Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Power of Hashtags on Twitter

When I first started using Twitter, I was confused by all the hash marks in front of words. I'd see a Tweet like this:

#amwriting about the #civilwar and I need information about #rifles used by soldiers. 
Eventually, I learned what was going on. These are called "Hashtags." They make use of the power of the Twitter search engine to create ad hoc groups and to aid research on Twitter. Here's how it works. Let's say I am a fan of Haven on the SyFy channel, and I want to see what other people are saying about Haven and maybe even join the conversation, I can go to and type #haven into the search bar at the top of the page. It will pull up all Tweets that have been posted with that word preceded by the hash mark.

I just did that with #Haven and the first post was someone asking when the new season would start. I'm sure some person will have an answer and respond with the #haven hash tag.

Now, just as an aside, this points out to one aspect of Twitter which should make you think before you tweet. Since all tweets (unless you purposely elect to have yours hidden) are searchable and basically public, you need to be careful what you tweet. I don't mind. I don't tweet anything I don't care that the world reads. I'm less cautious on Facebook because I can control who reads my posts there more precisely.

Now, Back on point, hash tags make it possible for you to communicate with thousands of people who are not "following" you on Twitter. They can also respond to you. This is huge because some people follow certain hashtags all the time. For instance, there's a hashtag #amwriting. Writers post that they are starting to write. It provides a type of accountability. But they also often ask research questions, post links of interest to writers or just seek support and advice. I have a column open on Tweetdeck following that hashtag group all the time.

Writers can use hashtags in many ways.

  1. To target special interest groups. Let's say you just posted a blog about your new book on motorcycle maintenance. You could post a tweet like this:

    Fix your Ride. #Motorcycle #repair for everyone. Find out more at URL

    This will not only go out to your own followers, but also to everyone who searches for #motorcycle that day. That could be thousands. 
  2. To network with writers and others. Writing can be a lonely business. Sitting on the computer pounding out copy can get a bit tiring at times. Just knowing there are others out there doing the same thing can be an encouragement. Some good hashtag groups for writers are #amwriting, #amediting, #nanowrimo and #writingsprints. You can also follow specific genres such as #scifi, #sciencefiction, #mystery and #romance. 
  3. To create your own group. Maybe you are in touch with a number of people who share a given interest, you can come up with an agreed upon hashtag and use it to reach across twitter accounts to keep in touch. For instance, you might have a writers group in your town and create the hashtag #mytownwriters . Then just search for that hashtag to see what everyone is doing or set up an automatic search in an aggregator like TweetDeck or HootSuite. 
  4. To do research. With hundreds and even thousands of people following certain hashtags, you can post a request for information and almost be sure to get a response. Let's say you are doing' research on caregivers for Alzheimer's patients. You could post something like:

    #amwriting an article on #alzheimer's #caregivers. Looking for interviews DM or email at _____.
    It is best to use an email address that is specifically used for research and not your personal email because this is very public.  By hashtagging #amwriting, #alzheimer's and #caregivers you increase the chances of people responding because people searching any of those terms will see your request.

    You can also simply search for your subject. For instance, I just plugged in the hashtag #alzheimer's and got a link to an article from Everyday Health about what to do when dementia patients refuse help. Indeed, this is a twitter account devoted entirely to Alzheimer's. So, clicking on that link, I find all sorts of links to articles about Alzheimer's including many related to caregiving. In fact, I found myself happily clicking through several articles. My father had the disease and I'm always interested in information about it.
So, before you post that tweet, think about "hashtagging" it a bit. 

Learn more about Social Media and other Computer Mediated Communication in a special course offered just for writers. This 18-Week Course covers all the social media including the new Facebook features and Google Plus and Twitter. But goes beyond social media to also cover blogging, researching online, writing for the web (and the opportunities to write for online publications), creating websites on a budget, digital publishing, online collaboration and using email professionally. This course is based on one I teach at my college, but geared toward the need of writers. The instructor guided course begins February 1 and costs $19.95. An abridged autopilot version will also be offered for free. For information about all the new courses go to

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New Courses for Spring and Big Bargains

I know I haven't been posting much. November was really busy setting up the Novel Writing Course. I hope to be back on a regular schedule of blogging in a few days.

