Writing and Publishing

Contest Conundrum

I have paid to enter some contests. It’s okay when you win, but it’s a double hit when you don’t.

Contest Fees

I’ve paid from $1 to $20 to enter contests, and each time they gave a compelling reason why I needed to compensate them to consider my work. And each time I’ve felt duped afterward.

Going forward, the only reason I would pay to enter a contest was if I was going to receive feedback on my submission. So far, I’ve never seen this offered in the contests I’ve considered.

Beware Bogus Contests

Also, be aware there are some bogus contests, whose only purpose is to make money for the contest owner through the submission fees they charge. Research contests carefully and steer clear if you have concerns.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Writing and Publishing

Avoid Big Word Syndrome

Selecting the right word is important for writers. In fact, aside from using the correct punctuation to frame those words, it is the only thing. This may seem shocking but at the most basic level, all we do as writers are figure out what word comes next. Then we insert punctuation for clarity. The words we choose are what matters most.

A sloppy writer will grab the first word that comes to mind; a diligent writer makes sure it is the right word, while a perfectionist agonizes over every selection. To aid in finding the right words, a dictionary is their constant companion.

When I started writing, I was more often diligent than sloppy. Unfortunately, my diligence soon assumed the wrong focus. I thought using bigger words made my writing better, that sending readers to the dictionary, scratching their heads, was a good thing. This, I reasoned, would surely earn their respect for my command of the English language and my soaring intellect. I was delusional on both counts.

I was writing to impress, not communicate. I fell victim to big word syndrome.

If a big word is the best word, then use it. However, if a smaller word works just as well, grab it, and if shorter fits better, it’s a win for everyone. (I suppose an exception might be high-level academic work and scholarly reviews but only if your goal is to impress others.)

When I read my past work, even from a few years ago, I often shudder at my fascination with big word syndrome. I’m getting better at it, but I’m a work in progress as I strive to improve.

As writers aren’t this the case for all of us? We are a work in progress, determined to get better.

Writing and Publishing

What’s the Difference Between a Category and a Tag on Your WordPress Blog?

Part 5 in the continuing series on using WordPress for blogging: a platform-building, book-selling tool.

WordPress categories and tags are confusing. They seem to do the same thing and offer similar results.

WordPress Category

A category is like a file cabinet drawer for your posts where you place related content. Categories are general groupings of broad topics. Our site (or blog) should have at least three categories (else, why bother) but no more than perhaps eight (else, it’s too hard to find things).

Each post needs one—and only one—category. Just as you wouldn’t try to put one piece of paper in two folders, don’t assign one post to two categories. (I understand using multiple categories for one post can mess up search engine optimization, and no one wants that.)

Last, never default to “uncategorized.” That’s just lazy and doesn’t help anyone.

Word Press Tag

Think of a tag as a cross-reference tool. Tags can be a subset of a category (like a folder in a file cabinet), transcend categories (like an index), or both. Regardless, their purpose is to link related content. Every post needs at least one tag and can have more, but don’t go crazy. One or two is great, three is okay but definitely stop at six.

In determining tags, consider reoccurring themes or words in your posts. Unlike categories, you don’t need to limit the number of tags you use, but do seek tags you will reuse. A tag used only once accomplishes nothing.

Also, a tag is not the same as a keyword. Keywords are used (or more correctly, were used) to indicate main topics within a post, whereas tags link related posts.

(In case you’re wondering, I wrote many posts on this blog before I understood the difference between tags and keywords, so I have many tags used only once; I will remove or consolidate them – when I have time.)

This blog has seven categories and 231 tags (though once I redo the tags, it will be closer to 50). This post is in the category of “Tips” and has three tags: “blogging,” SEO” and “WordPress.”

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management. He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.

Writing and Publishing

Benefits of Writing Short Stories

The main benefit of writing short stories before writing a novel is to identify and learn how to fix problems with our writing style and voice. And every writer has them.

Here are some other benefits:

  • Short story experience will help us edit and polish our longer works more effectively, before sending them off to a professional editor.
  • A novel’s chapters are often like short stories, with a beginning hook, page-turning middle, and satisfying end. So short story experience will help us in deciding chapter breaks, as well as starting chapters with more punch and ending them with more flare.
  • Short stories about characters in our novel will help us understand their backstory and then we can write, rewrite, and edit them more convincingly. (I wrote a couple of short stories about a sidekick in my novel, and she’s the one my beta readers most connect with.)
  • We can use short stories as a lead magnet to build our mailing list and to share with fans between novels. And this is even more compelling if the short stories are about our novel’s characters.
  • We can submit a short story to an anthology, which will give us a writing credit prior to publishing our novel.
  • Short stories give us an opportunity to experiment and try new things.

