Monday, July 30, 2012

Another Writer's Pitching Process

Last week, I was at the Caerleon Writers' Holiday (and after stepping in at the last minute to become the conference's opening night guest speaker ... which involved throwing a lot of chocolate into the audience ... and I've never seen writers move so quickly when there is free chocolate around) I was able to go to a couple of other events during the week. 

One such event was Elaine Everest's tea time talk about pitching article ideas to editors. It's interesting to learn how other professional writers operate, which is why i went along. 

Ironically, it turned out that Elaine's pitching system is similar to mine, but here's what she had to say: 

1. Address your email to the appropriate editor. 
2. Don't waffle. Cut straight to your idea. 
3. Explain what your idea is and how you will tackle it. 
4. Mention a few points about yourself. Why are you the best person to write about this idea? 
5. Include a link to some of your writing so the editor can see examples of your work. 
6. Elaine then prints off a copy of her email. 
7. If you haven't heard after a week, or ten days, send another email enquiring whether the editor has considered the idea yet. 
 8. If you haven't heard after a further week, or ten days, ring the editor. Have your printed copy email in front of you, so that all the information is to hand. 
9. Have another idea to hand too, just in case the editor says he/she doesn't like the idea you emailed. That way, you can say, "I have another idea about ..." Sometimes you can sell the second idea, if not the first! 
10. If the editor likes an idea and offers a commission, ask for email confirmation, or send an email to the editor yourself, summarising what has been agreed. 

 A few final points Elaine made were: 

1. Don't pitch what you can't offer. 
2. Pitch anniversary pieces at least six months in advance. 

More information about Elaine can be found on her website: 

Good luck!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Help Desk Hangouts: Google Apps

Monday, July 23, 2012

Looking for new Markets?

A common comment I hear many of my students make is, "It's always difficult trying to find new markets."

And yes, depending upon where you live, access to magazines can be a little challenging, especially if your local newsagent makes more money from stocking calendars for next year, rather than magazines!

Anyway, I've come across a website called Magazine Cafe - it is jointly owned by Conde Nast and National Magazine Distributors Limited (known as COMAG) which primarily offers subscriptions to various magazines, however, it does also offer (for some, though not all) the option to buy single issues - ideal if you want to undertake a market analysis.

Despite being a UK-based website, many of the magazines available are international, so it might be worth your while just spending fifteen minutes browsing the site to see what you can find!

And don't forget, if you have a computer (how are you reading this otherwise?) you can always purchase digital copies of magazines, through the Zinio website (search for 'Zinio' and your own country, to be taken to the correct Zinio site) and in the UK Pocketmags is useful resource too, offering access to International magazines.

Good luck!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Serving mobile customers

Consumers are always on-the-go, which means they frequently search for products and services from their mobile phones. After searching on a smartphone, more than half of users visit a store in person and many of those people make a purchase, either in-store, online, or by phone.

Obviously, if consumers are searching for you or something you offer, it’s important that your business show up! The tips below will help you to evaluate your current website on a mobile device, make improvements, and measure your changes.

Blue Sky Thinking

Sometimes, ideas and opportunities seem to follow on from each other quite naturally. I took this photo two years ago, when I was walking with my Dad in the Lake District.

The photographer in me likes this image because of the reflective qualities of the water, and the framing of the oak leaves ... and also the blue sky. (We could do with seeing a bit more blue sky in the UK at the moment!)

The lake is Loweswater, and its not one of the most well-known lakes of the Lake District, which sparked an idea for an American magazine about the lesser-known lakes. This photo was used as a double-page spread as the opening image for the article. For the technical minded, this photo has a lot of 'blank space' sometimes known as 'white space', (even though it is blue) because the large section of sky on the right hand side makes this a great place for an editor to plonk (yeah - technical term, that) some text. The American magazine put the article title here.

