His entrepreneurial journey began at an early age selling candy to his fellow Boy Scouts at summer camp and eventually painting houses in college at the University of Washington. After graduation, Nick took on a full-time job for a giant corporation. During the years he spent in corporate, Nick built his business on nights and weekends until the age of 25, when he left the corporate job and went to work for himself.
Why Author a Book?
Nick decided to write a book to become an authority in his field. His first book, The Virtual Assistant Assistant, promoted his website, which featured VA work. But, rather than invest in his website, he thought having a book would give his trust factor a giant leap. “What ended up happening is that people would search and find my book on Amazon and then track my book back to my website.”
Using Amazon to Find New Marketplaces
He recommends going to the marketplace, seeing where the cash is already flowing, and diving into that genre. Don’t go to an unknown digital wilderness; find the verticals making money, and stake your claim in that area with your book.
The Power of SEO
SEO is Search Engine Optimization, the art, and science of ranking your content in Google and other search engines. He realized that no matter how well-written his blog posts and website content, Nick wasn’t able to get website hits unless he uses SEO for his content. If you can answer the query that a person types in the search bar better than someone else, your article will outrank their article.
Turning his Podcast into a Book
A couple of years into his show, he realized he had enough content to create a book. “The first attempt wasn’t the best effort for sure.” So he pivoted and came up with a main idea for the book, then found examples from the podcast which supported his main book idea. “In the newest version of the Side Hustle, it breaks down the big three business models.”
Listen in on today’s episode and find out how he uses transcripts to create book content, his marketing techniques for selling his books, and how he uses giving his book away for free to sell more books.
[01:48] Why he wrote a book to promote his business.
[05:18] The power of the Amazon search engine.
[06:53] Using the power of SEO for consumers to find your book.
[11:54] How he turned his podcast into a book.
[14:09] Look for common themes that run through your podcast and create content from those common themes.
[18:52] How Nick uses permafree marketing to sell his book.
[21:21] Using lead-capture marketing in his book.
[24:21] Getting reviews for your free ebook.
[30:25] Using digital content to serve your marketing long term.
Hayden is an experienced commercial real estate investor with a sharp eye for opportunities that add financial value to properties. Skilled in financial analysis, valuation, sales, negotiating, and building strategic partnerships, Hayden helps busy professionals who want to invest in significant real estate deals build cash flow and equity for their financial portfolios. The author of Skip the Flip teaches new and experienced real estate investors the power behind fundamental commercial real estate investing for wealth.
Hayden’s Story and How He Became Involved in Real Estate
Realizing that many of his friends were working long hours for salary pay, Hayden thought there was a better way to make a living. While many of his friends were familiar with flipping, his idea was to use strategies that would make money long-term without the hassle of flipping homes.
Wanting to share his knowledge with others interested in learning his process, Hayden decided to write his book to share his information with others. Using his book as a vetting component, Hayden takes clients that want to know more about using real estate as an income.
Writing His Book in a Weekend
Hayden only took one weekend to get his rough draft of his book finished. His secret? He sat down and worked on his book until it was finished. Being very self-motivated, Hayden was able to execute finishing the main content of his book quickly.
How Hayden Gets Book Reviews
Hayden asks buyers of his book to leave him a review, especially if they have told him how much they like reviews. In addition, he also posts value on his social media by giving his book away for free and uses his email list to ask for reviews from his followers.
Listen in on today’s episode and find out how to mindmap your book, how to come up with a name for your book, and when you want to give your work a price increase.
[02:00] Why Hayden decided to write his real estate investment book.
[04:33] How he became interested in using real estate as a cash flow business.
[06:49] Getting his book written in a week for his rough draft.
[10:50] Taking action steps for your book is important to get your book completed on time.
[11:47] Coming up with a name for his book.
[13:43] Marketing techniques that have sold thousands of copies of his book.
[18:28] The benefits of creating an audiobook and how to get reviews for your book.
[21:21] How he has leveraged podcasts and other media to grow sales.
[28:45] The impact of his book to his followers and others who have read his book.
[33:42] Establishing credibility in your brand through your book.
Did you know that between 70-93% of all our communication is nonverbal? Think about it.
That means that the overwhelming majority has nothing to do with the actual, literal words we use–it has to do with what’s inferred. This is why understanding tone is valuable. The way that we say them and our body language. In other words, it has to do less with the technical meaning of the phrase, and more to do with our tone. Understanding tone and it’s nuances opens new opportunities for skilled authors to explore. Find out some useful ways to know when, how, and where to offer your readers a three dimensional insight through your pen.
Tone plays a huge role in conveying meaning in our daily lives, and it’s also hugely important in writing good fiction.
When writers master tone in their piece, they control the emotional flow of a story, they convey the appropriate meaning to their readers, and they get their overall intent across.
We’re here to break down what tone is, how you can understand tone in the books you read, and how you can manipulate tone in your own writing.
What is Tone in writing?
Plainly put, tone is the way writers get their emotional meaning across to the reader. It has to do with the way they describe scenes and the words they’re choosing to show them.
But wait: isn’t that voice?
Not quite. Voice is the way a writer writes, honed and developed over time. A writer’s voice isn’t meant to convey information about the scene, characters, or attitude to the reader–it’s only meant to serve as a storytelling vessel.
Tone, on the other hand, is meant to convey information. Tone and voice together make writing style.
Understanding Tone in Writing
How do you know whether a writer is using tone in a story you’re reading? Easy–tone is constantly present in anything you’re reading, no matter what.
Tone conveys meaning to the reader using words. No matter what, you’ve got to use words when you’re writing anything, including fiction. The words you pick will invariably produce some sort of tone, even if that tone is clinical or technical and devoid of much description.
Tone is everywhere, all the time. Here’s a quick guide for picking up on what sort of tone an author is using:
Check Your Surroundings
Look at the context. If you’re reading a kid’s book from the baby book section at the library, the synopsis tells you it’s about a princess’s best day ever, and the whole thing is decked out in glitter, you can guess the happy descriptions and oodles of exclamation points all get at a happy, carefree tone.
