Thursday, February 26, 2009

Help Readers Find You With Search Terms

The Web has revolutionized marketing. Before the Web, "interruption marketing" prevailed - marketers interrupted readers/listeners from their articles/TV programs with an advertisement about a product they weren't searching for.

Today, millions of people are searching for information on the Web. As writers, we don't have to interrupt them to get their attention. We simply need to put useful information out there and make it easy for those searching for our information to find us.

Employing key search terms can help. Since I'm currently writing on personal finance, I want to know what terms people use to search for the information I'm providing. By using those terms in my titles, first paragraphs, links and in other prominent places, people will more likely find me when they do a Google or Yahoo search for those terms. So whether I'm writing a blog, a press release, a book title or subtitle (they will be searched on Amazon, for example), a book description, or a web page, I need to know how people are searching for this information.

First, I went to Google's tool for finding key words and phrases in Google Ad Words. (If the url has changed do a Google search for a phrase such as "find key words". Several sites have tended to offer these tools.) I did two searches, one on "money" and another on "finances."

Second, I deleted all the terms that didn't relate to the specific money topics I write on.

Finally, I ordered them according to search frequency.

Below, I've listed some of my results, telling me how many times each of these terms were searched, on average, in any given month.

Here are some of the ways that this information is useful to me:

1) People searching with the term “money” seem to be primarily searching for how to “make money” and “earn money.” 15 out of 19 (I found more terms than those I listed below) search terms were specifically about making and getting money. Make sure these terms are all over my articles and web pages concerning working, developing your skills, etc. at .

2) Knowing what information people are hungry for helps me narrow down topics for future articles.

3) In searching “finances,” people are looking for financial advice or help, particularly with managing expenses and budgeting. I can use those terms when writing on those topics.

4) Obviously, work these key terms into my titles, headings, first paragraphs, links, etc. Titles are no longer determined solely by what's memorable and what's clever.

5) Since budgeting is often misspelled “budgetting,” and searched 2,400 times as such, I might include it on an appropriate page in places seen only by search engines, such as my meta tags or as a name for a graphic.

6) Use these terms as tags when I blog on those subjects.

7) Remember such significant, but not intuitively obvious, facts as “personal finances” being searched 33,100 times, but the singular form, “personal finance,” being searched 550,000 times!

8) Don't forget to use less searched terms at times (not included below), since so many large sites with massive traffic and incoming links will get priority placement by search engines for their use of those terms.

Other reflections or comments? Click below and join the discussion!

Search Terms for "Money"

(includes synonyms)

Over 1,000,000 Searches

Money 24,900,000

Make money 2,240,000

Dollars 2,240,000

Earn 1,830,000

Over 100,000

Earn money 368,000

Ways to make money 135,000

Over 20,000

Getting money 49,500

How to earn money 27,100

Money making ideas 27,100

Lots of money 27,100

Easy ways to make money 22,200

Money manager 22,200









Search Terms for "Finances"

(includes synonyms)

Over 1,000,000 Searches

Finance 16,600,000

Over 100,000

Personal finance 550,000

Expenses 450,000

Expense 450,000

Budgeting 246,000

Financial management 246,000

Finances 201,000

Money management 135,000

Budgets 110,000

Over 20,000

Financial help 90,500

Financial service 90,500

Financial information 60,500

Finance calculator 60,500

Financial plan 49,500

Financial advice 40,500

Personal finances 33,100

Financial 33,100

Household finance 27,100

Student finance 27,100

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Teamwork in Writing

Must writers perfect all aspects of writing, so that they can personally take an idea and flesh it out into a manuscript acceptable to publishers? Can we all be expected to dream up a story, write every word with flawless grammar, organize it into neat chapters, emotionally connect with readers and create unforgettable titles?

In some writers' cases, perhaps yes. But in my own writing, as well as many others, I'm seeing a lot of teamwork. Case in point: Writer's Digest recently interviewed James Patterson, holder of The New York Times bestsellers record at 42. He's sold more than 150,000,000 books worldwide!

While some frown upon coauthoring, he freely admits that he teams up with other writers. Typically, he comes up with the idea and writes an outline. He shows it to his agents and one will say he could write a book from that outline. The coauthor writes the first draft and Patterson takes that draft and writes subsequent drafts. For example, regarding the book Sundays at Tiffany's, Patterson says, "I worked with a co-writer, and then I wrote seven drafts."

He notes that most movie scripts and TV shows are written by teams. "In America, we get so caught up in individualism and heroes. I'm big on teams." "I have a file of stories that's 400 pages thick, and they're stories that I want to tell."

If I understand what Patterson's saying, he's an idea machine. He loves dreaming up story lines. Then, he drops it off to someone else to write it. Finally, he takes that draft and polishes it.

He doesn't do it all. He doesn't want to do it all. He doesn't feel obligated to do it all. He relishes the teamwork and celebrates it.

In my case, I research and write my manuscripts, but then give them out to many people to get their input before I re-shape the manuscript. Then, I give it to people who spot grammatical infractions as readily as a preppies spot fashion infractions. After that, of course, I send it to the publisher for final editing or to a professional editor if I'm self-publishing.

