John M. Wills

Books and blog



Search Engine Optimization

isAll of us with websites and blogs constantly try to devise ways to drive traffic to our sites. Good writing, coupled with keywords, are a part of that strategy. However, the game keeps changing and what worked yesterday may not work as well today. There is a new technique known as “The Long Tail Keyword.” I stumbled upon this concept as I searched for ways to optimize my blog. I give full attribution to the website, eHow, for the following information:

The Long Tail Keyword is King

Optimizing your website with a high-ranking, generic keyword will do little to generate traffic. A generic keyword such as “tablet computer” will simply have too much competition for you to have a shot at getting into the first page of search engine results. Instead, the so-called “long tail” strategy works best — and that is to focus on longer key phrases, written in natural speech, which will be used to guide users to specific and often localized information. Of course, there is a place for the shorter keywords in each page’s metadata, although Google now puts more emphasis on actual, visible content than those invisible indicators.


Your Web page that includes the word “tablet computer” may come in on page 25 of the search engine results, but you’ll have a better chance of getting to page one if you optimize on something more specific, like “How do I fix my tablet computer,” or “tablet computer won’t boot,” or “adding games to a tablet computer.” Search engine optimization has changed significantly over the last few years, and SEO experts have to think less like a machine, and more like a human. And that’s the key to good writing.

To read the entire article, How to Use SEO Keywords, copy and paste this link in your browser:

On Freelance Writing

For a freelance writer, writing non-fiction can be challenging, particularly if you’re attempting to write for profit. If you have a certain expertise, it only makes sense you’d want to write about that topic. If you’re a new freelancer, study the particular magazine or website you’re interested in writing for. What’s their style, what are the popular topics? How does your writing compare with those who’ve been published already? What about word count? (Typically, 600-1200 words for an internet article.)

isSometimes you may not have to be an expert in the field about which you’re writing. I once had a freelance job writing web content for a world-wide trucking corporation. I know very little about the transportation industry, but by studying what had already been written I was able to rewrite their web content and make it more contemporary and readable.

Another problem with non-fiction is creativity and originality. I have been writing a monthly article for a popular law enforcement website for the past fourteen years. Coming up with a hot topic or original concept is a constant challenge. How do I do it? Simply by following the news and seeing what’s current—what’s impacting the genre in which I write? However, remember what you write today may be old news by the time it gets published. So if you write your article and submit it a couple of weeks before deadline, be certain your article still has value when it appears online.

The good thing about freelance writing is there are myriad outlets to write for, both fiction and non-fiction. However, non-fiction will likely get you paid for your efforts. Regardless, seeing your byline will always have intrinsic value and put a smile on your face.


Common Grammatical Errors

Grammatical errors that bear mentioning again.

Grammar_nimishgoelSome seem like common sense, however, writers continue to make the same mistakes. I’ve listed a few of them below:

  • Mixing tense. This error is common.
  • Using too many dialogue tags, e.g., he said, she said, particularly when only two people are speaking.
  • Clichés—avoid them. You can program MS Word to catch them by using the Help menu.
  • Eliminate the word, that, whenever you can. And don’t use “it” and “thing,” they’re too vague.
  • It’s TV or television, but not T.V.
  • ID or identification, but not I.D.
  • These words at the beginning of a sentence do not require a comma:
    • But
    • And
    • So
    • Perhaps
    • Yet
  • These words do require a comma:
    • However,
    • Nonetheless,
    • For example,
    • For instance,
  • British spellings are often different from American:
British American
Grey Gray
Towards Toward
Backwards Backward
Colour Color
Realize realize

More About Self-Editing And Robots?

If you’re like me, self-editing never works flawlessly. I consistently miss things which are obvious to another person reading my work. Misspelled or out of context words, missing punctuation and missing words, are often overlooked because the brain automatically knows what should be there and has us see it that way. For those reasons, it’s a sound idea to become part of a critique group so others can catch the errors you aren’t able to spot.f4ac3a9d547faa821a034891bcf27708

However, I recently discovered two other ways to uncover mistakes in my writing, thanks to Chris Weller at Tech News. Both are a bit uncomfortable and unconventional, which is why they will likely work.

