12 Facebook Contest Ideas

How many of you have done a Facebook Contest? For those of you that haven't, what's stopping you? 

If you're having trouble coming up with ideas then this infographic by Antavo (found on the site of Jeff Bullas- who by the way has done a great post on the topic) should help give you some ideas. It has some nice stats too.
12 Facebook Contest Ideas for 2014

Do you have a Facebook contest running at the moment? If yes, tell us about it and drop the url to the contest page in the comments section so we can check it out and see how you're doing it.

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8 Tips for a Good Ebook Cover

Writing is an art, one that takes years of dedication and practice to hone. If you’re a writer, you know how difficult it can be to write something you’re truly satisfied with.

Design is the same. When self-published writers go in search of book cover designers or designs, they often lack the background to tell the difference between good and bad design.

With the explosion of the ebook market and tablet readers, the ebook cover is now highly in demand. It is a similar animal to a print book cover, but ebook covers face unique challenges due to the nature of online marketplaces. 

Here are some design tips for writers who plan to create their own ebook covers or are considering portfolios from different ebook cover designers:

Generally speaking, your cover must pull off the balancing act of looking good in both a tiny thumbnail and at full size on a computer screen.

1. Avoid overly fancy fonts and tiny images that completely disappear at thumbnail level.

2. Find a balance. Of the title name, author name, and main image, at least two of these should be large enough to read or see at thumbnail level.

3. Make sure your designer owns all rights to any illustrations or photos being used. A picture or photo on the Internet is not in the public domain. Reputable designers will understand how to secure commercial usage rights for images used in the creation of your cover.

4. Fonts make a huge difference in the impact of a book cover. To see what I mean, open Word or the writing application of your choice and type the word “Romance”. Highlight the word and then click on the “Format” drop-down menu, and then “Font”. Use the down arrow key to scroll through the basic fonts available, and “Romance” will change in the preview window to reflect each font. 

You’ll start to see how font affects the impression the word has. Even with the standard fonts of Arial compared to Monotype Corsiva,  you can see how each gives the word a different feeling.

5. Images are important. Too many writers get caught up in presenting the literal facts in their story when it comes to choosing cover imagery. Covers are not police lineups where all of your main characters must appear. Go with one or two strong images that represent the feeling of your book, rather than a completely literal interpretation of a character or scene. This is especially crucial for ebook design, where a highly detailed depiction of a busy scene can become visual mush at thumbnail size.

6. You get what you pay for. $5 covers almost always look like $5 covers. Considering the amount of effort you put into your book, why would you send it out into the world with an amateur cover? In an online marketplace, readers often see a group of thumbnails at once. Your cover is the first impression and often only chance your ebook will have to get readers to click on it and learn more about it. Bad design can sink your chances no matter how well you write.

7. You don’t get what you pay for. A high price tag is not a guarantee of quality, either. Just because someone says they’re a designer doesn’t mean they’re a good one. Look at their portfolio and apply the ideas found on this list, as well as your own gut instincts, taking care to view their samples at both full and thumbnail size.

8. Brainstorm three to five adjectives that summarize your book itself: for example, “dark”, “fantasy”, and “strong women”. Your cover should clearly convey most of these adjectives through its imagery, font, and design. 

That doesn’t mean the cover in the above example must have a woman on it. You might choose a crown or a sword or the main character’s wolf companion. 

Creating a cover that accurately reflects what your book is about will help draw in your target audience and avoid confusion created by poor design choices.

There will always be exceptions to these rules, but it often takes a trained designer to pull them off. Consider this list your springboard.

If you'd like to develop a stronger eye for good cover design without taking design classes, a simple way is to train your eye while browsing through books online.

Pay careful attention to the covers you see. Choose covers you think work really well and think about why they do. Is it the font? The imagery? The color schemes? Do the same with covers that fall flat.

Do this for long enough, and you'll no longer have to rely on a designer's ad copy to decide if they are worth your money. You'll be able to see for yourself.