My point? If you can do it all and love to do it all, go for it! But since people differ so much in their strengths and talents, surely many writers will be great at creating story ideas, but lack the patience to sit down and write a 500 page story. Others can choose just the perfect word or delight in putting those words into creative sentences and paragraphs that wow us plain writers. Some come up with catchy titles; others love painstaking research.

So if you find yourself stalling out for some reason, stop and reflect. Could it be that God has gifted you for one or two parts of the writing process, and He wants you to team up with others to complete the parts that frustrate you? Teams have certainly worked for James Patterson. It's hard to argue with 42 bestsellers and 150,000,000 books sold.

What are your ideas on teamwork? How do you use teamwork in your writing? I'd love to hear your comments.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Writing Tips and Submission Tips

How can writers polish their fiction and better their odds of getting noticed by a publishing house? This morning I joined a packed house (c. 100) at the Georgia Writers Association monthly meeting to hear a superb presentation by Chris Reardon, award-winning mystery writer (Agatha award), who has also written on writing and getting published. Find her at

Here were some of my takeaways:
  • 90% of submissions to publishers aren't accepted. So in large part, it's a numbers game - you must submit over and over again. John Grisham couldn't get a publisher interested in his first book, so he self-published.

  • You never have to accept any editor's opinions 100%. (One participant raised his hand to say that the first publisher he sent his manuscript to said that he should put it in first person. He acted on the advice and sent it to another publisher, who recommended putting it back into second person!)

  • Rejections don't mean you suck. Editors reject manuscripts for many reasons, including how they're feeling that day and the manuscript they read preceding yours. (Her own quirk is that she hates the overuse of elipses - "...." If she sees a few of the beginning of a manuscript, she automatically tosses it. It's to be used when the speaker trails off. If the speaker is interrupted, use a dash instead.)
  • Concerning the psychological trauma of rejection, Roerden encouraged us to read the following discussion (make sure to read all the replies. See the January 31 entry).

  • If you can't handle rejection, just write for your own pleasure. Once you submit it, it's a business.

  • A large percentage of rejections are due to easily eliminated errors, e.g., they were sent to the wrong agent (a children's book agent rather than adult, etc.), were in an unusual font, were on colored paper.

  • A huge portion are eliminated on page one - even the first paragraph. So many manuscripts look like they've been put out on the page and left there, rather than analyzed.

  • The first reader: her job is to get through the pile quickly. A unique voice is what they're looking for.

At this point, she handed out two versions of an action scene. Everyone gave comments. What interested me was that she didn't dogmatically declare one right and the other wrong, although those in the audience had definite, differing opinions on which they liked best. One was shorter and moved faster, but more impersonal. It was like a screenplay, or investigative reporting. The other gave more insight into the attacked person's feelings, making you care more for the character, but it moved more slowly.

  • Let your writing create emotion rather than evoke emotion. Rather than tell your reader that your character is in danger or pitiful or full of himself, lead the reader to automatically feel those emotions. Lee Child successfully employs understatement to leave the door open for the reader to respond with his/her own emotions.
  • Go through your manuscript and get rid of all the adverbs, putting only those back in that absolutely must remain. Examples: "finally," "suddenly."

On Dialogue

When the first reader at a publishing company gives your manuscript initial approval, they will probably next skip over a couple of chapters and check out your dialogue. She had us read two examples of dialogue and give our insights. Symetrical dialogue (one asks a question and another answers) is used exclusively by most fiction writers, but it's dull when it goes on too long. It often works best with humour.

In real conversations, we often fail to answer questions. In writing, this leaves the reader with some tension (some key concerns remain unanswered) and moves them forward. This is called asymetrical dialogue or oblique (the response goes off in a different angle.) It can be annoying, but creates tension. Tension is one aspect of conflict, which of course is paramount to keeping the reader interested.

When your dialogue is so refined that it tells only what your particular character could be saying, it doesn't need tags (e.g., "said Marty"). The strongest scenes are those with two people. It can be done with three, but is more challenging.

On Improving Your Writing

The very best teacher for you is the reading of great writing. Read a work twice - first just to enjoy the story. Then read it again (right away) to study the style. Make notations. That is your best learning tool of all. When you come upon a problem in your writing, analyze how your favorite author did it.


1) how do you find an editor?

Anyone can hang up a shingle and claim to be an editor. She once paid $1 a page but got no useful input. Get references. Ask about her work habits; did the editor deliver as promised; did she deliver on time; was she heavyhanded or did she offer choices. It's difficult to find a good editor because those who write a lot don't want to share their editors and risk them get overburdened.

Join several writers groups. She's a member of about eight writers organizations: three national, three local and two others.

Some critique groups could ruin your writing. Get the one you need.

2. When do you stop rewriting?

However long it takes to get it right. Revise as you get information back.
If an agent requests to see the whole thing, don't get your hopes up. Some want to make a decision on one reading rather than having to re-read your early chapters after she gets the entire manuscript. Your odds are the same, just as bad, the second time as the first.

All in all, she was 5 foot, 2" of wisdom and energy. If you missed your latest writers meeting, don't miss the next one!

Oh, and her 2008 book is Don't Sabotage Your Submission: Save Your Manuscript From Turning Up D.O.A., by Chris Roerden.