Review of 30 Day Blogging Challenge by Nikki Pilkington and more

Review of 30 Day Blogging Challenge by Nikki Pilkington

If you're looking for a handy, no frills book of suggestions for blogging, this book should meet your requirements. Having been designed as an email course, 30 Day Blogging Challenge, written by Nikki Pilkington, consists mainly of 30 very short articles on different aspects of blogging. Being able to buy the whole lot in the form of a book is excellent for those of us for whom deferred gratification is an alien concept.

Rosie the blogger, by Mike Licht to read, with plenty of useful tips and links. Having looked at several "Improve your blog in 30 days" type articles and books, I wasn't holding my breath expecting anything too different, but I was pleasantly surprised. The main stand-out feature is that several of the suggestions made are unusual in the sense that I have not seen them mentioned elsewhere.

30 Day Blogging ChallengeFor example, on Day 6 we are told to write a blog post saying something nice, whether about a product, a client or whatever. A “nice” idea, although perhaps not one which comes easily to a person like me who, I am constantly told, has gradually turned into a grumpy old man (what's with the "old"?).
Other ideas include taking inspiration from a song (I've used a variation of the idea occasionally myself, and I think it works well), and a number of other suggestions which made me sit up and think "Oh, I hadn't thought of that!" I also learnt about the correct way of using anchor text (the text used for a link), and there is good, easy-to-implement advice on search engine optimisation.

There are some excellent links included too, such as 25+ places to which to submit your blog, in order to promote it, and a handy list of places where you can find free high-quality photos with which to illustrate your blog posts.

I like the fact that the advice is byte-sized. You can open the book at random and find and read a suggestion very quickly. Should you wish to delve deeper into a particular aspect, there is usually a link back to an article on Nikki’s blog. There are also a few longer articles towards the back of the book.

There are a couple of niggly things. Sometimes, especially when you’re somewhere without internet access, the byte-sized chapters with links to a more in-depth article can be a bit frustrating. Also, the section on tags is particularly weak. We’re told that we absolutely must put them in our blog posts, but to find out why you have to buy another book. Still, these are relatively minor concerns.

Does this book have any educational application? If you’re looking for a way of raising your school’s profile through blogging, whether to promote pupils’ work, drum up more interest from parents of current pupils, or to raise awareness of the school’s work in order to attract potential pupils, I think this book would help. Some of the advice would be less relevant in an educational content perhaps than a business one (search engine optimisation comes to mind, although having said that I have sometimes had quite a job finding a school’s website through search engines). On the whole, however, there is a lot of good advice here that could easily be adapted by a school for its own blog.

The book would prove useful, too, for schools that teach pupils about the business potential of blogging as a marketing tool.



Review of Polish Your Fiction

Polish Your Fiction is another title in Jessica Bell’s “in a nutshell” series. It is subtitled “A quick and easy self-editing guide”, which is a very apt description. Interestingly, although Jessica gives great tips on self-editing, she very much advo0cates using a third party editor too.

Editing the old-fashioned way! Photo by Nick McPhee

(Please note: that is an affilate link. By buying Jessica's book via that, you will helping to put a few morsels on my table. You know it makes sense.)

The book contains information and advice about how to tighten up on your descriptions and dialogue, and also advice on the correct way of writing numbers, dashes, dates and other stuff. She even goes into differences between American and British spelling. 

It’s very readable, because it’s written in a very down-to-earth style. What I especially like is the admission of oversights and errors—there’s even a section at the end of the book in which other authors relate their nightmare experiences. What Jessica and the other authors have done, in effect, is to offer further proof of the truth of a rule I came up with a long time ago: if you want to spot a glaring and embarrassing mistake, have 5,000 copies of the item printed or, latterly, send it out to several thousand readers; it never fails.

I don’t write fiction much, so I was unsure about whether this book would be useful to me. I found that it is, for two reasons. First, there are enough tips about punctuation and other things to make it relevant to me. Second, I think the advice on tightening up your prose applies to all writing. There are enough examples given to enable you to apply the suggestions to other forms of writing as well.

