Monday, 29 December 2014

The Business Review

The January 2015 issue of Writing Magazine carries an article about planning your goals for next year, and re-assessing what you achieved this year.

I thought I'd post an abbreviated version of the article here, and if you're not already a subscriber to Writing Magazine you might want to consider making it one of your first 2015 New year Resolutions!

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As the new calendar year draws closer, many people make plans for 2015. Businesses make plans too, although they tend not to call them New Year resolutions. However, before making plans for 2015, the business-like writers start by looking back at what they have achieved in 2014.

Review The Past
How often do you watch a television news review of the last twelve months and find you’ve forgotten half of what has happened? It’s easy for us to forget what we’ve achieved in our own lives, so spending a few minutes looking back over last year’s efforts can be enlightening. While its easy to focus on the goals we failed to achieve, it’s vital we remind ourselves of our successes.

Children’s author Anita Loughrey (www.anitaloughrey.com) has the perfect excuse to look back over the last twelve months, because she has to to her tax return. ‘I like to look at what I’ve achieved by going through completed commissions and acceptances in magazines. The process usually begins with having to sort out my taxes to submit them online. I pile up all the invoices that have been paid to me and usually feel quite chuffed with myself!’

Taking that step back and looking at our writing achievements over the last year can help put our writing business into perspective. It reminds us of our achievements, but it also identifies those plans that didn’t go well. It’s worth analysing why those goals weren’t achieved.

‘If I’ve not achieved something that I had planned to achieve,” says Anita, “I look at the reasons why. I usually find I put off achieving my goal because I had important commissions with deadlines.’

Put missed goals into perspective. We can’t plan for is those curveballs that life throws at us when we not looking, but what we can do is to re-assess those writing goals. It’s easy to assume that a missed writing goal should be carried forward into next year’s business plan. But we should only set ourselves the goals we want to achieve (because we’re more likely to work harder to achieve those goals). If a writing project no longer interests us, and we have no need to pursue it (such as a contractual agreement) then striving to achieve it is a waste of time.

Planning Ahead
Once you’ve assessed your achievements over the last twelve months, ditched the writing goals that no longer interest you, and identified what your plans are for the coming twelve months, it is time to start putting it all together. Remain realistic. ‘My goals depend upon what else I have going on in my life and what other commitments I have,’ says Julie Phillips. ‘I make a list of everything I would like to achieve with my writing for the coming year and then I sort them into whether they are big, middling, or small projects and take it from there. I also prioritise them into what I will enjoy doing the most and what will potentially bring more money in.’

It’s vital we have a clear understanding of what our main goals over the coming twelve months are. From here, we can then break them down into monthly, weekly and even daily targets. Anita also finds that having this overall vision of what she wants to achieve during the year ahead helps her writing on a daily basis. ‘I set myself general goals for the year and then I make myself specific weekly lists. Then, every day, I prioritise this list.’  

Deadlines are immensely useful when planning our writing year. For writing projects that have no externally-set deadlines, create your own. ‘One way I have found works quite well in getting me to focus on the tasks that have not been commissioned,’ says Anita, ‘is to book myself on a course or a retreat that will make it the number one priority.’ Taking ourselves away from our normal writing place helps focus us in two ways; it enables us to work on that project without distractions, but it also means we have to be on target with our other writing projects so that we can go away in the first place.

Booking a course, or a retreat like this, also creates a deadline in itself. If any preparatory work is required we can plan when to do it in the months or weeks before hand. Use the course or retreat as a reward for having met previous targets. Staying motivated throughout the year helps us achieve our targets as the year progresses. 

Visualise Your Year
Use business wall planners to give your writing goals some visual impact every time you sit down to write. They can also be a great way to see how you’re progressing as the year passes. ‘I have a long, medium and short term plan that I display on the wall in my office,’ says Julie, ‘so I can see exactly what I’m aiming for.’

Having this annual overview is also useful for the planning process. Look for quieter weeks, or months, which may be better for tackling the larger, in-depth projects, whereas busier times of the year are more suited to working on smaller projects. Spotting quieter times of the year can help identify potential buffer zones. In fact, scheduling a couple of quieter moments, spread throughout the year, gives us time to draw upon, should we need it. These quiet slots can help keep life in perspective when things go wrong. 

Be methodical, break things down into small, achievable chunks, and this time next year you could find yourself looking back over what you’ve achieved in 2015, and making even bigger plans for 2016. That’s the beauty of business planning our writing.


I hope 2015 is creatively prosperous for all of you! Good luck! And Happy New Year!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Merry Christmas!

Well, if you’re not sorted for Christmas yet then you’d better stop writing and start shopping. There’s not long now!

Actually, I quite like writing at this time of year. Now we’re into the final few days in the run up to the festive day, and then the New Year celebrations, there’s little point in approaching editors. Many won’t be back in the office until after New Year, so any ideas pitched or submissions made won’t be looked at until the first few days of 2015 at the earliest. So instead, I turn my thoughts to developing some of my speculative projects, such as writing some short stories. (Incidentally, I found out last week that one of my stories has made the final shortlist in a competition!)

It’s that old adage: a change is as good as a rest - and by focusing on different projects at this time of year, I feel the benefits of the change, yet I’m still writing. For this two-week period I give myself the permission to write what I really want to write, rather than what I should be writing to earn some money. Try it. Experiment. See where your writing takes you. Just write what comes. Make the effort to write something completely different to what you normally write throughout the rest of the year. You never know what might arise from it.

You might find this freedom puts you in a better frame of mind, giving you the psychological strength to cope with the pressures this time of year has a habit of putting on us when family relations descend upon us for a few days!

So thank you for reading my posts over the last twelve months. I wish everyone seasons greetings. And here’s to a creatively prosperous 2015.