Christina Banta of Bluejay Books Design
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Interview with Johanna Parkhurst

What genre do you write and why?
At this point, I’m so firmly ensconced in reading and writing in the YA genre that I think my husband’s starting to wonder if he’s living in a middle school library.  I definitely live this genre everyday—I teach reading and writing to middle schoolers. But to be honest, I’ve been writing stories about teenaged characters since I was college. It would seem my obsession with YA lit was just meant to be.

Tell us about your latest book.
Here’s to You, Zeb Pike was very much a labor of love for me. It started as a book about a teenager trying to raise his brother and sister alone because his parents are useless. And somehow it ended up also being about sexual identity, a semi-famous mountain climber, love, and skateboarding. Oh, and hockey. Because what YA book doesn’t need a cute hockey player?

What marketing methods are you using to promote your book? 
Marketing and I are still getting to know one another. I’d never really used Twitter before this first publishing adventure, so social media has been a bit of a learning curve for me. Mostly I’m just trying to get the book’s name out there. I’ve been on blogs and tried a Facebook chat. If nothing else, it’s all been really great for getting me out of my introverted shell. I’m having a blast getting to know readers. They’ve been incredibly kind and supportive.

Who are your favourite authors?
Wow, why not ask me to choose a favourite child?!? How does one pick? In YA, I’ve always loved Breaking Boxes by A.M. Jenkins, who was way ahead of her time with her writing, particularly where LGBT lit is concerned. I’m also a big fan of Brian Katcher and Alex Sanchez, who have done amazing things for pushing LGBT lit further into the mainstream. I greatly enjoy Jordan Sonnenblick’s humor, and I could die happy reading almost any book by Gordan Korman, who was my favourite author when I was a teen. And of course, let’s not forget the queen of YA, S.E. Hinton. If I ever meet that woman, I’ll probably pass out.

What's your favourite quote about writing/for writers?

“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” –Cyril Connolly

I can frequently be found repeating that one over and over to myself whenever my Amazon sales rating pops up somewhere.

What's the best thing about being a writer?
It’s the world’s best excuse for incessant daydreaming. And oh, the power! The things I get to do to characters! Heheheh. 

Where can people find out more about you and your writing?
I can be found attempting to figure out Twitter at https://twitter.com/johannawriteson. If you’re up for it, join my five-or-so followers! It makes me feel like one of the cool kids. J You can also like my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/johannaparkhurstwriteson.
Who designed the cover?
It was designed by the fabulous Anne Cain, who designs a lot of covers for Harmony Ink Press. She’s PHENOMENAL. This cover so perfectly captures the big themes of the book.

Did you learn anything from writing your book that was unexpected?
I learned a lot of strange things about Zebulon Pike, that’s for sure. And a few fun facts about skateboarding. Extra thanks go out to the students who taught me the difference between regular and goofy position.

Where can a reader purchase your book?
You can find it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and on the Dreamspinner Press website.

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Review: 50 Freebies for Frugal Writers (The Write Tools)

Title: 50 Freebies for Frugal Writers (The Write Tools)
Author: Sheryl Jacobs

Reviewed by Jo Linsdell

In 50 FREEBIES FOR FRUGAL WRITERS, you will find 50 free writing resources, including: 
* Free writing software
* Free writing eBooks and reports
* Free MP3s and sound recordings
* Free videos on the craft of writing 
You’ve probably stumbled across a few freebies for writers yourself (some more useful than others). But why search high and low for the freebie you want when 50 FREEBIES FOR FRUGAL WRITERS gives you 50 freebies for writers all in one place. In fact, you’ll find freebies in this book you didn’t even know you needed. Freebies that will help you to: 
* Learn more about the writing craft, and improve your writing skills.
* Learn more about the writing business, especially if you want to make a living as a writer.
* Organize the research for your writing projects.
* Plot your short stories and novels.
* Outline your nonfiction books and articles.
* Get rid of distractions so you can focus more on writing.
* Create a work environment that will make you more creative and productive.
* Take some of the stress out of being a writer. 

50 Freebies for Frugal Writers (The Write Tools) is a good collection of free resources for writers. It was well organised and a quick read. 

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How to Build Your Brand Online

Your brand is YOU. Yes you. If you want to be a professional writer, and not just play around as a hobby, then you need to think about yourself as a business and not just an individual.