However, I've been having enormous fun with my Novel writing class. I just hope they are having as much fun as I do. I got a little behind at one point because of technical problems, but we got caught up and on a much more stable platform. These courses are all offered at

While this course is ongoing, I nonetheless will be offering four new courses for Spring 2012.(Note: All courses begin February 1, 2012)

Write Your Novel YOUR Way in 100 Days. This course takes a different approach to teaching novel writing. Instead of giving you a single route to writing your novel and prescribing a specific system, you learn about what goes into the final product and then I give you a buffet of techniques to use to write your novel. Can't stand plot outlines? No problem. Need a highly structured plot outline? No problem. Need something in between? No problem. Many roads lead to Rome but you may find one more accommodating than another. The course includes a critique of up to 50,000 words of your novel, feedback on individual assignments, interaction with both students and instructor. ($19.95 for 18 weeks of Instruction)

Writing and Selling Magazine Articles. Writing magazine articles provides the easiest road to publication for the beginning writer. For the established writer, it can give you an additional revenue stream. Writing magazine articles is easy and profitable. I have taught this course many times and always have students sell articles or get assignments during the course. Includes critiques of two magazine articles, feedback on individual assignments and interaction with both students and instructor via email and a discussion board. ($19.95 for 18 weeks of instruction)

Computer Mediated Communication for Writers. The idea of the solitary writer working alone is becoming an anachronism. Writers today are connected to the world from their computers, tablets, smartphones and even ereaders. This connection has changed the environment in which we communicate. From Social Media Marketing and Networking to Online Collaoration to Writing Effective Emails to Epublishing and Writing for Digital Media, this course introduces you to the world of Computer Mediated Communication and how to use it to advance your writing career. This is a specially dedicated version of a course I've taught for three years at the college. However, unlike the college course, this one focuses entirely on the needs of writers. This course is built around a discovery model with the Student working individually and in a group of other students takes part in a number of exercises. By the end of the course, the student will have created  Facebook Friend and Like (formerly Fan) pages, a Twitter account dedicated to writing endeavors, a blog and a website. Student will also develop a social media marketing plan. Instructor will provide feedback on all of these assignments. ($19.95 for 18 weeks of Instruction)

Time Management for Writers. This one month course expands on the popular week long seminar I've taught at the Muse Conference. During that one week, we could only really talk about the techniques of time management. In this course, we will apply those techniques. By the end of the course, you will have completed a time inventory, set up a daily planner customized to your lifestyle, apply at least three time management techniques for an entire month and report on the results. You will interact with other students, sharing triumphs and challenges, and the instructor. ($3.95 for four weeks of instruction)

Give the Gift of Learning

If you have a writer friend (published or unpublished), you can make a gift of learning by purchasing one or more of these courses. Email me at webservant2003@... for information.

Two-fer Specials

I know, the Holidays are sometimes tight financially. So, I've got a Holiday special for you. If you register (or purchase a gift registration) from one class at full price, you can register in a second class of equal or lesser price (now or anytime within 12 months) for half price. Or if you want to register with another person, one of you will get your registration for half off. It's great to take classes with another. You can buy one and give the other to a friend. So, You could get two novel professional writing courses for $29.90. Or take the Magazine Writing and Computer Mediated Communication class together for the same price. Since these same courses will be offered Summer and Fall 2012, you don't even have to take the courses at the same time. Email webservant2003@... for details.

The Super Bundle

I've held off on my best deal for last. You can have the whole writing bundle for $40. That's all four courses, plus you'll receive two free ebooks - a $10 value.