Good luck!

Monday, 15 December 2014

It's A Cracker!

I wish I were a Christmas Cracker joke writer, for they must be paid thousands in royalties - after all, it seems to be the same old jokes trotted out each year. Saturday was my writers’ circle’s Christmas lunch and there wasn’t one Christmas cracker joke I hadn’t heard before.

It reminded me that that’s what readers feel when a writer uses a cliché. There’s disappointment because the reader has read it before. Then again, it could be argued that there’s comfort in familiarity. As we chatter during our turkey and tinsel lunch, it seems publishers often want more of the same from their authors. In their eyes, readers know what to expect from Joanna Trollope when they pick up a Joanna Trollope novel, in the same way that Dan Brown readers know what to expect when they pick up a Dan Brown novel. 

It can be immensely challenging trying to be original and satisfyingly familiar. Yet this is where we should delve into our own emotions and experiences more. We’re all unique. Our interpretation and understanding of something is different from that of others. It’s our own outlook on matters that can help us find our originality. When you’re looking for an original way of saying something, draw upon your own experience and interpretation. What is it that makes you, you? That’s the way of making our work original.

Which response would you like your reader to make: one of surprise and delight, or one of groaning with despair? (How do you respond when you hear a Christmas cracker joke?) 

So next time you sit down and write something, ask yourself: is it original? Is it a cracker, or is it a Christmas cracker joke?

Good luck.

Question: What time do ducks get up?

Answer: At the quack of dawn.


Monday, 8 December 2014

This Is The BBC ...

There are many useful online resources available to writers and one that I frequently browse is the BBC Academy, which can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/academy/journalism

There are lots of useful articles, and videos, containing useful tips for all writers, nit just journalists. For example, Allan Little’s video about the principles of good writing (http://www.bbc.co.uk/academy/journalism/skills/writing/article/art20130702112133594) is relevant to every writer, no matter what their genre. (He makes a strong argument as to why journalists should read poetry, for example.)

Anyone looking to brush up on their English Grammar should check out the following link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/academy/journalism/article/art20130702112133612 and for some guidance on spelling and punctuation, check out http://www.bbc.co.uk/academy/journalism/news-style-guide/article/art20130702112133530

What you might find interesting in the BBC’s Style Guide (http://www.bbc.co.uk/academy/journalism/news-style-guide), which gives you the lowdown on when they prefer to use digits for numbers and when they’s rather spell them in full.

Of course, it’s worth remembering that the BBC Style Guide applies only to BBC journalists. If you’re writing an article for another publication they may prefer a different style guide. But it makes interesting reading, because it’s a useful indication as to the sorts of things we need to be thinking about when writing.

As writers we’re always learning, and this is one resource that has many answers.


Good luck.

Monday, 1 December 2014

The Penguin Guide to Punctuation

A writer can never have too many word guides, and I have just finished reading the Penguin Guide to Punctuation (ISBN: 9780140513660). I can recommend it for a couple of reasons:

- It is £7.99 (although it can be bought for less than this), so it is a good stocking filler gift for any friends and family who don’t know what to buy you this Christmas.

- It is 162 pages, so it’s a thin volume, which means it’s not a daunting book. Some word guides go into so much detail that they frighten you from using them. This is not one of those books.

- It is easy to read. The author, R.L. Tracks, discusses punctuation in a light-hearted and concise way. It’s highly readable (so much so, I devoured it in two short sittings).

What I particularly liked about this is that it gives plenty of examples of correct usage, as well as several examples of incorrect usage (and then explains why these examples are incorrect). It’s extremely good at differentiating between British and American conventions. (For example, in Britain we would write 7.00 a.m, whereas in America they would write 7.00 AM.)

RL Trask explains everything clearly and with humour. (“An exception: the names of holy books are usually not written in italics. Thus, we write about the Bible and the Koran, with not italics. Don’t ask me why.”)

So, if you’re looking for an easy-to-use, clear, concise guide to punctuation that you can read from cover to cover, or dip in and out of as you like, then this would make an ideal addition to your bookshelf.


Good luck.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Posh Readers

It’s probably going to bear no resemblance to real life in a magazine office at all, but if you’ve always wondered how a magazine is put together then tune in at 9pm on BBC 2 tonight for the first episode of a three part series called Posh People: Inside Tatler.

It’s a look at the people who Tatler magazine feature within its pages, but it’ll also be an insight into the people who work for the world's oldest magazine. We often see the grand titles within a magazine's pages: editor, deputy editor, commissioning editor, and here’s an opportunity to see what these people look like, and what they have to do for their job.

Already there are some great quotes from the staff:

Kate Reardon, Editor - “I’m a honking great Sloane and we photograph a lot of Sloanes.”

Gavanndra Hodge, Deputy Editor - “The upper classes don’t care what people think of them, so they are willing to be wild … that’s why they’re fascinating.”

Matthew Bell, Commissioning Editor - “Irrelevant things are what makes life fun.”

Sophia Money-Coutts, Features Editor - “It doesn’t mean that you’re any less valid in life if you didn’t go to Eton - but for Tatler readers, possibly …”

Alice Holland, Jewellery & Watches Editor - “Diamonds in the daytime … it’s a bit gauche.”

(Yes, the magazine has a Jewellery & Watches editor!)

I’m always saying how important it is for a writer to get to know a magazine’s readership - well, here's a great opportunity for you to meet some real readers, and also the staff who put together this magazine. Whether it will be any use to you is another matter, but I'm sure it will be hugely entertaining!


Good luck!