Whenever I look at that photo, it reminds me of the wonderful day I had exploring the area, and some of things I was thinking about there. This suddenly sparked another idea for a feature for Lakeland Walker magazine, and I included the photo with my submission. The editor liked it - used the image as a double-page spread, and 'plonked' the entire article text within the blue sky.

One of the photography magazines I subscribe to has a column suggesting good places for photographers to go to capture outdoor scenes, and as I was writing my piece for Lakeland Walker magazine, I realised that this photo might fit this particular photographic magazine's section well. Last Friday, I was proved right when the editor got in contact and asked me to give him a short description of the area and other photographic opportunities there, and to supply a hi-res version of the image, because he's planning to use it in a future issue of the magazine.

Hmmm, this photo is doing rather well, I thought, which then reminded me of another slot in a different photographic publication for photos that sell. So, guess who is now going to write a piece aimed at that slot?

At the moment, this one image has helped me to sell three lots of words and generated another potential idea. (I suppose that's what you call 'blue sky thinking'.) And that's what you should try to do with your ideas. Don't just write one article, write three. Get a letter out of it for a magazine's letter page, and have a go at using the idea for a short story too, if you write fiction. And what about a filler for another market?

That's why it is important to get to know the different markets and learn about the sorts of things editors like to use in those different slots. That way, when an idea strikes, it's easier for you to know how you can twist it to make it fit those different markets. So next time you have an idea, do a little blue sky thinking and see where it takes you.

Good luck.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Help Desk Hangouts: SEO Webmaster Academy

Editor’s note: Each week on the Google+ Your Business page, we’re putting you in touch with Googlers and users who can help you as a business owner get the most out of our products and features.

In our latest Help Desk Hangout On Air, we talked about SEO with the masterminds of Google’s Webmaster Academy. Our experts, Alexi, Michael, and Matt, walk you through how Google Search works, how you can set your site up for success, and more. They also answered your questions in real time. Miss the event? You can watch the whole thing on the Google and Your Business YouTube channel.

Check out the video description on the YouTube page for a minute-by-minute breakdown.

Some of the questions we answered during the Hangout:

My site used to rank really well, but now it doesn’t. What happened?
There could be several reasons that your site is not be ranking in search the same way that it did in the past. Three common reasons why this may happen are that your site has a technical problem which is preventing Googlebot from accessing it, your site violates our quality guidelines, or your site is simply ranking differently due to changes to our algorithm, which is updated hundreds of times per year. The first thing we’d recommend to diagnose your issue is to check your site in Google Webmaster Tools, a free service that gives you information about how your site is performing in Google. If we’ve detected a problem with your site, we may have sent you a message there. For a more detailed checklist to help you diagnose a change in ranking, visit our Help Center.

I'd love to learn more about the Knowledge Graph and what, if anything we should be doing as SEOs & Webmasters.

The Knowledge Graph is a way for users to see additional relevant information on searches for certain people, places and things on the right hand side of the results page. This information helps users get to answers quickly; in many cases, they may find answers to questions they hadn’t even thought to ask. It also helps people discover more about the topic they’re interested in by showing people, places or things that are closely related to their searches. For example, if you search for an artist like Leonardo da Vinci, you’ll see a short biography, some of his most famous works, and other frequently searched-for artists. Currently, there isn’t any functionality in Webmaster Tools to be included in the Knowledge Graph. Right now this is not about individual businesses but rather about generally known facts about the world.

How do you rank item detail pages where there may be many websites which have the same item for sale (with a standard "technical description")? Who rises to the top when the content is basically static?

Great question! Many merchant and affiliate sites use product descriptions taken straight from the manufacturer or from the end merchant site. While sometimes this can be appropriate, we typically recommend looking for ways you can add your own value to that page - can you provide some original reviews or recommendations about the item? If you are adding value of your own you’ll be providing a better experience for users. If you are concerned about this, check out our material on duplicate content and watch this video about our Webmaster Guidelines.

