The importance of a good headline by Leigh Goessl

Posted by | AP Style, Guest Blog, Instruction | No Comments

A good headline can make or break your article. Not only does it set the first impression, it’s your opportunity to give readers a good “teaser” to your article, and the way you phrase it can determine whether or not readers are enticed to want to read more. While the words you choose should pique curiosity, you also need to balance interesting with accuracy. There should be no contradictions, and it’s important your headline remain true to facts and tone as to not mislead the reader. It should have enough detail so readers know what they can expect to find. Good headlines are attractive, yet simple and direct in description.

A strong headline uses an active voice with a distinguishable subject and strong verbs, as the passive approach is less alluring to readers. Use humor/cleverness, but avoid groaners and also keep in mind that if the subject is someone’s family member or friend, a level of empathy is recommended (Poynter).Most reputable news sources  follows AP style in headlines; this means only the first word should be capitalized and subsequent words should be lower-cased, with the exception of proper nouns, which should always be capitalized. It is important headlines are uniform in style.

Avoid headlines such as:

Problems with spying

Congress fails again

Children like to read

Facebook buys another company

Better examples:

Privacy advocates cite ‘spying’ concerns with smart TVs

Congress fails to pass budget for 2014

How to encourage children to read

Facebook acquires WhatsApp in $19 billion deal

Other tips:

• No double quotations in headlines for quotes, phrases or movies, etc. where quotations are generally used. Instead, use single quotations in the headline, double quotations in the body of articles

• Always capitalize proper nouns in headlines

• Do not use a period at the end of a headline, but if the headline asks a question, do use a question mark

• Use numerals– i.e. 5 ways to ace a job interview vs. Five ways to ace a job interview

The Poynter website offers some terrific tips in headline writing.

Getting recognition in search results: Leveraging Google+ and authorship

Posted by | Blog Posts, Guest Blog, SEO, Writer Training | No Comments

 

 

In today’s online world of search engines, Google has long been reigning king. (You know you’ve made it in the world if your brand name has become recognized as a verb by Merriam-Webster.) As a web writer, this has implications for you — how your articles are ranked by Google affects where they land in search engine results, and ultimately determines how many views your pieces receive.

Some background on Google algorithm updates

One thing to bear in mind as an online writer is that Google is regularly updating their search algorithms to make sure that the most relevant, credible, valuable content appears at the top. You may have heard of Panda, one such algorithm update Google introduced in 2011. This is only one of many updates Google has made that affects your ranking in search results.

However, there are certain things you can do to help improve your own search engine ranking.

Google+ accounts and the authorship feature

You may or may not already have a Google+ account. If you don’t, it is strongly suggested that you register for one. Because Google+ is Google’s very own social media platform, the links shared on Google+ are more highly valued by Google search results. Additionally, the more that your followers +1 a link that you share, the more highly that link is valued in Google’s search engine. Ergo, if you share a link on Google+, Google will reward you by not only having it appear higher in your search results, but having it appear higher in the search results of your followers.

(Check out this article for great information on becoming a Google authority and attracting more Google+ followers.)

So network on Google+; gather followers, post and share regularly. Get your followers to +1 your content. Your Google+ profile is the foundation of Google’s authorship feature, which Helium Publishing platforms are now set up for. It will increase your visibility, credibility, and help your online reputation tremendously. Google favors authority of the author as well as, of course, quality of content, so you may find that you’ll need to accrue enough of a track record before you start seeing authorship results in Google. And for added traction, consider spending some time optimizing your Google+ to your best advantage. Also, check out Google+ Ripples to track how your content is being shared!

(A note to Helium Network writers: Once you’ve created your Google+ profile, be sure to enter your Google+ profile URL in the appropriate field on the professional tab of Member Profile section in Helium Network. Click on the question mark icon to the right of the field where the URL is entered to see the exact format needed. This will be used for the authorship feature so that Google+ will recognize your published articles.)

Becoming a subject matter authority

Although on Helium Network you can write to any subject matter, we strongly recommend that you stick to a certain subject area where you’re comfortable and knowledgeable. There are strong SEO benefits to choosing a niche and sticking with it. When you write a lot about one particular subject, Google will begin to recognize you as an authority on that subject. Your articles about that topic then become more valuable in Google’s eyes.

