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thThere are lots of ways you can write for money. Books, short stories, articles, ads, and more.

While most towns nowadays have only one newspaper, they will generally have multiple radio stations. For a writer, this means multiple opportunities to write spots for radio salespeople who want effective ads for their clients.

Radio has been called “The Theater of the Mind.” Written correctly, a radio spot can convey vivid imagery that would be too expensive for some companies to pay for in a television commercial.

Radio also has its disadvantages, which must be worked around when writing a radio spot.  Because of the large number of radio stations with various niches (rock, country, talk, news, etc.), the audience is very fragmented.  Advertisers might have to advertise on a number of different stations to reach their total market.  Also, clutter from too many commercials lessens the impact of your spot.

Radio’s biggest disadvantage, though. is that it is used as background noise.  This means consumers may hear your commercial but might not actually listen to it.  And those people that hear your commercial view it as an interruption of their program or music.

If you’re going to write a radio spot, here are some tips for making your spot stand out from the crowd.

  • Stress a benefit to the listener. Give the customer a reason to buy the product.  Don’t Say: Macy’s has new fall fashions.  Say:  Macy’s fall fashions make you look better.
  • Grab the listener’s attention. Radio allows you to use a wide range of sound effects.  I once combined the sounds of a car and a briefcase opening and closing to create an image of a small car that was being folded up and put into the briefcase!
  • Zero in on your audience. If you know who you’re selling to, radio’s fragmentation can be used to attract the right audience.  For instance, because of the general age of the audience of a rock station, it doesn’t make much sense for AARP to advertise on it.  If you have ever heard ads that start with a line like:  “Allergy sufferers, now there is relief from your hay fever.”  or “If you’re concerned about your family’s well being, you want to keep them healthy.”  Both of these opening statements immediately target their audience (allergy sufferers and concerned parents).
  • Keep the copy simple and to the point. “To be or not to be” may be the best-known phrase in the English language, yet the longest word in the phrase is three letters.  Big words don’t impress people, but they may confuse them.
  • Sell early and often. At most, you’ve got 60 seconds to convince the customer to use the product or service.  Use all of those seconds for your client’s benefit.  Stress one point and do it frequently.  Don’t try and sell a great deal, the reputation of the company, and the quality of the product in a single spot.  You’ll dilute the power of the message.
  • Write conversationally. Radio is personal.  It allows customers to feel you are sitting beside them in the car talking just to them like a friend would.  Read the copy out loud to see if sounds friendly or stilted.
  • Use positive action words. Words like “now” and “today” urge action and are particularly useful when advertising a sale.  “Drive by Anderson’s Hardware today to take advantage of our anniversary sale.”  Radio has a quality of urgency and immediacy.  Take advantage of them.
  • Put the listener in the picture. Writing for “The Theater of the Mind” means you don’t have to talk about a new car.  Revving engines, the squeal of tires on a turn, and dramatic music will put the listener behind the wheel.
  • Mention the client often. Also, make sure listeners know where the advertiser is located.  If the address is complicated, use landmarks to get them there.

Radio copywriting can prove to be a steady source of income for you. It’s not unheard of to earn $50 for a one-page radio script, which represents a one-minute radio spot. Though it won’t get your name out in front of an audience, it will help pad your bank account.

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A_stack_of_newspapersFor those of you who don’t know, I write a local history column that I enjoy. It’s called Looking Back, and it has appeared in six different newspapers. However, it’s currently running in three newspapers.

The column is a hybrid between a syndicated column and a local column. It’s syndicated in terms that it appears in multiple newspapers and sometimes the same column will even make an appearance in more than one newspaper. However, I tailor the columns to fit each newspaper’s readership. So, the Cumberland Times-News Looking Back has stories about Cumberland, Md., and Allegany County, while the York Dispatch Looking Back has stories about York, Pa., and York County, etc.

I recently had a newspaper that had been running my column for five years drop me. It wasn’t because they didn’t like the column. They got good feedback on it. It was because I started to edit a magazine that circulated in the same area as the newspaper. I was told that they didn’t think it was right to have the face of a magazine competing for the same advertising dollars as the newspaper writing for the paper.

On the one hand, I understand it. They feel like they are supporting the competition even if the magazine I’m editing covers a much wider area.

However, they are hurting their readers because they are removing material that their readers like. That doesn’t sound like a good decision in the long run.

It certainly was a painful choice for me. I make a lot more money doing the magazine work, but I can’t write history articles for the magazine. I really liked writing the column, too.

What are your thoughts about this?  Is the newspaper’s rationale’s sound? Do you see a way around this situation?

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dictation_recorders-mainIf you’re like me, looking at the blank page can be intimidating at times. Where are the words and ideas going to come from to fill it?

Once I start writing, inertia takes over and I can usually keep going. It’s just that getting my fingers moving across my keyboard is harder than running a marathon.

I have found a way to make it easier to get started. Dictation.

I originally tried using a voice-to-text program on my phone. I would go out for a walk and dictate scenes and notes into my phone. The program would translate it into an e-mail that I would send to my home computer where I could cut and paste it into a document.