First, change the font. With conventional or attractive fonts such as Times New Roman or Calibri, the mind works effortlessly through a passage. But if you change a particularly challenging selection of your work to say, Comic Sans, a party-type font, it causes the mind to work harder to make sense of the information. Weller says, “Errors stand out more, because as the science of learning has discovered, the more difficult a task is, the more of our mental resources we’ll automatically put toward it.”

Second, make a robot read it aloud.

Feed the passage or selection into a text-to-speech generator. I experimented with Natural Reader and found it easy to work with. If you don’t like this free software, there are others on the internet to choose from. The strange robotic-type voice causes you to listen carefully, thus, catching errors you may have missed previously.

These two methods may be just the thing that helps you in the editing process, particularly if you have spent a lot of time on a piece. Working with fresh eyes, or in this case, a new tool, makes the obvious, well, obvious once again.

What type of edit do I need?


You need an editor, but what type of edit are you seeking? There’s a lack of knowledge about editing , particularly among new writers, and it can have a huge impact on your work. Let me give you an overview of the different types of edits, just in case you are considering having someone go over your manuscript or other piece of writing.

Copy editing

This covers the basics, to include spelling, typos, punctuation, and grammar. It may also cover word usage, style, and jargon. A good editor can usually accomplish this task within three business days. Sometimes, copy editing is referred to as proofreading.

Line editing

This form checks for sentence clarity, overuse of adverbs and adjectives, run-on sentences, opening words of paragraphs and sentences. Line editing also checks consistency of chapter titles, names, titles, etc. Your manuscript is examined line by line, and line editing is the most common editing request.

Substantive editing

This editing is the most exhaustive examination of your manuscript. It will include rewriting, moving blocks of text from one section to another, looking at structure, logical consistency, and organization. This form also looks at POV, plot, and readability. Since changes may sometimes be major, turnaround times are negotiable, and generally, one revision is included at no extra charge.

Is Cursive Cursed?

A recent ABC News report suggested that cursive handwriting is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Students rarely use or practice this once standard form of communication. In fact, one high school principal suggested that cursive may become a skill students must learn outside of the classroom because schools are focused on “real-world” job related skills involving technology.Old letter

Even signatures, as important as they are, may not necessarily have to be in the form of cursive. A sales manager at a credit union opined that the lack of a cursive signature isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. The individual’s mark may simply be a dot or an X, and it can be captured electronically.

However, not everyone is willing to abandon this basic building block of education. Lawmakers in Concord, N.H. passed a bill requiring public schools to continue teaching cursive. The bill’s sponsor advised teaching cursive will allow students the ability to read historical documents, such as those created by our founding fathers.

“It’s the last form of personalized communication,” said Neal S. Frank, owner of Santa Fe Pens in New Mexico.With passion and self-interest, Frank is teaming up with local calligraphy and cursive teacher Sherry Bishop to revive the art of good penmanship.

“It is self-expression,” agrees Bishop, who teaches at one of the few local schools that still requires learning cursive, the Santa Fe Waldorf School. “We can’t get much closer to the heart than true handwriting.”

For Frank and Bishop, cursive is about more than good penmanship.“There’s been a couple of studies that show learning cursive triggers the brain on how to learn,” says Frank, adding that “there may be a correlation between not learning cursive and the fact that we [the US] are falling behind the rest of the world.”

Bishop adds that practicing cursive and handwriting improves fine motor skills and head-heart-hands coordination.“It’s this beautiful mediation, and there’s this rhythm that gets the body in sync,” she says. “It’s just me and the person I’m sending the letter to–it’s just this beautiful, private conversation.”

I don’t know about you, but when something wonderful, or perhaps sad, occurs in my life, and someone sends me a handwritten note, there’s no better feeling. It’s much better than a commercially produced card with some stranger’s sentiments printed inside. The personalization and concern conveyed by a handwritten card is something to be treasured for a lifetime.

I encourage my family to communicate using cursive whenever they can. It’s a beautiful form of expression that should not be pushed aside for the sake of technology.

Do You Write Simply?

Have you ever wondered about your writing? Is it too formal, overly descriptive, or perhaps, too simple? You can analyze your writing by using the Flesch-Kincaid readability test, which indicates comprehension difficulty when reading a passage of contemporary academic English. Be prepared for a surprise if your writing scores high, it means it’s easily understood by an average 11-year-old student. What? Yes, a high score indicates easy readability.o-JUDGED-FOR-READING-facebook

Should you be embarrassed if your writing is geared toward high school students’ comprehension levels? Consider this: Ernest Hemingway, an icon of American literature, wrote The Old Man and the Sea at a fourth grade reading level. So the takeaway is simple writing is a good thing. It encourages reading and allows readers to comprehend and retain our stories more reliably.