Think about it this way: When you’re buying groceries, would you rather pick up a head of lettuce at the corner convenient store that also sells gasoline and hacky sacks? Or would you prefer to purchase from a produce vendor? Google looks at it the same way. The quality stuff comes from the people who specialize in that area. Become an authority on your subject and Google will rank those articles more highly.

This isn’t just true for Helium Network; your Google rank is yours to own. It travels with you in your pocket to every platform with your name on it.

In other words, if you want Google as your ally, find your passion and focus on it – not just with Helium Network, but across the web.

And don’t forget: Since more views equals more revenue, keep writing engaging, quality content. In case you haven’t seen these, you might check out the video tutorials for tips on making articles web-friendly and search-friendly.

We’re here to help. If you have any questions, feel free to be in touch by emailing us at help@heliumnetwork.com.

Guest post: Break your writer’s block with creative writing prompts by Andre Cruz

Posted by | Guest Blog, Writing | No Comments

I have always had an active imagination. When I was a kid, I used to see my stuffed animals wander around the house at nighttime. As a teenager, I couldn’t go to sleep sometimes because when I would close my eyes I would hear a monster’s voice. Now, when I try to fall asleep during a thunderstorm, I see apparitions in the corner of my eye.

Okay, so maybe this isn’t just imagination here. The point is no matter what the cause, bad genetics or a bad sense of humor, I have a very creative personality and I still get writer’s block.

I have found that when I am experiencing writer’s block, the best method to break it is using creative writing prompts. For those of you that do not know, creative writing prompts can be a word or phrase that a writer puts down on paper to get them thinking about a story idea by simply trying to create a story from that word or phrase.

So, if you are stuck on what to write, get out a pad and pen and write down some creative writing prompts. Here is an example list:

1. He drove away from the city and when he saw the UFO slowly growing smaller in his rear view mirror, he smiled.

2. After reading the text message on her boyfriend’s phone, she made sure he was asleep on the couch before going to the kitchen.

3. Explosion.

4. The cowboy kept a six-shooter on his left hip that was too rusted from the blood of his dead brother to work again, but it worked fine with reminding him why he had rode into town.

5. She ran.

The beauty of creative writing prompts is how easy they are to create and how effective they are with sparking the imagination. It takes less than 10 minutes to think of five and as soon as you write them down you can feel your creative writing muse stirring awake.

All five examples of the list above can easily be used to create a vast number of stories. Number one may be strictly scifi, but two through five can all be used for any genre of fiction. You may think number four may be a western, but think again and it could be something else. Who says the cowboy has to be human or the setting has to be in the American west?

I know you may feel you need to write descriptive prose much longer than a sentence or two, but sometimes the less the better. Less allows more imagination if you think about it. After performing the exercise, you will quickly find if shorter or longer phrases work for you.

Once you begin to create stories from your creative writing prompts, there is no need to stick to any of them. It is only an exercise to get the creative writing flowing. So if you write 10 pages from the word “explosion” and then you feel inspired to write a different story, the exercise still worked. Just keep it going until you feel comfortable with the story that is unfolding before you and if you don’t then stop and write something else.

If five creative writing prompts don’t work for you, then create 10. Again, since they are easy to create just keep making them until one catches your eye. For example, my favorite prompt is number four. When did I know this? As soon as I started to write it, I felt a flood of ideas rush to me about what the story could be. When you have that feeling about an idea, then it is time to expand on it until you can’t any longer. The finished project may be a short story, novella, novelette, novel or a path to another story that you didn’t even know you had in you.

Let me know how creative writing prompts work for you.

Follow Andre Cruz on his blog The Word.

