My guest today is Hiten Vyas. He is the founder of Writing Tips Oasis, a fantastic resource for writers.
Writing Tips Oasis started in 2014 to help writers across India ride on the wave of digital publishing that was about to take over the country. The site used to be called e-Books India and published regular articles that helped writers improve their writing and learn how to market and sell their ebooks and books.
However, by the very nature of the Internet, the materials quickly reached writers, authors, freelancers, and independent publishers from across the world—the brand e-Books India needed to be more expansive, so Hiten rebranded.
Writing Tips Oasis provides tips, advice, and guidance for published authors, freelance writers, business writers, journalists, and poets.
In this episode, we discuss the following:
Resources:Support the show
Hiten: The idea behind that was, again, it was, with my business hat on, it was just an idea to diversify income. So with a blog or, in the case of Writing Tips Oasis, a content business, when you're primarily dependent upon income from display ads, and you are dependent upon Google sending you visitors, that is a very, very risky strategy.
Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.
Bryan: My guest today is Hiten Vyas. He is the Founder of Writing Tips Oasis, which is a fantastic resource for writers. Welcome to the show, Hiten.
Hiten: Thank you very much, Bryan. It's a pleasure to be on your show today.
Bryan: I always like talking to content publishers, particularly people within the writing niche. Fun fact: Writing Tips Oasis was founded in 2014, which was the same year that I founded or setup or purchased the domain for Become a Writer Today. I started my site, I suppose, as a side project when I was working in a corporate job, and I was a little bit bored. What made you setup Writing Tips Oasis? Could you tell the listeners about the background for the site?
Hiten: Yeah, sure, Bryan. So Writing Tips Oasis wasn't always Writing Tips Oasis. It's a result of a rebrand. The site initially was a website called e-BooksIndia.com. I think it was towards the end of 2013. I registered that particular domain and set up a website on that domain. The idea behind that particular domain was, at that time, e-books in India, as a country, were just about to come out. There was a chatter that e-books were going to explode in that country. So I thought there would be a good opportunity to be in that market at that time when that would happen. But in the end, what I thought would happen didn't actually happen. E-books in India did not explode in the way that over in the West, when they first came out, they did. With that particular website, it was getting visitors. I was producing content for it. When I say producing content, I wrote the first articles for that particular website and then I began to outsource to other writers. With that particular website, I made a lot of mistakes before. That website was then rebranded into Writing Tips Oasis. As I said, the market in India for e-books wasn't there, at least on the scale which I thought it would be.
The website itself was a business. I do have a passion for writing books, reading, and writing. So I combined an interest in that with an opportunity to make some money through running an online business. As you said, Bryan, it is a content business. Usually, content businesses, primarily, a lot of the times, they are monetized primarily from a few approaches but two main ones: display advertising and affiliate marketing. Now, with that website, because most of the visitors were coming from India — which is going to happen. You've got the name India inside the domain name, which is fantastic. No problem there — it was difficult to monetize those visitors. Because unfortunately, display advertising in India isn't a developed area compared to the West. So I was running a website where I was attracting the wrong types of visitors, at least from the perspective of generating revenue. Therefore, I then rebranded into Writing Tips Oasis.
Bryan: I started my site when, originally, I went into the productivity and technology niche. I was trying to set up the Irish version of Lifehacker, which is or was a big productivity and tech blog. Then I realized it was impossible for a lone Irish writer to compete. But I did have a background in writing, because I originally studied as a journalist. I worked as a copywriter as well, so I guess I always had an interest in technology and in writing. So that was a natural fit for starting an online website.
You said that you were interested in writing and publishing books. Also, you're interested in, I suppose, building some sort of online business. Did you have experience in either before you started Writing Tips Oasis? For example, did you work in a day job relevant to what you're doing now, or did you take a course of some sort?
Hiten: In terms of writing-wise, around about 10 years ago — again, that's when self-publishing is still popular. Now it's become even more popular over the years, and it's just far more acceptable now — at that time, I did self-publish some books. These were e-books which were self-published and then made available on Amazon. They were primarily nonfiction in the area of self-development. So I did have some experience of publishing but in the form of self-publishing books. That aspect, that experience came from that.
