Writing Websites You Should Know

Writer’s Digest magazine just published its annual list of 101 best websites for writers in its May/June 2020 issue. I’m pleased to see several of my favorite sites named to this list, including Bookends Literary Blog and Writer Unboxed.

I am inspired to share some of my favorite websites about writing. Some provide helpful advice for developing a writing career while others offer online courses and tools for getting started writing. Some focus on freelancing, others on blogging. Yet a couple of them focus on finding and working with literary agents.

Take some time to browse these sites to find resources and inspiration for your own writing needs. You just might learn something new.

Professional development

Writer’s Digest – This is the largest collection of writing resources you’ll find on the web, and maybe the only one, depending on what you’re looking for. They offer online classes, webinars and a critique service called 2nd Draft. You could probably get lost in their archives of articles that go back quite a few years. It’s worth spending a rainy afternoon browsing their site.

DIY MFA – Most writers can’t afford to return to school for an MFA program. That’s why this site is so helpful. DIY MFA offers time management and productivity tools to help you manage your writing process more easily. Just for fun, check out the random generated prompt feature. Just hit the Shuffle button, and the app spins to reveal a protagonist, situation, and scene to get you started on a story.

Freelancing

Contently.net — Contently.net is a platform for freelance professionals. Its blog The Freelancer provides relevant content related to operating a freelance business, from setting rates, making sure you get paid, and finding new clients. You can also sign on to their platform to showcase your work to Contently’s clients.

Freelancers Union – If you currently freelance or would like to start freelancing, this site is a must. According to its website, Freelancers Union has been advocating for the rights of independent workers since 1995. The site gives them access to insurance benefits, education, community and a political voice that is so necessary these days.

Literary Agents

Books and Such Blog – Focused on books, publishing and life, this blog gives readers an inside view on the world of book publishing from the perspective of a literary agent. What I like most about their site is that they are always so positive and motivating to new authors.

Bookends Literary Blog – Bookends provides practical advice for finding the right literary agent for your manuscript. There’s lots of information about when and how to query an agent, what to do when you meet them at conferences, and what agents look for when reviewing a manuscript.

Content Marketing/Blogging


Copyblogger – If you specialize in content marketing for your own business or for a client, Copyblogger offers all the tools and tips you need to operate your blog efficiently and profitably.

Problogger – Whether you’re new at blogging or have been managing one for a while, you can always learn something new about blogging at Problogger. This site provides insights into the latest trends in blog publishing, such as adding video and podcasts to your site.

The Art of Blogging – If you’re just starting out blogging, The Art of Blogging can be your go-to source of practical information on how to get started. The site covers everything from how to write headlines and improve readership to how to earn money from your blog.

Communities

The Writing Cooperative – You could spend hours on The Writing Cooperative site browsing through hundreds of articles. They are writers too, and the belief is that writers can learn from each other. As their tag line says, “A community of people helping each other write better.” You’ll find articles from blogging and fiction writing to grammar and time management. Most important, reading and learning from others’ experience can motivate you to be more dedicated to your craft.

She Writes – This online community of women writers offers different perspectives of the writing life. While they are currently closed to new members, you can still browse the multitude of articles by and for women writers. They also have special interest groups such as travel writing, blogging and struggling novelists. Also check out their sister site, She Writes Press which offers hybrid publishing options for women authors.

Publishing Resources

Writer Unboxed – This blog covers the craft and business of writing fiction, and has more than 50 authors and industry professionals contributing content daily. With so many perspectives, you’ll learn something new every day.

Jane Friedman.com – Any writer who wants to improve their writing and, more important, stay motivated, should check out Jane Friedman’s site. A former editor at Writer’s Digest and a current occasional columnist for Publisher’s Weekly, Friedman is renowned for her knowledge of the publishing industry and freely shares her insights about its changing landscape. Sign up for her newsletter and check out the archives for publishing advice, or sign up for one of her sponsored online courses.

Storyaday.org – If you want to get started writing every day, this site will give you the tools to do so. You’ll find a daily prompt to get you thinking about your next story. The site is less focused on getting published and more about challenging yourself to think and write creatively.

The Write Life – This is another helpful resource for writers from blogging and freelancing to marketing your writing services. This is an especially practical place to go for news and advice about building your writing business.

Getting Published

Creative Nonfiction – If you specialize in memoir and personal essays, this site is for you. Creative Nonfiction is a literary journal published twice a year usually centered around a central theme. They also publish a mini-magazine True Story for long-form pieces. In addition, they offer online courses, webinars and self-guided classes year round.