Easy New Year’s resolutions to keep if you’re a writer

Posted by | Fun, Guest Blog | No Comments

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Keeping a New Year’s resolution is no easy feat. Often times, we set expectations for ourselves a little too high. It’s admirable in theory, but if you set yourself unreachable goals, you’ll only feel discouraged when life gets in the way. Remember: You have other priorities too—you know, eating, sleeping, feeding your dog, all that sort of stuff. So instead of telling yourself that this is the year you’re finally going to write a 1,000-page novel/get your manuscript published/make it on the New York Times’ bestseller’s list, cut yourself a little slack and try taking on one small task to make yourself feel better as a writer. The rest will come soon enough.

Give yourself a gift

Sometimes all you need to motivate yourself to write more is a little added incentive. Been eyeballing a new book by your favorite author? Or perhaps a new fountain pen and journal set? Spoil yourself with small things like this. It will make you feel more connected to your writing roots and could inspire you to pen something new.

Put yourself out there more

It goes without saying that writers write for the love of writing. But if you’re looking to earn a little extra cash or expand your audience, then you have to take a few extra steps. Do something simple, like start a blog and post something once a week, whether it’s a haiku, a new recipe, or your thoughts on a particular issue. Send out some writing samples to a literary magazine or join a writing workshop. It’s gratifying to see your name in print and it will allow you to improve your writing skills. As an added benefit, writing workshops often come with great connections or tips on how to get published.

Write something you haven’t tried before

Many writers often find themselves getting comfortable in a certain genre – whether it’s poetry, essays, knowledge articles or novels, it’s easy to fall into a niche. But this year, try expanding your writing horizons by experimenting with a new format or a new topic. Who knows? Maybe you’ll realize you’ve been missing out on something you end up loving.

Revisit something old

Every writer has one: a collection of old pieces that never really took off. Maybe you became preoccupied with new responsibilities at home or work; maybe you wrote yourself into a corner; maybe you put it away in a drawer to revisit in a month and forgot about it. This year, go through those files and see what you find. There could be a hidden gem somewhere in there. And if nothing else comes of it, you’ll get a kick out of seeing how much you’re grown as a writer.

Give yourself more credit

Because “being a writer” is a bit of an abstract concept and means many different thing to many different people, too often writers will find themselves telling other people “I’m trying to be a writer.” Well quit “trying.” Do you write? Then you are a writer. Be proud of it and tell the world! You don’t need to be published; you don’t need to have a novel or even a wide pool of readers. You just need to write. Don’t wait for the world to validate you. Validate yourself. All it takes is three simple words.

Write something that is meaningful to you

Okay, yes, you need to pay the bills. But if you only write to earn income, writing stops being a pleasure and starts being a chore. It’s great when you write something you love and it earns you some extra cash, but let’s be honest: You’re probably not looking with starry-eyed affection at that technical manual you just passed in to your boss for publication. So even if it’s just five minutes a day on your coffee break, take a little time off from the practical and do some “me” writing. Regardless of if you show it to anyone, you can still rest proud that night knowing that you’ve created something that speaks to you and truly represents the writer that you are.

Happy New Year! What are your resolutions this year?

Guest post: Sam Connelly on how to utilize Twitter to sell your writing

Posted by | Guest Blog | No Comments

Whenever I used to read magazine columns, short stories, greeting card poems etc., I’d almost always hear that little voice somewhere in the back of my mind saying, “I can do this.” It wasn’t until a few years ago, after reading a really great article on coffee that I finally heard another important question to follow up the last one: “How come I’m not selling my work?”

Ok, I’m going to skip that first big step to selling your work (which is the step about moving past the fear of rejection and actually sending your work out) and move to the next big step: How to sell yourself by using your social media platforms.

Twitter offers amazing opportunities for writers today. It was only five years ago that I decided to sign up for a Twitter account and I told my wife, “Ha! Twitter can’t possibly last long, it’s useless.” Now, five years later, and about 15,000 follower/friends between my social medias, (9,000 on Twitter) and 60,000 subscribers to my blogs and columns, I’ve discovered that by understanding how to connect with the right people, you can increase your sales exponentially.

The Social Media Golden Rule (my golden rule, of course): Get your story to those who have been waiting for it.

Social Media is 100 percent about conversation. There are 900 million streams of conversation happening at almost any given time. A huge portion of those conversations are looking for your story, so your goal is to find those streams and let them know you’re here.