BTW, I'll give half off on any one course to anyone who will promote these classes in some way on their blog or website.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Seven Free Books from Writers Digest

Talk about a super-cool offer. Writer's digest is offering downloadable copies of seven novel writing books for free. These are not excerpts, they are full length books that have been published by WD press. The books are:

  • Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schmidt
  • Write That Book Already by Sam Barry and Kathy Goldmark
  • Getting the Words Right by Theodore Rees Cheney
  • How to Be a Writer by Barbara Baig
  • Complete Guide to Self-Publishing by Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier
  • Hooked by Les Edgerton

They are available in Kindle, Nook, Sony, Google and Itunes downloads. 

This is part of a promotion related to National Novel Writing Month, so I suspect this offer will go away at the end of November. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Creating Your Online Newspaper Part IV

Now, that you have created your paper, you want to promote it. In a way it is self-promoting. By clicking on the "promotion" tab in the settings box, you can choose to have a tweet sent every time your paper is released. It goes out to your followers and looks something like this:

Science news for Sci-Fi Writers is out! ▸ Top stories today via @wokyt @k_university @jhundseder @ind_insights @diffbw
It will list your followers whose tweets provided the links for the articles. This all by itself is a bit promotion because those people will usually click through to see which articles they had referred. Also, many of them will re-tweet. I usually get 2-3 retweets a day some of these people have over 1000 followers. Many of the people who see that their items have appeared in this paper choose to follow me as well. I am currently getting about 3-5 new followers a day compared to 1-2 a week previously. Some even tweet me to tell me that they are following specifically because they appeared as a "contributor" in the paper.

However, I don't leave it up to the automated system to promote the papers. I do three things:

Rewrite, Repost and Retweet

First, I read through my paper. I move articles I think will be most interesting into the headline section. I remove those that are not really relevant to my assumed audience. I also check the "inside" pages. Sometimes there are stories buried there that would make good headline stories.

Then when I've got it looking good. I identify three interesting stories and I feature them in a Post I make on Facebook and Google+ It looks something like this:

Science Projects for Halloween, Jupiter mistaken for distress flare, Video from ISS, in Science for Sci-fi writers.

This is a teaser to get people to click through. I take the same teaser and adapt it for Twitter like this:

#Science Projects for #Halloween, Jupiter mistaken for distress flare, Video from #ISS, in Science for #Scifi #writers.

In insert the hashtags most likely to reach the readers who would be interested in this paper.

Using this technique, from all my papers, I'm getting about 100 hits a day for about 30-45 minutes of work.

Promoting Your Self Through Your Paper

While I have to admit I just have fun putting these together, reading the stories and tweaking the layout, these papers can also help promote your other interests in four ways: Twitter followers, embedded links, positioning and embedded stories. We have already talked about how such newspapers can generate Twitter followers. So Let's look at the other three.

Embedded Links

You have a place on your paper for an "Editor's Note." You can use this to give the basic mission/philosophy of the paper and you can embed a link. Here's an example from my Free Your Education paper

To create this note, simply click on the link to create an editors note. It looks like this:

You will get a box that looks like this:

Simply enter your copy and I suggest a link to your website or blog. This gives people a place to go for further information of a similar nature. I'm already getting click throughs to my website from these papers.

Embedded Stories

Of course, it also helps if you can get your own stories included in the paper. You can do this in two ways.

First, whenever you post a link on twitter to a blog post or your website be sure to pack it full of hashtags relevant to your paper. You can also add your own Twitter account as a stream for the news when you set up the content, but limit the scope by using the filters to specify key words in those tweets.

Secondly, once you start using, you will notice in the side bar once you log in a link you can use to add a tool to your bookmark bar. Using this tool, you just go to any web page and click on it, and that page will be added to the next issue of the publication.


Positioning is a marketing concept that says you need to find a place in the marketplace that identifies you. By putting out a newspaper linked to your business or writing you position yourself as someone knowledgeable about that area.

I'm getting a lot of recommendations by my Twitter followers that following my tweets will be interesting. I'm getting regular "follow Friday" mentions now. One said about me and three or four others "These tweeps scour the web for great links." That's positioning.