What’s going on in the scene? Is it a funeral for a beloved family member? Then we’re probably feeling sad. Learning to play in this space is why understanding tone is valuable.
Is it a wedding, but the bride doesn’t want to get married? We’re probably going to see a lot of anxious language and a scared or nervous tone.
You also want to look at the descriptors. If a wedding is described as light and joyful, with an organ that sounds like church bells, then the tone is peaceful, and that’s how the reader will feel. But if the wedding is described as stuffy, and the organ (in the immortal words of Taylor Swift) sounds like a death march, we get a different vibe. Something’s wrong–it’s creepy, it’s weird.
Consider the Meaning
Have you ever heard a film critic say that the tone of a movie is all wrong, or that it’s inconsistent?
In movies, or in books, it’s important to use tone correctly, or at least intentionally. If you’re watching a movie and it’s a feel-good romp except for one needlessly frightening scene, that’s going to be a problem for your viewer. It takes them out of the experience and makes them confused. Why was that scene there? Why was it so scary? What was the point of that?
It’s okay to play with tone–we’ll talk about intentionality later. But when you’re looking for tone in the media you consume, consider why the descriptors are the way they are.
For example: say you have a paragraph, and you’re not sure what tone the author is going for. Go through your descriptors. Say you’ve got ‘happy,’ ‘delighted,’ ‘carefree,’ and ‘airy.’ These are all positive, happy adjectives, so we can say we have a happy or positive tone. Maybe it doesn’t make you feel that way, but at least now you know what the writer was going for based on context clues.
Tips for Using Tone
Now that you know how to identify tone in the media you consume, let’s take a closer look at using tone in our own writing.
When readers pick up your story, they might not interpret it the way you meant it completely. And that’s okay! But you want them to get something pretty close. You don’t want them to read a scene as comical if you meant it as tragic–this can alter their perception of the book as a whole, and it can mean they take away a radically different meaning than anything you intended.
Thankfully, I’ve got a few tips compiled here to help you navigate tone in your own work!
1. Keep it Consistent
You definitely want to have some emotional variance in your work. It doesn’t do to have a book that’s nothing but sad or nothing but happy–a lack of emotional contrast means you probably don’t have a lot going on, which makes for a boring reading experience. Most great work of literature play on many emotions. This is all the more reason that understanding tone can come in handy.
When I say ‘keep it consistent,’ I don’t mean to stick to one tone. I mean that tone should be consistent on a scene-by-scene basis. If you want a funeral to be serious, then it should be serious–random jokes thrown in are going to spoil that mood (unless you’re adding a joke for contrast to emphasize the seriousness when others around them glare). Similarly, if you want a romantic scene to be super swoon-worthy, you probably don’t want a random gross bodily detail.
Figure out what you want your scene to accomplish. What kind of scene is it, and how do you want the reader to feel about it? Write it accordingly, and choose your words with that in mind.
You can definitely play with tone to unsettle your reader–maybe you want that random gross bodily detail because you want the romantic scene to feel unsettling. In that case, the tone you’re looking for is unsettling, not romantic, so that lines up.
2. Context Matters for Tone
Consider the tone of your piece as a whole when you’re going through the tone of each scene. Remember that sparkly princess book from earlier? That sounds like a delightful time, and it would be super unnerving and freaky if there were a random page filled with horror stuck in the middle.
Again, this isn’t to say you can’t play with tone for dramatic effect. Rather, you want your story to make internal sense. If you’re writing an adult romance novel, you probably don’t want a dry, technical tone. If you’re writing literary fiction, you probably don’t want to use tons of flowery, cutesy language.
3. Choose Your Words Carefully
All of this comes down to choosing your words with intent. If you want a scene that seems happy and carefree, but has a horrifying snap at the end, that’s okay! And if you want a seemingly peaceful scene with an unnerving undercurrent, cool.
The thing to remember is that whatever you’re doing with tone, you should be doing it on purpose.
Make sure you know what the adjectives you’re using mean, know what you want the scene to accomplish, and work toward that goal.
Another part of this is being mindful of overkill. If you include too many descriptions and lay on the tone too heavy-handed, you’ve got a problem. For example:
“The wonderful sun set majestically over the beautiful ocean. I happily sat next to my loving wife, cheerfully considering our delightful future together.”
The first problem with this, obviously, is that we’ve loaded it down with too many adverbs. But let’s set that aside, just for now (even if it kills me) and look at the tone. We’ve used a whole bunch of really strong happy tone words, and it makes the scene read kind of sickly-sweet, right? I don’t feel happy, I feel a little nauseated.
So let’s make it a little subtler and intentional.
“The sun set deep pink over the peaceful ocean. I sat with my wife, smiling, and thought of our future.”
It’s still kind of cliche, but you get the idea. This is using more showing than telling, which helps illustrate the tone instead of simply telling what the tone is. We still get a sense of peaceful happiness, but it’s not absolutely overloading our senses.
4. Get Some Outside Help
Tone can be really tricky to grasp, especially when you’re working with a really complex scene. Good fiction grapples with the nuances of the human experience, and people’s emotions are super duper weird.
You might have a funeral scene that’s meant to be, on the whole somber, but people do tell jokes a few times. It’s not meant to take away from the overall tone, but it is meant to serve some storytelling purpose. This can be a problem, because you want to make sure you’re not sacrificing tone in the deviation.
Similarly, you might have something sad or upsetting happen in a feel-good romp. In that scene, you want the tone to be sad, but you don’t want the audience to come away feeling bummed.
If you’re struggling to tell whether you’ve struck the perfect chord, it’s time to enlist the help of some beta readers. Get a few people to look over it, ask them what sorts of emotions they thought were being conveyed, and work from there.
Got any tips for understanding tone? Any tips for using tone in your own writing? Let us know in the comments below!
Need a little help getting your book out into the world? There’s a lot to think about when writing and publishing a book. We can help!
For me, these come after I’ve finished a big project. I’ve been working on something for so long that when it’s finally done, it’s like I have no idea how to write anymore or what else I would even work on.