Building a strong author brand can help set you apart from the sea of competition out there and make you a recognised expert in your niche. It will also strengthen your bond with your readers and make it easier for your target audience to find you.

This infographic (found at Search Engine Journal but originally published by FreeWebsite.com) gives a great summary of how to build your brand online.

Top take-away's:

1) Build awareness and a reputation
2) Get to know your audience
3) Relate to your audience
4) Have your own personality
5) Be consistent
6) Target your energy in a few key places
7) Collaborate with others
8) Have name recognition
9) Use the same visual branding on your website, blog, social media channels.
10) Have a website

What are you doing to build your author brand?

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My Writing and Illustrating Process

Hi folks! I'd like to thank Jo for letting me guest post about my children's book, Frank the Gentle Viking. This post is especially for all you sadomasochists out there who think you'd like to write and illustrate your own children's book. I'm here to warn you it is SO MUCH MORE THAN TWICE THE WORK! Not to mention twice the pressure! If you're submitting to a publisher with both the story and the pictures, that's giving them two potential reasons to reject your work instead of just one. I recommend being totally, brutally honest with yourself. Ask "Am I writing and illustrating because I have the skills, passion and dedication to create a unique, professional quality book?" or "Am I just doing it because I want creative control?" You'll save yourself some heartache if you can decide "Maybe I'll just be awesome at one thing."

But hey, sometimes experience is itself the best teacher. If you want to try your hand at both writing and illustrating, even just to learn about the process, go for it. For those of you who want to join me in the attempt to climb to mountains at once, here's how I went about it when attempting my first book. I have since taken classes and read a lot and learned some more, so I'll also try to make notes on what I'll probably do next time to try and make it even better. 

1) Get the idea. - I recommend starting at a library. Read All the Things! Including the people. The story of Frank was inspired by a small child I saw in the library asleep in a stroller and wearing a surgical helmet. I thought "Aw, if that were my child, I'd give his helmet some cool horns so he wouldn't have to feel bad about wearing it." And thus the idea for a story about a baby Viking was born.

2) Write. Revise. Repeat. - Work your draft till you think it's awesome. Let someone else read it. Make changes. Then hide it from yourself for a week, a month, or six months, and then read it again to see if you like it as much as you did.

3) Character Design - Some characters walk into your head fully formed and it's just a trick to get them down on paper. Some characters have to have lots of variations of them drawn. Everything about the way you draw a character will say something about their personality. It will also help you get an idea of the feel and style of the rest of the book. I'll probably spend more time in this phase next time. Even though I had a good idea of what each character should look like, I still should probably do more practice sketches of them to better understand how they would behave, how they compare to each other in size and shape. But also to give my hands the muscle memory to be able to draw each character consistently.

4)Thumb nails - Thumb nails are the small scaled-down sketches of each page. Next time, I will do WAY MORE than I think I need. Like at least three pages of layout thumbnails per final piece. I think artists and writers get so caught up in what the final product will be that they try to jump to a final on the first leap. But would a pianist get up and play Rachmaninoff without having practiced? Of course not! In the future, I'm going to give myself way more time to practice my piece before leaping into color.

5) Grey scale comps - These are the black and white studies of what the final will look like. In terms of polish and detail, these are between the thumbnails and the final color piece. They're probably the same size as the final will be, but give you a chance to catch visual problems that you didn't see when it was small. Plus, for anyone wanting to submit a picture book dummy to a publisher, this is the stage that a publisher is interested in seeing. It shows that you basically know what you are doing, but are open to changes. It's much easier to change something at this stage, especially if you are doing the finals in traditional media like oils or watercolors. Again, I'll be spending WAY more time on this phase in the future. For Frank the Gentle Viking, I did full size drawings, but neglected to really shade them accurately, which made my life a lot harder later on. I was using a blend of watercolor and digital methods for the final, so changes weren't impossible, but they still took more time than it would have if I had taken the time to solve my problems beforehand. It's helpful to have your art buddies critique your work at this point, too. (It's funny how I was actually told all this in a general sense in college, but didn't understand the importance of actually DOING IT until I was attempting a real project.)

