may already know which genre you want to write in, but it is worth having a look at how Amazon categorise books.Amazon Categories for Books

    This table on the right shows all the different genres on Amazon at the time of writing, and how many books are in each one so you can see how popular your field is:

    In some ways this shows you how accepted your type of book might be. However, it also shows which genres are highly competitive, i.e. already have very many books written on the subject.

    Whatever you do, it is better to write for a niche market than trying to write a book which will have mass-market appeal.

    There are many books written on diet and fitness, for example, and another book on this subject would meet with a lot of competition and you would struggle to make it work.  However, if you wrote a book, which was aimed at women over 50 wanting to improve their fitness, you would have a greater chance of success, because your book will resonate with that particular target audience.

    There are three important things to consider when choosing your subject:

    1. What do you feel passionate about? What do you have a strong desire to write about?
    2. What do you have a broad knowledge of?
    3. What will there will be a demand for?


    Choosing your subject

    • Firstly, think about what you know most about.
    • What are your strengths?
    • What qualifications do you have?
    • What do people tend to ask you for advice on?

    Also, think about what your friends and relatives know about; the expertise that one of them has, that you could draw on for your book. For example, you might want to write a book on the health of women over 50 and you may know someone who is an expert on the menopause.  Your friend could contribute their expertise to your book as the menopause might be one aspect you wanted to cover of the health of women over 50. You can then credit, your friend in the book so that you are highlighting their expertise and therefore helping them to promote what they do.

    Okay, so you’ve got your idea now you want to know if there’s a demand for it

    Google has a Keywords tool which will tell you what keywords (around your subject) people are searching for and how many searches there are each month for a particular keyword or phrase. It will also tell you how competitive that keyword is.

    To use the tool you need to open a Google Adwords account which is easy to do especially if you already have a login for Google e.g. Gmail. It doesn’t cost anything to open an account and use the tool. Only if you start setting up Adwords campaigns would you pay anything and you don’t have to do that.

    When you are in your Google Adwords account go to the Tools tab and then select:

    Search for new keyword and adgroup ideas

    Type your keywords in the ‘Your product or service box

    You can leave the rest of the boxes blank. If you wish, you can change the locations you are targeting from the whole world to UK only or you can leave it worldwide if that’s appropriate

    Click on ‘Get Ideas’

    When the results come up choose the Keywords ideas tab at the top and click on:

    Average Monthly Searches

    This will sort the keywords from those with the most number of searches per month down to those with the least.


    When I type in:  How to write and get published

    The highest number of searches is for:

    Keyword / phrase Avg. monthly searches Competition

    how to write a book
    49,500 Medium

    creative writing
    33,100 Medium

    how to write a novel
    18,100 Low

    So, if I were to write a book entitled, how to write a novel, the number of searches would be lower, but the competition is low, and so I am more likely to come at the top of the searchHow many readers will your book have?
    result. This demonstrates how being more specific can pay off.

    Finally, to really know how much competition there is for your subject go to Amazon and type your title/keywords into the search box (having selected Books) and see what comes up.

    If there are lots of books on your subject, see if you can come up with a unique angle or work out a niche group for which you tailor the subject and aim it at your smaller selected audience.

    Now you should have a great idea for your book, a title and enough excitement to start writing! Let me know how you get on. Email: words@gillbuchanan.co.uk

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  • Writing Tips

    Maximise your book sales on Amazon

    Attract readers for your book

    When you have your book on Amazon there are a number of things you can do on your sales page to increase your chances of sales. Some of these need to be thought about well before you start publishing.

    1. Choose the right title for your book

    The best titles are the ones that come up top in people’s searches on Google and Amazon.

    So, for example, for my non-fiction book, I could use one of the following:

    • How to write and get published in the UK
    • How to write and get published: A Guide for new writers
    • How to write and get published:  The Ultimate Guide UK

    All three of these titles start the same way, i.e. with the phrase that potential customers are likely to type into a search box.

    Any one of these titles should give you top billing for a search on Amazon or Google and other search engines as they all closely match the phrase that someone might type in.

    Also, the titles are easy to understand and tell the customer exactly what the book is about and what it will do for them.