Monday, 17 November 2014

It All Started With A Pitch

I’ve mentioned before how a rejection of one project can lead to a more interesting project, and I thought I’d share an example. Back in August I’d pitched a couple of travel article ideas to The People’s Friend. Unfortunately, the features editor rejected them because he’d just bought two similar pieces (which is why it’s always a good idea to pitch ideas first, so you don’t waste your time writing the articles first).

The next day, the editor got back in touch and wondered if I could help. Because I’ve always supplied photos with my travel photos, he asked if I might be interested in a photographic job. Regular readers of The People’s Friend will know that the publication has teamed up with the charity Age UK, and there is a monthly feature exploring the life of an Age UK charity shop. The words are being provided by the charity’s PR department, but the magazine needed someone to pop into the shop in question and take some photos.

It’s a job that takes me out of my comfort zone, because it’s not a writing job, but a photographic one. And I’m used to shooting landscapes, not people. Putting people who don’t like having their photo taken at ease is not easy, although I needn’t have worried. The staff at the shop are wonderful. And they’re willing to help out. Last week I had to go back and take some Christmassy photos, but because it was Remembrance Week, they were all decked out in poppies, not tinsel. Still, that didn’t stop them. We quickly erected a christmas tree and stuck up some tinsel, took some photos and then took it all down again!

The series of articles will last for a year, which means I’ve already had to undertake two photoshoots for them and will need to do a couple more in 2015. So those initial rejected ideas have actually led to more work. If I hadn’t pitched those travel pieces I might not have been asked to to do these photographic jobs (which will earn me more money than those two travel pieces).

It’s just a reminder that pitching regularly keeps your name in front of the editor. And even though that editor might say no today, tomorrow is another day.


Good luck.

Monday, 10 November 2014

All Rights Is Not Always Alright

I happened to be looking through some short story markets the other day, and I came across one that looked a distinct possibility … until I saw their terms and conditions. They wanted All Rights in any submission used.

All Rights means exactly what it says - ALL rights. If you give someone ALL rights, it means you have none left. It could be argued that you might still retain copyright, but you can’t do anything to exploit that copyright if you’ve assigned ALL rights in that piece of text to someone else. So I made a mental note not to submit stories to that market.

Deciding which rights you’re going to allow a publisher to have (or rather, which ones they demand and you grudgingly agree to let them have for the fee they’re offering) is a personal decision. There is no right or wrong answer: only what’s right or wrong for you. I have sold ALL rights in pieces of non-fiction before. But that’s because with non-fiction it is much easier to rewrite the material in a different format (thus creating a brand new piece of text with its own copyright for me to exploit as I see fit). However, it’s much more difficult to rewrite a piece of fiction to create a new piece of text.

Fiction has more implications. It might be a short story to you, but to a film-maker it could be developed into feature film. And films have been made from short stories. Just consider Brokeback Mountain and Minority Report, both of which were developed into major, successful films.   

In my experience, the non-fiction markets are more willing to negotiate which rights they really need than the fiction markets are. But always remember: selling your words is a business transaction. It’s a contract negotiation, so if you don’t like the rights a publisher is demanding, put in an alternative offer. You might be surprised with how amenable they are to changing their demands. 

It’s understandable when students get excited about having their first piece of writing published. I ask them what rights the publisher wants. And if they’re asked for ALL rights I point out what this really means. They can’t licence anyone else to do anything with the text again. If a competition wants to publish the winning stories in an anthology, or on their website, then you can’t enter that piece into a competition. If you’ve granted ALL rights to someone else then you no longer have the authority to offer the competition organisers the rights to publish it in their anthology or on their website (should you win). 

So in many circumstances, All Rights is not alright. Just think before you agree to handing them over. And if you don’t understand then get professional advice.


Good luck.

Monday, 3 November 2014

A Right Old Shemozzle

I’ve been busy undertaking my Uncle responsibilities this weekend, and my six-year-old nephew has been challenging me with word games. One of his favourite is making as many new words as you can using only the letters found in another particular word or phrase.

It was lovely showing him how to look up words in a dictionary and then watching him read the definitions. And there were times when I came across words I hadn’t heard before. It reminded me of a discussion we’d had at one of the writers’ groups I go to, where we chatted about words that were great to say out loud, or had unusual meanings. Our choice of words in our writing is often quite narrow from the broad vocabulary we know, so it’s a good idea to get the dictionary out and look for new words. (I love the built in dictionary on my computer. Every time I come across a new word now all it takes is a couple of keystrokes to look it up.)

And when you start looking, there are some fantastic words out there. Here are two that put a smile on my face at the writers’ group:

- Shemozzle

- Kattywhompuss

Look them up in the dictionary if you don’t know what they mean. And while you’re there, why not look up a couple of other new words too?


Good luck!

Monday, 27 October 2014

Seven Rules for Writing

In last week’s post I mentioned the workshops I attended, facilitated by novelist and poet Jeff Phelps. He mentioned a book by Natalie Goldberg, called Wild Mind (Living the Writer’s Life). In it, she recommends seven rules and, in light of all those writers who are preparing themselves for NaNoWriMo in a few days’ time, I thought I’d share them with you, because no matter what you’re writing, it’s all about getting some writing done, without analysing it. These are Natalie’ rules (with my comments in parentheses).

1) Keep your hand moving. (It doesn’t matter whether your hand is holding a pen, or bashing at a keyboard, don’t stop. As soon as you stop you’re allowing your brain to start analysing and thinking. There’s a time for that, and that’s later.)

2) Be specific. (Don’t generalise. Nail the adjectives and nouns. He drove a car? No. He drove a jet black 2 litre Audi A4.)

3) Lose control. (Say what you want, warts and all. Don't worry about be polite, political correctness, or whether Aunt Flo won’t like it. This is the first draft. Aunt Flo won’t even see it!)

4) Don’t think. (Don’t edit. Don’t re-read. Don’t consider. Just write.)

5) Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar. (Hooray! This is part of point 4 - not to think. Punctuate as your brain thinks of it, but don’t worry about getting it right. Get it writ, as they say.)

6) You are free to write the worst junk in America - or wherever you live. (No one, apart from you is going to see the first draft, so no one is going to judge.)

7) Go for the jugular. (If you find yourself writing towards a painful emotion - don’t shun it - go for it. Nothing is out of bounds. When you go for the jugular you’re writing the important stuff, which is where the power is.)

So, to everyone tackling this year’s NaNoWriMo, and to those who aren’t but are planning to get some writing done, consider Natalie’s rules and …


Good luck.

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Simpler Things

This weekend, it was the annual open writing workshops at the writers’ circle I go to, run as part of the local town’s literary festival, and our guest speaker was Jeff Phelps (http://jeffphelps.co.uk). He’s a novelist and a poet, and although poetry is not part of my natural writing inclination, I found that workshop an interesting exercise. (We should step out of our writing comfort zones from time to time.) Indeed, if you’d have told me I’d be writing a poem on Saturday afternoon from the viewpoint of a piece of waste ground on the verge of the A49 I would not have believed you.

However, for both workshops (prose and poetry) we looked at how to draw upon the simplest of subjects in life; not the dramatic life-changing stuff (that you might read in the real life readers’ stories magazines), but the more mundane (yet sometimes still life-changing moments), such as when you lost your favourite marble at school, or when next door’s dog licked your ice-cream off its cone. (That can be so devastating when you’ve spent all day pestering parents for that ice cream in the first place.)

It was a great reminder that there is so much to write about, all around us, and while the big writing world out there may seem to hold the key to our inspiration, what we find closer to home can be just as inspirational (such as that plot of land on the verge of the A49.)

So the next time you get stuck for an idea, look closer to home for inspiration. Mine your memories. Look around your local area. Explore your garden, or window box. The simplest things give the simplest pleasures, and sometimes the greatest inspiration.


Good luck.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Ignore Those Who Say It Can't Be Done

A couple of weeks ago, the author Simon P Clark wrote an interesting post on the Writers’ & Artists’ blog called Writing Is Worth It. (You can read the full blog posting here: https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/2014/09/writing-is-worth-it)

In it he discusses the joy of having his first novel published. He makes the comment that now he’s had a novel published it’s easy to forget the journey to this destination. Writing is hard work. Writing takes commitment. Writing takes dedication. Writing takes precedence over a lot of other stuff that would be much more fun to do at the time. But that commitment is worth it. Only we know what the end goal is. Many may say that we are wasting our time but if we have the desire to finish a writing project then it is not time wasted … if we finish it. It is only time wasted if we start a writing project and do not finish it in one way or another. So don't let their negative thoughts influence our thinking process.

It’s so easy to become disheartened when tackling a big writing project. It’s at this point where the wheels can come off, and the decision to quit is made. Don’t. Keep going. The reward will be worth it in the end. It will taste so much sweeter, because only we know what it took to achieve it.

Some of you may be considering attempting this years NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), where the aim is to get 50,000 words written in November. One of the points about this exercise is to get writers to keep writing, no matter how they feel. You have to write 50,000 words, not 50,000 words of perfect prose. That’s the next step. But it’s much easier to perfect the prose once you have a first draft. So don't give up on the first draft, because it will be worth it.

The next time someone tells you that you won’t finish your big writing project, whatever that may be, thank them for their comments but file them somewhere appropriate. Because when you do complete it, it will be worth it to you.


Good luck.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Remember The Smaller Details

I have a conker in my coat pocket. (I must remember to take it out.) I picked it up while out walking at the weekend, with the idea of putting it on my desk to remind me to remember the smaller details.

When I saw this (small) conker lying on the ground, I realised that I’d been looking at the bigger picture of Autumn - the changing colours of the leaves, the changing weather, and the shortening days. But there’s more to autumn than these things. Autumn isn’t about red, orange and gold leaves. There are other colours too, if you look long enough. There are purples, and even silvers, and that seems to make the green of evergreen trees more vibrant.

Autumn is about seeing cobwebs capture moisture molecules on a foggy day. Fog usually means we see less, yet it’s possible to see lots of spiders’ webs, highlighted in this way. It’s about the rigmarole of having to capture more spiders that have found their way into the bath, and put them outside (only to watch them run back indoors again). It’s about having arguments of when to put the central heating on. It’s about our woodland floors becoming littered with wild mushrooms, some of which look perfect to eat (but you can’t take the risk), whilst others have already been nibbled by  some of the smallest of Mother Nature’s creatures.

Remember the small detail of things. These are the observations that turn your writing from the cliches to the original and interesting.


Good luck.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Hunting for Agents

I've been trying out a new service called Agent Hunter (www.agenthunter.co.uk). It's a subscription service provided by the same people who organise the excellent Festival of Writing at York, amongst other things. The festival is a great opportunity to meet agents (I know, I've been), so these people certainly have all the right contacts.

Looking for an agent isn't easy. If you're searching online a good starting point is to visit the Association of Authors Agent (http://agentsassoc.co.uk/members-directory) and then look at the agencies' individual websites. At least you know you're looking at reputable agents (who don't charge a reading fee, for example).

But you still have to browse the agents' websites to find out whether any agents at that particular agency are interested in the genre, or subject matter, your manuscript falls into.

This is where Agent Hunter comes in. It allows you to filter a search by genre, returning the individual agents who are interested in considering the type of material you write.

If you know you write in a similar style, or genre, to another author, you can search this database for that writer's agent (although this is dependent upon the agent declaring this information in the first place). I did try this with a couple of authors, and while I found this worked most times I did note that some individual agents listed authors represented by the agency they work for, rather than just the authors they themselves represent, but it was still useful. (And far more easier than trawling through the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook looking for those authors.)