Where can I go for more information, help, or to prove my own knowledge?

Our experts mentioned a bunch of incredible resources available to you. Here are a few links to get you started:

As mentioned in the recording, our Help Desk Hangouts will be occurring every other week moving forward. Be sure to join us for our next Hangout at 11 a.m. PDT on Wednesday, July 25th. Look out for the topic announcement on the Google+ Your Business page.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Is All What It Seems To Be?

Sometimes, things aren't always what they seem to be. That's despite what some official-looking documents might lead you to believe.

Here's a small section of the Ordnance Survey map detailing Boscobel House on the Shropshire/Staffordshire border. For those of you who don't know, this is one of the (many) places where the son of King Charles I (who later became King Charles II) hid to avoid Oliver Cromwell's troops after being defeated at the Battle of Worcester n 1651.  

Initially, Charles hid in an oak tree in the grounds of Boscobel House, before spending the night hiding in a priest hole in the house itself. (And if ever you get a chance to go to Boscobel House, you'll see how small that priest hole is. Small children should be warned - the last time I was there the guide threw one down the hole to test for size - although I will say that they chose  a child who was willing to go down the hole!)

Anyway, it is the oak tree that has caught the public's imagination and, as you can see, that prestigious organisation, the Ordnance Survey, has even marked it on the map. Yes, even the dotted line represents the path you can walk today, between the house and the tree. Perhaps if Cromwell's troops had had the Ordnance Survey map with them, the course of British history might have been slightly different ;-)

As you can see from my photo here, the tree is looking a little the worse for wear now. Most of it has been lost and two huge metal strips sit tightly around its trunk holding the poor thing together. Well, admit it, if you'd been hanging around since way before 1651, you'd probably need a couple of metal strips around your midriff to keep you together!

But, a little more research will reveal that this oak is not THE Royal Oak. Despite what the Ordnance Survey map suggests, this is a mere sapling. It is believed to be a descendant of the oak tree that Charles II hid in. The reason this particular specimen looks the worse for wear is because it was struck by lightning twelve years ago.

So, next time you're looking at documents, even official looking ones, don't assume that what they are telling you is the truth. All may not be what it seems to be.

Good luck.

Monday, July 2, 2012

All Change!

I've mentioned in the past how it is important to undertake a market analysis of your target publication, especially if it is a magazine that you haven't seen before. However, it is also important to keep a close watch on magazines that you 'think' you know well. Not only do editors change, but sometimes, so does the magazine's owner.

The Kelsey Publishing Group has just purchased two big titles from larger publication companies. The first big name publication it has acquired is Psychologies magazine, which is published in the UK under licence from the French owner Groupe Psychologies. Kelsey Publishing has also acquired Coast magazine from Hearst magazines.

 When magazines change ownership like this, the changes may not be immediate. There may be a change in contact details (such as email addresses, telephone numbers and postal addresses), which happens quite quickly, but other changes may creep in over the next few months. A new publisher may want to attract specific advertisers, which may mean altering the magazine's target readership. An editor may be charged with changing the magazine to attract this new readership. Alternatively, a new publisher may decide to bring in a new editor and editorial team.

Another recent change has occurred at the Bourne Publishing Group, who publish many publications, including Your Dog, Your Cat, and Scottish Sporting Gazette. They've renamed themselves as BPG Media, and have treated themselves to new offices. Whilst the magazines's content probably won't change much, the new offices do mean a new postal address and new telephone numbers. Something to bear in mind if you call the editor, or submit articles by post. Whilst postal items will probably be automatically redirected by the Royal Mail, remember first impressions count. An editor seeing your letter addressed to the address they moved out of six months ago may question the last time you actually looked at their publication!

So, just remember that market analysis isn't a one-off event, but should be something you undertake on a regular basis, just to ensure that your understanding of the magazine, as well as the basic details of ordinary contact details, is always up to date.

Good luck.