    If you are not sure which phrases potential customers might put in to find your book, you can use the Google keyword planner to find out which relevant phrase is searched for by the most number of people.


    1.  Front cover design

    Think about what your customers would want to see. Remember the cover will appear in a small icon when it shows up in searches so the image of the front cover needs to stand out and you need to be able to clearly see what the title is.

    Keep the cover simple, and make it look like a quality book.


    1.  Book description

    The most important thing to include in your book description is: what is the main theme of the book.

    You may want to include your chapter titles which are, after all, a summary of what is in your book so this might prove very useful to any potential buyers.

    Write the description in the third person, present tense and write it as if you are talking to the reader.

    The ideal length for the description is between 150 and 200 words.  When people are searching online for something to buy, they don’t want to spend ages reading lots of information. They want, the key facts and quickly.  They may well look at some of your reviews as well, which may well be more important to them than reading your description.

    For search engine optimisation, it is good to repeat the title of the book at least two times, maybe three.

    It is also helpful to use emotive words, at around 5 to 10 per description.

    Some examples of emotive words that might work well for a non-fiction book are:

    Amazing, belief, bravery, cheer, courage, defiance, delight, excited, eye-opening, fearless, happy, heart, magic, mind blowing, spectacular, spirit, surprising, uplifting, wonderful.

    Write the description as if you are the publisher, not the author.  This might help you to sell the book and blow your own trumpet!


    1.  Book reviews, and Amazon verified purchases

    Book reviews will have a big impact on the number of books you sell.  So it is very important that you write and publish a book that deserves good reviews.  As long as you have a high quality book, you will get positive reviews. It is far better to have genuine reviews than using any underhand means. I would recommend encouraging all your readers to leave a review on Amazon (and your own website) to increase the total number that you get.

    Each review, you receive will state that it is by an Amazon verified purchaser, when the customer has bought their book on Amazon or Kindle. The more Amazon verified purchaser (APV) reviews you get the better.


    1. Your book’s ranking.

    Your ranking will not have any impact on the conversion rate, (i.e., whether or not somebody buys it) as most customers are not aware of it.

    However, as an author, book ranking is very important as, if you manage to reach the top 100 of any category on Amazon, you are automatically a bestseller in their eyes. You can use this bestseller status to boost sales of your book.

    The way Amazon rank books is quite complicated and ever-changing, and I’m not going to go into it in detail here.  Suffice as to say that it is worth trying to get into the top 100!


    1. Frequently bought together (FBT)

    On any sales page for the book on Amazon they have other titles that are ‘frequently bought together’ with this particular book.  Usually there are three other books and a special price for buying all three. The more times your book is listed with another book in the FBT area, the better.  Once you’ve achieved this, sales will increase significantly.  And if you manage to get your book listed on the FBT section with another bestseller, you should see a big increase in sales.


    1. Customers who bought this also bought

    This section comes under the FBT section on the sales page and is a long row of books that have been bought by customers, who also got the book on the sales page. Obviously, it is an advantage to appear in this section, but as there are numerous books, it might be difficult for yours to stand out. When your book has been chosen from this section a number of times, it will move up to the FBT section, which is the best place to be.


    1. Your Amazon author page

    As an author, you are missing a trick if you don’t create your Amazon author page as this is free to do and can only be of benefit.

    To create an author profile, go to: https://authorcentral.amazon.co.uk

    The benefits of an author page are:

    • it will help you build trust with your customers and readers
    • the customer can see the real person behind the book and so are more likely to buy
    • you can add a photograph, a biography, even a video, and also link your Twitter account (so that your tweets appear on your Amazon author profile).
    • all the books that you have written will automatically appear on this page and you will be able to see any relevant statistics.

    If you find my novel, Unlikely Neighbours, on Amazon you will see a link on my name, Gill Buchanan, which takes you to my author profile. Here you will see how I have created my author profile, and this is the biography that I have on there:


    My name is Gill Buchanan and I discovered my love of creative writing in my forties. I was lucky enough to have been inspired and encouraged by a local writers’ group in the early days, who wrote short stories and novels whilst eating cake and drinking coffee. Fuelled by many lattes, l have so far published one novel and written two more which will be published soon! My stories tackle modern-day dilemmas with a gentle humour that resonates with many women and somewhat surprisingly, quite a few men.

