Monday, December 29, 2014

The Business Review

The January 2015 issue of Writing Magazine carries an article about planning your goals for next year, and re-assessing what you achieved this year.

I thought I'd post an abbreviated version of the article here, and if you're not already a subscriber to Writing Magazine you might want to consider making it one of your first 2015 New year Resolutions!


As the new calendar year draws closer, many people make plans for 2015. Businesses make plans too, although they tend not to call them New Year resolutions. However, before making plans for 2015, the business-like writers start by looking back at what they have achieved in 2014.

Review The Past
How often do you watch a television news review of the last twelve months and find you’ve forgotten half of what has happened? It’s easy for us to forget what we’ve achieved in our own lives, so spending a few minutes looking back over last year’s efforts can be enlightening. While its easy to focus on the goals we failed to achieve, it’s vital we remind ourselves of our successes.

Children’s author Anita Loughrey ( has the perfect excuse to look back over the last twelve months, because she has to to her tax return. ‘I like to look at what I’ve achieved by going through completed commissions and acceptances in magazines. The process usually begins with having to sort out my taxes to submit them online. I pile up all the invoices that have been paid to me and usually feel quite chuffed with myself!’

Taking that step back and looking at our writing achievements over the last year can help put our writing business into perspective. It reminds us of our achievements, but it also identifies those plans that didn’t go well. It’s worth analysing why those goals weren’t achieved.

‘If I’ve not achieved something that I had planned to achieve,” says Anita, “I look at the reasons why. I usually find I put off achieving my goal because I had important commissions with deadlines.’

Put missed goals into perspective. We can’t plan for is those curveballs that life throws at us when we not looking, but what we can do is to re-assess those writing goals. It’s easy to assume that a missed writing goal should be carried forward into next year’s business plan. But we should only set ourselves the goals we want to achieve (because we’re more likely to work harder to achieve those goals). If a writing project no longer interests us, and we have no need to pursue it (such as a contractual agreement) then striving to achieve it is a waste of time.

Planning Ahead
Once you’ve assessed your achievements over the last twelve months, ditched the writing goals that no longer interest you, and identified what your plans are for the coming twelve months, it is time to start putting it all together. Remain realistic. ‘My goals depend upon what else I have going on in my life and what other commitments I have,’ says Julie Phillips. ‘I make a list of everything I would like to achieve with my writing for the coming year and then I sort them into whether they are big, middling, or small projects and take it from there. I also prioritise them into what I will enjoy doing the most and what will potentially bring more money in.’

It’s vital we have a clear understanding of what our main goals over the coming twelve months are. From here, we can then break them down into monthly, weekly and even daily targets. Anita also finds that having this overall vision of what she wants to achieve during the year ahead helps her writing on a daily basis. ‘I set myself general goals for the year and then I make myself specific weekly lists. Then, every day, I prioritise this list.’  

Deadlines are immensely useful when planning our writing year. For writing projects that have no externally-set deadlines, create your own. ‘One way I have found works quite well in getting me to focus on the tasks that have not been commissioned,’ says Anita, ‘is to book myself on a course or a retreat that will make it the number one priority.’ Taking ourselves away from our normal writing place helps focus us in two ways; it enables us to work on that project without distractions, but it also means we have to be on target with our other writing projects so that we can go away in the first place.

Booking a course, or a retreat like this, also creates a deadline in itself. If any preparatory work is required we can plan when to do it in the months or weeks before hand. Use the course or retreat as a reward for having met previous targets. Staying motivated throughout the year helps us achieve our targets as the year progresses. 

Visualise Your Year
Use business wall planners to give your writing goals some visual impact every time you sit down to write. They can also be a great way to see how you’re progressing as the year passes. ‘I have a long, medium and short term plan that I display on the wall in my office,’ says Julie, ‘so I can see exactly what I’m aiming for.’

Having this annual overview is also useful for the planning process. Look for quieter weeks, or months, which may be better for tackling the larger, in-depth projects, whereas busier times of the year are more suited to working on smaller projects. Spotting quieter times of the year can help identify potential buffer zones. In fact, scheduling a couple of quieter moments, spread throughout the year, gives us time to draw upon, should we need it. These quiet slots can help keep life in perspective when things go wrong. 

Be methodical, break things down into small, achievable chunks, and this time next year you could find yourself looking back over what you’ve achieved in 2015, and making even bigger plans for 2016. That’s the beauty of business planning our writing.

I hope 2015 is creatively prosperous for all of you! Good luck! And Happy New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Well, if you’re not sorted for Christmas yet then you’d better stop writing and start shopping. There’s not long now!

Actually, I quite like writing at this time of year. Now we’re into the final few days in the run up to the festive day, and then the New Year celebrations, there’s little point in approaching editors. Many won’t be back in the office until after New Year, so any ideas pitched or submissions made won’t be looked at until the first few days of 2015 at the earliest. So instead, I turn my thoughts to developing some of my speculative projects, such as writing some short stories. (Incidentally, I found out last week that one of my stories has made the final shortlist in a competition!)

It’s that old adage: a change is as good as a rest - and by focusing on different projects at this time of year, I feel the benefits of the change, yet I’m still writing. For this two-week period I give myself the permission to write what I really want to write, rather than what I should be writing to earn some money. Try it. Experiment. See where your writing takes you. Just write what comes. Make the effort to write something completely different to what you normally write throughout the rest of the year. You never know what might arise from it.

You might find this freedom puts you in a better frame of mind, giving you the psychological strength to cope with the pressures this time of year has a habit of putting on us when family relations descend upon us for a few days!

So thank you for reading my posts over the last twelve months. I wish everyone seasons greetings. And here’s to a creatively prosperous 2015.

Good luck!