There are also some useful tips on using Word, and some handy websites included.

A “lightbulb” moment for me was the advice to use em dashes rather than en dashes. I’ve always preferred the latter, but Jessica points out that using an en dash can result in a rather awkward-looking dash at the end of a line. So I‘m now training myself to think “em” rather than “en”!

I think as far as this book goes, it is very good, and great value for money. It does what it says on the tin, and is a very easy read.

Rating: 5/5


Freelancing vs authoring Part 1

If, like me, you enjoy writing and you would like to earn money from it, should you go down the freelance writing route or write books, or both?

From my experience, here are the pros and cons of freelancing.

One of the joys of freelance writing and authoring is that you can do it anywhere. Photo by Pedro Ribeiro Simões


  • If you get the right assignments, frequently enough, and can write both quickly and well, it can be quite lucrative.
  • If you find deferred gratification difficult, quite often freelance writing is a faster process. Not always, of course: you may write a piece for a magazine that won’t be printed for 6 months. But if you write for a weekly publication or a daily one, and sometimes even a monthly one, the time between submitting your article and seeing it in print could be relatively short.
  • In the UK, becoming a member of the Authors’ Licencing and Collecting Society (ALCS) enables you to earn money from people photocopying your articles (as long as you register them).
  • Having an article published in a prestigious journal in your field is a good way of establishing credibility – assuming the article is a good one of course.
  • Finally, having an article published is good publicity. I always ask the editor to include a short bio such as:

Terry Freedman publishes the Writers Know-how website and the ICT & Computing in Education website.


  • Even if you can write quickly, it is very time-consuming being a freelance writer. You have to identify potential topics, then identify potential outlets for those topics (or vice-versa), find out who the editor is, read a few issues to make sure the topic hasn’t been covered recently and that it is a good fit for the periodical, contact the editor, and then settle down for what could be a long wait. Once you’ve been commissioned you have to invoice them, keep track of invoices submitted and payments received, and all the time be looking for new outlets and repeating the whole cycle.
  • The biggest problem about the amount of time all this takes is that it is time when you could be writing a book.
  • Even if you are very fortunate and often get commissioned to write articles, there is the biggest problem of all with freelance writing as a way of earning money: it’s a one-off payment. Unless you’re lucky and the article is published again, in which case you should get a repeat fee, you won’t earn any money again until you’ve landed another freelance job, written the article, and sent in the invoice.

Next time:

The advantages and disadvantages of authoring.


5 reasons that writers should use spreadsheets

Many people have the impression that spreadsheets are complicated, used for number-crunching, and hold little of interest to the writer. However, as an organisational and time-saving tool, a simple spreadsheet is hard to beat. Here is how I use them in my writing.

Organising the structure of your book

I have head of writers who use spreadsheets to keep track of characters and plot lines. I write mainly non-fiction myself, and so I have used a spreadsheet occasionally to keep track of my chapters and sections. A spreadsheet gives you an overview of what the whole book will look like.

Organising article submissions

As I tend to submit article ideas to several publications, and I don’t submit the same idea to more than  one at a time, I have created a spreadsheet to help me keep track of it all. Here is what it looks like:

Get the big picture with a spreadsheet

As you can see, I also use this spreadsheet to keep track of whether or not I’ve submitted my invoice, and then been paid.

What I find quite useful about this spreadsheet is that it enables me to see all my writing activity at a glance.

Keeping track of deadlines

Once you have landed a commission, you need to make sure you get it in in time. If you have several projects on the go, why not use a spreadsheet to help you ensure that you meet all your deadlines? It takes just a couple of very simple formulae to make light work of this, as I explained in the article 10 attributes of professional writers – #3: Meet the deadline.

Issuing invoices

A spreadsheet is a more useful tool than a word processor when it comes to invoices. It’s true that Word has a table feature, and that you can carry out calculations in it. But the truth is that it’s clunky and unintuitive -- because it wasn’t really designed for that in the first place.