But writing slumps can strike anytime, and they’re awful. I designed this writing challenge to help writers break out of a particularly bad case of writer’s block, but honestly, this would be perfect for anyone who writes, and here’s why.
How Writing Challenges Can Help Get You Back Into the Swing of Things
If you’re in a slump, writing challenges can push you to get back into the habits you once (or never) had. Here are some of the ways writing challenges make that happen:
1. Fresh Ideas
These writing prompts will keep you generating tons of new ideas, and a few of them will even ask you to leave your house (I know, I know, I’m evil). Getting some fresh inspiration and forcing yourself to write about new people, places, and events will breathe some clean air into those old writerly lungs.
If you’re aiming to write for a living, it’s very important that you start working on self-discipline. No, you don’t necessarily need to be writing every single day. But think about it like this: if you didn’t go to work every day that you didn’t feel like it, would you ever go to work?
It’s the same with writing. We love it, sometimes we hate it, but we’ve gotta figure out a way to keep at it regularly. That way, instead of depending on motivation or inspiration, we can depend on ourselves! Yay!
Practice makes perfect. If you’re an athlete, you wouldn’t consider yourself a pro player just because you happened to hit one very impressive home run a few years ago. You’ve got to keep working those muscles and building those skills so you can keep hitting home runs in the future.
This writing challenge will keep you writing every day. And, again, you don’t necessarily have to write every day for your entire life–however, by coming back and working on new prompts every day, you’ll develop some new skills and maybe dust the cobwebs off some tricks you haven’t used in a while.
Without further ado, let’s get started on our thirty day writing challenge!
The Writing Challenge
Day 1: Go for a walk or drive around your neighborhood. Write a poem about one of the buildings you see–who used to live or work there, and do they still? Bonus points if you write about a building you’ve never noticed before.
Day 2: Put random coordinates into Google Earth and see what comes up. Write a paragraph, no more, about what you see. Even if you landed in the middle of the ocean, take moment to describe what’s there and what you think might be lurking.
Day 3: Make a list of all of your writerly goals for the next calendar year. Do you want to finally finish up that manuscript? Start finding cover designs for your novel? Find beta readers? No matter how far-fetched it may feel, write it all down.
Day 4: Consider your favorite book from childhood. Write a short story (or just a brainstorm–no pressure to create a complete work here) about an alternate ending. Does the bad guy win? Does the girl fall in love with someone else?
Day 5: Rewrite a Disney movie from the POV of the villain. This can be a movie script, a short story, a poem, or just notes in your phone.
Day 6: Take one of your favorite stories and turn it into a poem, or vice versa. This can be something you’ve written or an old favorite off your shelf.
Day 7: Make a list of your favorite tropes in TV shows, movies, or books. If you’re not sure what tropes are or what sorts of tropes are your favorites, check out this list. Tropes are the building blocks of fiction, and writing down your own will help you identify what you like and what you might want to write about in the future!
Day 8: For one day, keep a detailed journal about where you’ve been, how you’re feeling, what you’re eating, and the conversations you’ve had.
Day 9: Go to a coffee shop or bar and do some good old fashioned eavesdropping. Write down a conversation you overhear. If you’re unable to go to a coffee shop or bar, try this with a TV show you’ve never seen before.
Day 10: Use the last line of your overheard conversation as the prompt for a poem.
Day 11: Turn the overheard conversation into a short story (you get a lot of mileage out of eavesdropping, it turns out!).
Day 12: Take a random book off your shelf. Flip to any page and take a look at the first sentence. Use that sentence to start a short story or poem.
Day 13: Pick an emotion you feel strongly about (no pun intended). Write it at the top of your page, then write a piece of flash fiction about that feeling. Flash fiction can be up to a thousand words, but keep it as short as possible.
Day 14: Take your journal, notebook, or laptop (if possible) outdoors. Describe your surroundings as if you were a complete stranger.
Day 15: Take a stroll, drive, or hike to a new place, and bring something to write with, even if it’s just your phone! When you get to where you’re going, write stream of consciousness for fifteen minutes, nonstop. It can be about anything at all, even if you’re just writing ‘I don’t know what to write’ over and over again.
Day 16: Locate one of your favorite books. Write down everything you love about it. Is it the characters? If so, which characters are your favorite, and why? Just like with tropes, knowing what we love in media will help us recreate it in our own work.
Day 17: Using a book you own or have already read, write a short story and imitate that author’s style. Try to sound as much like them as you possibly can, and really get into what makes their style distinct from yours.
Day 18: Go back to a book that you truly hate, if you still have a copy. What did you dislike about it? Make a–you guessed–list of everything in it that didn’t work for you. Are these things that often bother you in stories?
Day 19: Take the list of things you didn’t like about that book and write down ways you might have fixed those problems. It’s okay if you don’t know, or if it’s way too far gone to be saved–we’re just imagining a world where it was better, with you at the wheel.
Day 20: Turn something that you’ve written or something you’ve read into a writing prompt. Send that prompt to a writer friend and see what sort of story ideas they come up with!
Day 21: Similarly, ask your friend to describe their favorite book or movie without giving away with book or movie it is. Use this description as a writing prompt, and when you’re done, ask your friend which story they were describing to see where you differed.
Day 22: Grab that list of writing goals you made from Day 3. What’s the most pressing goal on that list, or the thing you want to do the most? If it’s all important and you can’t pick, choose one at random. List three things you can do in the next week to get closer to that goal. If you can’t, list three things you need to research.
Day 23: Write a letter to yourself on your first day of high school.
Day 24: Write a fake job posting for a different era in history. For example, write a job posting for a footman at Downton Abbey, as you think it might appear in the London papers. If you’re not sure how to do that, research newspapers from the era in history you’re interested in!
Day 25: Turn your favorite feel-good story into a dramatic horror.
Day 26: Invent a new character, completely from scratch. They can be someone for an existing project, someone to fit into the world of your favorite show, or someone totally random, doesn’t matter. Find a character creation template and fill it out with every detail about them.