Monday, December 15, 2014

It's A Cracker!

I wish I were a Christmas Cracker joke writer, for they must be paid thousands in royalties - after all, it seems to be the same old jokes trotted out each year. Saturday was my writers’ circle’s Christmas lunch and there wasn’t one Christmas cracker joke I hadn’t heard before.

It reminded me that that’s what readers feel when a writer uses a cliché. There’s disappointment because the reader has read it before. Then again, it could be argued that there’s comfort in familiarity. As we chatter during our turkey and tinsel lunch, it seems publishers often want more of the same from their authors. In their eyes, readers know what to expect from Joanna Trollope when they pick up a Joanna Trollope novel, in the same way that Dan Brown readers know what to expect when they pick up a Dan Brown novel. 

It can be immensely challenging trying to be original and satisfyingly familiar. Yet this is where we should delve into our own emotions and experiences more. We’re all unique. Our interpretation and understanding of something is different from that of others. It’s our own outlook on matters that can help us find our originality. When you’re looking for an original way of saying something, draw upon your own experience and interpretation. What is it that makes you, you? That’s the way of making our work original.

Which response would you like your reader to make: one of surprise and delight, or one of groaning with despair? (How do you respond when you hear a Christmas cracker joke?) 

So next time you sit down and write something, ask yourself: is it original? Is it a cracker, or is it a Christmas cracker joke?

Good luck.

Question: What time do ducks get up?

Answer: At the quack of dawn.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

3 simple steps to get your business mobile-ready

Is your business mobile-ready? It should be. With 1.75 billion smartphone users worldwide1, you could be missing out on a lot of potential customers.

Here are 3 steps you can take to maximize the potential of mobile for your business.

Step 1. Optimize your website for mobile
Have you checked out your website on a smartphone recently? For the 65% of users who start their search on their smartphones2, that may be their first and only exposure to your business. Make that a good one.

First, find out if your website is mobile-friendly. Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test can help you do that. You should also load your website on a smartphone and pay attention to these 3 things: How quickly does your page load? Does your page fit on a small screen? Is key information visible without scrolling?

There are many ways you can set up your website for mobile optimization. Google generally recommends responsive web design, where code is used to adjust the same page to different screen sizes. You can try to set up the code yourself, or you can use templates from sites like Strikingly or Wix.

Depending on your needs, you might want to consider creating a separate mobile site. Tools such as Mobify and DudaMobile can help you set that up easily. PageSpeed Insights is another useful tool that can suggest ways to improve the loading speed of your website for both mobile and desktop.

Listing on Google My Business might also be a good place to start. One of the great things about Google My Business is that all its listings are already optimized for different devices. It will also list your business info on Google Maps. Even if you already have a website, it is an easy way to start expanding your mobile presence.

Step 2. Engage your mobile users with social media
Social media is a big part of the mobile experience, and a great way to engage your customers. In the US, 42% of smartphone users visit social network sites at least weekly on their devices. This number is even higher in Asia, so if you’re based in Asia or thinking of reaching customers there, you should start thinking about social media3.

You can do this by sharing interesting content about your business, such as stories, photos and videos on sites like Google+ and YouTube. Have a new shipment of 60s dresses for your vintage clothing store? Share some photos. New fall dish on your restaurant’s menu? Let customers know. They might even share your content with friends, and help you find new customers that way.

Set yourself a schedule so that you get into the rhythm of updating regularly. It doesn’t have to be daily, just something that you think is manageable for you. You can also use your social pages as a way to share updates like extended opening hours or holiday sales. Planning on selling everything at 50% off for Christmas? Share it.

You can also respond to customers’ ratings and reviews using Google My Business. This is a great way to have a conversation, get feedback and really give a human voice to your business.

Step 3. Advertise to mobile users on search
Search is the activity that smartphone users engage in most frequently, even more so than social media4. Maybe you own a ramen store in Tokyo that is open late into the night. Chances are, someone searching for “dinner in Tokyo” at 1am is a potential customer you’ll want to reach.

Advertising on Google can help you reach the kind of customers who are already looking for what you offer. If you have a brick-and-mortar store, AdWords’ location extensions feature can direct people to visit you in person. You can even design your ad campaigns so they only appear to people already near your store. Someone searching for “flower shop” on their phone, 500m from your store, is someone you could reach with a Search ad. Did you set up a Google+ page in Step 2? You can show off your excellent ratings on your ads as well.

Mobile opens up many new ways to grow your business and connect with your customers. Get your business mobile-ready so you can take advantage!

1. Forecasted, eMarketer (2014)
2. In the US, Think with Google
3. Consumer Barometer (2014)
4. Consumer Barometer (2014)

Monday, December 8, 2014

This Is The BBC ...

There are many useful online resources available to writers and one that I frequently browse is the BBC Academy, which can be found here:

There are lots of useful articles, and videos, containing useful tips for all writers, nit just journalists. For example, Allan Little’s video about the principles of good writing ( is relevant to every writer, no matter what their genre. (He makes a strong argument as to why journalists should read poetry, for example.)

Anyone looking to brush up on their English Grammar should check out the following link: and for some guidance on spelling and punctuation, check out

What you might find interesting in the BBC’s Style Guide (, which gives you the lowdown on when they prefer to use digits for numbers and when they’s rather spell them in full.

Of course, it’s worth remembering that the BBC Style Guide applies only to BBC journalists. If you’re writing an article for another publication they may prefer a different style guide. But it makes interesting reading, because it’s a useful indication as to the sorts of things we need to be thinking about when writing.

As writers we’re always learning, and this is one resource that has many answers.