6) Final color work - Just what it sounds like.

7) Hide it for a while - Just like with your manuscript, it's good to get some distance and then look with fresh eyes. You may be pleased, or you may look at it and say "What the heck was I thinking!" I made one very rookie attempt at completing my book with hardly any preparation or development work, and then after  working my butt off for six weeks, stood back and realized it looked like total garbage. I put it away for a whole year before trying to bring it to life again. In the meantime, I took classes and looked and looked and looked at all different kinds of art to try and figure out what made good work great and what I could do to find my own artistic voice. When I dug it back out, I was ready for it.

8) THE BOOK - For those of you wanting to see your creative baby in real book form in your hands, the next step is publication. You can submit it to publishers or agents, or try and self publish it on your own. There are many different avenues within the realm of self-publishing. Some are free, some are expensive. Some will do the formatting for you. Some you have to do yourself. I had to do mine myself. Again, here's another step of the process where you have to think like a designer. Everything you just did for your manuscript and your illustrations you should do if you do your own formatting. Set the type in a digital program, like Illustrator or InDesign, and then have someone else look at it. You don't want to put so much work into writing and drawing only to have your baby delivered into the world sporting typos in comic sans. Never use Comic Sans. Never use Curlz. EVER. everrrrrrrrrr.

So that's pretty much it. Not something you can do in a weekend. And probably not something you'll make a gazillion dollars doing. But if your definition of success is busting your butt to make the most unique, beautiful story you possibly can, a story that nobody else in the world can tell exactly the way you could. Well, then it's a pretty darn rewarding endeavor.

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2014 Content Marketing

Before we take a look at the below infographic by the guys at Uberflip that summarises why 2014 is the year of content marketing, let's just take a minute to look at what content marketing is.

Wikipedia gives this definition:

Content marketing is any marketing format that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire customers. This information can be presented in a variety of formats, including news, video, white papers, e-books, infographics, case studies, how-to guides, question and answer articles, photos, etc. 

Content marketing is focused not on selling, but on simply communicating with customers and prospects. The idea is to inspire business and loyalty from buyers by delivering "consistent, ongoing valuable information".
As you can see, content marketing is about getting sales, but without the "buy this now" angle. It's indirect marketing and highly effective. 

And now on to the infographic...

It's clear that a lot of the big name sites are already on board, Google, Twitter, Facebook... This content marketing trend is clearly a good thing for both freelance writers, bloggers, and authors. It helps you climb the search engine algorithms and connects you with your audience without you having to be a salesperson... who likes sales pitches right? What is surprising is how long it's taken people to realise that strategies like this are the way to go.

Do you already use content marketing as part of your marketing plan? What marketing strategies are working for you?

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Interview with Vincent Zandri

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
The day I graduated from Providence College in 1986. Problem was, I'd agreed to go into the construction business with my dad. So it took me a while to get up the nerve to make the break.  

What genre do you write and why?
I write literary thrillers and noir because that's what I like to read the most. 

Tell us about your latest book.
The Shroud Key is about one man's quest to unearth the bones of the most famous man to ever walk the earth. Jesus Christ. 

What marketing methods are you using to promote your book?
I use social media, Facebook, Twitter, Linked, etc. to help spread the word. I also have begun to send out a monthly newsletter to my personal subscribers which contains "for your eyes only" specials, news, and even freebies. I also promote other authors in the newsletter. But first you gotta sign up. So anyone who wishes to join the monthly mailer for both insider info and possible promo opportunities please contact me at WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM or email me direct at vazandri@aol.com with "Your Newsletter" in the subject heading.  

What formats is the book available in?
All books are available in all formats aside from those that are signed on to Amazon Select. Right now The Shroud Key is in Select but it will be available in all formats starting in May 2014. 
Vincent Zandri
What do you like to do when you're not writing?

Worry about my writing ... Haha! I travel a lot. I'm gone more than three months per year to overseas destinations to write, research, and explore. I'm also a freelance photo journalist so sometimes I travel on assignment. Otherwise I like to lift weights, run, hike, bike, drink, eat, watch movies, read ... 