Agent Hunter also offers some personal information about the individual agents (provided by the agent, so some are more detailed than others), which can be useful when trying to find a shared interest.  That doesn't mean that if you stumble across an agent who supports the same football or netball team that you do they will fall in love with your manuscript, but it might be worth mentioning any common interests in your covering letter/email. Anything that makes your approach more memorable (for the right reasons) has to be beneficial.

The database also states whether the agent is:

1. Keen to build their client list,
2. Open to new clients or,
3. List largely complete.

Obviously, it makes sense to target agents who are actively seeking to build their list. Those who say they're open to new clients are not actively seeking new clients, but they won't turn the right person away. Those whose lists are largely complete clearly have enough work to do already!

When I cross-referenced this with a couple of agents, I found one whose Agent Hunter entry said they were actively looking to build their list, whilst on their own website they said they were not looking to take on new clients at the moment. As with all these things, a database is only as good as the information it recieves. You might think the agent's website would be more up to date, however when I scrutinised the agent's news page on their website, the last entry was made in May. So it's difficult to determine whose information is the most up to date: the agent's own website, or the Agent Hunter database.

What is really useful is the Twitter names and blog list that agents have are detailed here too, which means you can follow and find out more about an agent from their own online presence, and really get to know them better, before you make an initial approach. Whatever you do, don't approach an agent by tweet, but follow their Twitter feed for any useful snippets of information. You never know what you might learn.

If you want to look around the database you can register for free, and this will give you access to basic information. If you subscribe, you get full access to all of the information. Subscription costs are currently:

1. £5 for one month's access,
2. £8 for six month's access and,
3. £12 for one year.

If you're looking for an agent, then this service could prove useful. It's cheaper than subscribing to the Writers' & Artists' online database (which doesn't give as much information about agents, although it gives you access to a world of other information), and unlike the W&A database gibes you options to sign up for shorter periods than a year. Indeed, if you feel you're ready to start searching intently, the a one month subscription may be all you need to find you agent. If not, £1 a month for a year's access won't break the bank.

It'll be interesting to see how frequently the database is updated. And while you're there, you might want to search the publisher database, which lists over 430 publishers (and you can fine tune your search to only return those publishers who accept unagented submissions).

For further information visit www.agenthunter.co.uk

Good luck!

Monday, 22 September 2014

Announcing the Writers Bureau Flash Fiction Competition


The Writers Bureau are running a Flash Fiction competition this year. I mention it here, because although I only dabble in fiction, it can be a great exercise for any writer to undertake. The whole point of Flash Fiction is that it is short - and the Writers Bureau’s competition asks for a story in no more than 500 words, on any theme. (And remember what I said a couple of weeks ago in my post http://simonwhaleytutor.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/competitions-lead-to-new-work-being.html)

Prizes include:

1st Prize
£300 plus the choice of any
Writers Bureau Course
2nd Prize
£200 plus subscrition to 
Freelance Market News
3rd Prize
£100 plus subscriptiion to 
Freelance Market News


The rules for the competition are:

 1. The fee is £5.00/$8.00/€6 per entry  or three entries for £10/$16/€12 . There is no
limit on the number of entries competitors may send provided each one is accompanied
by the correct entry fee. Sterling cheques and postal orders should be made payable to
The Writers Bureau. [Note: we only accept personal cheques drawn on a UK bank.]
Only sterling, American dollars or Euros are accepted in currency. Subscribers to
FMN have the reduced fee of £4.00/$7.00/€5 per entry  or three entries for
£8/$17/€10 .
2. Stories must not exceed 500 words and must be typed using double spacing. All work
must be in English.
3. For postal entries, each story should start on a separate sheet of paper.
4. Work may be on any theme but should not have been previously published.
5. No competitor may win more than one prize.
 6. The author’s name must not appear on any work but should be entered on the Entry
Form or attached on a separate sheet of paper.
7. Copyright remains with the author but prize winners must agree to publication in a
single issue of Freelance Market News, plus permission to include the work on The
Writers Bureau website for a period of up to twelve months.
8. Entries cannot be returned to contestants; so please keep a copy.
9. Receipt of entries will only be acknowledged if accompanied by a stamped, selfaddressed
postcard. Results will be available on the Writers Bureau website from 15th
January 2015. Winners will be notified individually.
10. Entries that do not comply with the rules will be disqualified and entry fees will not
be returned.
11. Current employees of The Writers Bureau are not eligible to enter the competition.
12. The Judge will be Diana Nadin, Director of Studies.


The closing date for entries is 30th November 2014

Why not give it a try?


Good luck!

Monday, 15 September 2014

He said. She said.


At the NAWG Festival of Writing last month I attended a couple of workshops led by the crime writer Veronica Heley. (http://www.veronicaheley.com) In one of her workshops she explained how to avoid that particular dilemma fiction writers find themselves in, when writing dialogue … how to tag the conversation.

The most common tag is said:

“I love you!” he said.

After using a few saids writers are often tempted to raid the thesaurus and use a different verb …

“I love you!” he exclaimed.

The temptation here, though, is to use every alternative verb in your dictionary, which then becomes hard work for the reader and often involves using the wrong word for the emotion you’re trying to convey to the reader. So, to avoid this, writers then turn to adverbs to augment said

“I love you!” he said, gushingly.

But they should be used carefully. Veronica suggested a common editing trick is to delete adverbs when used in a dialogue tag (and by this she was referring to adverbs ending in -ly). While the use of numerous adverbs in dialogue tags may be seen as out of fashion at the moment, that doesn't mean obliterating them will improve your text. There are many other adverbs (including those that don't end in -ly) that are important to our text. Like any other word we use in our writing, when used correctly, adverbs have an important role to play.