Good luck.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Penguin Guide to Punctuation

A writer can never have too many word guides, and I have just finished reading the Penguin Guide to Punctuation (ISBN: 9780140513660). I can recommend it for a couple of reasons:

- It is £7.99 (although it can be bought for less than this), so it is a good stocking filler gift for any friends and family who don’t know what to buy you this Christmas.

- It is 162 pages, so it’s a thin volume, which means it’s not a daunting book. Some word guides go into so much detail that they frighten you from using them. This is not one of those books.

- It is easy to read. The author, R.L. Tracks, discusses punctuation in a light-hearted and concise way. It’s highly readable (so much so, I devoured it in two short sittings).

What I particularly liked about this is that it gives plenty of examples of correct usage, as well as several examples of incorrect usage (and then explains why these examples are incorrect). It’s extremely good at differentiating between British and American conventions. (For example, in Britain we would write 7.00 a.m, whereas in America they would write 7.00 AM.)

RL Trask explains everything clearly and with humour. (“An exception: the names of holy books are usually not written in italics. Thus, we write about the Bible and the Koran, with not italics. Don’t ask me why.”)

So, if you’re looking for an easy-to-use, clear, concise guide to punctuation that you can read from cover to cover, or dip in and out of as you like, then this would make an ideal addition to your bookshelf.

Good luck.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Posh Readers

It’s probably going to bear no resemblance to real life in a magazine office at all, but if you’ve always wondered how a magazine is put together then tune in at 9pm on BBC 2 tonight for the first episode of a three part series called Posh People: Inside Tatler.

It’s a look at the people who Tatler magazine feature within its pages, but it’ll also be an insight into the people who work for the world's oldest magazine. We often see the grand titles within a magazine's pages: editor, deputy editor, commissioning editor, and here’s an opportunity to see what these people look like, and what they have to do for their job.

Already there are some great quotes from the staff:

Kate Reardon, Editor - “I’m a honking great Sloane and we photograph a lot of Sloanes.”

Gavanndra Hodge, Deputy Editor - “The upper classes don’t care what people think of them, so they are willing to be wild … that’s why they’re fascinating.”

Matthew Bell, Commissioning Editor - “Irrelevant things are what makes life fun.”

Sophia Money-Coutts, Features Editor - “It doesn’t mean that you’re any less valid in life if you didn’t go to Eton - but for Tatler readers, possibly …”

Alice Holland, Jewellery & Watches Editor - “Diamonds in the daytime … it’s a bit gauche.”

(Yes, the magazine has a Jewellery & Watches editor!)

I’m always saying how important it is for a writer to get to know a magazine’s readership - well, here's a great opportunity for you to meet some real readers, and also the staff who put together this magazine. Whether it will be any use to you is another matter, but I'm sure it will be hugely entertaining!

Good luck!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Note to small businesses this holiday season: shopping never sleeps!

But don’t let restless shoppers keep you up.

One group of people who will be working extra hard this holiday season are small business owners. And our data shows that consumers will be even more restless, with one third of all shopping-related searches now happening between the hours of 10pm and 4am.

Small businesses that sell their products or services online need to know that the buying experience is no longer confined to daytime or normal business hours. You can make simple tweaks to your online advertising strategy to accommodate sleepless shoppers, and further capitalize on this exciting buying period. To do this, we’ve compiled a list of 5 AdWords tips to help your small business navigate the holiday season.

  1. Stay in the know. Every year, shoppers gravitate towards specific products, toys, foods, films, and more, to shape the season’s holiday trends. Google Trends can help you get a sense of the most popular searches by region, or help you identify searches that are just beginning to take off. Understanding search trends and where they’re coming from can help you focus your campaigns on the most meaningful terms for your audience.

  2. Show up in your audience’s searches. Peloton Cycle sells stationery bicycles and streams live cycling classes into customers’ homes. They know that many shoppers will be looking for health and fitness solutions this holiday, so they’re using broad match modifier keywords, which allows your ad to show up in searches that include a keyword and controlled variations. Peloton added keywords like “+buy” and “+holiday” to reach users most likely to make a purchase. This, along with other targeting refinements, allowed them to lower their cost-per-click by 30% and increase their clicks by 474%.

  3. Let AdWords work when you can’t. After a successful appearance on Shark Tank, the owners of Tower Paddle Boards have been hard at work creating unique and custom boards for first-time paddle-boarders. They’re serious about providing a quality customer experience, so they use website call conversions to track AdWords leads that kick off the consultation process for new customers, around the clock. Other tools in this vein are flexible bid strategies, which automate the bidding process and help you reach goals across specific campaigns, ad groups, and keywords. Some of these strategies are perfect for capturing night shoppers because they adjust bids using real-time details like device, browser, location, and time of day.

  4. Mobilize your advertising. The owner of Novica, an online artisan gift and jewelry company, became discouraged when he noticed low conversion rates on mobile, and eventually eliminated his mobile ad presence altogether. But Google Analytics insights showed him that mobile traffic was still profitable; it just had to be set at the right cost per click. Now, they’re adjusting their mobile bids to find that happy medium and get the most out of their AdWords investment this holiday season.

  5. Stand out in the crowd. Holiday shoppers visit up to 12 websites before deciding on a holiday purchase - so don’t get lost in the buy cycle! Make your ad extensions stand out by using information that will draw more people to your website, or use ad customizers to show highly strong promotional offers to your customers, in real-time, even when you have lots of products, services, and promotions—all changing by the day.

We hope these tips can help your small business connect with more holiday shoppers, as they hunt for deals around the clock from Black Friday to New Year’s Day. If you’d like some additional guidance, including free online courses, you can also visit our AdWords Help Center.

Start laying out your end-of-year strategy now, if you haven’t already - and best of luck meeting your goals this holiday season!