Once you've set up your invoice template, all you have to do is fill in the blanks each time

If you have done several pieces of work for the same editor, a spreadsheet enables you to add up all the amounts you are billing them for with a very simple formula -- =SUM(cell range), eg == SUM(B2:B6).

If you have to charge VAT or some other form of sales tax, you can set up a template that will automatically do that for you. Then, once you have created your invoice, save it as PDF file to make sure your editor can read it, and send it in.

Keeping track of payment

A neat way of seeing who has paid and who hasn't -- at a glance

There’s not much point in writing articles if you then don’t get paid for them. I use another spreadsheet to keep track of when I have invoiced which publication. That enables me to also determine when to politely remind them if I am not paid within the standard 30 days of issuing the invoice or of publication (depending on the periodical’s policy).


It’s worth the small investment in time getting to know how to set up a simple spreadsheet given the amount of time and aggravation it will save you in the long run.


Money, Money, Money

This is a slightly modified version of an article I published on the ICT in Education website in October 2014. In my experience, it absolutely applies to writers.

This article is not about writing or related matters as such; it's more about my experience of attitudes to paying for work. It's worth reading, I think, if any of the following applies to you:

  • you're thinking of asking a writer to do some work
  • you have some students who are hoping to earn money from writing
  • you are thinking of writing yourself.

The Forty years and I still can’t levitate section

It is a source of constant disappointment to me that, despite learning to meditate 41 years ago and practising almost every day since then, I am still unable to live on air alone. Yet that seems to be the assumption of some people and, especially, large organisations when it comes to offering me work.

Not all the time, of course. Fortunately, I receive more offers of payment than non-payment, but even so. It rankles.

I'm not alone, either. I've read articles, by and spoken to, many people in different fields, and the story is the same. From individual potential "clients" the phrase is:

"I was wondering if you could just...".

From corporations the mantra is:

"We don't have a budget..."


"Could you help us bid for a big project".

I've heard or read the same thing from other education consultants, freelance writers, copywriters, graphic designers and artists, to name but a few.

“Work” usually implies payment

For example, I received an email recently from someone asking me if I could just look at the ICT Strategy document he'd written. I responded by saying "Yes, this is just the kind of work I do." I think the word "work", with its implication of a fee, put them off, because I've heard nothing since.

To expect someone to work for nothing is somewhat insulting I think. It seems to imply that although you value their expertise, you don't value it enough to want to actually pay for it. Perhaps it's because they think it won't take the person very long to give an opinion. And they may well be right. It may take me only an hour or so, for example, to look at a document and make suggestions on how it might be improved. But it's not just an hour: it's an hour plus nearly 40 years.

As an old joke (which isn't really a joke) says: someone calls an engineer out to fix a problem. The engineer whacks a pipe with a hammer, and everything starts working again.

"That will be £500 please", says the engineer.

"What?!", says the customer. "£500 for banging it with a hammer?".

"No", says the engineer. "Banging it with a hammer costs £1. Knowing where to hit the hammer costs £499."

As The Staple Singers, Joe Cocker and several others have enjoined us, “Respect yourself!”

I also think it shows a remarkable lack of self-respect on the part of the person asking for something for nothing. I, for instance, would never have the gall to walk into a shop and ask if I could have one of their products free of charge. I'd feel ashamed at presenting myself as a charity case.

Bob Bly, a freelance copywriter, wrote recently in his free newsletter:

"As incredible as it sounds, a lot of my subscribers want – even expect -- me to work for them for free.I don't think they are bad people. They mean well. But listen ... asking me to work for you without offering to pay me is at best in bad taste, at worst extremely insulting."

(Reproduced with permission from Bob Bly:

A graphic designer has experienced the same thing, as related in this email exchange. I'm not sure if these emails are real, but they illustrate the point I'm making in a very humorous manner: Graphic Design emails (Warning: some 'robust' language is used).