Veronica continued by saying that if you have a conversation taking place between two characters, you can use the said tags for the first time each character speaks, but after that, as long as the conversation is short, most readers can keep track of who said what, allowing you to drop the tag completely:

“I love you!” he said.
“Oh?” she replied.
“Don’t you love me?”
“I’m … I’m not sure.”
“Ah. I see. I thought … I thought we had something between us.”
“Not from where I’m standing we don’t.”

Tags were only used for the first two lines, and after that it was possible to keep track of who was speaking.

However, the technique that Veronica said writers should consider is the beat. Used well, it helps to give writing a rhythm, which the said tags often destroy. A beat is where you attribute some sort of action to the dialogue, instead of a dialogue tag, like so:

Charles dropped to one knee and took Susan’s hand. “I love you!”

You don’t need he said at the end of this, because the reader knows that it is Charles saying them. The dialogue falls naturally after the action. Alternatively, you can put the action after the dialogue:

I love you!” Charles took Susan’s hand and kissed it.

This technique of attributing some action to the dialogue can be useful in clarifying to the reader who is speaking, when you have more than two people taking part in the conversation. It also helps to convey some of the emotion behind the dialogue as well. When you think about it, most people augment their speech with body language, and this can be quite revealing, so using this action to enhance the dialogue makes sense. And it avoids having to use said quite so often.

Look at how other writers use this technique when you’re next reading fiction. 


Good luck.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Competitions Lead To New Work Being Created

Well it was a surprise when I received this trophy at the NAWG Festival of Writing last month. During the festival there is a competition to write a mini-tale of 100 words … and it has to be exactly 100 words long. The closing date for entries is 3.15pm on the Saturday of the festival, and then the winner is announced during the festival’s gala dinner, later that evening. To make judging impartial entrants have to submit their entry using a pseudonym … and before you ask, no, I didn’t use my pornstar name (as I did last year).  I was delighted to discover that my tale was judged to be the winner.

Writing competitions are useful. Not only are they a delight if you win them, but they’re great for developing your writing skills. They can stretch your creativity (and writing something of exactly 100 words certainly does that). The word count also focuses the mind when it comes to editing, because you know it’s vital you don’t submit an entry with more words than the rules allow. And the deadline gives you something to aim for.

More importantly, in my opinion, is that even if you don’t win the competition has forced you to create something new. I’ve often gone on to sell a story, or an article, that started off as a competition entry, which failed to win. Once you’ve created something you have a piece of work that you can adapt, edit and send off.

So, the next time you see a writing competition, don’t just think about the opportunity of winning a shiny trophy, or a cash prize. Think of it as an opportunity to create something new.


Good luck.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Rejection Might Be For The Best

Following on from last week’s post about rejection being part of the job, I was intrigued to listen to writer David Nobbs had to say about rejection at the 2014 National Association of Writers’ Group’s Festival of Writing this last weekend. 

He gave us a humorous account of his writing career (to date!) and, of course, that included the background to one of his most famous of works, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. This originally began life as a play, which Dobbs sent to the BBC. They rejected it. He called this, “the best rejection of my entire career,” although, obviously, it didn’t feel like it at the time. Dejected he put it to one side, until a while later, when he found himself thinking about it again. Realising that perhaps the play wasn’t the best format for this idea, he began rewriting it as a novel, called The Death of Reginald Perrin. This was published and found critical acclaim, and was followed by two more highly successful novels. 

As a result, the BBC then came calling, wanting to turn the novels into a television series, which David was asked to write. And so The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin was produced. 

Had the BBC not originally rejected that initial play, the books and the subsequent television series probably would not have been created. So in the end, that rejection turned out to be extremely fortunate!

When we receive a rejection, it’s easy to focus on the here and now. We know how we feel now and it’s not always easy to see what the future holds for a particular project. But just take comfort from the fact that it’s not necessarily the end of the story. Who knows what the future might bright? It’s possible that the idea is destined for bigger things - you just don’t realise it yet!

So, next time you receive a rejection, just hold that thought that what has just happened might just be for the best!


Good luck!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Rejection Is Part Of The Job

Nobody likes being rejected. But all writers are rejected. Rejection is part of the job. And this means that rejection is actually a Good Thing. I know that may come as a shock, but here’s why:
  • If you’ve been rejected, it means you’ve actually written something in the first place!
  • It also means that you’ve had the courage to send it off.
  • You’ll appreciate the acceptance even more, when you receive it.

Ask anyone in a sales job if they have a 100% acceptance rate, and they’ll say no. (If they say yes then they’re lying!) As writers, that’s what we are, in a sales job, because we’re trying to sell our words to somebody else. 

It’s also worth bearing in mind that rejection is a business decision. It’s not a personal one. A rejection is merely someone saying that those particular words are not right for that particular market at this particular time. I have experience of successfully selling the same article to a magazine editor ten years after he’d originally rejected it. The timing wasn’t right the first time. That's all.

Rejection is also subjective. I’ve sold articles to publications where previous editors have rejected them. It was the same article, targeting the same readership. All that had changed was the editor.

Yes, rejection hurts. Especially when you’ve put so much time and effort into creating your masterpiece - whether it be a letter to a readers’ letter page, or your latest novel. (And admittedly, having a novel rejected does hurt more because of how much time you’ve spent on the project.) But that hurt is only temporary. It’s not the end of the world. Just the end of that particular journey. One of the reasons rejections hurt is because we already have it mapped out in our minds how that journey will go - submission, acceptance, publication, payment - yay! A rejection puts a spanner in the works of that journey. It means the road ahead is closed, but they may be a diversion we can take. But, if you accept that rejection is part of the journey to publication, you can still arrive at your destination, even if the route turns out to be a little more circuitous than you originally planned.