Monday, November 17, 2014

It All Started With A Pitch

I’ve mentioned before how a rejection of one project can lead to a more interesting project, and I thought I’d share an example. Back in August I’d pitched a couple of travel article ideas to The People’s Friend. Unfortunately, the features editor rejected them because he’d just bought two similar pieces (which is why it’s always a good idea to pitch ideas first, so you don’t waste your time writing the articles first).

The next day, the editor got back in touch and wondered if I could help. Because I’ve always supplied photos with my travel photos, he asked if I might be interested in a photographic job. Regular readers of The People’s Friend will know that the publication has teamed up with the charity Age UK, and there is a monthly feature exploring the life of an Age UK charity shop. The words are being provided by the charity’s PR department, but the magazine needed someone to pop into the shop in question and take some photos.

It’s a job that takes me out of my comfort zone, because it’s not a writing job, but a photographic one. And I’m used to shooting landscapes, not people. Putting people who don’t like having their photo taken at ease is not easy, although I needn’t have worried. The staff at the shop are wonderful. And they’re willing to help out. Last week I had to go back and take some Christmassy photos, but because it was Remembrance Week, they were all decked out in poppies, not tinsel. Still, that didn’t stop them. We quickly erected a christmas tree and stuck up some tinsel, took some photos and then took it all down again!

The series of articles will last for a year, which means I’ve already had to undertake two photoshoots for them and will need to do a couple more in 2015. So those initial rejected ideas have actually led to more work. If I hadn’t pitched those travel pieces I might not have been asked to to do these photographic jobs (which will earn me more money than those two travel pieces).

It’s just a reminder that pitching regularly keeps your name in front of the editor. And even though that editor might say no today, tomorrow is another day.

Good luck.

Monday, November 10, 2014

All Rights Is Not Always Alright

I happened to be looking through some short story markets the other day, and I came across one that looked a distinct possibility … until I saw their terms and conditions. They wanted All Rights in any submission used.

All Rights means exactly what it says - ALL rights. If you give someone ALL rights, it means you have none left. It could be argued that you might still retain copyright, but you can’t do anything to exploit that copyright if you’ve assigned ALL rights in that piece of text to someone else. So I made a mental note not to submit stories to that market.

Deciding which rights you’re going to allow a publisher to have (or rather, which ones they demand and you grudgingly agree to let them have for the fee they’re offering) is a personal decision. There is no right or wrong answer: only what’s right or wrong for you. I have sold ALL rights in pieces of non-fiction before. But that’s because with non-fiction it is much easier to rewrite the material in a different format (thus creating a brand new piece of text with its own copyright for me to exploit as I see fit). However, it’s much more difficult to rewrite a piece of fiction to create a new piece of text.

Fiction has more implications. It might be a short story to you, but to a film-maker it could be developed into feature film. And films have been made from short stories. Just consider Brokeback Mountain and Minority Report, both of which were developed into major, successful films.   

In my experience, the non-fiction markets are more willing to negotiate which rights they really need than the fiction markets are. But always remember: selling your words is a business transaction. It’s a contract negotiation, so if you don’t like the rights a publisher is demanding, put in an alternative offer. You might be surprised with how amenable they are to changing their demands. 

It’s understandable when students get excited about having their first piece of writing published. I ask them what rights the publisher wants. And if they’re asked for ALL rights I point out what this really means. They can’t licence anyone else to do anything with the text again. If a competition wants to publish the winning stories in an anthology, or on their website, then you can’t enter that piece into a competition. If you’ve granted ALL rights to someone else then you no longer have the authority to offer the competition organisers the rights to publish it in their anthology or on their website (should you win). 

So in many circumstances, All Rights is not alright. Just think before you agree to handing them over. And if you don’t understand then get professional advice.

Good luck.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Right Old Shemozzle

I’ve been busy undertaking my Uncle responsibilities this weekend, and my six-year-old nephew has been challenging me with word games. One of his favourite is making as many new words as you can using only the letters found in another particular word or phrase.

It was lovely showing him how to look up words in a dictionary and then watching him read the definitions. And there were times when I came across words I hadn’t heard before. It reminded me of a discussion we’d had at one of the writers’ groups I go to, where we chatted about words that were great to say out loud, or had unusual meanings. Our choice of words in our writing is often quite narrow from the broad vocabulary we know, so it’s a good idea to get the dictionary out and look for new words. (I love the built in dictionary on my computer. Every time I come across a new word now all it takes is a couple of keystrokes to look it up.)

And when you start looking, there are some fantastic words out there. Here are two that put a smile on my face at the writers’ group:

- Shemozzle

- Kattywhompuss

Look them up in the dictionary if you don’t know what they mean. And while you’re there, why not look up a couple of other new words too?

Good luck!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Businesses, start your smartphones

Running a successful small business is about finding and connecting with the right customers. Business owners are increasingly using their smartphones, and so today we are making enhancements to both the Google My Business and the AdWords Express apps. We hope this makes it easier to find the right customers, whether they are looking for you at their desktop computer or on their phone on the go.

See reviews and insights in Google My Business
Nothing makes your day like a great review from a happy customer. Starting today, business owners can see reviews from across the web in the Google My Business Android app (iOS update soon). Business users have told us how much customers appreciate a response, so we are also making it possible to respond to Google reviews in the app, along with real-time alerts if you want to keep a pulse on your reputation online.

Wondering how customers are using their smartphones to get in touch with your business? When people find you on Google, you can see when they call or from where they get driving directions, so you can be prepared for that next manic Monday rush.

Reach new customers with advertising
Finding more of the right customers doesn’t have to wait until you’re at your desk. Over the last few months, we’ve gotten great feedback about how easy it is to advertise with our AdWords Express mobile app, and today we are expanding the Android app to 20 additional countries (iOS coming soon).