Day 27: Try finding a writing partner! This often takes more than one day, but lay the groundwork–check out the #amwriting tag on Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok, or see if your local college or library has a creative writing club or poetry meetup. One of the best ways to stick with writing is to find a community of like-minded people to commiserate and hold one another accountable. It doesn’t happen overnight, but see what your options are!
Day 28: If you don’t usually listen to music while you write, pick some music to listen to. Make a journal entry about how that type of music makes you feel and whether it helped. If it didn’t, try a new genre–maybe classical puts you to sleep, and the Mario Kart soundtrack is where it’s at (that’s true for me, anyway).
Day 30: Take a look at all the snippets and pieces you’ve made over the last thirty days, and give yourself a pat on the back for all your hard work! Pick five of your favorite new stories or pieces and set them aside to work on later.
I hope this challenge has given you some new ideas for a story, or at least gotten you thinking about what you want to work on next. If you skip a day, feel free to pick up where you left off or skip the days you’ve missed–the point isn’t to complete this, but instead to practice as much as you can.
What was your favorite part of this challenge? Do you have any new story ideas? Let us know in the comments!
Still feeling stuck? Implementation is key! Take our Writer’s Block Quiz to help discover more ways to get un-stuck.
Susie has a history of designing and building successful programs. During her time in Fresno Unified School District, Susie designed and piloted a successful framework for a Fluency Consultant role to utilize specialty skills and support SLPs. In 2016, Susie created a private practice focused on supporting children, teens, and adults who stutter.
Within her practice, she built a mentoring program for children and teens who stutter to help guide younger children experiencing similar challenges. Most recently (2020), following the devastation of the Central California Creek Fire, she decided to write a book to help children who lost homes in the fire. While writing the book, she created a unique platform to reinvent how children connect with literacy and books. Through the Junior Authors Program, children are involved in ongoing votes to help build the book from rough draft to a published book on Amazon.
Susie’s Personal Story about Why She Wrote her Book
Using books to promote conversations, Susie decided to reach out to kids who lost their homes in the California fires last year to emotionally support them while going through tough times. Then, she used her experience with helping children to write her book. The process evolved from a story that can help kids develop a business around her publication and support kids.
Advice for Children’s Book Authors
Susie says, “You can learn how to write a book,” especially if you have experience with kids and understand what they like. She suggests not to come from a preaching standpoint but to build your book in a meaningful way. “As educators, we have the ability to build-in any message we want.” You can choose the themed message of the book to become a guided conversation for your little readers.
“The access to learning how to make a book unlocks all those things you know and love.” She explains how books impact kids on a different level, including helping kids process their emotions at home.
Listen in on today’s episode and find out why Susie chose to donate her profits to her cause, which marketing channels she decided to use for her PR, and how she developed her vision from her idea.
[03:05] Why Susie wrote her book
[06:41] When Susie decided to add SPS coaching to her journey.
With the world turning to the online and computer space, having a reliable way of ensuring your grammar is nearly perfect each time is essential.
Nobody wants a troll using their grammar as a weapon online.
No matter if you’re a blogger, aspiring to be a successful author, or just want an app to take care of the technical aspects of writing across many platforms (including email – thank goodness!), Grammarly might be the answer for you.
But before we get into the Grammarly review, let’s take a look at what this software actually is.
Grammarly is an app or extension for your browser that checks your grammar, spelling, plagiarism, and more in real-time on a number of different platforms, including Microsoft Word, WordPress, Facebook, and more.
This grammar app is actually coined as being your “Free Grammar Assistant.”
Sounds nice, right?
But there are certainly limitations – as with any writing software like this. Let’s take a look at a full Grammarly review of its features, the pros and cons, and the price point for premium and business upgrades.
Grammarly Review: The Features with Each Version
As someone who has used Grammarly’s free program for a few years while building a freelance writing business, I can confidently say that if you’re not using it, you’re making a mistake.
But there may be features you need that aren’t available with the free or even premium versions.
Here’s a table covering each Grammarly feature and which plans cover it.
Grammar and spelling checks
Checks punctuations grammar, context, and sentence structure
Genre-specific writing style checks
Plagiarism detector (checks over 16 billions web pages)
How Much Does Grammarly Cost?
As you know by now, Grammarly isn’t just free – and for a good reason.
With as many helpful features as it offers in addition to what you get for free, paying a pretty penny is totally worth it if you’re someone who needs more of those advanced capabilities.
Here’s how much Grammarly costs for each version:
$29.95 / month
$59.95 (breaks down to $19.98 / month)
$139.95 (breaks down to $11.66 / month)
Grammarly Review with Pros and Cons
As with anything, there are some pros and cons that come along with Grammarly.
Let’s dive into this Grammarly review and discuss each in detail and what you can expect if you choose to use it for all your writerly needs.
There are many reasons Grammarly has exploded its growth in recent years. These are a few of many pros this writing software has to offer.
Instead of writing everything out and then clicking the “check spelling and grammar” button, you’ll know right when you make a mistake that you have, in fact, made an error.
You might be wondering why this is so great when you can just check it after you’re done.
Have you ever forgotten to hit that button when you spent a ton of time drafting something very important? Because I have.
And let me tell you, if I could see the errors as they happen, I can change them right away, resulting in a cleaner final result.
Plus, it’s all automatic. You don’t have to click a button for Grammarly to do its job.
#2 – Highly accurate
This grammar software doesn’t make a whole lot of mistakes. Occasionally, it can misunderstand what you’re trying to say or put a comma where you don’t necessarily need or want one, but overall, it has a high rate of accuracy.
And when you’re checking grammar, accuracy is always best. Just be aware of why it’s asking you to change something and only accept if it’s correct.
#3 – Easy to understand explanations
Grammarly doesn’t just tell you when something is wrong. While that would totally be okay, this program goes a step further with explanations so you can understand in order to learn and improve.
So not only are you getting the benefit of your writing being polished in real-time, but you’re also learning how to become a better writer.
Grammarly has 2 options when it comes to explanations. You can do a quick-view to make the change with little help like below:
Or you can click “See More in Grammarly” and view a full explanation like the image below:
By a simple explanation like the one featured above, you won’t even need Grammarly as much in the future.