So, that's it. You can set up a newspaper for yourself or for a wide readership. It can be fun and profitable.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Creating Your Own Online Newspaper Part III

I'm a bit late on this, but my offline life got in the way these last couple of days.

You have now built your paper and it is feeding you news, but you see an article near the bottom of the page which you think should be featured or you have a perfect image to use as a background or maybe one of the articles really doesn't belong there. In this article we are going to talk about customizing and promoting your paper.


While you can't rewrite the articles, you can do some editing of your paper. You can reposition some articles and you can delete them.


You have a limited ability to reposition articles by selecting which you would like to be the featured article on the front page. This pushes the featured article either down or to the right. By doing this several times you can create a block of articles you want near the top.

I happen to like to have an article with a strong graphic in that top left position and if the program doesn't provide it I'll just bump something up from the bottom.  Here's how. Just hover your mouse over the bottom right of the article you want to move. You will see something like this:

You will see an arrow pointing upward. Click it and that article will go to the top of the page in the featured position. 

Next to the arrow is an "x." By clicking that x you can delete an article. For instance, today in this paper I had two links to the same article. 

I wanted to get rid of one of them. I clicked the X and I got this menu. I can delete the post or block the person who tweeted the link or block the website. Well, I don't want to block either website or tweeter, but I do want to delete the post. So, I clicked delete. 
When deleting videos, sometimes the "x" is on the left side instead of the right. I don't know why.

Background Image

You can add a background image to your paper or change the color of the background. Here's how. First, you have to enter the settings. In the upper right corner of your screen you will see your twitter profile pix. Right next to it is a down arrow you can click:

When you click it, you find "Paper Settings" with some tabbed options:

You simply select  a background image from your computer. I chose for my Science for Science Fiction Writers something I found at the NASA website. It's pretty and in public domain. I chose not to tile the image which means repeating it over and over since that would look weird. However, I changed the background color of the website from white to black by clicking on the background color icon and sliding the selector all the way down into the black range. What I ended up with was this:
Publication Frequency and Time of Issue

Another setting you can use is the one which sets how often your paper will come out and at what time. This is found under the first tab and looks like this:

You can choose to have a daily edition or by clicking on the pull down box get a morning and evening edition or opt for a weekly edition, which is good if you don't think you'll get enough to fill up a daily. 

You can also choose the time of day this comes out. The default is midnight GMT. But you can change it to your local time and set the time. It uses a 24 hour clock. so 06:00 hours is 6 am while 18:00 is 6 pm. 

Well, this post has gone longer than I expected. I think that I'll come back tomorrow with some ideas about promotion and using your paper to help promote yourself.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Creating Your Own Online News Paper Part II

So you have decided, it would be nice to publish a newspaper. So how do you do it?

The process is quite simple. You go to and log in using your Twitter account. Then you click on the button that says "Start a Paper" You will get a screen that looks like this:

In the upper box you enter a title for your paper. Keep the title short but descriptive.

After that you begin to add "streams." These streams are places or keywords the program will search to find content. You can test out the keywords and hashtags by going to the twitter page and running a search on your key words. Let's take a closer look at the items you can add.

First, you can add a single user. This will essentially pull every Tweet from that User. For instance, in my Publishing News for Writers I have the user name for Publishers Weekly and Writers Digest among my streams. Of course, if you want to limit what you get, you can add a filter.

Say I'm preparing a newspaper about Egyptian Archeology. I might want to get the news from Archeology Magazine. So, I enter the Twitter User name for the magazine @archaeologymag . But I'm only interested in Egyptian archeology, so I click on the option to add a filter. I can put in either an exact phrase, or a search which contains all the words I designate, though not in that order, that has any of the words I designate or none of the words I give. Well, in the example, I put in several keywords that would appear in tweets and articles I would be interested in seeing included in the paper.

Secondly, I can choose to include myself and people I follow in the list. If I follow a lot of people who post interesting stuff about this subject, adding them to the list makes sense, but again it is good to identify some filters other wise you might have the program serve up their vacation videos or links to their kids softball scores.