Submittable – Submittable is a multi-faceted platform where writers can research literary publications, and submit and track your manuscripts. It’s a must tool to make it easy to manage your essay publication process. It’s free for individuals to use. You can also find grant applications and projects for screenwriting. 

Narrative Magazine – A new entry on my list is Narrative, an online magazine that publishes short stories, novel excerpts, nonfiction essays and poetry. They operate as a nonprofit, so donations are always welcome. Most important, they encourage new and emerging writers to submit to their publication.

What about you? Do you have a favorite website or blog about writing?

Love to Read? Check Out These Book Review Websites

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February’s theme is “for the love of books.” 

Once you’ve finished reading one book, how do you decide what you will read next? For many readers, turning to online book review sites is the next best thing to getting a personal recommendation. These sites are especially appealing to those who prefer to read the latest releases. But it can be difficult to discern which of the newly published books are worthy of their time and money.

Book reviews – whether through an online review site or in a print publication – offers some perspective of what’s available. You’ll likely find two kinds of reviews: long-form reviews with a more thorough analysis of the book’s content written by a hired staff person or freelancer, and shorter reviews submitted by book fans, usually published on sites like Goodreads or Amazon.

There are more book review sites than ever before. The Internet and social media have made it possible to share opinions about the books we read more quickly and easily. I think this is in response to the growing number of newspapers and magazines that have downsized staffs and no longer have the resources to hire full-time book reviewers. Sites like Goodreads and BookRiot have successfully filled the void.

Book review sites have become a vital part of the publishing industry. Authors value them for providing an outlet to help them promote their books. My guess is that publishers like them too for a similar reason. These sites have created communities of readers from all parts of the world. They’re bringing the world together over a shared love of reading.

If you’re the type of reader who prefers to read the newest releases as soon as they come out, book review sites are the places to go to find out what is being published and by whom. If you’re the type of reader who likes being part of a reading community and likes learning about what other people are reading, book review sites can serve your needs well.

So what are the best places to go for book reviews? Here’s a rundown.

New York Publications — Most traditional book reviews are published by newspapers and magazines. The two that come to my mind are The New York Times and The New Yorker Page Turner section have extensive coverage of book reviews and literary criticism because, after all, New York City is where a good portion of the publishing action takes place. Most of these reviews are longer, more detailed pieces, so you can gain more thorough insight about new releases.

Goodreads — Several friends rave about Goodreads as the go-to source for everything-books. Read book reviews, keep track of books you want to read and find out what other people are reading. One of their highlights is their annual reading challenge. To participate, enter the number of books you plan to read in the coming year, then as you complete each one, update your tally to see your progress.

Kirkus Reviews – Launched in 1933, Kirkus Reviews is a book review magazine. Reviewing books is their forte, and they do it well. The magazine provides authoritative reviews of books weeks before they are released, and they offer a roundup of reviews for consumers in a weekly email that you can get delivered to your inbox. Kirkus also offers services to authors, such as marketing promotion and editing services.

Publishers Weekly – A publishing industry mainstay, Publishers Weekly covers industry news, author news, bestsellers, digital works and international. They also post publishing jobs and have a special section, BookLife, geared toward self-published authors.

Booklist Online – Geared toward librarians and libraries, Booklist is a publication of the American Library Association. But their Booklist Online site has reviews of adult and young adult fiction and nonfiction. They offer advice to librarians about what newly published books should be added to their collections. But their reviews can be helpful to any avid reader.

IndieBound.org – Geared toward independent bookstores and publishers as well as fans of indie books, IndieBound.org does a great job of supporting this niche industry. In addition to summarizing the latest independently published works, the site has a search feature so you can find an independent bookstore near you. There is no online shop at IndieBound.org because their goal is to get more people shopping at the nearest independent bookstore.

The Book Reporter – Operated by book fans, The Book Reporter provides reviews and news of the latest releases, but also posts their own guides for reading discussion groups.

The Millions – The online literary magazine covering the arts, culture and books. The Millions showcases new releases every week on Tuesday, which it calls New Release Day.

Book Riot – In addition to sharing book reviews on the latest releases, Book Riot posts a weekly podcast, All the Books, which is a roundup of book recommendations.

Bookbub – Fans of e-books will appreciate the Bookbub site for its news and reviews of e-books.

I’m sure there are many more online book sites you can explore. Don’t forget your local bookstore staff who are usually in tuned to the latest industry news and can recommend new authors and newly published works. There’s usually a staff recommendations section to browse as well.

Despite the many sources around, I still believe the best recommendations come from the people you know, whether that’s a sibling, a friend or your hair stylist. You can never go wrong with a personal recommendation.

So what about you? Where do you go to read book reviews and learn about the newest releases?