#4 – Customization
Even if you’re using the free version of Grammarly, it’s pretty customizable given its limitation in features.
You’re able to select your preferred language, turn it off on certain websites, as well as add new words you use often to the dictionary.
This is perfect if you have any words you use regularly that aren’t necessarily “real” words, like brand names, slang, or abbreviations. There’s no need to fix each of these errors if you just click “add to dictionary” when Grammarly marks it as incorrect the first time.
Just hover over the word and click “Add to Dictionary” in the pop-up box, as you can see below:
#5 – Very simple to use
You don’t have to be a computer whiz in order to figure out this piece of software.
Essentially, all you have to do is install the plugin or browser extension and you’re good to go!
Much like Microsoft Word and Google Doc’s spellcheck, Grammarly will underline incorrect words or grammar and show you what to replace it with and why if you simply hover over it.
This is perfect for those of you who need a bit of help in the grammar department but aren’t thrilled with the idea of a more complex piece of writing software.
It can’t all be perfect, right? While there are some amazing features within Grammarly, there are certain aspects that could be improved.
#1 – It doesn’t work on everything
Most popularly, Grammarly doesn’t function on Google Docs, which can be a real bummer for those of you who use this writing software all the time.
But, they are currently beta testing Grammarly with Google Docs so you might not have to wait long before this feature is available for good!
Just take a look at the notification I received on my Grammarly Chrome extension when I was crafting this very blog post in Google Docs:
It seems as though Grammarly is certainly breaking out and extending their services to more and more platforms – which is great if you use many for work, hobbies, or a combination of the two.
#2 – Its free version is very limited
As you can see from the table above, the free version of Grammarly is very limited. It really only has one function, and that’s to correct your spelling and grammar.
While this might seem like a major con to some, it’s perfectly acceptable to others.
Personally, I don’t need much more than just the free features.
Going for Grammarly Premium is certainly more useful for those looking to transform their writing for the better or those who need a bit more than just grammar help.
There’s a huge gap between the free version and the premium option that could be closed a little by offering more free features.
If you’re curious which writing software is best for you and if Grammarly is even a good fit, take this short, 2-minute quiz below to find out!
#3 – Aggressive advertising
This company wants you to upgrade – they really want you to upgrade.
While they’re completely justified to get you to spend more money to go premium, their spam-like ads and emails can be a bit much for people.
Thankfully, you can easily opt-out of their email list by unsubscribing and that virtually solves the problem on that end.
However, they still advertise to you through the Grammarly extension from time to time by notifying you to upgrade.
While it’s irritating, it’s still tolerable and not necessarily a deal-breaker.
Can Grammarly be trusted?
Yes, Grammarly can be trusted. It is used by countless writers, companies, and students. The company would not have succeeded if they were looking to scam writers! In fact, unlike many other online services, Grammarly doesn’t rent or sell user data. They only make money through their paid product offerings. Another reason to trust Grammarly is that the tool is unable to see or access any sensitive data you type in fields such as password input areas.
Does Grammarly steal your work?
No, Grammarly does not steal your work. The company explicitly state that all ownership is retained by you including full copyright and duplication rights. Grammarly does not have any claim to your writing. Also, all of the data used by Grammarly is encrypted to enterprise standards. If you choose to delete your Grammarly account, all of your data is deleted too. You retain full control at all times.
If you’re not quite sold on Grammarly, there are other programs out there that are very similar you might want to check out.
One of the most talked-over pieces of advice, especially for beginning writers, is that you should ‘avoid passive voice, and use active voice whenever possible.’
But what does that mean?
And is it true that we should never, ever use passive voice?
In this article, we’re going to talk about what passive and active voice are, how they’re used in writing, give you some examples, and teach you how to utilize each for whatever you need them for–these tips will be perfect whether you’re a fiction author, nonfiction author, or even just a college student looking to improve your papers.
So, first thing’s first.
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What is Active Voice?
Active voice is when the subject of a sentence does the action described. It’s generally much clearer, more concise, and direct than passive voice–active voice has direction, drive, and intent.
When reading active voice, you’re generally avoiding the word ‘be’ (and all its conjugations). Remember when your high school teacher took off five points every time you used a ‘be’ verb? Just me? Well, anyway, there was a pretty good reason for it. Learning to write in active voice early on will help you knock your tone and style out of the park, since you won’t be struggling under the weight of extra clauses.
Let me give you a few examples, so you’ve got a clearer idea of what I’m talking about.
Examples of Active Voice
Mark kicks the ball to Anthony.
The above sentence is a straightforward example of active voice. Mark, the subject, is performing the verb, which is kick. We also have the object of that action, Anthony, but for active voice, we’re really only worried about our subject performing our verb.
Nervous about his absence, Jenny called Nick’s cell phone.
We don’t necessarily have to start a sentence with our subject to write in active voice. Above, we’ve got a dependent clause (nervous about his absence), which sets the scene for our action. Then, notice we have the same setup–Jenny, our subject, performing the verb.
I thought I could go to the movies, but I didn’t have enough money.
Here’s a little complex sentence for you–here, we have the subject “I” performing the verb “thought.”
Pop quiz! Which of the below sentences is in active voice?
There were snakes living in the riverbank.
Snakes liked to nest in the riverbank.
Did you guess the second one? If so, you’re correct!
We’ll talk more about how to make your passive sentences active in a minute.
When should we use active voice?
All the time! Seriously.
Active voice is stronger, it’s clearer, and it forces you to look for a verb to drive your action. Check out that pop quiz I gave you–do you see how ‘liked to nest’ is a little more flavorful than ‘there were snakes living?’ Neither of them is grammatically incorrect, but one of them is a little stronger.
Active voice makes you clear up the extra words bogging down your sentences, which means you’ll be able to focus on your word choice and really hone your style. Again, I wouldn’t say that snake sentence is incredible groundbreaking, but it’s got a little more style than its passive version.