For a more in-depth look at this subject, read this article: Why History’s Best Writers Wrote for Middle Schoolers. And to find out about your writing’s readability, use this free reading calculator: Now, get to it!

Which Book Genres Earn The Most Money?

When planning to write a novel, advice comes from many sources—friends, fellow writers, and of course, one’s own research. Sage advice often stresses, “Write what you know.” That’s sound advice for sure, but if your motivation to write is to have many people buy and read your work, you must know what people are reading. Below are the top five book genres earning the most money. The figures are based on leading authors’ earnings and industry trends as researched by the money-and-books-on-balance-scaleRomance Writers of America Association.

#1 Romance / Erotica ($1.44 billion)

Fifty Shades of Grey pushed author E.L. James to a net worth of $60 million, while Danielle Steel claims to be worth $610 million. All that wealth comes from formulaic romance novels that feature similar story-lines and endings.

#2 Crime / Mystery ($728.2 million)

Many of these novels come in sagas and trilogies featuring the same protagonist. Readers are fascinated by stories of murder and violence, and in fact, true crime stories are the most popular.

#3 Religious / Inspirational ($720 million)

No surprise here that the ultimate bestseller has always been the Bible. But many readers want answers to life’s problems and want to feel good about themselves and their fellow-man. Wholesome stories of redemption and reward continue to be popular.

#4 Science Fiction and Fantasy ($590.2 million)

Lord of the Rings and The Hunger Games—tremendous bestsellers and movies. These tales draw both young adult and adult audiences. The fact that the stories are continuing sagas make them lasting and appealing.

#5 Horror ($79.6 million)

Some folks enjoy being scared. Storytellers Stephen King and Dean Koontz have popularized this genre, and have had their most popular novels hit the big screen.

After reading the above astounding figures, the rest of us need a dose of reality. The Guardian, a British newspaper, advises that most writers earn less than $1,000.00 per month. Hardly a living wage. Who knows the reason(s) why some succeed while others do not? However, there is a bright side to the book industry. Now that ebooks have become increasingly popular, self-published authors now account for 20% of sales in the genre market. Moreover, even if your expertise or interest falls outside of the five most profitable genres, isn’t it worth the effort to try one? Why not write a romance novel or mystery? Sometimes writing beyond one’s comfort zone results in success. Besides, what do you have to lose?

Meet Author Kurt Kamm

Today I’m hosting author Kurt Kamm.

First responders and the hazards they face and deter are at the heart of the fact-based mystery novels of Malibu, California author, Kurt Kamm. A graduate of Brown University and Columbia Law School, Kurt had a successful career as a financial executive and CEO before immersing himself in the world of the first responders who feature so prominently in his books.  After attending the El Camino Fire Academy and training in wildland firefighting, arson investigation, and hazardous materials response, Kurt also became a graduate of the ATF Citizen’s Academy and has ridden along with the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s famed Urban Search & Rescue Task Force.  Along with this, Kurt has has used his 2 kurt kamm headshotcontacts with CalFire, Los Angeles and Ventura County Fire Departments, and the ATF to enhance the research which vests his novels with a realism that puts his readers on the ground with his characters.

Kurt, when did you realize you wanted to be a writer, and when did you actually begin to write?

I have always enjoyed writing and won a short story prize in high school. When I was at Brown, I took a career guidance test and was advised to become a writer. Even in those young, naive days, I knew I couldn’t earn enough money as a writer and decided to go to law school and on to Wall Street. I look at writing as a final reward for working hard at other things for most of my life

What in your background prepared you to be a writer?

Every lawyer has to learn how to write, if not in the most interesting way. Right brain-left brain. I was never very good at math, but I was a terrific reader and had a good imagination. My business partner couldn’t write two sentences but was brilliant at numbers. We made a great pair.

It is said the key to becoming a writer is to sit in a chair and write. What made you finally sit down and write?

I retired, was recently divorced, and moved out to Malibu. One day I woke up and had NOTHING to do. A friend from the LA Times convinced me to start writing classes. We were encouraged to keep a journal, and write something, anything, every day. That’s how I got started. I really enjoyed it and thought, this is something I can do.