It’s okay to feel despondent and annoyed when you’re rejected. But don’t let it cloud your judgment. There’s always hope in a new market. So the sooner you accept rejection as part of the job, the sooner you’ll be able to get back to writing something else.

Good luck.


Monday, 18 August 2014

Circulation Figures

The circulation figures for the first six months of 2014 are out (http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/uk-magazines-ranked-total-paid-circulation-first-half-2014-0), and surprise, surprise, people are buying fewer magazines, although some still have a healthy readership. What may come as a surprise is that the top three highest selling magazines are TV listings mags!

The reason circulation figures are important is because the more readers a publication has, the more it can charge its advertisers. So, you might think that Take A Break magazine pays a lot of money out for its letter pages and real life stories, but that’s because, with a circulation of 657,282 issues EVERY WEEK, they can charge their advertisers a lot of money. (Especially when Take A Break also claim that every single copy is read by three people.)

Why should writers consider circulation figures? Well, we shouldn’t get hung up on them, but they can be a useful pointer when it comes to payment. The higher the circulation figures, the more money it can afford to pay its writers (in theory). When I’ve sold short stories to Take A Break, they’ve paid several hundred pounds, but The Weekly News pays a lot less (less than a hundred), but when you see it has a circulation figure of 26,486, that’s a lot less than Take A Break’s circulation. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule.

They can also make interesting reading. For example, more people buy The People’s Friend than Psychologies, Harpers Bazaar, delicious and Tatler added together.

And it’s interesting to note that digital versions of magazines aren’t really taking off just at the moment, although some publications, such as the Economist, seem to be generating a regular electronic readership.

Mind you - I wonder how these circulation figures are influenced by writers buying copies for analysis and market research purposes!

Some magazine quote their latest ABC (Audit of the Bureau of Circulation) figures on their contents pages. It’s worth looking out for it, so you have an idea as to how many people might read your article, should you succeed in getting it published in the publication.


Good luck!

Monday, 11 August 2014

Noops!

Don’t know what a Noops is? It’s quite straightforward really … it’s what  I call a Nearly Oops moment! 

I had an idea for a short 500-word piece that I thought would fit the Backchat column in Amateur Photographer magazine (which I’ve successfully sold a few pieces to in the past). So, I let my pen scribble across my notebook, as I captured my initial thoughts, and then over the last couple of days I edited and refined my text to get it to the right 500-word word length. Satisfied with the piece, I searched my Contacts for the relevant email address for this submission contact and was about to start drafting my submission email when I suddenly thought about checking that the Backchat column still existed.

The following day, while in my local newsagents, I found a copy of Amateur Photographer magazine and flicked through the pages, but couldn't find anything. Not sited next to the letters page where it usually was, I realised that something had changed and so bought the magazine for a closer analysis.

Back at home I was able to give the magazine a thorough market analysis. Since the last time I’d looked at a copy of AP, the editor has changed and there’s been a few other changes too - one of which is the dropping of the Backchat column! Now that would have a been a faux pas had I submitted it!

Still, I had this idea and I thought it would work somewhere, and I found a current slot in Outdoor Photography magazine, but I needed to extend the text to 700 words, which I did, When happy with this, I submitted it and the editor replied within a couple of days. He liked it and wants to use it. Even better, what he was paying was, proportionately, better than I would have got through the Backchat column, had that still been going!

So this little tale is just a reminder that if you haven’t looked at a magazine for a while, you should refresh your memory, because magazines do change over time. And if your intended market has disappeared - don’t panic. There could be a better-paying one just around the corner!

As I say, that was nearly an oops moment - or a Noops, as I call them.


Good luck!

Monday, 4 August 2014

Sticking Up For Yourself

One of the drawbacks of being a freelance writer is that you’re on your own. Whenever a problem arises you have to be the one who sorts it out. Sometimes this can be a little disheartening, but also frustrating. But don’t let this put you off standing up for what’s right. I’ll give you two examples:

Author Liability
I received a royalty statement showing my latest books sales, and on one section there were some deductions. I queried this with the publisher who told me that, as per my contract, the deductions were a contribution towards the cost of converting my book text into eBook format. I thought this strange, because I knew I wouldn't have signed a contract with such a clause in it, and when I went back to my contract I was heartened to see I was right! My contract clearly stated I was not liable for these costs. It took me 48 hours to get the publisher to see where they’d made their mistake, but the point was I was contractually entitled to that money, and therefore I wanted it. Of course, it wasn’t a huge sum, and if I calculate the amount of time it took me to get it sorted out, it works out at an hourly rate of £1.95! However, this just shows how publishers can make mistakes. It’s down to you to spot those mistakes and take action.

Contract Payment
Another example was with a royalty statement (it’s always royalty statements, it seems!). One of my publishers had been taken over by a new publisher, so this was the first statement issued by that new publisher. The book in question is quite old now, so I was surprised to see a royalty payment of £10.68 due. However, the new publisher had printed at the foot of the royalty statement that balances of less than £25 are carried forward to the next royalty statement. This figure didn’t sit right with me, so I went back to my original contract and found the clause in question, and the original publisher only held onto balances of less than £10. Therefore, contractually, I felt I was entitled to my £10.68 royalty payment!

So I got in touch, and the new publisher accepted that my contract terms still stood and told me that the payment would be with me in a few days. Suffice to say that it wasn’t, and I had to chase up for it, but I did get it in the end.