Here’s a few specific places where active voice becomes very important:
Fight scenes need to be fast, descriptive, and crisp. You’ve got no space to waste in a fight sequence, so it’s especially important that your language is clear. Readers might get confused by an excessively wordy or indirect scene. For example:
PASSIVE: Christopher was hitting Robin in the chest. Robin was trying to dodge the hit, so he went to sweep Christopher’s legs out from underneath him. There was sweat on his forehead from the effort.
ACTIVE: Christopher hit Robin in the chest. Robin ducked, sticking his leg out to sweep Christopher’s legs. Sweat blurred his vision.
As I mentioned earlier, you’ll want to mostly rely on active voice when you write anything, ever. So it follows that your book’s narrative voice should also be active. Some situations call for passive voice, and we’ll talk about those later, but it’s safe to say that generally, you need a real good reason to make your sentences weaker.
Active voice becomes especially important when it comes to description and exposition. Working through an exposition-heavy chunk of any book is hard on its own (and you should absolutely avoid it, active voice or no, but sometimes it happens), and it’s made way harder by dull, indirect prose.
Description also sparkles when set in active voice. Let’s have another example:
PASSIVE: There were chandeliers shining above the dining room table, which was glossy with polish. The guests were seated at opposite ends, and they were wearing ornate gowns dripping with extravagant lace.
ACTIVE: Chandeliers shone above the glossy dining room table. Guests sat at opposite ends, their ornate gowns dripping with extravagant lace.
See how without changing the words I used, active voice cleaned it up and made it shine (no pun intended)?
What is Passive Voice?
Okay, so, we’ve talked a lot about active voice. But what is passive voice, really? Sometimes new writers understand they need to make their sentences clearer, but they’re still not sure what passive voice is, and you can’t avoid it if you don’t know what it is!
In passive voice, the subject is the recipient of the action.
Remember how we said that in an active voice, the subject performs the verb? In passive voice, the subject receives the verb. The subject isn’t causing the action–they’re just waiting for the action to come along and get them.
Examples of Passive Voice
The ball was kicked by Mark.
We have the object Mark is kicking (the ball), and we have the verb (kicked). But Mark is way at the end of the sentence, waiting for the action to come get him. This disconnects the reader from the action, since we don’t know who’s actually doing it. Passive voice often puts the subject further away from the verb.
I was thinking I could go to the movies, but I didn’t have enough money.
Here, ‘thinking’ and ‘I’ are still pretty close together. But they could be closer! ‘Thought’ is shorter, and it’s more direct, so it’s a better choice here.
Rain is falling on the sidewalk.
One common thing you’ll see in passive voice is that pesky ‘be’ verb clogging up our action. It’s almost always right between the subject and the verb, just delaying that good, stronger verb.
When should we use passive voice?
It’s not really as simple as always avoiding passive voice and always choosing active voice. It’s possible that you might need passive voice in your writing–it’s just that it’s better to actively (ha, ha) choose it, rather than unintentionally make your sentences indirect.
So, when might we use passive voice on purpose?
If you need to impart emotional distance or some kind of a traumatic event to the reader, passive voice can help you out. Because it’s a bit more numb and lifeless than its active counterpart, it can pack a punch if you use it sparingly.
Be careful with this, though–even if passive voice does create distance, and you can sometimes use that distance to your advantage, you still don’t want entire passages written in passive voice just for the vibes. Use it sparingly, and make sure that sentence wouldn’t be a little more impactful if the subject were steering.
For example, if you were writing a tragedy:
ACTIVE: She left by sunrise.
PASSIVE: By sunrise, she was gone.
Neither is wrong! But pick the one you use for a reason.
Here’s something that’ll change the way you read and write business emails forever. When you want to write a sentence and avoid specifying blame, it’s pretty convenient to flip the sentence into passive voice. For example:
ACTIVE: You stole cookies from the jar downstairs.
PASSIVE: Cookies were stolen from the jar downstairs.
Now, all of a sudden, we’re not saying who might or might not have stolen the cookies.
This can be useful when you’re giving advice (“there were a few typos in this manuscript” is a little softer than “you made a few typos in this manuscript”), and you’ll see it with business transactions all the time (“There was an issue with your order” instead of “we made a mistake with your order”).
This is also great for leaving out information. “The woman who lived here was killed.” By who? We don’t know! It’s in passive voice.
There’s Just No Other Way
Sometimes, the sentence would just be worse if you tried to make it active. It might also ruin the tone, especially in dialogue. Someone would definitely say “We’re interested in renting this apartment,” but no one really says “This apartment interests me.” In that example, it’s because the subject ‘we’ is the primary focus of the sentence, not the apartment.
But really, there’s not a hard rule for this. If you’ve got a sentence in passive voice, try to put in active voice. If it’s not working, and the most clear way to deliver the information is to keep it passive, then that’s fine! Remember, passive isn’t grammatically incorrect, and sometimes you’ll need it.
Following a Subject
Sometimes, we want to keep a certain subject the focus of our sentence. This was the case in that apartment example last time—the subject ‘we’ was the focus, so passive voice made sense there.
If you had a story about Carly and her friends going to dinner, you might write “Carly and her friends were waited on by a man with a ridiculous bow tie” to keep the focus on the gals. However, you can usually flip these sentences, too, for clarity, so just do a double-check to make sure passive voice is the option that reads more easily.
How to Transform Passive Voice to Active Voice
Alright! Now it’s time to really hammer home what we’ve learned. If you’ve got a sentence in passive voice, how do you make it active?
As we’ve seen in our earlier examples, you want to put the action as close to the subject as possible. Remember: the subject drives the action, not the other way around.
Let’s take a look at this sentence:
PASSIVE: Josie and her kids were waiting by the dock, and it was raining pretty hard.
First, identify the subject. Here, it’s Josie and her kids. Next, figure out what our action is–here, it’s waiting.
Now, we want to cut out all the extra stuff between them and get rid of the gerund on that verb.
ACTIVE: Josie and her kids waited by the dock, and it was raining pretty hard.
Better! Let’s look at the second part of that sentence. ‘It was raining pretty hard’ is still in passive voice, and we can make it crisper. We want to reword this to make it more active, and we also want to keep the writing natural. Here’s a few ways we can adjust ‘it was raining pretty hard.’