A cousin of mine is a freelance graphic designer who runs Adrienne Guss Design, based in Los Angeles. She has experienced the same thing as I have even though hers is a completely different field of expertise to mine, and she lives halfway over the other side of the world. She told me:

"I think there is a lot of age discrimination, not just because companies think that if you are over 35 all of your creative brain cells have died, but also because they can offer much lower wages to someone just out of school. I know many designers who have been let go and even told by their creative directors that they had to cut someone and they chose the person who had been there the longest because they were making the biggest salary and taking too much of the budget.

"As for working for nothing, many companies have asked me to show them a design and then, if they don't like it, they don't want to pay for it. They assigned the work; I tell them 'If you hired an accountant and you didn't like the way he did your books, you'd still have to pay him for his time.'

"Finally, my favourite example is an ad I'd seen in the classifieds for a designer: 'Must have 7 years experience in Adobe Suite and Microsoft programs, as well as hand drawing and painting skills. Bachelor's degree required. ENTRY LEVEL POSITION.' FYI entry level translates to low wages."

There is even a conference coming up – The Money – that has been organised to explore the relationship between artists (or, more generally, "creatives") and how they get paid. In the field of the creative arts, the people at the end of the queue for payment, apart from a relatively few big names, are the writers, designers and artists – ie, the people without whom the projects wouldn't even exist! 

And what about in education sphere?

Back to the education field. Part of the problem, as in other areas, is that new consultants think that by offering their services for nothing they are going to build up goodwill. In my opinion, all they are doing is announcing to the world that they don't think they're worth much. That doesn't do them much good, and it certainly doesn't do the rest of us much good. As any school student studying Economics will tell you, all a price war does is get rid of some of the players in the market. Unfortunately, the ones that leave are not necessarily the worst at what they do, and the ones that remain are not necessarily the best. They just happen to have the largest cash reserves.

Personally, I have never entered into a price war; in the end, nobody wins from one. Not even the consumer, because, ultimately, no consultant is going to go the extra mile if they are being paid nothing or next to nothing. Not indefinitely, anyway.

Do I object to giving my opinion on something? No, of course not. In fact, it's rather flattering. Do I object to being asked to work for nothing? Do I really need to answer that question?

Large organisations are, however, worse than individual people. At least individuals have the (flimsy) excuse of not having enough money. I say "flimsy" because in my opinion, if you don't have enough money for something then you organise your budget in such a way that you do. And if you don't have a budget, then you make a business case to the person who does.

You'd expect large organisations to know better. But here are some of the things I've been asked to do:

  • Produce a two-page strategy document overnight, before any discussion about the fee or contract has taken place. When I tried to have such a conversation, my phone calls and emails were unreturned.
  • Run two workshops at a conference. I was told there is no budget from which to pay me because the keynote speaker has secured a five figure fee for his talk.
  • Speak at a conference on an area of my expertise (assessing computing and ICT) for free. When I said I couldn't afford to work for nothing, I was offered a £100 for "goodwill". That's almost more insulting than the original offer.
  • Asked to create resources as part of a major bid that could, if won, be fairly lucrative.
  • Asked to create a manual for a software product to see if the company liked my work.

As Bob Bly, mentioned earlier, says in a follow-up newsletter:

"Ask your handyman to build a shed and tell him that, if you like it, you will pay for it, but if you don't, you won't. Let me know his response."

(You can sign up to Bob Bly's free newsletter by following this link: Bob Bly's newsletter.)

I realise this article has, naturally, been written from the viewpoint of a service provider. You, as a service consumer, may not think it's important. Your aim, for all I know, may be to hire the person who is cheapest, rather than the person who is the best. All I can do is suggest that it's better to look for value for money rather than the lowest cost. The two are by no means synonymous. And bear in mind something I saw in a tweet, I think, a few months ago:

"If you think it's expensive to hire a professional, just wait till you hire an amateur."



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