• 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

    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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