Who are your favorite authors?

Jim Crumley, Ernest Hemingway, Robert B. Parker, Charlie Huston, J.Carson Black, Dan Mayland, Les Edgerton, Heath Lowrance, Ben Sobieck, JE Fishman, Susan Wingate, Meg Gardiner, ...

What advice do you have for other writers?

Read, write, repeat...
What's your favorite quote about writing/for writers?

"There's nothing to writing. You just sit at your typewriter and bleed."
-- Ernest Hemingway

What's the best thing about being a writer?


Where can people find out more about you and your writing?

Anything else you'd like to add?

Thanks for having me ... and please don't forget to sign up for my newsletter...Vazandri@aol.com.


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Starting out the novelette way as a newbie author

As I recently self-published my first work ever, What the Eye Sees, I have been asking people I know to read the book and provide feedback. One question that I am being constantly asked is- why is the book so thin? Why is my first work of fiction, and the first book in the Crimocopoiea series, a novelette?

When I started writing the story, I had no idea how long it would be. I’m the kind of author who’s used to writing long stories, the kind of person better at writing novellas and 50,000+ worded novels. So this has been something of an exercise in novelty for me as well. The question in my mind is, can newbie authors, virtually unknown, start their writing career with a short novel?

A novelette is a work of writing which is lengthier than a short story and shorter than a novella. The Science Fiction and Fantasy writers of America define a novelette as being a story having minimum 7,500 words and maximum 17,500 words. Below this limit constitutes a short story, and above this constitutes a novella.

Below is a quote for the advantage of novellas which, as in the introduction to a novella anthology titled Sailing to Byzantium, Robert Silverberg writes:
[The novella] is one of the richest and most rewarding of literary forms...it allows for more extended development of theme and character than does the short story, without making the elaborate structural demands of the full-length book. Thus it provides an intense, detailed exploration of its subject, providing to some degree both the concentrated focus of the short story and the broad scope of the novel.[6]
While totally supporting the above statement, I think the same advantages can be applied to a novelette as well. This is a fact I discovered while writing What the Eye Sees. I could allow enough space for character development, theme, plot twists and turns without having to extend the foundational scope of the story to make it a full length novel.

Since my story describes the events transpiring over a time period which is less than a day, I can provide the fair justification for the story being in the range 7500-17500 words. But the question is, will the reading public accept this version of a story as a serious work and appreciate it? Especially if it comes from a debut author, virtually unschooled in the various reader choices which often dictate the content and other vital details of the various works being produced.

In my opinion, there are a few advantages:
1.   Debut authors can, through a novelette, tell readers more about their style of writing, their penchant for weaving plots and developing elaborate characters in a short work of fiction and therefore attract readers towards their unique style of writing.

2.   Writing novelettes, apart from short stories, will help the author develop their craft of writing to the point where they can churn out both 100,000 + word novels, short stories and novelettes with equal skill and enthrall readers with their creativity and genius.

3.   I have seen it myself, and therefore believe firmly that non-readers can turn into consummate bookworms once they are first introduced to a thin book to read, their interest is piqued and then they can move on to the lengthier novels. This can be a potential market for some authors as well. Just an idea.

4.   Novelettes, like short stories, are easier to read and therefore can draw people back to reading, in a world which has a shorter attention span and which is obsesses more with gadgets and social networking.

The above is just my opinion as a beginning author, because this has been a new experience for me, considering the articles about writing I’ve read and the kind of books I’m used to reading. But I also believe that this can be an innovative experience in the ever-growing and metamorphosing world of writing, where creativity rules and new forms and styles and content of writing is the norm. I sincerely  hope that in the near future, both established and beginner authors will take up writing novelettes, apart from the usual novels they churn out, and help develop the art of writing this particular form of story.

Percy Kerry is a student, author, blogger, researcher and consummate bookworm. Her first book, What the Eye Sees, is available on Amazon and Lulu, in Kindle and print respectively. Her second book will come out by mid- March 2014.

The print version of What The Eye Sees can be purchased at Lulu.com (http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/percykerry), and the Kindle version from Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HB77JU4
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