So, if something is not right, make sure you bring it to the attention of the publisher/magazine. Stand up for yourself. In most cases, these situations can be sorted out amicably, which is the best situation, although members of various societies, such as the Society of Authors and the NUJ can get support for really troublesome queries. It’s rare for a problem to escalate to that situation though.


Good luck!

Monday, 28 July 2014

Maximising Opportunities

Last week I was tutoring at the Writers' Holiday event in Fishguard. It's always a good idea to maximise these opportunities, so prior to going I thought about how I could make the most of this trip. The old maxim - fail to plan and you plan to fail - is so true.

For me, such events are also an opportunity to sell some of my books. But after delivering my course I had some free time, and it's this that I wanted to make the most of. Travelling is an opportunity to build my photographic library, and after studying the maps and researching some image libraries I identified a couple of places I wanted to visit.

I also spent some time researching some of those places for potential article ideas, thus identifying specific subjects I needed to photograph. There were two article ideas that came to mind, with pitches submitted.

But, even when you've done all of this extra planning, there are times when you come across the unexpected, such as St Non's Well, (see picture). Although it is marked on the Ordnance Survey map, there's no indication as to whether the well is something substantial, or whether it is simply a hole in the ground! It turned out to be something a little more substantial, which means another article opportunity, at least, and several more photographic opportunities.

And I didn't neglect my journey to and from Fishguard, either. Having scrutinised the map, I found two places I wanted to stop off at and explore.

So I've returned from Fishguard completely shattered (but that's another story!) and with hundreds more photos to add to my library, at least four article ideas, and an idea for an eBook.

Next time a writing opportunity arises, take a few minutes to see how you can make the most of it.

Good luck.


Monday, 21 July 2014

Creating the Right Mood

Many writers go and write in the corner of a coffee shop. Not only is there good food and drink available, but the ambience and background noise can be productive. Having a general hubbub of background noise can soothe the soul into thinking you’re still part of the real world, without actually having to take part in it. But what if you can’t get to a coffee shop, or cafe? Easy. You just need to log into www.coffitivity.com and you’ll soon have that cafe background humdrum echoing around your work station. And, just like a real cafe, the background noise changes. You can opt for a Morning Murmur, or a Lunchtime Lounge, or, if you prefer, a University Undertone.

My latest article in the Business of Writing series (which has just been extended, by the way!) in Writing magazine looks at workspaces, and  finding the right place to work can be important. But as writers we’re lucky to be able to work anywhere, and, as the old saying goes, a change is a good as a rest. So why not take your notebook, or laptop, and take yourself off somewhere different this week? Go and find somewhere else to work from: the library, a cafe, a park bench, the beach, or even a chair in the garden.

Changing our working environment can change our mood, and if the mood change is positive, then that can have a beneficial impact upon our creativity. I would even go as far as recommending an experiment. Create a project to find five different places from which to work, and then spend a day testing them out, to see what sort of impact they have on your productivity. Who knows? You may just stumble upon somewhere that unleashes a whole new vista of thoughts and new ideas!


Good luck!

Monday, 14 July 2014

Oh, The Romance Of It All!

Last Friday evening I snuck into the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference, which was being held at the Harper Adams University. For those of you thinking I must have been the only man there, think again. I counted four others, which meant there was a handful of us amongst about 220 women!

I don’t consider myself to be a writer of romance (and judging by the rejection slips I’ve had from many of the women’s magazines for some of my fiction, neither do they!). But it was great to see so many people there, all eager to learn more from the workshops and talks they’d be attending over the weekend, and share some of the news and successes that they’ve had. And some would have the opportunity to pitch their material to an agent and editor, and get feedback on their work.

Conferences like this are a brilliant way to grow as a writer. Not only do they give you an opportunity to escape from the family and immerse yourself in writing and writing-related activities for a few days, but they’re also an excellent way to network - with other writers and influential people within the industry. Chat to an agent over lunch or dinner and then, when the time comes, mentioning you met them at a conference in a covering letter accompanying your latest piece of work does two things: it creates a personal connection (the agent/editor will hopefully remember you), and it also demonstrates that you take your writing seriously enough to attend such events in the first place.

Belonging to an organisation can also offer access to mentoring schemes; the Romantic Novelists’ Association runs their own New Writer Scheme, from which many have gone on to achieve publishing success. Many run competitions, and these can provide useful stepping stones to success. Be awarded with a prize from your association and it’s a sign that your peers, and experts in the industry, recognise your skills - that’s something useful to add to the writing CV!

So, why not take a look around to see if there’s an association of writers for your genre of writing (there are many, including non-fiction subjects too) and investigate joining? You’ll learn a lot and make many new friends. And don't be put off thinking that you are not the 'typical' genre writer. There is no typical genre writer. Men can write romance, and there are some successful male romance writers. (If you read the RNA website you'll see that 22% of romance readers are men.) 

And, yes, and there’s also the opportunity of meeting up with all of these writers at conferences like this. (Top tip: you need two suitcases for these events. One for your clothes, and one for all the wine and chocolate you need to bring too!)

Good luck.

Romantic Novelists’ Association: http://www.romanticnovelistsassociation.org
Crime Writers’ Association: http://thecwa.co.uk
Historical Writers’ Association: http://www.thehwa.co.uk
Society of Women Writers and Journalist: http://www.swwj.co.uk
Football Writers’ Association: http://www.footballwriters.co.uk
Association of Christian Writers: http://www.christianwriters.org.uk
Fitness Writers’ Association: http://www.fitnesswritersassociation.com
Horror Writers’ Association: http://www.horror.org
The Guild of Food Writers: http://www.gfw.co.uk
British Guild of Travel Writers:http://www.bgtw.org
Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild: http://www.owpg.org.uk
British Science Fiction Association: http://www.bsfa.co.uk

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators: http://www.scbwi.org