Fresh Start 2019: 11 Easy Ways to Refresh Your Website

With apologies to the queen of decluttering, Marie Kondo, “Does your blog or website make you happy?” Does it excite you to read it or post to it? Or does it feel stale and uninspiring?

Maybe it’s time to declutter your website?

It can be easy to overlook your website or blog once it’s up and running. But like anything else, it can quickly turn boring. And if it’s boring to you, imagine how your readers feel about it. If you don’t feel excited about your own site, you’ll put in less effort to make it so with good, relevant content.

Another fresh start to 2019 (I promise, this is the last one) is looking at ways to freshen up your website. Here are a few ideas that can help give your blog a new lease on life.

1. Update your bio. When was the last time you reviewed your About Me page on your website? Does it still give readers a realistic view of who you are? If it’s a bit thin, think about adding more details about your experience, either as a writer and blogger or as someone with specialized knowledge and expertise. Have you published any pertinent articles, taken an exotic vacation recently, or completed relevant education that would add to your credibility? Add that information to your bio. Your professional development doesn’t stand still, so neither should your professional profile on your site. With every new life experience, education course, or job change, review and update your bio. In fact, I recommend reviewing your bio at least once or twice a year, just as you would your resume.

2. Update the Resources page. A helpful tool for your readers is a list of resources related to your blog topic. A separate page with resources can include links to other websites and blogs, organizations you support, publications, and downloadable materials that may benefit your readers. Double check the links at least one or twice a year to make sure they are still active. If you don’t already have a resources page, consider adding one to your site. When you share resources on your site, it positions you as an expert just as if you had created those resources yourself.

3. Update site images. Be honest with yourself. When was the last time you updated images on your website or blog. If you’ve had the same images since the day the site went live and that was more than three or four years ago, consider replacing with new photos. Either take your own photos (make sure they’re high quality) or use one of the free image sites like Pixabay or Flickr. Be sure to give credit to the source of any photo you use that isn’t your own.

4. Change the layout. If you’re bored with your site, maybe it’s the layout that needs updating. If you’ve used the same layout on your site since day one, consider changing it up. What I like about WordPress is the numerous themes they offer, and new ones are being added all the time. Maybe you still like the theme but use a slightly different layout, like two-column instead of one-column. Test out different themes and layouts to see which ones look best. You may find after testing them that you like what you have. That’s okay. At least you made an educated and informed decision.

5. Update your color scheme.
Maybe the color scheme has gotten stale, or it no longer appeals to your sense of artistic integrity. Maybe it comes across too somber when what you really want is something more cheerful, or conversely, maybe it comes across as juvenile or immature when you want your readers to see you as more mature and professional. You want a color scheme to reflect your site’s topic and appeal to your readers at the same time. If your color scheme isn’t working for you, test out new combinations. A new color scheme can breathe new life into a tired-looking site.

6. Add more video. Experts say video is key component to your website content. They have a sticky quality to them because they encourage visitors to linger longer on your site. Video is especially valuable for teaching purposes. Think demonstration of yoga poses, how to use carpentry tools, or cook a meal.

7. Interview experts. If you’re tired of writing the same types of stories or you run out of ideas, consider doing interviews. To start, stick with a few brief questions, like five questions. Seek out people who have expertise in your selected topic. For example, if you write about outdoor adventures, consider interviewing a biking enthusiast who just completed a 100-mile trek, or the leader of an adventure travel group. Five easy questions can make an easy-to-write post into an interesting-to-read story.

8. Write a book or movie review. Read any good books lately? See any great films? Book and movie reviews are another way to add strong relevant content to your site. They’re also helpful for stirring up discussion and debate.

9. Conduct surveys and post the results. Want to know what your readers think about a particular topic? Just ask them. Set up a survey on a site like Survey Monkey, then link to the survey from your blog or website. Once you compile the results, be sure to share them with your readers. For example, a movie fan website might do a survey about the Academy Award nominations. Surveys are a great way to generate more interactivity with your readers.

10. Invite guest posts. If you’re connected to other bloggers or experts, consider inviting them to write a guest post for your blog. This approach is especially helpful if you plan to be out of town for vacation and won’t have time to contribute articles to your blog. It’s also helpful if you simply run out of creative ideas. Having guest posts can expand your audience to include the guest blogger’s readers as well as your own.

11. Write how-to articles. We live in a continuous learning society, and readers are always looking for easier ways to get things done in an easy-to-read format. How-to articles are a great way to showcase your expertise, especially if you can clearly explain complex subjects.

A site that looks and feels stale won’t inspire confidence in you or your readers. Any one or combination of these ideas can make your site more interesting and reader-friendly.