The problem was that the program didn’t pick up some of my words and mistranslated others. Sometimes, I would have to break my flow to make sure the program was keeping up with what I was saying. It would take me a while sometimes to figure out what I have been trying to say.

So, I cut out the middle man. I started recording my notes and scenes with a recording app. Then I would listen to the recordings and type it into a document. This took a little bit longer than direct translation, but I have few transcribing problems. I have also found that by writing this way, I have added to my original recording as I have been typing the recording up.

To me, this indicates that using the recording is working. It’s priming my creative pump so that I can keep writing on my own.

Using dictation has increased my productivity, which has made me a happy writer!

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37564145_1968752306492798_5403782325450309632_nI participated in a book signing this weekend that brought out hundreds of fans who wanted to get a signed book or a picture with the author. Unfortunately, they didn’t come to see me. Most of them came to see mega-bestselling author Nora Roberts. Also popular were New York Times bestselling authors Barbara Delinsky, Linda Howard, Julia London, and Kate Meader.

The location was in Robert’s bookstore, Turn the Page, in Boonsboro, Maryland. It is a nice local bookstore that fills two storefronts. Usually there is plenty of space to move around, but on this day, it was filled with so many people that you could barely move. I got caught on the opposite end of the store from where I needed to be, and it was easier to go outside and come in the back door.37633979_1968854289815933_3224202833523900416_n

I’m not complaining. I benefitted from the crowd and sold plenty of books myself. It also gave me a picture of what I wanted to shoot for. I want to fill bookstores with fans who enjoy my stories so much that they are willing to come out and wait for hours to spend a minute with me to get a picture and autograph.

It helped clarify that picture in my mind, so now I just need to keep writing until I reach that point.


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I’m usually pretty efficient and prolific, but in the past week, I have to admit, my heart hasn’t been in my work. If I worked in a typical business setting or newspaper, I might be able to feed off the energy of my co-workers or, failing that, take a few personal days.

I am a full-time freelancer, though, so if I don’t do the work it doesn’t get done.

That’s one of the big drawbacks of working for myself. I became a freelancer to write, which I love, but it involves doing a lot of the support work with making a living from writing. I use that to my advantage when I feeling dragged out like I do now. I work on one project for a while and then move onto another one and another one. It helps keep me moving, even if I’m moving slower than I typically do.

As far as days off go, I generally have to plan ahead for those, which requires me to actually get ahead of my work. That way I’m feeling now, that’s not likely to happen.

So I plod away waiting for Sunday to arrive when I can usually relax and recharge for the week.

If you are considering becoming a full-time writer, be warned. You need to be able to work when you’re tired and sometimes sick because it is all up to you when you are self-employed.

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UntitledDo you ever read a book and despair? It’s not because the book is sad. It is because it is written so well that you find yourself thinking, “I won’t ever be able to write that well?”

It happens to me from time to time. On the one hand, I love finding books like that because they stick with me. On the other hand, the comparison with my own writing leaves me feeling perpetually deflated.

I think that is one reason that I like going out to do talks or hand sell at festivals. I get to meet readers. Many of them come back to my tent year after year to see what my new publications are. Others stop by to talk about one of my books that they read.

That is manna for me. It keeps me from throwing up my hands and giving up because I won’t ever write like Brandon Sanderson, Erik Larson, or Ernest Hemingway.

Also, while fine writing sticks in my head, I try to keep from comparing my writing to it. For one thing, it would be comparing an author at the top of his or her game with someone (me) who is still getting better.9f2a936d3ba79285caad2a928ffd477705b98828-thumb

I would rather compare my writing with books that were published 10 and 20 years ago (Yes, my first novel was published in 1996, and I’ve been writing professionally since 1988.) I can see the progress I have made when I do that, and I imagine that my current writing will be that much better in another 10 or 20 years.

It’s not about the destination. It’s the journey, and my journey continues and will continue I imagine until I die.

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thDuring last week’s meeting of the Gettysburg Writers Brigade, we looked at some of the favorite writer’s websites of our members. These are sites that have lots of useful information for writers. We took a look at each of the sites and what they offer.

I’ve listed the sites below so you can take a look at them yourself and save them to visit frequently.

  • Writer’s Digest – The website for the nation’s leading writing magazine.
  • The Creative Penn – Joanna Penn’s website has lots of usable information, particularly for indie publishers.
  • David Gaughran – David Gaughran’s website has good information for indie authors.
  • Brandon Sanderson – NYT Bestseller Brandon Sanderson’s website has a great podcast and a lot of behind-the-scenes looks at a writer’s life and his process.
  • Alliance of Independent Authors – This organization’s site is filled with news that indie authors can use.
  • diyMFA – Another website chockful of useful writing information.
  • Daily Writing Tips – Learn something new about writing every day.
  • Writers Beware – Avoid the scam artists out there before they take crush your dreams and take your money.
  • Romance Writers Association Online Classes – Don’t let the name fool you. There are plenty of courses offered that have nothing to do with romance.
  • Publishers Marketplace – Get the news on what agents are selling, the publishers that are buying them, and what the publishers are paying.
  • Writer Unboxed – A great site with information to raise your writing to the next level.