With the experience of writing content online, as in publishing online, I did used to maintain a blog for a number of years before. Actually, a little bit of my background. I'm actually a person who stammers, a person who stutters, having a speech communication disorder. I used to run a blog a number of years ago which is called stutteringhub.com. That was a blog which was on that platform, which is still available but it's not popular anymore, which is called typepad.com. What I did was, I used to maintain a blog on that particular platform. So I had some experience of blogging and publishing content online but not monetizing that content.
Bryan: I think Zach Golden still uses TypePad for his blog. It's kind of similar to Tumblr. When you started Writing Tips Oasis, did you have to write many of the articles yourself? Because I'd imagine you didn't really have the budget to hire writers at the start.
Hiten: Actually, Bryan, I did have a budget. In a sense, it was budget in the form of savings. So what happened was is, at that time, throughout my experience of setting up businesses, I've always been — I don't anymore, but I used to always work as well full-time. So whatever I was doing on the side was a side project. And with Writing Tips Oasis, I did go into it with some money which I was going to use to invest in content. Because I just knew that I wouldn't have the time to be able to write and publish content at the scale that I wanted to. I can't remember exactly off the top of my head, but I did write the first initial 10 or 15 articles myself. Then I very, very quickly started to outsource.
Bryan: Yeah, it can be quite time-consuming to produce all the content yourself. What I did is, I basically pretty much wrote everything for the first two or three years. Then I realized that there are certain topics I don't know as much about — for example, grammar. People were visiting the site to read some of the grammar articles. So I hired a grammar writer. Then she started producing lots of articles about different grammar topics, which I learned a lot from and which were, I suppose, helpful to readers. So do you have many writers on your team at present?
Hiten: Yeah, all together, there's currently two in the UK, one in the US, one in the Philippines. All together, there's about five of these, Bryan, including myself, five writers who regularly contribute articles to the website.
Bryan: Yeah, I have something similar. I have a similar team setup for my site as well. I spend a little bit of time researching articles to write, for example, the keywords to use in the articles, and creating outlines for the articles. Then I outsource the articles to the team of writers. Then an editor also reviews them as well. What does your week look like for Writing Tips Oasis? How do you spend your time?
Hiten: Bryan, what you just said there, I could probably say I probably do 90% of what you've just described there every single day, practically. Just to give you an idea. Weekly, it will be me who does the research for keywords. So keyword, keyword research, looking for opportunities to produce content, which people are searching for primarily on Google. Then what I'll do is, again, within the actual team of writers, there are some writers who are more expert in certain areas. There's a couple who are more of the storytellers, if you like. They've got background experience in the actual craft of writing. There are a couple of others who are more better at research and being able to cover the topics but not necessarily in great detail. Then what I would do is, based upon which writers would be most suitable for taking on articles, I would then assign those to those writers.
Then what I would do is — I don't actually have an editor. The person who is the editor is me. So whenever a writer would then submit an article to me, I would then edit it, request any changes or whatnot if they are needed. Then what I do is I then work with a virtual assistant. The virtual assistant has been very, very helpful in allowing me to scale the business a little bit more. He's primarily responsible for uploading content onto the WordPress platform, formatting, and then hitting publish.
Bryan: Yeah, it sounds similar to what I do. I'm glad you used the word 'business,' which I'll ask you about in a moment. But before I do, it's fair to say that Writing Tips Oasis is focused mostly on fiction.
Hiten: It is, yeah. It seems to have evolved. In terms of topics, a lot of the content is about writing fiction. It's also quite heavy, if you like, in the area of featuring service providers. There's lots of listicles there, so a list of a book editors, literary agents, book publishers. There's quite a lot of content on that type of area as well. There's quite a lot of grammar tips on there as well.
Bryan: Do you have a particular interest in fiction, or is that just a theme that evolves naturally over the years?
Hiten: I think it's both. Fiction-wise, I read a lot of fiction. I've always been into fiction. Although, when I started Writing Tips Oasis, it was supposed to be more of a broader website — learning from your mistakes, how to attract visitors, trying to develop what we call domain authority, if you like, in certain areas of the writing and publishing niche or industry rather. It seems like it is more weighted towards fiction now, which is just a result of the way that things have gone.