For those who write nonfiction, the same rationale applies to writing articles, blog posts, editorials, and so forth. In both cases, the goal is to start small and work up to longer pieces.

Writing and Publishing

The Power of Podcasting: Four Reasons to Have an Author Podcast

It seems people are jumping on the podcasting bandwagon. They want to grow their audience and build their platform in order to sell their books (or whatever other product or service they have to offer).

This makes sense. Look at the recent surge of interest in audiobooks, with people who “read” books by listening to a recording. They do this during their commute to and from work, as they exercise, or when they attend to projects around the house. They have become voracious “readers” without ever opening a book or turning on their e-reader.

Podcasting extends the audiobook mindset. A podcast simply becomes another audio expression for these folks to consume.

Here are some of the benefits of author podcasts:

Another Channel to Reach Readers

A natural communication channel for writers is the written word. Blogging connects nicely with that. Readers read books; readers read blogs. It makes sense, a lot of sense. However readers who listen to books won’t likely read a blog, but they will likely listen to a podcast. With podcasting, writers have two ways to reach their audience.

Another Means to Connect with Readers

When we read a book or blog post we use the sense of sight to see the words. When we listen to a book or a podcast we use the sense of sound. With audio, we use voice inflections, interject emphasis, and add timing to each sentence as we speak. These benefits of audio all allow us a better means to connect with our audience.

Another Creative Outlet For Authors

Writing is a creative art; so is speaking. Both communicate but in different ways. Both provide creative outlets, but which tap different aspects of our creativity.

A Fun Break From Writing

No matter how much we like to write, we all need to take a break. After all, once we spend a full day working on our book, do we really want to spend another hour writing a blog post? Not likely, but spending that hour on podcasting provides a nice alternative to writing. Then we can return to writing with a refreshed perspective.

Given these great benefits, you might be ready to jump on the podcasting bandwagon. Not so fast. First, you need to consider whether podcasting is right for you. Next week I’ll look at my experience with podcasting, which should provide some more insight into this intriguing communication option.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.


Writing and Publishing

How to Make Your Writing Easier to Read

The Hemingway Editor Guides Authors in Improving Readability

A friend recently turned me on to the Hemingway Editor, a nifty online tool to assist writers in improving our work. The website says, “Hemingway makes your writing bold and clear. It’s like a spellchecker, but for style. It makes sure that your reader will focus on your message, not your prose.”

It’s simple to use. Go to the website and paste some writing into the text window. The software analyzes the writing and reports on what it finds:

Grade Level: The Hemingway Editor uses a standard readability algorithm to assess the U.S. grade level. It goes as low as a fifth grade and says the average American reads at grade ten.

Stats: Hemingway reports on the number of paragraphs, sentences, words, and characters, as well as the time it takes to read the text.

The Number of Hard Sentences: Each sentence that is hard to read is highlighted in tan.

The number of Very Hard Sentences: More critical than hard to read sentences are very hard sentences, which are color-coded as reddish-brown.

Phrases with Simpler Alternatives: I often type “implement” when “use” is a better choice. Hemmingway points these out in violet. Hover over the violet word or phrase and Hemmingway will show you the preferred alternative.

Number of Adverbs: While we don’t need to remove all adverbs, Hemmingway will point them all out and tell us the maximum acceptable number for our piece. Adverbs are in light blue.

The number of Passive Sentences: Once the king of passive sentences, I trained myself away from them. Still, they pop up and Hemmingway points out the passive voice in pale green horror.

Armed with this color-coded input it is easy to visually see where to make changes to increase our work’s readability. The adverbs and simpler alternatives are quick to fix.

In general, the hard and very hard sentences are correctable by rewriting complex and compound sentences into shorter, simpler sentences. That leaves a passive voice, which takes some practice to reword. The good news is that having some adverbs and passive sentences are okay.

We can edit in the Hemmingway window, which updates its analysis in real-time. As we make changes, the grade level decreases, meaning the piece is more readable. Also, the various highlighted colors disappear. While editing it to become colorless may make for rather bland, fifth grade-level reading, less color is preferred.

Using the Hemmingway Editor is a quick, easy, and fun way to improve our writing readability.

The Hemmingway Editor results for the above text are:

  • Grade Level: 8
  • Stats: 14 paragraphs, 31 sentences, and 426 words. The reading time is 1:42.
  • Hard Sentences: 7
  • Very Hard Sentences: 3
  • Phrases with Simpler Alternatives: 5
  • Adverbs: 1
  • Passive Voice: 2, having 6 is acceptable

I’m tempted to edit this post in Hemmingway to make it more readable, but I think I’ll leave it as is so you can see the unedited version.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

Writing and Publishing

How Many Words Do You Write Per Hour?

Do you know how many words you typically write per hour? Do you know how long you can sustain that rate? This is a critical number to know when estimating how long a project will take. We need this for meeting deadlines and for quoting projects.

