Archive for September, 2009

New theme: newspapers

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Newspapers theme

I’ve just added this new theme. It’s great, clean, simple. Select it from the Themes tab.

New Feature: Categories for Writing Samples

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Categories.jpg

By popular demand, we’ve added a categories feature to Writer’s Residence. You can now add custom categories for your writing samples in the management site. These categories will then be displayed in the Writing Samples section of your online portfolio (see image above).

To add categories, sign in to Writer’s Residence and click on the Writing Samples tab. There you will see a link for Categories.

Writing Samples | Writer_s Residence.jpg

Click on the Categories link and you’ll be taken to a screen where you can add, edit and delete categories.

Online portfolio for writers | Writer_s Residence.jpg

Once you’ve added categories, they will appear when you add and edit your writing samples. You can find them below the main sample text:

Categories-1.jpg

We hope this new feature will help you better organize your writing samples in your portfolio. Any questions? Contact support.

New server. New feature: categories

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

Hi all,

we moved the service over to our new server this morning. This should mean better service for you all. If you have any concerns about the move or notice anything that isn’t working quite right please let us know.

We’ve also introduced a categories feature for your writing samples.

In the writing samples tab you can now create categories. When you edit or create a sample you can add it to one or more categories. Any categories that contain samples will be displayed on your portfolio so that customers can filter your samples by category.

Of course you don’t have to use categories at all, it is just there if you want it.

Thanks,

Monica & Tim

Server Maintenance Upgrade

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

Tomorrow we’ll be moving servers which will require us to take the server down for an hour at most.

Why are we doing this?
We’re moving to a new server at a new hosting location so that we can provide you with better service. Our existing host is having some problems and sometimes the server is inaccessible. This is not acceptable.

What does this mean for you?
Nothing. You won’t have to change a thing. During the changeover you might experience the occasional problem. If you experience any continuing problems, please contact support@writersresidence.com and we’ll sort you out.

The switch will occur Sunday, September 27 at 7am GMT.

Get Your Brand on On

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

The latest issue of WOW! Women on Writing is all about self-promotion and features an interesting interview with children’s writer Shelli Johannes-Wells. Shelli tells us all about branding, the difference between book brands and author brands, and ways to use the internet to promote your brand.

I like her advice to new writers on getting started with a personal brand, especially this bit:

Think about yourself as a writer. What kind of writer do you want to be? Who is your audience? What do you write? What qualities connect your writing?

She suggests that new writers start by creating a platform for their brand, using a website as a starting point, and stresses that you don’t need to be published to do that:

And if you are not published yet, think about how you want to market yourself to agents and editors. How do you want to get your name out to your peers and within the industry? You can do that before you get published. I did.

Home Page.jpgOne particularly interesting bit is her critique of the interviewer’s website. Among her suggestions, Shelli advises writers to NOT use their photo on the front page of their websites, which I’m not sure that I agree with (I have mine on the front page of monicashaw.com). But she has a point:

I don’t think an author should show her picture on the front page unless she is well known (like Meg Cabot). It automatically gives readers some impression of you before they read your writing. You want the reader to focus on the writing, not you as a person. Again, you can put your picture on the About Me page.

I guess it comes down to personal preference. My personal opinion is that a photo that looks professionally done may actually do more for your cred than a generic photo of a pen or a typewriter.

In any case, her critique may help you start thinking about your personal brand and how your website can help with that. What impression are you giving editors? What’s your style?

Read the rest of the interview at Wow! Women on Writing.

Getting Things Done – For Writers, From Writers

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Someone on the Absolute Write Freelance Forums recently raised a common question: “How do you manage your time?”

As the 30+ responses demonstrate, “time management” is a popular topic, and not just for freelance writers but for anyone working for themselves. Many of us are trying to squeeze in a writing career around work, family and other life obligations. The “I don’t have time” excuse makes it far too easy to procrastinate.

But as one forum member points out, “time management for sole proprietors is critical…time is money.”

So how do successful writers get things done? To answer this question, I thought I’d share some time management tips that came out of the thread.

First thing’s first: figure out the logistics

If you’re going to make a real go at this writing thing, do everything in your power to set yourself up to succeed. Part of this is creating an environment where you know you work best.

To figure out what that means for you, Tiffany Godfrey has some excellent questions that writers should ask themselves when they first get started:

When I first started writing, I first asked myself the following questions:

1) Am I a night or morning person?

2) What items should I focus on first — blogging, ezine articles, or my book? And how often for each project?

3) How much time can I realistically devote to writing per day?

4) What non-essential activities could I eliminate from my daily activities and replace them with writing?

The power of To Do Lists

To do lists are great, provided you actually use them. One of the keys is setting your to-do list ahead of time, so you know what’s coming when you actually sit down to work.

Matt Willard likes to “set the next day’s to-do list in the evening. Helps me get up and go more quickly the next day.”

L.M. Preston is a morning person:

Every morning I write several to do lists.

– one for work
– one for home/family
– got to do homework with kids
– usually try to do something fun with them too
– one for writing
– one for exercising (I have to – I love food)

After I do this I trim it down and prioritize…

…my advice to you – start out small. Make of to do list of 1 thing you have to do everyday – set a time for doing that one thing. Then add on the high priority things that you HAVE to finish. Then check off what you have completed.