Bryan: Yeah, I find that going to happen as well. I mean, when I set up my site, it didn't particularly identify themes that I was going to publish content about. For example, fiction, grammar and, more recently, nonfiction. But naturally, as I started publishing particular articles, I would see what ranked, or what was attracting the most traffic, or what got the most engagement from readers. Then I would publish a follow-on article. Then if that worked, I'd publish another companion article. Then over time, I'd end up with I suppose what you would call a content hub, which will be like a series of articles that covers everything, for example, on how to write a nonfiction book or a guide to writing poetry, let's say.
Hiten, you mentioned that Writing Tips Oasis is a business. There are probably a few listeners wondering, how is a blog a business? How does somebody turn articles into something that can actually pay the bills or help them support their family?
Hiten: Okay. So in terms of how Writing Tips Oasis is a business, as I said, I did go into that particular site always approaching it as a business. Because I did want it to make revenue and then eventually turn into a profit. Now, anybody who might be interested in this type of scenario as to like how you might go about doing it, basically, when we are setting up a business — the business is a website — what we're doing is primarily the fuel, if you like, for that website is going to be your content. There are ways of them monetizing. You produce content. You produce content which is going to be useful. It's going to be answering questions that people are searching for, again, primarily on Google. At least in my experience, some of the contacts who I have within this industry, we do tend to use Google, if you like, as a very, very big source. Sometimes too reliant upon Google as a source to bring in visitors who are searching for information. On Writing Tips Oasis, the article is there. They are all — they weren't always, but they are now. They are search engine-optimized. Meaning that, they have been created using keywords as titles which people are searching for. Then when visitors come to the website, majority of them are going to hopefully find a good article that's going to provide them with some information, help them answer any questions that they have. But then, a small percentage of those visitors who then do come on to the website will then click on advertisements. Some people get annoyed by this when you go on to a website, and you've got these annoying ads everywhere. In my case, Writing Tips Oasis, that is primarily how that business generates revenue. So that is one way of how you can make money. That's the primary way of how Writing Tips Oasis generates revenue.
Then another way of how it is also a business is — again, it is a website. So it's not selling anything, right? But in a way, it is selling something. It's selling access to an audience. That's where you have the advertisers who are accessing the audience of Writing Tips Oasis. They are getting a targeted audience who may be interested in the services and products. Then you've also got another approach which is affiliate marketing. On Writing Tips Oasis, I do have some close partnerships with some affiliates. These are our service providers in the book publishing industry. Another way of generating revenue through the website is by promoting their services and products.
Bryan: Yeah, that's similar to how I monetize my site as well. I also have a course. I know you have one, too. Advertising is a great way to monetize a content website. Basically, once you get a certain amount of traffic, you can apply to Google Adsense, or you can apply to an advertising network like MediaVine or Adthrive, now known as Raptive. Then they'll set up ads on your site. All you have to do then is write the content that people want and get traffic. Then you'll get paid. So it can be a nice, somewhat passive income stream. Passive in the sense that you're not directly selling anything, but you still have to obviously attract readers and publish content.
Then with affiliate marketing, you can find a product or a service that your audience likes, and describe to readers how you use it and how it helps you. You could potentially offer a discount. And if they find it helpful, then you can earn a small commission. Obviously, you disclose that you have an affiliate partnership with the company in question. Then the third option is courses. I know you have a course. So could you tell the listeners a little bit about the novel writing course that you have on offer?
Hiten: Bryan, yes. The course, which is available through the website and is a separate brand in itself, is called Novice to Novel. We actually launched this course, I think, around about two years ago now. What it is? It is a course which is completely free of charge. So if you are a person who wants to write a book and it is for fiction, if you want to write a novel and you've never written one before, you can register, or you can sign up for this course. What this course, what it gives you free, well, it gives you 52 lessons completely free of charge. So it is a pretty high-value course. The idea behind it is, a person subscribes to the course. Then every single week for one year, 52 weeks, you would receive a lesson. Each lesson guides you step by step with a goal by the end of that year to have a drafted novel. So that is a course which I run.
Bryan: Are all these lessons text-based, delivered over email, or do you have some other format?
Hiten: That's right. Exactly. It's a totally email-delivered course, Bryan. Yeah, exactly, as you said, all of the lessons are delivered via email. Subscribers are popped into an emailed sequence, as we call it. So if you have an email marketing software, I'm sure most of them call it a sequence which is basically an automated sequence already set up. In the case of Novice to Novel, it's got 52 weeks in it.