When you advertise your business through AdWords Express, you can reach potential customers right when they’re searching for the product or service that you sell. Your top stats for the month are displayed in the Google My Business app, and you can switch over to AdWords Express to see more detail or edit the ad to promote your next big event.

These changes will be rolling out over the next few days, so check back soon if you don’t yet see the updates. For more information about the mobile apps, visit the Google My Business and AdWords Express help centers.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Seven Rules for Writing

In last week’s post I mentioned the workshops I attended, facilitated by novelist and poet Jeff Phelps. He mentioned a book by Natalie Goldberg, called Wild Mind (Living the Writer’s Life). In it, she recommends seven rules and, in light of all those writers who are preparing themselves for NaNoWriMo in a few days’ time, I thought I’d share them with you, because no matter what you’re writing, it’s all about getting some writing done, without analysing it. These are Natalie’ rules (with my comments in parentheses).

1) Keep your hand moving. (It doesn’t matter whether your hand is holding a pen, or bashing at a keyboard, don’t stop. As soon as you stop you’re allowing your brain to start analysing and thinking. There’s a time for that, and that’s later.)

2) Be specific. (Don’t generalise. Nail the adjectives and nouns. He drove a car? No. He drove a jet black 2 litre Audi A4.)

3) Lose control. (Say what you want, warts and all. Don't worry about be polite, political correctness, or whether Aunt Flo won’t like it. This is the first draft. Aunt Flo won’t even see it!)

4) Don’t think. (Don’t edit. Don’t re-read. Don’t consider. Just write.)

5) Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar. (Hooray! This is part of point 4 - not to think. Punctuate as your brain thinks of it, but don’t worry about getting it right. Get it writ, as they say.)

6) You are free to write the worst junk in America - or wherever you live. (No one, apart from you is going to see the first draft, so no one is going to judge.)

7) Go for the jugular. (If you find yourself writing towards a painful emotion - don’t shun it - go for it. Nothing is out of bounds. When you go for the jugular you’re writing the important stuff, which is where the power is.)

So, to everyone tackling this year’s NaNoWriMo, and to those who aren’t but are planning to get some writing done, consider Natalie’s rules and …

Good luck.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Simpler Things

This weekend, it was the annual open writing workshops at the writers’ circle I go to, run as part of the local town’s literary festival, and our guest speaker was Jeff Phelps ( He’s a novelist and a poet, and although poetry is not part of my natural writing inclination, I found that workshop an interesting exercise. (We should step out of our writing comfort zones from time to time.) Indeed, if you’d have told me I’d be writing a poem on Saturday afternoon from the viewpoint of a piece of waste ground on the verge of the A49 I would not have believed you.

However, for both workshops (prose and poetry) we looked at how to draw upon the simplest of subjects in life; not the dramatic life-changing stuff (that you might read in the real life readers’ stories magazines), but the more mundane (yet sometimes still life-changing moments), such as when you lost your favourite marble at school, or when next door’s dog licked your ice-cream off its cone. (That can be so devastating when you’ve spent all day pestering parents for that ice cream in the first place.)

It was a great reminder that there is so much to write about, all around us, and while the big writing world out there may seem to hold the key to our inspiration, what we find closer to home can be just as inspirational (such as that plot of land on the verge of the A49.)

So the next time you get stuck for an idea, look closer to home for inspiration. Mine your memories. Look around your local area. Explore your garden, or window box. The simplest things give the simplest pleasures, and sometimes the greatest inspiration.

Good luck.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Google launches our first US top-level domain -- .SOY

What if, as you browsed the web, you were able to quickly identify content that was directly relevant to you, your business, or your passion? That’s one of the ideas behind top-level domains (TLDs). Earlier this year at I/O, we talked about Google’s portfolio of TLDs that will be coming online over the next few years and how we’re investing in this space to develop cool things for the future of the web. A TLD helps you understand what a webpage is all about, like how you can tell that .edu domains are likely to be educational institutions. Today, we’re excited to announce our first new top-level domain in the United States: .SOY.

Built with the US Hispanic audience in mind (53 million strong and growing), .SOY means “I am” in Spanish and opens up a new place on the web for everyone to celebrate Hispanic culture - regardless of country of origin or language preference.

.SOY is a space for this influential community to create, discover and connect with culturally relevant content and ideas online. It’s a place where you can build a website for your growing small business or new business venture, or share your passion with the world. When you visit a site that ends in .SOY, you’ll know it was created with a Latino audience in mind.

To help jump start this new comunidad, we’ve partnered with several Hispanic organizations and small businesses, including the Hispanic Heritage Foundation. In addition, we’ve built, a place where Latinos can explore our products and be inspired by people doing really cool stuff.

Hispanic Heritage Foundation
ELLA Institute
Pix-l Graphx
Queen of Tacos

The .SOY story is just getting started, and we’re excited to see where la comunidad takes it from here. To learn more about .SOY and claim your domain, visit

Monday, October 13, 2014

Ignore Those Who Say It Can't Be Done

A couple of weeks ago, the author Simon P Clark wrote an interesting post on the Writers’ & Artists’ blog called Writing Is Worth It. (You can read the full blog posting here:

In it he discusses the joy of having his first novel published. He makes the comment that now he’s had a novel published it’s easy to forget the journey to this destination. Writing is hard work. Writing takes commitment. Writing takes dedication. Writing takes precedence over a lot of other stuff that would be much more fun to do at the time. But that commitment is worth it. Only we know what the end goal is. Many may say that we are wasting our time but if we have the desire to finish a writing project then it is not time wasted … if we finish it. It is only time wasted if we start a writing project and do not finish it in one way or another. So don't let their negative thoughts influence our thinking process.