    I also write a blog as I love helping others to write and get published by sharing my own experience. The blog (at www.gillbuchanan.co.uk) includes my journey to writing a non-fiction book and the resulting book will be published in 2015. This is to help any self-employed entrepreneurs who might find showcasing their experience in a book both rewarding and valuable.

    I live in rural Kent with my husband, Tony, and my cat, Gracie. A favourite pastime is sitting in a good café and scribbling away to create my next novel – but then you’ve guessed that!



    Note that the biography is relatively short at 184 words; anything between 150 and 200 words is good.  It is written as if I am talking to the person reading it which makes it more friendly.

    I’ve included, who I am; a bit of background; how I came to writing; and the aim of my blog.

     As a non-fiction author, it is important that you include:

    • something personal about yourself so the reader feels they are getting to know you
    • any experience qualifications or background that is relevant to your subject
    • how your books will be of benefit to the reader

    You can always look up other non-fiction authors that you admire, perhaps one in the same genre as yourself, to see what they have on their author profile and to get ideas.


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  • Writing Tips

    I’ve got a great idea for a non-fiction book.. or is it? Find out here.

    Testing your idea for your non-fiction bookHow would you describe your book idea in 50 words?

    Think of this as an elevator pitch that you use at networking meetings or with anyone you want to share your idea with. What will be on the back cover that will entice customers to buy it?
    Take my idea for a non-fiction book which will have a title, something like:

    ‘How to publish a non-fiction book to give your business a boost’

    By the way, starting your title with ‘How to…’ is a good thing as it makes you answer a need that some people have.

    So, in 50 words:

    Writing and self-publishing a book to showcase your expertise is one of the best ways

    to promote your business and achieve success.

    This book is a step-by-step guide, in plain English, with any jargon explained,

    to help you easily publish a book that you are proud of.

    Who will want to read your book?

    Define your target audience.  Where are they? Are they tweeting on twitter? Perusing bookshops wearing anoraks? Holed up in monasteries trying to find inner peace?  At the school gate?
    How many of them are there?  Are there enough to make it worth your while?

    What’s the competition?  Is there an established author who’s already written a bestseller on the same subject?  If there is nothing on your subject out there, is there a demand for it?  (Go back to number two and find these people.)

    It’s worth remembering that you are unique, and you may well have a different perspective on a subject that has not been written about before.  The important thing is to do it better than others.

    Map out your content first.

    Make sure you have the right amount of information for the length of book you want to achieve.

    Use mind mapping as you brainstorm ideas. Once you have lots of ideas, put them into some sort of order, which will form your table of contents.  This will give you a plan for your book.

    Write a synopsis for each chapter

    Under each heading in your table of contents, write a short paragraph, which will be an overview of what that chapter contains.

    This will give you a clearer picture of what your book will be and will help you to complete your planning. When you can see that the book is ‘real’ you will be motivated to start writing!

    Don’t wait – Start building awareness of your book as you write it

    Don’t wait until you have a printed copy in your hand. But start talking about it at networking meetings and on social media platforms, as well as amongst your friends and family. This way, by the time it’s published, it will be hotly awaited.

    Do you need to add to your expertise to write your book?

    This might just be about research, visiting libraries etc.. Or it might be that you want to consult an expert who would contribute to the book. You can all always acknowledge their contribution in your forward. For example, if you were writing about a health issue you might want to consult a doctor for the latest medical thinking.

    Are there any spin-off books you could write?

    The more books you write, the more books you will sell.  In marketing circles, the question asked is “has it got legs?” This means are there any other subjects on the same theme that you could write about.

    So in my example, where I am writing about how to publish a non-fiction book, spinoffs might be:

    • how to write and publish a fiction book
    • how to market your non-fiction book
    • how to market your fiction book
    • the role of social media in promoting your books

    How will you publish your book?

    If you choose the self publishing route, once you have got to this stage, you can go ahead and start writing.

    If you choose the traditional publishing route, only write a couple of chapters and create a book proposal, which will include all the information you have put together as a result of this blog.  Submit your book proposal to agents and publishers. Good luck!

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