Bryan: Fantastic. That's quite generous to give away a course for free. Do you have some sort of offer or paid offer at some point as well for the really engaged ones?
Hiten: Yeah, I'm still in two minds about that, Bryan. Because the course currently, and at least for the time being, it is going to be free for authors or writers who wants to subscribe. I am having some people telling me that, "You're offering too much value there for free." But the idea behind that was, again, it was, with my business hat on, it was just an idea to diversify income. With a blog or, in the case of Writing Tips Oasis, a content business, when you're primarily dependent upon income from display ads, and you are dependent upon Google sending you visitors, that is a very, very risky strategy. So in order to de-risk a little bit, that's why I set up the course. Because with the course, you have the subscribers. And that is an audience that you have control over.
The idea behind that was — it is now starting to happen — it's where the income. Because it still is an expense to the business, or at least at the moment, it's basically paying for the email's marketing system. But as the number of subscribers go up, that cost also starts to go up. So it is monetized now, and it's just starting to be monetized through selling sponsorships. Again, with that, when I'm talking about sponsorship, I'm talking about service providers in the book publishing industry. So organizations or businesses like book editors, book cover designers, self-publishing companies, these types of businesses whose typical audience or customers are writers. What I'm starting to do is, I'm actually starting to now sell sponsorships. So I've got my first few sales there as well, Bryan. But that's just still very, very early days with that.
Bryan: Excellent. It's always a good practice to have alternatives of traffic sources. As an example, I used to manage a Facebook page for a corporate company. We were getting lots of great traffic to the corporate blog. This was going back a few years. Then Facebook changed how pages work — from giving away free traffic to having to pay to get reach for your posts on Facebook. The traffic from Facebook page fell off a cliff pretty much overnight. Pretty much, since then, the main way to get traffic from a Facebook page with a few exceptions is through paid advertising. Although Google is not quite as risky as a Facebook page, it's still going to have a backup source of traffic. An email list is an excellent choice, particularly for writers. Because when you're a writer, you're obviously au fait with communicating with the written word. You're also talking to readers who like to consume content mostly through the written words. So it's a natural fit. The email service provider I use is called ConvertKit which is actually built originally by a self-published author who then shifted or pivoted to a software business, Nathan Barry. I know you use ConvertKit.
Hiten: I did. Exactly, yes.
Bryan: Have you found it easy to use?
Hiten: I have, yeah. At the start, Bryan, it was a little bit complicated. What I found with them is, with ConvertKit, they've got a really, really good support team which just seemed to be available 24/7, or at least it seems like that. I think they've just been so supportive. I'm just asking them some of the questions that have been a little bit more complicated. But this had been simple. Over time, at the start, it was a bit of a learning curve. I have to admit that. But now I find it a straightforward platform to use now. So yeah, I'm happy with it.
Bryan: For a context, for our readers or listeners who don't have an email service provider, with ConvertKit, you could set up something like the 52- week course, which is actually quite a big course. But you could set up a four-week course or a seven-day course in ConvertKit. It would only take you half an hour to set it up once you have the content, obviously. Then it'll continue to work even when you're not. So all you have to do is, again, just get traffic, readers, and then you get paid through the advertising. Then ideally, some of those readers will also join your email list, and then they become your most engaged followers and fans. Then you'll have a fairly resilient content publishing business. So it's pretty much the model that I use as well. I'm glad it's working for you, too, Hiten.
Just to shift gears for a moment. I mean, you've been blogging and publishing content pretty much for as long as I have. Search has changed a bit. Social media has changed. For example, the reach of Facebook pages. The big topic this year is AI. So how do you use AI in your business? Have you considered how AI is going to impact Writing Tips Oasis?
Hiten: The honest answer is that no, I've not used AI in the business yet. I suppose one of the reasons for that is, when it comes to these sorts of new technologies, I am generally a late adopter, as they say. Although I do have a very, very big interest in technology, when it comes to actually using some of the actual tech, I am a bit slow on that. So it isn't something that I have actually used within the business yet, but it is something which I am considering.
Now, obviously, I do have a team of writers. They may very well be using AI to help them produce content, which is perfectly fine. I don't have any issue with that at all. I'm just trying to think about ways of how I might be able to use AI to scale the content which I am creating. Bryan, the honest answer is, as I said, I've not actually used it yet. So I don't really have all that much to comment on it.