Josie and her kids waited by the dock while it rained.
In the pouring rain, Josie and her kids waited by the dock.
Josie and her kids waited by the dock, flimsy umbrellas barely shielding them from the downpour.
Changing it to active doesn’t mean, necessarily, that it has to be shorter. You can use description to convey information–notice that in that last example, I didn’t outright say that it was raining. And you can move things around to set your characters up for the rest of the sentence, like in the second example.
You’re ready to identify passive voice in your own writing and make those sentences active! Do you know any good uses of passive voice? Let us know in the comments!
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Born and brought up near Surrey, close to London, in the town of Epsom, which is home to The Derby, one of the most famous horse races in the world.
As a child, Scott wanted to be a footballer, boxer, clown, cartoonist, and a taxi driver. At 17, he began writing for a football fanzine and presenting a weekly radio show on hospital radio. He majored in media production at university and was going to be a cameraman, but found that writing scripts and doing bits of journalism was more fulfilling. “It was only after I left uni working for free on local papers, fanzines, and an extra journalism course that I stumbled into my first proper writing job.”
Twenty years later, Scott wrote his first book and has continued to write books ever since. He is the author of Fail Big, Relaunch Your Life, and Empower Your Thoughts. He’s sold over 200,000 copies in six languages worldwide and is the co-creator of one of our SPS courses.
Why Scott is Passionate About Being an Author
In junior high, Scott found a typewriter and proceeded to “hammer out this book I’ve been writing all summer.” Although he took a hiatus, he always had to author a book in the back of his mind. “One day I got so tired of telling myself that I have to write this book I just sat down and started doing it.”
He sat down with no outline or plan and started writing his book from the content that came to his mind. Four years later, he produced a book that contained 100,000 words. Splitting his book into three parts, he hired an editor and completed his book publishing.
Marketing and Selling His Books
When he first published his books, he wasn’t sure how to market or sell his new publications. He didn’t have a plan on how to market and decided to join Self-Publishing School, which gave him the connection to a community of authors.
He recommends making a good launch for your book, which starts creating a good branded cover, title. Next, you want to get reviews within the first 30 days and create ads to get your book noticed. Also, you’ll want to have a connected series that flow well together and make sense in the order that you publish your series.
How to Sell Your Book Long-Term
“Know your genre and know if your book is going to sell or not.” He recommends researching your book topic with tools that are available online. Next, look at other book covers in your genre. From there, create an eye-catching book design. “Go deep into keyword research and embed those SEO words into your book description and in your title and subtitle, if possible.”
Writing contests are events where writers submit their work for review, usually in the hopes of winning a prize. There’s lots of different kinds of contests depending on what sort of work you do–some are specific to short stories, for example, or some might only want flash fiction written by or about a certain demographic or theme.
There are writing contests for essays, film scripts, TV pilots, novels, novellas, short stories, poems, and more–there’s almost definitely a writing contest for whatever you want to submit.
Are Writing Contests Worth It?
For some writers, the thought of entering a writing contest is terrifying. Where do I enter? What are the stakes? Isn’t it terrifying to have people judge my work?
But there’s no need to be afraid! Writing contests are actually pretty laid-back when it comes down to it, and they’re an awesome way to get your work out there. To break down why you should start trying your hand at writing contests, I’ve got 3 P’s for you to keep in mind: publication, prizes, and practice.
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The specifics of the prize will vary depending on the contest, but most of these contests offer publication if you win. If you’re a novelist, you might think there’s no point worrying about short story or flash fiction contests, but that’s not necessarily true!
Think of it like this: if you win the contest, you’ll have some of your work published in a magazine. This means people will see your work! This is your time to make a name for yourself. Get readers interested to follow your journey! Then, when it’s time to publish your novel, you’re already established in the community.
Let’s be honest–a little extra cash never hurts. Again, check the details of the contest you’re entering, but a lot of the time, you get some prize money for winning. These prizes can be small, but some of them are upwards of a thousand dollars. Self-publishing can be expensive, and a writing contest is a great way to grab some money and save up.
Keeping up with writing contests means you have to keep up with your writing. It means you’ll need to produce something you feel is good enough to win you a prize, and that guarantees you’ll be practicing your craft.
Besides practicing your writing, though, you’ll also be getting some practice in other adjacent skills. Maybe you’ll need to write a bio or write an application letter–these are skills that we need to have in this field, but that we often don’t practice when we’re just drafting at home.
Plus, it makes us a little tougher. Having people read your work can be really scary, and entering writing contests will make you less and less worried about it. You’ll get used to the process of submitting, the process of waiting and waiting for results, and you’ll learn how to deal with rejection. These are all vital skills for writers!
What to Watch For
Now, that isn’t to say that writing contests are, without exception, worth entering. So how can you tell which writing contests are for you, and which you should stay away from? Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re submitting to any writing contest. Note that these don’t necessarily mean that a writing contest is bad or not worth your time–these are just some things to watch for.
When you’re submitting for publication in a literary magazine, you generally want to avoid paying a reading fee. Sometimes smaller publications need them because they’re still getting off the ground, but for the most part, you shouldn’t be paying thirty-five dollar reading fees to get your story published.
In a writing contest, it’s a little more common to see a reading fee. The money is pooled toward the prize money and pays staff to judge the contest. In contests with a bigger money prize, the reading fee will often be a little higher.
However, you shouldn’t be breaking your bank with these reading fees. There are a ton of writing contests you can enter for free. There’s no real benefit to paying to enter a writing contest unless, for some reason, you really love that specific contest or publication.
First Publishing Rights
Some writers worry about the rights to their work. If they win a prize, does that publication own their story now? If they’ve submitted it, does that mean the magazine owns it forever?
Some magazines ask for work that’s never been published, and others won’t care. It’s the same as when you’re submitting for publication outside of a contest. If you want to be super sure about the rights to your work, check out my final and most important tip:
Read The Rules!
Rules for writing contests are going to vary widely by contest. Read the submission guidelines and get all up in that fine print to make extra sure you understand before you submit!