It’s so easy to become disheartened when tackling a big writing project. It’s at this point where the wheels can come off, and the decision to quit is made. Don’t. Keep going. The reward will be worth it in the end. It will taste so much sweeter, because only we know what it took to achieve it.

Some of you may be considering attempting this years NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), where the aim is to get 50,000 words written in November. One of the points about this exercise is to get writers to keep writing, no matter how they feel. You have to write 50,000 words, not 50,000 words of perfect prose. That’s the next step. But it’s much easier to perfect the prose once you have a first draft. So don't give up on the first draft, because it will be worth it.

The next time someone tells you that you won’t finish your big writing project, whatever that may be, thank them for their comments but file them somewhere appropriate. Because when you do complete it, it will be worth it to you.

Good luck.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Bring your local business online -- no website required!

“Hey, how do I get my business on the web?”

In my nine years at Google, I've heard this question all of the time.

To answer, today we’re releasing a short video series (30 minutes total), sharing the same advice we’d give to our friends and family. It’s the advice I’d give to my sister, Marnie, who owns a jewelry store, or my cousin, Scott, who works as a realtor.

Video spoiler alert: You won’t need to make a website, but you definitely need a way for your local business to reach potential customers using their mobile phones, tablets, or desktop computers.

Video series to help local business owners of all technical levels to get their business found on the web. It focuses on the benefits of creating a Yelp business page, Facebook page, Google+ page, etc.

The great thing about video is that you can pause at any time and work at your own pace. Next time you hear the question: “How do I get my business on Google?”, please share the link and help get more local businesses online!

Series: Build an online presence for your local business

Video #1: Introduction and hot topics (3:22)
Meet my sister, Marnie, who owns a jewelry store and my cousin, Scott, who works as a realtor. Follow them as we talk about the big changes in the last decade, such as making sure your business can reach customers at work, home, or on-the-go using their mobile phones.
Video #2: Determine your business’ value-add and online goal (4:08)
With the example of Scott, the realtor, you’ll learn about the marketing funnel, setting an online goal, and highlighting what makes your business special.
Video #3. Find potential customers (7:41)
Marnie and Scott figure out their customers’ most common journeys to reach their business. We'll use their examples to brainstorm how you can reach customers on review sites, through search engines, maps apps, and social and professional networking sites.
Video #4: Basic implementation and best practices (5:23)
The fundamentals and best practices to take your business from offline to online!
Video #5: Differentiate your business from the competition (5:09)
With Scott’s business as a realtor, see how to demonstrate that your local business is the best choice for customers by adding photos, videos, and getting reviews.
Video #6: Engage customers with a holistic online identity (4:51)
We'll end the series by showing how Scott makes sure his online presence sends a cohesive message to customers and answers all their common questions. :)

Remember The Smaller Details

I have a conker in my coat pocket. (I must remember to take it out.) I picked it up while out walking at the weekend, with the idea of putting it on my desk to remind me to remember the smaller details.

When I saw this (small) conker lying on the ground, I realised that I’d been looking at the bigger picture of Autumn - the changing colours of the leaves, the changing weather, and the shortening days. But there’s more to autumn than these things. Autumn isn’t about red, orange and gold leaves. There are other colours too, if you look long enough. There are purples, and even silvers, and that seems to make the green of evergreen trees more vibrant.

Autumn is about seeing cobwebs capture moisture molecules on a foggy day. Fog usually means we see less, yet it’s possible to see lots of spiders’ webs, highlighted in this way. It’s about the rigmarole of having to capture more spiders that have found their way into the bath, and put them outside (only to watch them run back indoors again). It’s about having arguments of when to put the central heating on. It’s about our woodland floors becoming littered with wild mushrooms, some of which look perfect to eat (but you can’t take the risk), whilst others have already been nibbled by  some of the smallest of Mother Nature’s creatures.

Remember the small detail of things. These are the observations that turn your writing from the cliches to the original and interesting.

Good luck.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bring customers in the door with Google Maps Business View

One of the toughest things about running a successful business is standing out from your competitors. With Google Maps Business View, you can show the unique character of your business and service to more than one billion Google users around the world. Business View uses Street View technology to let your potential customers explore your location through a 360-degree virtual tour. Hundreds of thousands of businesses have already gone live with their tours on Google to help give people the information they need when booking a trip, making a dinner reservation, and more.

If you're in the travel and tourism industry, Business View can help give potential visitors a glimpse of where they're going as they plan their trips. A great example is GeoVegas, a new website from Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. GeoVegas incorporates Business View to enable people to virtually experience hotels, restaurants and other noteworthy locations in Las Vegas before making their reservations. The site even lets them tailor their experience so they can plan their dream vacation. vacation.

On a larger scale, as part of Andorra’s goal to grow tourism, the Actua Initiative helped get more than 95 percent of the country’s businesses online with Google. Visitors from across the globe can use Business View to preview restaurants like La Borda and salons like Anna Barroca Perruquers. This has resulted in an increase in online traffic and extended time spent on the business’ websites.

Business View can also be a powerful way to communicate your brand story to customers. For example, if you’re in the product manufacturing industry, you can show your customers not just what you make but how you make it. The Chrysler 200 Factory Tour gives consumers an interactive look inside the auto making process and allows them to tour aspects of the assembly process, bringing them inside the local Michigan plant.

