Archive for the ‘Tips and Tricks’ Category

How to Increase Traffic to Your Website

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Traffic: it’s one of the most sought after commodities on the web, both for our Writer’s Residence users, and for anyone with a website or blog. So how do you increase traffic to your web site? This was the subject of a recent thread on the Absolute Write forums. Amongst the ideas:

  • Participate in forums
  • Post enticing links on Twitter
  • Leave comments on other people’s blogs
  • Publish interviews with people in your niche

It all boils down to two pretty basic things: post high quality content and develop relationships with people in your niche. Although some may argue that you can do some fancy stuff with search engines and key words, there really is no magical, automated way to get your website out to the masses.

The best way is to be consistent, and genuine.

I like how writer Lisa Spangenberg puts it:

You increase traffic to your blog by writing well…by participating in the conversation…by saying interesting things expressed well… Ultimately, it’s all about the quality of the conversation and the quality of the writing.

I love that the web has transformed marketing from a PR-driven chore to something fun, creative and social. It’s truly a great time to be a writer!

HOWTO: Adding a video clip to a writing sample

Friday, November 12th, 2010

We often get queries about adding video clips to Writing Samples.

For this we recommend using a specialist video hosting service like YouTube or Vimeo, they’re specially geared up to host video, both encoding it nicely for the web and they have lots and lots of bandwidth so your videos will load quickly on your reader’s computers.

To add a video into your Writer’s Residence site follow the steps below:

1. Create an account at a video hosting provider

2. Upload your video

3. Find the embed code they supply for putting a video in another site

4. Log in to Writer’s Resisdence and add that embed code into the body of your new writing sample and fill out the rest of the fields

5. Click save and view your writing sample.

Hope this helps and as ever, do get in touch if you have any questions.



A sidebar for your Writer’s Residence blog

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

Lots of blogs have sidebars with blog rolls, Twitter feeds or search bars etc.

I’ve added a blog sidebar feature for WR that you can get to by clicking on the Blog tab in the management screens and the clicking Blog sidebar in the grey submenu.

That is a markdown enabled field that will show up in the right hand side of your blog page.

I’ve added a blog roll, Google Custom search and a Twitter widget to mine:

The blog roll is just a markdown list of links to my friend’s websites:

**Blog Roll**

* [Monica](
* [Tim](
* [Henry](

Here are some notes on where to find the search and Twitter widgets to add to your sidebar.

Google Custom Search
– click the ‘Create a Custom Search Engine’ at the top right of the page
– enter your Writer’s Residence website address into the ‘Sites to search box’
– click through next to get the script to copy and paste into your sidebar

Twitter Widget
– choose Dimensions and then click the auto width check box
– the finish and grab code button gives you the script to copy and paste into your sidebar

Please note that you can also add comments to your blog using a service called Disqus. You can find more about that here:

Formatting poetry in Writer’s Residence

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

Formatting poetry isn’t as straight forward as we’d like it to be. The Internet seems to have been created by engineers rather than poets. Designed with prose in mind.

You can format poetry, it just requires a couple of tweaks.

When you want to break a line hit the space bar twice at the end of the line and press enter.

When you want to break a paragraph press enter twice at the end of the line.

So for example:

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose[space][space][enter]
That’s newly sprung in June;[space][space][enter]
O my Luve’s like the melodie[space][space][enter]
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.[enter]
As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,[space][space][enter]
So deep in luve am I:[space][space][enter]
And I will luve thee still, my dear,[space][space][enter]
Till a’ the seas gang dry:[enter]

If you want help with the formatting of a specific poem send it over via email and we can help out.

Updates to the Writer’s Residence blogging tool

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

We’ve had a blog feature in beta for a couple of months.

I’ve just added a couple of new features:

  1. Pagination: your blogs will now show 10 posts per page and there is are pager links at the bottom of the screen. This is also true in the Writer’s Residence management screens.
  2. Disqus comments: I’ve added an integration with a blog comment service called Disqus. This will let you add comments to your Writer’s Residence blog by signing up for the free Disqus service and then updating your Writer’s Residence settings to let us know what your Disqus “site shortname” is.

Pagination is pretty self explanatory and is a common feature in all blogs but getting Disqus commenting up and running needs a little further explanation.

Setting up Disqus comments for Writer’s Residence is a two step process.

First, Disqus is a third-party service so you need to create an account with them. Sign up at the Disqus registration page and take note of the site shortname you enter when you create your account, you’ll use this to tell Writer’s Residence about your Discus account.

Now, log in to Writer’s Residence, click the “Settings” link at the top right corner and then click the “Blog comments” link. Enter your Disqus “site shortname” in the box and click “Save”.

Your Writer’s Residence blog now has comments!

Samples of Query Letters That Work

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

I don’t know about you, but I learn best from examples. This is especially true of query letters.

Whenever I sit down to write a pitch, my first stop is usually the Pitches that worked thread on the JournoBiz forums, where writers post the full details of their successful pitches, publisher and all. I could read “how to pitch” articles until I’m blue in the face, but it’s examples like these that best help me figure out how to style and structure my pitch for specific publications.