I can also add a Twitter List. This would be a select list of my followers which I create on the Twitter site. So, maybe I have a list of archeology feeds from the Smithsonian, Biblical Archeology Review, National Geographic etc. I can put them all into a single list and the program searches those tweets for links to articles, videos, pictures and blogs.

Next, I can add a Twitter #tag. If you use Twitter a lot you know that hashtags (#tags) are ways you can use the twitter public search engine to find tweets on a certain subject. So I might include create a feed using #egypt or #egyptology or #pyramid

The Keywords work like the hashtags just without the hashmark. However, the words are less likely to be specific to that subject. For instance, someone might post something like Before you go to egypt check out this video. Doesn't relate to Egyptian archeology at all.

You can also search through Keywords on Facebook. Again, probably will turn up more false positives than you would like. But using a carefully defined filter it can work.

Finally, you can add an RSS feed. Many blogs, online magazines and websites have RSS feeds. One of my favorite publications, The New Scientist has a bunch of them. I could create an entire newspaper just out of their RSS feeds.

Below this section you have a few more options:

You can choose a language. You might start by leaving it set at Any Language and see if you get too many posts outside your chosen language. Since English, for good or for ill, is pretty much the Lingua Franca of the Web, you probably won't limit yourself too much by choosing it. Other languages may produce fewer stories. 
Under this there is a list of possible sections you can create for your paper. If you uncheck them all then your key words and hashtags will be used. If you leave some of the items checked then the program will automatically try to separate them into the appropriate categories with fairly good results.

Once you are finished, you click publish and the program goes to work collecting the stories for your first issue. 

Tomorrow: How to Customize and Promote Your Paper

Monday, October 24, 2011

Create Your Own Paper for fun and profit. Part 1

You may not know it, but I'm the publisher of six newspapers. What's more I don't spend more than an hour a day on the job. Some days I don't do anything at all and the paper still gets published. And you can do the same thing.

It's all through the power of technology offered through, an online service that scans Twitter feeds for links to articles, pictures and videos related to key words you select and then turns them into a newspaper. You can remove any of the articles you want or reposition them on the page.

Here's what one of my papers looks like:

How it Works

You know all those links you get in Twitter to various articles, blogs, videos etc. Well, searches through the entire Twitter data base daily for fresh content that matches your key words and other parameters you set up. It then collects them together into a newspaper format. Even if you never really go public with this it's a nice way to search for your own content on subjects that interest you.

Why would I want my own paper?

The first reason is to just keep up on subjects you find interesting. This is a great way to find articles galore. You can also set up the program to just search links posted by certain twitter accounts. So, if you want to keep up with articles posted by Writer's Digest, Scientific American and Biblical Archeology Review, you can set the program to just search those twitter posts for links.

The second reason is to promote your own content. You can do this in two ways. In the photo above you see the blue box on the right. That's an editor's note. You can post in it why you have created this paper and include a link to your own website or blog or Facebook Fan Page. You can also change it at any time. So, if you want to announce a book signing related to the subject of the page you can. I would however, steer clear of overt advertising.

Another way to promote your own content is by including an RSS feed to your blog or website as one of the feeds you configure for the service.

Thirdly, this helps with your own personal positioning in the marketplace. You are positioning yourself as someone providing the public with useful information. Indeed, you are the "expert" so to speak. You have provided the customer or potential customer with something valuable.

Finally, it's a good way to get twitter followers. Whenever the paper comes out those who provided the links get a mention in the promotional tweet that goes out. I have been getting 2-4 new followers a day since starting my papers. At that rate my number of followers should triple by the end of the year. And these are serious followers. They aren't a bunch of people following you because you sent out a bunch of follows to them. They are actually interested in this topic and thus interested in what you have to say.

Tomorrow, I will give you some tips for setting up and customizing your paper. 

If you want to follow or subscribe to any of my papers here are a list of links:

Free Your Education
Science Fiction and Mystery Writers
Science for Science Fiction Writers
History News
Publishing and Writing News
Bible Study