This takes time to condition yourself to do this, but it can be done.

Time blocking

Your stacks of to-do lists aren’t going to do you much good unless you actually use them. But sometimes tasks seem discouragingly monumental. “I know I’m not going to finish my novel this afternoon, so why bother starting?” And even if you do start, staying focused can also be a challenge.

Lots of writers use time blocking to help them get over these mental hurdles. It’s a great idea – isn’t 30 minutes of productivity a day better than zero?

One member pointed to an interview with Kelly Stone, author of Time to Write, who suggests using a timer:

If simply staying focused is a problem, one success strategy is to write in mini-blocks of time. Get an egg timer and set it for twenty minutes, thirty minutes, or even ten minutes. Set it, then write like mad for that amount of time, then when the timer goes off, reward yourself. Go have a cup of tea or switch the laundry or do whatever it is you think you need to do. Then, go back and write for another twenty minutes until the timer goes off again.

Jeffrey Ober, a self-proclaimed “list person”, schedules his time in blocks:

I break my work time into 1-hour blocks. Then from the 1-hour blocks, I take 10-minute breaks where I get up and wander around, aimlessly. But for each block, I’ve got just one type of thing I do during that block. I might do the same thing in more than one block, but not consecutively. Something like:

7-7:50 Magazine Queries (send, respond, dream about, write, research)
8-8:50 Textbook Writing
9-9:50 Fiction Book Writing
10-10:50 Search for other freelance work
11-11:50 Magazine Queries
12-12:50 Lunch
1-1:50 On-line Article Writing (Demand Studios, etc)
2-2:50 Marketing, Web Pages
3-3:50 Research for books or writing

etc.

I know its kind of anal, but it works for me. And I change the schedule regularly (almost daily) to keep it from getting boring.

Hide from the (virtual) world

When I want to get things done, I often isolate myself in the bedroom with the door closed. Just me and my laptop. But that only takes care of my physical distractions – let’s not forget all of the digital distractions like email, instant messenger, Twitter, etc. In that vein, here is an excellent tip from an anonymous poster:

I use Yahoo Messenger to screen e-mails instead of constantly checking it. I sign in as invisible (to cut down on friends and family instant messaging me) but can still see what e-mails come in and if they’re important enough to check out right away.

Read more

Some might argue that reading about productivity is in itself an act of procrastination. But some books and websites can really help.

Thanks to everyone at the Absolute Write Freelance Forums for all the great tips. Anything I missed? How do you make time for writing?

Your Website as a “Calling Card”

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

In writing my last blog post I happened upon the MPA’s How to Become a Freelance Writer, a 4-page PDF with some good tips for new writers.

The article includes advice on how to send clips and writing samples with query letters to editors:

Most magazine editors receive queries via e-mail, although you can send a query letter by mail or fax depending on your target magazine’s preference. When querying via e-mail, it is suggested that you use one of these formats
to send your clips:

* Copy and paste text into the bottom of your e-mail
* Send the editor links to your work at other sites
* Create your own website as a “calling card,” posting several of your articles online to show editors

Do not send an editor an e-mail attachment unless it has been
requested.
More often than not, it will be deleted, sight unseen.

One of our goals with Writer’s Residence is to give writers a place to host their writing samples so that it’s easy to send editors links to their work on the web. It’s good to hear that the MPA encourages writers to use the web in this way. I also like their “calling card” metaphor for an online portfolio. After all, online portfolios are pretty much replacing business cards as more and more writing work becomes entirely virtual.

What if My Writing Samples are Unpublished?

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

I received an excellent question today from a fellow freelance writer:

I am making my way into freelance writing and I have been rather lost as to what my first steps should be. I am very interested in setting up an online portfolio and was wondering if you could help me figure out the best way to showcase my writing samples. I haven’t yet been published and am not sure how my samples should look in order to appear professional.

Unpublished writing samples should be given the same treatment as published writing samples. Particularly:

  • Your writing sample should have its own page in your online portfolio
  • It should be displayed in plain text (not as a Word or PDF attachment)
  • The text should use a friendly font that’s easy to read

In a nutshell, you’re writing sample should look as professional as a published writing sample, but without the small detail of a publisher’s name included.

The good news is, many publications won’t mind this approach. Take this piece of encouraging advice from The Magazine Publishers of America:

When editors look at samples of your work, they are primarily interested in your writing style and mastery of journalism, rather than where the sample was published or how much you were paid.

In fact, some editors actually want to see unpublished work. For example, HowStuffWorks asks for “a mix of published writing samples and unpublished writing samples (work that has not been through an editor)” in their submission guidelines.

The other option: get published!

The email got me thinking about getting published without published writing clips, and it’s worth noting how easy it is to get published in today’s multi-media world of blogs, web copy, community newsletters, and press releases.