Here are a few more examples of query letters for magazine articles and book manuscripts that I’ve found around the web, plus a bonus sample query letter of my own that resulted in a commission from a magazine. Hope this helps – and happy pitching!

Sample Query Letters for Magazine Articles:

For an entire book on the subject, check out The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock. I can also recommend Jenna Gatzer’s Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer and Linda Jones’ The Greatest Freelance Writing Tips in the World, both of which have great example of magazine pitches that worked.

Sample Query Letters for Book Manuscripts:

More examples of query letters for book queries can be found in The Sell-Your-Novel Toolkit by Elizabeth Lyon.

My Query That Worked:

This pitch got me into VegNews magazine last year. To give you some reference, VegNews previously ran a piece on vegetarian travel in London in 2002, hence the reference in my pitch.

Dear [editor’s first name],

Things have changed since Alex Bourke first published “Vegetarian London” in 2002. With the Olympics coming in 2012, London is scrambling to clean up its act: parks are cleaner, farmers’ markets are everywhere, and restaurants are putting more emphasis on locally sourced organic ingredients. As a result, London is better than ever for the vegetarian traveler.

Are you interested in an updated piece on London for VegEscapes? I propose an article that covers the following:

* Picnic in the Park
* Dining on a Double-decker Bus
* Market Madness
* Cycling on the Southbank
* Beer and a Curry
* Haute Veg
* Budget Lunch Break

As a vegetarian who lives and works in London, I can provide an insider’s view on this fabulous city, including photos. You can read samples of my writing at the link below.

Please let me know your thoughts. I look forward to hearing from you!

Best regards,

Monica Shaw

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


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
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.

How to Display Writing Samples on the Web

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

If you’re a writer with a website, then chances are you’ve got a few samples on your site to demonstrate your work. But have you presented your writing samples in a way that makes people want to read them?

Here are a few things you should do to make sure your writing samples are well-presented and enjoyable to read:

Use plain text

Restaurant Review_ Chai Pani by Monica Shaw.jpg

Your writing sample probably lives in a Word document or text file somewhere on your hard drive. It may be tempting to use that file as your writing sample, but it’s well worth the time to put the text from that file onto the webpage itself. There are a few good reasons for this:

  • People are wary of downloading files from the internet for fear that a virus might come along for the ride.
  • You’ll minimize the number of mouse clicks it takes for them to actually see the writing sample (in general, the more clicks it takes, the less likely people are to actually view something).
  • A plain text writing sample is also searchable by web browsers.

Use friendly fonts

Present your writing sample in a font that’s easy to read. Use a standard, web-friendly font such as Helvetica or Arial and make sure the font size isn’t too large or too small. Also, avoid bright colors that strain the eyes. Instead, use a dark font on a light background.

Use thumbnail images

London Calling by Monica Shaw-1.jpg

Images are a great way to augment your writing samples with visual pizazz. Here are a couple ideas:

  • If your writing sample is from a printed article, obtain a scanned image of the original article and include a small version of that image with the writing sample text (see above). Then link the thumbnail to a larger image of the scan. This way people can see what your article actually looked like in print.
  • If your sample is from a chapter in a book, display a small image of the cover of your book that links to a website where they can buy a copy.

Whatever you do, don’t display a huge image that doesn’t fit on the screen. Stick with smaller, thumbnail images that link to larger versions of the image.

An image isn’t necessary, but it can make your writing sample look prettier and give readers a better idea of what it looks like in print.

Use explanatory text to describe your sample

In many cases, particularly if you’re writing sample is an excerpt from a larger piece of work, reading the writing sample can seem a bit out of the blue. A reader might ask themselves, “what am I reading… what is this all about?” Or worse, they’ll be stumped and navigate away from the page.

Give your readers a little guidance and explain what it is their reading. This is especially helpful if you can’t include the text of your sample due to copyright restrictions, or if your writing sample is part of a larger piece of work.

For example, one of the writing samples on my website is my Master’s Thesis, available as a PDF download. Not only is the thesis long, but the content is very technical. So to help non-technical people understand my writing sample, I wrote some text to introduce the sample, and explained how they can download it:

This paper was originally written for my MSc in Computational and Applied Math at the University of Texas, Austin. A link to the full text (PDF) is available below.

When most of us hear the word “DNA”, we typically think of the famous picture of a “double helix”, a coil of two strands wrapped around each other like a twisted ladder. This image represents a magnified view of DNA, a molecule small enough to fit inside the nucleus of a cell. If we zoomed out from this view, the double helix would become blurred into a single, thin strand, twisting and turning within the viscous goo of the cell. These motions are governed by the laws of thermodynamics and are the subject of my Master’s Thesis, A Monte Carlo Algorithm for Polymer Chains.


Make it easy to find

Make sure you have clear and obvious links to your writing samples from the front page of your website (the part of the site that users see first). If you have lots of writing samples, categorize them in a logical way, such as “Press Releases” and “Newspaper Articles” so that readers can easily find the samples they’re looking for.

As a writer, no one expects you to be a web designer. Luckily, most website authoring tools make it pretty easy to adjust what your page looks like. This can be a blessing or a disaster depending on how you use it. Follow the above tips to make sure your webpage encourages users to read on.