Without having a firm grasp of our typical writing speed and sustainability we run the risk of not meeting deadlines or of underquoting projects. No one wants to turn in a project late or end up working for next to nothing.

But what we shouldn’t do is compare our writing speed with others. If we write more than most people, then we may feel pride or look down on them; if we write less than others, then we might feel discouraged, assume there is something wrong with us, or even try to change our writing process to write faster than we should.

None of these are good outcomes.

Also, we need to realize that our writing speed is for our first draft, which will require additional work, such as re-writing, editing, and proofreading. Some people who can crank out high word counts on the first draft often spend much more time bringing their work to its final form. Conversely, other people with slower writing speeds often have much less work to do afterward.

We need to know how fast we can write, how long we can keep up that pace, and how much more work is required to polish it to final form.

I’ve talked to writers who write about 100 words per hour. On the other end, I have heard of writers pushing two thousand. But people seldom share with me how much time they spend later on to bring these words to their final form.

On most projects I write in the neighborhood of four to five hundred words an hour, though it occasionally goes higher, approaching one thousand; my record is 1,750, though I’m not sure how I pulled that off.

I also know my second hour is often more productive than my first, which is an important reason to set aside a block of time to write. I also know I can keep up this pace all morning, providing I take periodic breaks.

My “first draft” is in decent shape and seldom requires re-writing, so I just need to polish and proof the results, which takes 15 to 25 percent additional time. (Remember that I mostly write nonfiction.)

Though I don’t like working on the same project for more than four or five hours, I often switch to something else in the afternoon, which seems to reset my mental focus and I’m off again. In the morning I can consistently produce two thousand words or more, assuming I don’t need to do too much research or fact-checking.

When I write in the afternoon, it’s always smaller projects, such as articles or content marketing. In this way, I can hit up to four thousand words a day (my personal record) if I need to, but that doesn’t leave much time for anything else.

Armed with this information, I’m now able to set realistic writing deadlines and hit them. I’m also able to give reasonable quotes for contract work. And it only took me about five years to get to this point and figure these things out.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

Writing and Publishing

Writing about Your Health Issue

Many writers want to write a book about their health scare that almost killed them. But will publishers be interested in that book?

These stories are very personal for the writer, very real and raw. Unfortunately, it isn’t unique, and publishers want unique books. (Unless a writer has a big platform that will move books. Then publishers won’t care so much about the topic, because the size of the platform will overcome it.)

Publishers interested in your topic already have one or more books on the subject, and taking on another one could hurt the sales of the books they already have, so they’ll pass.

And publishers who haven’t published a book on your topic haven’t done so because they’re not interested in the subject.

The only likely scenario is a publisher who has published a book on your topic, but it’s dated and not selling well anymore. Then they may look to replace it with a new book—providing the author has a platform to move books and an agent to represent them.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

Writing and Publishing

My Addiction to Alliteration

I used to be addicted to alliteration: the repetition of similar sounds near each other in a sentence, usually at the start of words. “Similar sounds” is an example of alliteration. An extreme example would be “Similar sounds starting successive words…”

Just as some people consider a pun as the highest form of humor, I elevate alliteration as a revered writing skill. I used to employ it often, too often, in fact.

Apparently alliteration has become passé. Some even say to avoid it, as alliteration distracts the reader. How sad. In discussing this with Chip MacGregor, he allowed that two or perhaps three sound repetitions are acceptable, while four or more are excessive.

Yikes! I’ve pulled off four and five alliterative sounds—and once proudly strung together six in a row. When in the depths of my addiction, I would replace an ideal word with an acceptable one just to satisfy my compulsion. Even now, with my craving in check, I’m especially pleased at this post’s title, with the beginning and ending of two words that showcase my skill.

My addiction to alliteration will never go away, but I am in recovery. (But, oh, how I miss it.)

Writing and Publishing

Finding a Writing Mentor

Many Writers Wish They Had a Mentor

The problem is that those who are most qualified to be a mentor are also the busiest, and the people who have time are usually not as experienced.

If you find someone who would make a great mentor, just ask them, but leave them room to say, “No,” because they likely will. As an option, offer to provide them something of value in return.

It could be money, but more valuable might be a service that you could offer in exchange for mentoring. If you’re flexible and willing to give them something in return, the answer might just be “Yes!”

Consider Co-Mentoring

Another possibility is to find someone to co-mentor. If you’re both at the same place in your writing journey but have different strengths and weaknesses, then you can help each other grow as writers. This may be a more viable option.

Mentoring from Afar

Last, someone can mentor you from afar. I read blogs and especially listen to podcasts about writing and publishing. I consider these people as my mentors. I’ve never met them and most of them don’t know who I am, but they do mentor me from a distance and help me write better and publish more effectively.