Getting published is not as hard as you think. In fact, you may already have published writing samples that you haven’t considered:

  • Do you have a blog? If you’re blogging is of a high enough standard, you can always use blog posts as writing samples. Here’s an example of a restaurant review I posted on my blog, and how I presented it as a writing sample in my online portfolio.
  • Have you written business reports, technical manuals, or press releases? These are perfectly legitimate writing samples. For example, I wrote a technical manual for one of my former employers and wanted to use a sample chapter as a writing sample. The chapter was in Microsoft Word format, and would have been a beast to convert to HTML. To get around this, I wrote a little blurb that described the writing sample, then a link to download the writing sample as a .doc file. You can see how I did this here.

For more ideas on writing samples, checked out a guest post I wrote for The Freshman Writer: Getting Published Without Writing Clips.

Writers’ Websites that Rock: Mark Bittman

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

Here at Writer’s Residence, we’re all about creating content and services designed to help you market your writing online. A well-presented writing website is a large part of that package. So to help you better understand what makes a good writer’s website, we’re going to start featuring writer’s websites that rock. First up: Mark Bittman.

Recipes, Food and Cooking by Mark Bittman | Mark Bittman.jpg

Food writer Mark Bittman is best known for his New York Times cooking column, The Minimalist. He also publishes web videos, has a daily blog, is the author of several cookbooks, and appears regularly on both commercial and public television, where he has his own series.

Bittman has had a pretty long career, and it might seem like a mess to consolidate it all into a website. But he’s done a very fine job of it at markbittman.com.

Here’s why his website rocks:

His URL tells you who he is

It’s a simple thing but having a good URL really matters. What if instead his url was thefoodwriter.blogspot.com? This doesn’t really tell you what sets him apart from all the other food fans out there. Furthermore, the blogspot.com address would make him seem like just another blogger.

Instead, Bittman’s opted to register his own domain name, using his own name as the url, to make it crystal clear that this website is about him. This makes his URL simple, straightforward, and totally not generic.

His website is clean and the navigation is obvious

When you visit Bittman’s website, you know immediately how to navigate to other parts of the website. Furthermore, the background is plain white and the fonts are standard making all of the text easy to read. Finally, his use of images are tasteful – he keeps images to the minimum, but uses those that are of high quality and reflect his career.

Recipes, Food and Cooking by Mark Bittman | Mark Bittman-2.jpg

His website is well organized and comprehensive

This is reflected in the navigation. He’s got all of his content separated into obvious categories: about, articles, video, recipes, schedule, gallery, contact and store. This is not only good organization, but it also provides all the information that the reader needs to know who Mark Bittman is and what his writing is all about.

Recipes, Food and Cooking by Mark Bittman | Mark Bittman-5-3.jpg

He uses his name as the title

Like the URL, he puts his name at the top of the website to make it clear that this website is all about him and his career. This is a good approach for just about any writer’s website.

Recipes, Food and Cooking by Mark Bittman | Mark Bittman-1.jpg

The front page contains obvious links to his favorites

It’s always good to call out the “highlights” of your writing portfolio on the front page of your website. That way, you point people in the direction of the work you’re most proud of. Mark Bittman does just this on the left hand side of his website.

Recipes, Food and Cooking by Mark Bittman | Mark Bittman-5-2.jpg

His writing samples are well presented and clearly organized

The Bittman Archives | Mark Bittman.jpg

The Articles page contains links to his favorite writing samples. Not only does he present the articles in a clear list, but he has a little introductory paragraph that describes them.

Here’s a selection of recent articles I’ve written, some with recipes, some not. For more stories by me in the Times, check out my Times Topics page or my blog Bitten.

This type of paragraph is good practice for writing portfolios in general – it gives people some context. Note also that Bittman uses this paragraph to link to his blog and The New York Times, which tells people how to find more writing samples if they wish to read further.

His “About” page tells his story

All writers have a story – Bittman tells his on the About Mark page.

About Me | Mark Bittman.jpg

The story gives us an idea of how he came to be a food writer and what his writing is all about. It’s brief – about five paragraphs (enough to digest on a web page without being too much). Note also that he includes a pretty nice picture of himself. It’s important – if you’re going to include a picture of yourself on your website, make sure it looks professional (even if it isn’t!).

He tells you how to buy his stuff

For all the writers out there who have books to sell, I’m often surprised by how few of them include a link to where they can buy the book on their website. Mark Bittman does this pretty clearly by including a Store with links to where readers can buy his books on Amazon and BN.com.

Store | Mark Bittman.jpg

His contact details are easy to find

Every writer’s website should make their contact information easy to find so editors can get in touch with those high paying gigs. Mark does this on his Contact page, also including a link to his agent.

Contact | Mark Bittman-1.jpg

Tell us what you really think…

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Hi,

we’ve added a feedback forum to discuss new features or anything you’d like to see us fix or change.

Dashboard | Writer_s Residence-2.png

We can’t always promise that we’ll make the changes you’re looking for but we’re very keen to hear how you’re using the system and how we can make it better.

Our over-arching goal with Writer’s Residence is to make it very easy for writers to create a portfolio site that editors want to see.  We’re not going to be able to be all things to all people but I’m confident that we can be more things to our customers who value this goal.

You can active the feedback forum by clicking the red feedback tab on the left hand side of management screen pages once you’re logged in.

Thanks very much,

-Tim