If you have a story that’s been published somewhere else, but this contest demands unpublished work? You can be disqualified or even blacklisted from that magazine. Also, don’t submit a prose poem to a flash fiction contest. Sending off a horror story when the contest specifically asks for coming-of-age pieces would also be a no-no.
Everything you need to know will be available in the contest rules for wherever you’re entering. Know what sort of formatting they look for, whether there’s a word count, what the genre is, and so on. Check this information out ahead of time and save yourself a ton of headache. Don’t get rejected because you forgot to double-space your work on your submission, when ‘double-spaced’ was the format required.
Writing Contests For You to Enter!
I’ve got a master list of writing contests for you to enter here, and I’ve divided it up by category: first, we’ll cover writing contests that are totally free, and then we’ll take a look at some with a submission fee.
“Established in 2001, The New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award is a $10,000 prize awarded each year to a writer age 35 or younger for a novel or a collection of short stories. Each year, five young fiction writers are selected as finalists by a reading committee of Young Lions members, writers, editors, and librarians. A panel of judges selects the winner.”
Category: Young writers who have written a short story collection or novel.
“This award honors the best fiction set in a period when the United States was at war. It recognizes the service of American veterans and military personnel and encourages the writing and publishing of outstanding war-related fiction. Donated by William Young Boyd II.”
Category: Young adult or adult novels (check website for more specific guidelines)
“Lunch Ticket is honored to host The Gabo Prize for Literature in Translation & Multilingual Texts. The Gabo Prize is funded by writers, translators, and Antioch University Los Angeles MFA Alumni Allie Marini and Jennifer McCharen, who launched the prize to support the work of peer translators.”
“The Willie Morris Awards for Southern Writing are named for the late author, Willie Morris, in the spirit of his words, “hope for belonging, for belief in a people’s better nature, for steadfastness against all that is hollow or crass or rootless or destructive.” The selected book and poem may contain violence and despair, and feature terrible events, but in the final analysis must be uplifting, and suggest hope and optimism.”
Category: According to the site, authors should read previous issues to determine whether their work is a fit for this publication. No guidelines are listed regarding demographic, age, or previous experience.
“Over the 16 years of its existence, the Fund has given grants of $2,000–$4,000 to nearly 200 translations from over 35 languages, including Armenian, Basque, Estonian, Farsi, Finland-Swedish, Lithuanian and Mongolian, as well as French, Spanish, German, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic.”
Category: emerging translators and works by marginalized writers
“The Newfound Prose Prize is awarded annually to a chapbook-length work of exceptional fiction or creative nonfiction. The work may be in the form of a long story or essay or a collection of short pieces (60 pages max). Other than the page limit, the only formal requirement is that some aspect of the work must inform or explore how place shapes identity, imagination, and understanding.”
“Is your shortest fiction soft and appealing with a hidden sting? Send us your short, sweet, and sassy fiction for a chance to win $300 and publication in Pulp Literature. Get an editorial critique for only $20 more. Judged by flash fiction master Bob Thurber, winner of numerous awards and author of the novel Paperboy.”
“We seek work that actively pushes boundaries, that forces us to question traditions and tastes. If your work takes risks, we want to read it. We like strong narratives that make us feel something and stories we haven’t seen before.”
Category: short stories, flash fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction
Need some help getting started?
Grab our Fiction Writing Prompts to get your story on track for the next contest! Not writing fiction? Not to worry. These prompts can still inspire you. 🙂 Take a peek!
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John Ruhlin took the principles of generosity learned from “Attorney Paul,” and started selling the largest deals in Cutco history. Not only was he gifting knives, but he was being asked to speak on stages around the country to teach sales and marketing teams how to build relationships in unconventional ways.
With the Ruhlin Group starting in 2000, John and his team quickly broadened gifting options and strategies; however, many of his original principles never changed. Knowing how and when to give gifts is just as important as what to gift. These “minor” details and expert knowledge have been tested and proven over a decade to bring a guaranteed “wow” to any industry, from financial services to manufacturing widgets.
Today, John and his team have created gift packages for some of the world’s largest companies and pro sports teams. Still, their mission and heart are to serve and take relationships for mid-sized, privately owned businesses to a new level using their Proven Process.
Why John Chose to Write Giftology
A book wasn’t in John’s plans when he first started his business, “People were asking for it – I had no desire when I started the business to write a book.” He hated speaking and didn’t see the point of writing a book. However, after clients hired him to speak in response to his stories, his business partner pointed out that they needed to author a book to position themselves as thought leaders in their vertical.
How His Book Took Him Places He Couldn’t Go
When they realized they couldn’t be everywhere simultaneously, John and his team focused on creating their book Giftology. He wanted to speak more; however, more travel wasn’t a viable option with a third child on the way. John realized that he needed a way to get in front of more people without traveling and speaking. In addition, he realized that other speakers who weren’t as talented would land higher-paying speaking gigs as a result of having a book.
Promoting His Book Giftology
John created a unique coffee table-style book with a monogrammed leather cover that his friends would be excited to show off to others. He looks for the areas that other people miss in their marketing plan, “Where everyone goes expensive, I go cheap, where everyone goes cheap, I go expensive.”
John sends his $100 VIP leather version of his book to his friends and business network. “I keep ratcheting up what we’re doing because I feel that this is my anchor.” Gifting his book is so important, and he is so consistent with giving his book away that he often gets noticed by many of his CEO friends.
Listen in on today’s episode and find out how John decides who he sends the VIP version of his book, how he makes his book “sticky”, and how he creates specialty swag with the same stickiness as his book.
[02:11] The reason why John chose to write a book and make his book the core of his business.
[06:15] How John decided to market and promote his book sales.
[10:11] Who he offers his VIP book version to and why he chooses these business people in his network.
[12:14] Playing the long game for decades, not days.
[15:39] How John gathered over 600 reviews for his book.
[18:02] Using Giftology to sell more books and grow your business.
[20:32] His view on holiday gifts and what to send your clients.
[26:26] Making it easy for others to share his VIP book.
[30:19] Having his book do the heavy lifting of his methodology.
[36:39] John’s advice he would have given himself before he wrote his book.