1. Follow Strategically

It’s easy to just start following your favorite celebrities and entertainment gossip groups, but don’t waste your time. Look up publishers, editors, literary agents, writing organizations, writing resource groups (like Helium). Several short stories and articles I’ve sold in the last two years were sold because of Twitter.

A secret I discovered (not really a secret but many writers don’t think about) most of the great literary agents, publishers, and editors that you look through the Writer’s Market  guides to find and submit to, are on Twitter and you can connect with them personally. This is how I sold several shorts. I researched the editors in my Market Guides, then I researched them on Twitter, found them, started conversation, got them interested in me and that was it.

Research your target audience:

Look up words like; Writing, Writers, Write, Freelance, Freelancers, Journalism, Submissions, Editor, Publish, Publishers, Poets, Greeting Cards, Literary Agents. Also target specific markets that you are interested in already. Then check out the people that they follow and see who’s similar to you, follow them.

2. Researching Your Conversation: The Hashtag ‘#’

The hashtag (#) is an incredible tool. People will tell you the rules for using it but as a writer you get to think outside the box and find ways to make it work for you and your specific needs. The coolest thing about using the # is that you get instant access to any conversation stream you can think of.

When a client seeks to hire me to create “chatter” about their book, film, business, event, etc. the first thing I do before accepting the project is make sure that I can find 100 streams of conversation that I can start tapping into. I’m working with an amazing filmmaker right now on an amazing documentary.

When I got the package from him in the mail I read over the synopsis, fund proposal, and other materials. Then I went to my dry erase board, wrote the film’s title in the middle and started mind-mapping every #Word I could think of that represented active conversations about the film and subject. Within 30 minutes I had my first 100 hundred potential conversation streams written down. Two hours later I had a list of 200 confirmed streams picked out. So I emailed him, shared the news, and I wrote down the date that I could start breaking into those conversations. (More on this in a bit)

Start with a mind map. Place the word ‘ME’ right in the middle and then draw a line leading away from ‘ME’ and write a word that relates to your work, like ‘#Fiction’. Add the hashtag #. Then go back to, ‘ME’ and draw another line and another word. Do this repeatedly until you have a good 50 to 100 words.

Example: As a short fiction writer you may have words like;

#ShortStories, #Fiction, #Writers, #Scifi, #Mystery, #Horror, #Thriller, #SubmitShorts, #ShortFic, #Fantasy #FicSubmit #Submissions #WritersSubmit #Literay #LitJournals #LiteraryJournal #FictionMagazine

3. Hopping in the ‘Stream’

This is the easiest and most fun of all the steps. Take one of your conversational words and pop it into the search bar and you instantly have access to every conversation where that word is used. Spend some time browsing the conversations.  Find the ones that speak to you and relate to your work. Start chatting and follow those who are likely to be interested in your conversation. Introduce yourself properly, as a writer.

Try to tweet a least 3 or 4 times a week just sharing a little about what you’re working on, any highlights, interesting facts your writing habits, and make sure to # relevant words like #Writer #WritersLife #Novelist etc.  It’ll take a little bit of time to get use to the lingo but once you do, and once you find how to tap into the right streams of conversation it’ll be well worth it. Remember to have fun.

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Sam Connelly is writer and blogger. He also started a new Twitter-based entertainment business called Filmmaker In The Cloud(TM) Live Chats, which uses Twitter as a platform for fans to ask questions while he hosts chats with filmmakers and actor. He has been hired by several businesses and organizations to train their marketing and social outreach teams to do this. Sam also has several syndicated blogs:

AShotOfLiterayCaffeine

MyMistressMuse : Fictional Blog about the relationship between The Writer & the Muse

SamuelConnelly is: TastingThePlanet:  Coffeehouse Travel blog – which has been bought by the Travel Channel and is being turned into a show by the same name.

His new Facebook page, Rise Of The Writers, is all about encouraging writers who have stopped writing or stopped submitting – because they have lost faith in themselves — to start writing again. 

Find Sam on Twitter at:

@SamuelWConnelly

@FilmInTheCloud

@TasteThePlanet