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wayside2 (1).JPGI’ve done a lot of interesting things as a writer. Some have been fun like competing in a demolition derby. Some have appealed to the nerd in me like leafing through a 500-year-old illuminated manuscript. Some have made me part of history like being one of the first reporters on the scene of the Shanksville crash on 9/11.

Today, I’m taking part in something that makes me proud. A memorial wayside erected in Gettysburg to honor Marine Captain George W. Hamilton, a highly-decorated World War I Marine officer, and Gunnery Sergeant George R. Martin, is being dedicated today.

Additionally, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has issued a proclamation declaring June 26, 2018, as Captain George W. Hamilton and Gunnery Sergeant George R. Martin Remembrance Day “in grateful recognition of their military service.”

Marine Captain Hamilton, of World War I fame, survived the bloody Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918 (also known as the “Germans’ Gettysburg”), with honors, only to perish in a dive bomber crash on the Gettysburg Battlefield during Marine maneuvers held in 1922, along with Gunnery Sergeant Martin, a veteran of the Santo Domingo campaign.

On June 26, 1922, Captain Hamilton was piloting a de Havilland dive bomber over Gettysburg battlefield, with Martin, at the head of the column of 5,500 Marines arriving for training maneuvers and Civil War reenactments, when their airplane crashed while attempting to land on the Culp Farm, killing both aviators.

The deaths of the aviators were declared as line-of-duty deaths, resulting in their being the last such deaths to have occurred on the historic battlefield since the 1863 battle itself.

wayside1.jpgThe effort to create the memorial came about after I wrote The Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles, & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg, (co-authored with Richard D. L. Fulton). The book is the only one on the topic, and it made local Marines and citizens aware of this forgotten event.

Years ago, a couple articles I had written led to a name being added to the National Officers Down Memorial. I was proud that day, but in that case, the memorial already existed. The Marine wayside would not have existed if not for the book Rick and I wrote. Now, the two Marines killed on the battlefield in 1922 will finally have their recognition.

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18077251_10155179628818290_9156547952808988124_oLast month, I participated in the Kensington Day of the Book, my first outdoor festival of the season. It can be an iffy time for an outdoor festival, but the weather was perfect this year. I always enjoy book festivals because not only do I get to meet people who like to read books, I get to meet other authors.

I’m always interested to see what other authors are producing. I expect mainstream published books to look great, but I feel a bit sorry for the author if they only have one or two titles to sell. Knowing how little mainstream publishers pay in royalties and how much the booth space costs, I know those authors need to sell a lot of books to break even.

For this festival, my guess is that they had to sell between 25-30 books to break even. I only had to sell four books to cover my booth costs. I also had a lot more titles to offer. With this combination, I can make back my booth costs with one sale, and I did.

I’m more curious to see what the indie authors are doing, especially if they have multiple titles. This means they have been writing for some time, and hopefully, have learned some useful things about publishing and marketing. These are the authors who I try to talk to. I want to pick their brains for things that I might try.

It’s always interesting what I learn. Some authors don’t believe in doing e-book giveaways. Others have seen its benefit in boosting sales. Some authors only work in a single series while others write stand-alone books or in a variety of genres. Some publish hardbacks, and others only publish softcovers.

If I see a great cover on a book, I question the author about who designed it, and I get contact information.

I ask about other shows the authors attend and things they have done to promote their books.

I have been a published novelist since 1996 and an indie author since 2001, and I am still learning new things about the process. I hope that I always continue to do so.

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Writing can be stressful work. I have multiple deadlines each week. You would think that I would get used to them, but every once in a while, one will sneak up on me. I will have to scramble and rearrange my schedule to get the story done.

Is it any wonder I have high blood pressure? (It’s not the only reason, but it certainly adds to it.)

Robert Frost said, “If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.” I agree with that.

So I make sure to laugh. I have a couple television shows I like to watch because they make me laugh out loud. I also enjoy two comic strips from my college days. I have read them time and again for years, and they still make me laugh.

So here’s my writer’s prescription for you: Read these two and write more in the morning.

41lrjtgSxjL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_The Complete Far Side by Gary Larson – This is a three-volume slipcased edition that collects everyone of Larson’s one-panel comics. I had all of the collections that were released over the years, but this collection has so many more that I had never seen before (according to the book, more than 1,100 of the comics had never been published in a collection before). This comic ran from 1980 to 1994, and I can’t think of a way to describe it other than wacky, irreverent, twisted, and funny.

41cEhCVtFnLThe Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Waterson – This is a four-volume slipcased set that contains all of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips from 1985 to 1996. It’s the story of a mischievous and imaginative six-year-old boy and his stuffed tiger.

Both of these comics look at the world so differently that it’s hard not to laugh, and when I’m laughing, it’s hard to stay tense.

Writing should be a fun profession. Sure, it gets serious at times, but if you want to make a career out of it, you need to enjoy it. This is one way that I do.

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