Getting the virtual tour of your business live on Google is easy:
  • How it works: A Google Trusted Photographer collects a series of high resolution panoramic photos of your business interior to create a 360-degree interactive experience. Google Maps Business View appears in Google Search results, Google Maps and Google+, whether your customers are using computers, smartphones or tablets. For hotels, Business View will also show up on Google Hotel Finder.
  • Why you should try it: People like to see photos of a location when deciding where to go, and Business View allows owners to put their best foot forward with a high quality interactive tour. Our testing has shown that "See Inside" drives more clicks to a business' site. This imagery also allows you to build unique experiences online for your potential customers to enjoy.
  • How to get started: Find a Google Trusted Photographer or Trusted Agency on the Google Maps Business View website and set up a photo shoot.
We look forward to seeing your business’ virtual tour going live on Google. And to learn more about other ways to connect directly with your customers on Google, check out Google My Business.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Hunting for Agents

I've been trying out a new service called Agent Hunter ( It's a subscription service provided by the same people who organise the excellent Festival of Writing at York, amongst other things. The festival is a great opportunity to meet agents (I know, I've been), so these people certainly have all the right contacts.

Looking for an agent isn't easy. If you're searching online a good starting point is to visit the Association of Authors Agent ( and then look at the agencies' individual websites. At least you know you're looking at reputable agents (who don't charge a reading fee, for example).

But you still have to browse the agents' websites to find out whether any agents at that particular agency are interested in the genre, or subject matter, your manuscript falls into.

This is where Agent Hunter comes in. It allows you to filter a search by genre, returning the individual agents who are interested in considering the type of material you write.

If you know you write in a similar style, or genre, to another author, you can search this database for that writer's agent (although this is dependent upon the agent declaring this information in the first place). I did try this with a couple of authors, and while I found this worked most times I did note that some individual agents listed authors represented by the agency they work for, rather than just the authors they themselves represent, but it was still useful. (And far more easier than trawling through the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook looking for those authors.)

Agent Hunter also offers some personal information about the individual agents (provided by the agent, so some are more detailed than others), which can be useful when trying to find a shared interest.  That doesn't mean that if you stumble across an agent who supports the same football or netball team that you do they will fall in love with your manuscript, but it might be worth mentioning any common interests in your covering letter/email. Anything that makes your approach more memorable (for the right reasons) has to be beneficial.

The database also states whether the agent is:

1. Keen to build their client list,
2. Open to new clients or,
3. List largely complete.

Obviously, it makes sense to target agents who are actively seeking to build their list. Those who say they're open to new clients are not actively seeking new clients, but they won't turn the right person away. Those whose lists are largely complete clearly have enough work to do already!

When I cross-referenced this with a couple of agents, I found one whose Agent Hunter entry said they were actively looking to build their list, whilst on their own website they said they were not looking to take on new clients at the moment. As with all these things, a database is only as good as the information it recieves. You might think the agent's website would be more up to date, however when I scrutinised the agent's news page on their website, the last entry was made in May. So it's difficult to determine whose information is the most up to date: the agent's own website, or the Agent Hunter database.

What is really useful is the Twitter names and blog list that agents have are detailed here too, which means you can follow and find out more about an agent from their own online presence, and really get to know them better, before you make an initial approach. Whatever you do, don't approach an agent by tweet, but follow their Twitter feed for any useful snippets of information. You never know what you might learn.

If you want to look around the database you can register for free, and this will give you access to basic information. If you subscribe, you get full access to all of the information. Subscription costs are currently:

1. £5 for one month's access,
2. £8 for six month's access and,
3. £12 for one year.

If you're looking for an agent, then this service could prove useful. It's cheaper than subscribing to the Writers' & Artists' online database (which doesn't give as much information about agents, although it gives you access to a world of other information), and unlike the W&A database gibes you options to sign up for shorter periods than a year. Indeed, if you feel you're ready to start searching intently, the a one month subscription may be all you need to find you agent. If not, £1 a month for a year's access won't break the bank.

It'll be interesting to see how frequently the database is updated. And while you're there, you might want to search the publisher database, which lists over 430 publishers (and you can fine tune your search to only return those publishers who accept unagented submissions).

For further information visit

Good luck!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

One week left to apply for a Mission Main Street Grant

The Robot Garage was a past recipient of a Mission Main Street Grant from Chase. 

Small businesses are driven by turning big ideas into reality. A few weeks ago, we posted news that we’re once again teaming up with Chase for this year’s Mission Main Street Grants program, an effort helping small businesses across America bring some of those big ideas to life.

This year, twenty businesses will each get a $150,000 grant from Chase, as well as a Chromebook, $2000 towards one market research study with Google Consumer Surveys, and a trip to Google for a small business marketing workshop with Google experts.

We know how important the web can be to help small businesses grow, so we also worked with Chase again to build a marketing toolkit on The toolkit shares tips that every business can use, like best practices for digital marketing and social media, as well as how to make the most of online advertising and analytics.

ABL Denim, a small business based out of Los Angeles and a 2013 grant recipient, understands the benefits of the grant full well. The company produces a premium denim jean line designed with features that make dressing easier for people with limited mobility or sensory integration disorders. The grant has allowed owner Stephanie Alves and her team the opportunity to hire staff, rebuild their website, create a product catalogue, and learn more about investing in marketing and advertising - which lent tremendous credibility in their talks with bigger retailers about business partnerships.(Google to confirm that this has been verified by ABL)

The program is open to current businesses that have been operating for at least two years and have less than 100 full-time employees. Businesses must receive at least 250 votes on via Facebook authenticator to be eligible for the opportunity to receive a grant. The deadline to apply is October 3, 2014, so hurry and sign up soon! You can find out more information about the program and all of the eligibility requirements at On the website you can also check out videos and a Google Hangout with last year’s grant recipients as they share how they used social channels to rally support and improve their applications.