Bryan: Yeah, I don't currently use it to create articles verbatim, but I use it for things like writing podcast headlines. I put in the interviewee and the topic, and it gives me 10 different podcasts headlines or YouTube video headlines. Sometimes if I have an article and I want to get an outline for the article, I'll just put in the keyword into ChatGPT and ask it to provide an outline. Then I'll review that and then use that to actually go ahead and write the article in question.
But what I found is, if you actually generate an entire article with AI, the results can be very mixed. Often, the tools are confidently wrong. So it'll insist that Stephen King was born in 1981, or it'll insist that an author who's long dead is still alive. Then when you go on fact checkers, obviously, those things are completely incorrect. So you can't just publish verbatim on what any AI tools say, but they definitely are worth playing around and experimenting with. We mentioned ConvertKit. We've talked about ChatGPT and AI. Are there any other tools and software that you rely on in your business that we haven't mentioned?
Hiten: Yeah, in terms of like tools-wise, yes. One which is a very boring piece of software but something which I do need is obviously my bookkeeping software. Because without that, I won't be able to do my accounts accurately. That is a piece of software which I am heavily reliant on. In terms of actually tool for the business, there is one aspect of Writing Tips Oasis. It is actually a multilingual site. There is content on there which has been published in other languages: Spanish, Italian, French. And for that, I am heavily reliant upon a WordPress translation plugin which is called WPML. So that is a tool which I am heavily reliant on as well.
Bryan: Interesting. I've actually been translating content for Become a Writer Today over the past few weeks. I've been creating some of the articles in Spanish and German. Although when I say I, not me specifically. I've been working with a translator to turn the English content into Spanish, German or French content. But it's a work in progress. What's the keyword tool that you use? I use Semrush. What keyword software tool do you use?
Hiten: The keyword software tool which I use is Ubersuggest.
Bryan: Yeah, that's a good tool. It's cheaper than Semrush.
Hiten: It is. I actually got an annual, not annual, a lifetime subscription for that. I think it was only a few £100 or something like that, if I can remember correctly.
Bryan: All right. A good buy. What project management software do you use to work with your team?
Hiten: I don't.
Bryan: You don't? You just do it all over email?
Hiten: I don't. Yeah, exactly. Absolutely.
Bryan: Wow. Your email inbox must be pretty, pretty packed.
Hiten: Yeah, most of it — sorry. Carry on.
Bryan: No, go ahead. I was just interested in learning about how you work with your team.
Hiten: I was going to say I think having a project management tool would be so much more efficient. I think it would probably save me a lot of headaches, Bryan. It's probably something I definitely need to look into. But what I've done is, with the writers, because the number of writers have gone down now. Previously, there have been times when the team of writers had been maybe about 10. At that time, I think a project management tool would have been very, very useful. But now because the team is much smaller, it does make it a bit easier in terms of actually managing content and managing who's assigned to what articles.
Bryan: Yeah, I've noticed that as well. I use Trello. I find Trello is good for managing my own work, because I can see exactly what's in progress visually. I can move it from left to right, and then I can add people to a Trello board. I have a Trello board for my own work and then a Trello board for team members. I've used that for years. The free version of Trello works just fine. But like you said, if you have a small team, you could just potentially do it over email. Hiten, where should our listeners go if they want to take your free 52-week course?
Hiten: So if they actually go to the website, writingtipsoasis.com, from there, they'll be able to access the course. If they want to sign up, there should be a pop-up which will come on the screen. If they actually look at the tab at the top, there is an option there which says Free Novel Writing Course. If they just click on that, they'll be able to find out some more information about the course, and then sign up.
Bryan: I'll be sure to include the links in the show notes.
Hiten: Thank you. I appreciate that.
Bryan: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. If you did, please consider leaving a short review on the iTunes Store or sharing the show on Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you’re listening. More reviews, more ratings, and more shares will help more people find the Become a Writer Today Podcast. And did you know, for just a couple of dollars a month, you could become a Patreon for the show? Visit patreon.com/becomeawritertoday or look for the Support button in the show notes. Your support will help me record, produce, and publish more episodes each month. And if you become a Patreon, I’ll give you my writing books, discounts on writing software and on my writing courses.