You write faction – fiction based on fact. How much research goes into your novels?

A lot of research. I just read about an author who wrote an entire series of novels about India without ever having even been there. That’s inconceivable to me. I have to be out in the field, smelling, touching, checking out the colors and textures and, most important, listening to the people around me. I have spent hundreds of hours with the men from LA County Fire Department in training situations and at actual incidents. I’ve never had so much fun in my life and have opened a window into a part of life that was unknown to me when I worked in the financial world. I use those experiences as the backgrounds for my novels. I could never dream that stuff up.

Do you do your research yourself, or do you have an assistant do it?

I do all the research myself. I’m not sharing the fun with anyone!

With the attention you give to detail, you know a tremendous amount about your topics. Why faction? Why not non-fiction?

Non-fiction is boring. I want to create factual backgrounds and then insert unique characters: identical twins who are terrorists, albinos obsessed with tattoos and rare blood, and weather broadcasters fixated on fires.

In Tunnel Visions you bring attention to the realities we are facing with water in California? What made this topic of interest to you?1 Tunnel Visions Cover

The idea for Tunnel Visions came from an actual event, a disastrous gas explosion in a water tunnel which killed 17 men. Once I adopted that as the background for the novel, the whole issue of California’s water shortage became part of the story.

Is this reversible? How?

It’s hard to reverse a water shortage unless you are God. Conservation will help. The rain/drought cycles may be decades long. The western United States had a 50 year wet cycle up to end of the 20th Century, so everyone adjusted their expectations and water usage upward. Now we’re in a drought cycle and it’s hard to know how long it will last.

For you, what drives a novel – plot or character?

Character drives the novel.  I love to imagine people who are slightly, or significantly, off center. Isn’t everyone a little weird?  The personality issues create the plot.

You are, shall we say, seasoned. Yet you capture the voice and pathos of a young protagonist easily.  How easy or difficult is this for you?

I refuse to admit my age. Who wants to read something written by an old guy about an old character who’s been there and done that? I like to write about young characters who are intrepid and enthusiastic but don’t have enough life-experience to avoid making mistakes. Actually, it’s easy to create these young characters, and I love ‘em all! Now excuse me, I have to take my mid-morning nap.

Your female character in Tunnel Vision is particularly strong. Did you make her this way on purpose? Did you model her on anyone in particular?

I do know a woman who is a special agent for the ATF, and she gave me some insight into her life in law enforcement. She is attractive, feminine, and tough as nails. I almost fell off my chair when she told me that she worked undercover for two years in an outlaw motorcycle gang in Wichita. (“Winter on a bike sucks.”)  I like including strong female characters – I guess it brings out my feminine side.

What do you hope readers take away from your books?

First, I hope they simply enjoy the experience of reading my novels and find my characters interesting, lovable, or reprehensible. I would also hope they get some insight into the skill and dedication of the first responders who make everyone else’s life safer and easier.

What is the best advice you ever received as a writer?

How about the worst advice? The worst advice was, “Write what you know.” If you do that, you might not ever write anything interesting. Get away from your computer. Get yourself into something you know nothing about, and learn something new. Then go back and write about that.

What is your best advice for aspiring authors?

When I was a master’s bicycle racer, I spent hours, training by myself and trashing my body. Then, on race days, I got up at 4 AM, drove two hours to a 7 AM race start, busted my gut for 2 hours, and sometimes ended up on the podium. And guess what? Almost no one was around and almost no one cared. Sometimes I asked myself, “Why am I doing this?” The answer was, because I loved it. The same applies to writing. You may spend hours working hard to create something no one notices or cares about, so you had better enjoy the process, because that may be all the reward you get. There are no guarantees. That said, if you do love what you are doing, don’t ever give up.

Kurt Kamm is an award-winning novelist of fact-based fiction.  His latest thriller, Tunnel Visions, is on shelves now.  You can read more from Kurt on Huffington Post or Facebook.  To read interviews conducted by Kurt with some of your favorite best-selling authors, visit




Blog at

Up ↑

Elan Mudrow


Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

My Site

Just another site

Books and blog


Home of The Bookshelf Muse

The Write Practice

The Online Writing Workbook

Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Jane Friedman

Reporting and consulting on the publishing industry

Books and blog

Blood-Red Pencil

Books and blog

The Blog

The latest news on and the WordPress community.