The web opens up countless opportunities for small businesses to grow and reach new customers, and we’re excited to see your great submissions. Get moving before time runs out, and good luck!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Announcing the Writers Bureau Flash Fiction Competition

The Writers Bureau are running a Flash Fiction competition this year. I mention it here, because although I only dabble in fiction, it can be a great exercise for any writer to undertake. The whole point of Flash Fiction is that it is short - and the Writers Bureau’s competition asks for a story in no more than 500 words, on any theme. (And remember what I said a couple of weeks ago in my post

Prizes include:

1st Prize
£300 plus the choice of any
Writers Bureau Course
2nd Prize
£200 plus subscrition to 
Freelance Market News
3rd Prize
£100 plus subscriptiion to 
Freelance Market News

The rules for the competition are:

 1. The fee is £5.00/$8.00/€6 per entry  or three entries for £10/$16/€12 . There is no
limit on the number of entries competitors may send provided each one is accompanied
by the correct entry fee. Sterling cheques and postal orders should be made payable to
The Writers Bureau. [Note: we only accept personal cheques drawn on a UK bank.]
Only sterling, American dollars or Euros are accepted in currency. Subscribers to
FMN have the reduced fee of £4.00/$7.00/€5 per entry  or three entries for
£8/$17/€10 .
2. Stories must not exceed 500 words and must be typed using double spacing. All work
must be in English.
3. For postal entries, each story should start on a separate sheet of paper.
4. Work may be on any theme but should not have been previously published.
5. No competitor may win more than one prize.
 6. The author’s name must not appear on any work but should be entered on the Entry
Form or attached on a separate sheet of paper.
7. Copyright remains with the author but prize winners must agree to publication in a
single issue of Freelance Market News, plus permission to include the work on The
Writers Bureau website for a period of up to twelve months.
8. Entries cannot be returned to contestants; so please keep a copy.
9. Receipt of entries will only be acknowledged if accompanied by a stamped, selfaddressed
postcard. Results will be available on the Writers Bureau website from 15th
January 2015. Winners will be notified individually.
10. Entries that do not comply with the rules will be disqualified and entry fees will not
be returned.
11. Current employees of The Writers Bureau are not eligible to enter the competition.
12. The Judge will be Diana Nadin, Director of Studies.

The closing date for entries is 30th November 2014

Why not give it a try?

Good luck!

Monday, September 15, 2014

He said. She said.

At the NAWG Festival of Writing last month I attended a couple of workshops led by the crime writer Veronica Heley. ( In one of her workshops she explained how to avoid that particular dilemma fiction writers find themselves in, when writing dialogue … how to tag the conversation.

The most common tag is said:

“I love you!” he said.

After using a few saids writers are often tempted to raid the thesaurus and use a different verb …

“I love you!” he exclaimed.

The temptation here, though, is to use every alternative verb in your dictionary, which then becomes hard work for the reader and often involves using the wrong word for the emotion you’re trying to convey to the reader. So, to avoid this, writers then turn to adverbs to augment said

“I love you!” he said, gushingly.

But they should be used carefully. Veronica suggested a common editing trick is to delete adverbs when used in a dialogue tag (and by this she was referring to adverbs ending in -ly). While the use of numerous adverbs in dialogue tags may be seen as out of fashion at the moment, that doesn't mean obliterating them will improve your text. There are many other adverbs (including those that don't end in -ly) that are important to our text. Like any other word we use in our writing, when used correctly, adverbs have an important role to play.

Veronica continued by saying that if you have a conversation taking place between two characters, you can use the said tags for the first time each character speaks, but after that, as long as the conversation is short, most readers can keep track of who said what, allowing you to drop the tag completely:

“I love you!” he said.
“Oh?” she replied.
“Don’t you love me?”
“I’m … I’m not sure.”
“Ah. I see. I thought … I thought we had something between us.”
“Not from where I’m standing we don’t.”

Tags were only used for the first two lines, and after that it was possible to keep track of who was speaking.

However, the technique that Veronica said writers should consider is the beat. Used well, it helps to give writing a rhythm, which the said tags often destroy. A beat is where you attribute some sort of action to the dialogue, instead of a dialogue tag, like so:

Charles dropped to one knee and took Susan’s hand. “I love you!”

You don’t need he said at the end of this, because the reader knows that it is Charles saying them. The dialogue falls naturally after the action. Alternatively, you can put the action after the dialogue:

I love you!” Charles took Susan’s hand and kissed it.

This technique of attributing some action to the dialogue can be useful in clarifying to the reader who is speaking, when you have more than two people taking part in the conversation. It also helps to convey some of the emotion behind the dialogue as well. When you think about it, most people augment their speech with body language, and this can be quite revealing, so using this action to enhance the dialogue makes sense. And it avoids having to use said quite so often.

Look at how other writers use this technique when you’re next reading fiction. 

Good luck.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Competitions Lead To New Work Being Created

Well it was a surprise when I received this trophy at the NAWG Festival of Writing last month. During the festival there is a competition to write a mini-tale of 100 words … and it has to be exactly 100 words long. The closing date for entries is 3.15pm on the Saturday of the festival, and then the winner is announced during the festival’s gala dinner, later that evening. To make judging impartial entrants have to submit their entry using a pseudonym … and before you ask, no, I didn’t use my pornstar name (as I did last year).  I was delighted to discover that my tale was judged to be the winner.

Writing competitions are useful. Not only are they a delight if you win them, but they’re great for developing your writing skills. They can stretch your creativity (and writing something of exactly 100 words certainly does that). The word count also focuses the mind when it comes to editing, because you know it’s vital you don’t submit an entry with more words than the rules allow. And the deadline gives you something to aim for.

More importantly, in my opinion, is that even if you don’t win the competition has forced you to create something new. I’ve often gone on to sell a story, or an article, that started off as a competition entry, which failed to win. Once you’ve created something you have a piece of work that you can adapt, edit and send off.

So, the next time you see a writing competition, don’t just think about the opportunity of winning a shiny trophy, or a cash prize. Think of it as an opportunity to create something new.

Good luck.