Thursday, December 18, 2008
Having been commissioned to write an article about Victorian Christmas, I'd arranged to interview the curator at Blists Hill Victorian Town, a living museum in the World Heritage Site of Ironbridge Gorge near to where I live.
It meant meeting the curator at when the museum opened, which meant getting up much earlier than normal in order to prepare and drive across to the venue. But whilst the early start did not put me in a good mood, my actual visit was brilliant, and reminded me why I enjoy doing this so much.
Not only did I get free admission to the town (currently £10.50 for adults) but the curator also took me to the Victorian Tea rooms where I conducted the interview over a wonderful tea! And after we'd chatted, I was then left to explore the whole town on my own and take pictures - the one above was taken in the Doctor's Surgery, and the Christmas card is in the style of Victorian cards, which would have been displayed everywhere in the house.
It was really interesting to learn that Christmas decorations were not usually put up until Christmas Eve. What with everybody working, there wasn't time beforehand. And most Christmas decorations were especially made out of fresh produce, so most of December was spent 'creating' the decorations, and when they were finished they were stored in the cellar to maintain their freshness, only seeing the light of day at Christmas Eve.
Of course, electric Christmas tree lights weren't around then, so they used to use candles. Now in many towns, the fire brigade would go around telling people when they could light their tree candles - in other words - they were only allowed to light them when the Fire Brigade were on duty! For most people, this meant an hour on Christmas Eve, an hour Christmas Day and an hour on Boxing Day!
So next time you tackle an assignment, and you don;t really feel up to it - persevere. You might find that you actually enjoy it!
Good luck, and I wish everyone a merry christmas and a creative new year!
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Magazines are often produced months in advance - most monthlies are produced three to fours months ahead, whilst many weeklies are put together six to eight weeks ahead. So in December, writers need to be thinking about June pieces if you want to have some time to do some research and write the piece in order to ensure that you can submit it in time.
Because of this, many magazines produce a calendar of what editorial content they will be producing in the coming year. Some of you will know that I produce a regular walking column and feature for Country & Border Life magazine. The editor contacts me and tells me where they want me to do the walk because they like to balance the area coverage in each issue. This means they are planning many months ahead. How far ahead? Well, let me tell you that this month (within the next week) I have to provide the article and walk for the March 2009 issue. I also have to produce the feature for the September 2009 issue, the October 2009 issue and this coming Sunday I'm off to do an interview for next December's (2009) issue! So yes, the magazine is planning at least 12 months in advance. (And yes, this full time freelance writing is full time - what's a weekend?)
You may recall a few months ago I posted details of a new magazine that was launching called Scotland Outdoors. Well I was browsing their website and found their 2009 Editorial Calendar. Click on the link to view the document (in PDF format).
If you look through the document you'll see that there's quite a lot of detail. The magazine has decided what the features will be all that way in advance. Now just because they've decided what their articles will be about, that doesn't mean to say that they have allocated the job to someone yet! So if you know about the topic, then pitch your idea, because it could turn into a commission for you.
The eagle-eyed amongst you will spot that most of the information is geared towards the advertisers. This is so they can make the most of their adverts. So if you look at the next Winter issue, you'll see that the magazine plans to cover the Aberdeen and Grampians area of Scotland. So any advertisers in that region who are thinking about advertising in the magazine, would do well to advertise in that specific issue. The magazine will probably place the adverts next to the pages in the magazine where those features will appear.
So the editorial calendar is like a magazine's media pack - it's aimed at the advertisers not the writers. But it would be foolish for us writers to ignore all that information.
To find out if a magazine produces an editorial calendar type the magazine's name and the phrase 'editorial calendar' into an Internet search engine. Many magazines produce 'media packs' that provide information about the average reader. Occasionally, editorial calendars are tacked onto the end of the media pack, so if you get no joy with the editorial calendar, then search for the magazine's media pack.
Once you start finding editorial calendars, you may find it opens new doors to your writing. It;s not just advent calendars with surprises behind their doors then!
Friday, December 5, 2008
Well you'll be pleased to know that John's emailed to say that they were successful, and thanks to all who voted, their grant application has been successful. John went on to say:
Sound's like John and his group have got their work cut out for them now!
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Since becoming a full time freelance writer just under 5 years ago, I've kept a record of the number of words I produce each day, and the spreadsheet also keeps a running 'Grand Total'.
Well yesterday, that Grand Total hit the one million mark. One million words! Blimey! (actually, by the end of the day the tally read 1, 001, 267 words).
Now I didn't set out to write a million words (gosh that would have been demoralising.) But it does show how writing something everyday, all helps to contribute to the bigger picture. Just glancing through my spreadsheet I can see days when I only wrote a letter of 25 words, and then there are days when working on a book, suddenly 7,000 words appeared from somewhere.
And they all add up.
So don't feel dismayed if you only wrote a few words yesterday. The important point is that you wrote SOME words. And SOME are better then NONE.
And this posting adds more to the total!
(And for those of you wondering - no I don't include the words I write on your feedback sheets of your assignments!)
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
It is often said (by us men who wouldn't know otherwise) that writing a book is like giving birth. Well if that is this case, then The Bluffer's Guide to Banking is way overdue, but in case you hadn't noticed, there's been a minor event in the world called a credit crunch, which has affected it's content (several times over).
It always surprises me how work and projects turn out when you're a full time writer and the Bluffer's Guide to Banking is a point in case.
The Bluffer's Guides are a series of books produced by Oval Books. From a writer's perspective they are slightly different to other books, because when they commission a book, they pay the writer a one-off fee and they buy the copyright as well. This is all clearly explained on their website www.ovalbooks.com. They also list topics that they are currently looking for authors to write and one day I saw that they were looking for one on banking. Now having spent 8 years working for a large high street branch I thought I'd have a go.
I approached the company who asked me to write a sample piece of text and sent it in. Ironically, on the day my submission arrived someone else who'd discussed the same subject with them over a year ago, also submitted their sample. The publisher was obviously in a difficult situation, but understandably said that the job ought to go to the writer who'd originally approached them. Now many of you may see this as bad luck, but being an optimistic kind of guy, I didn't. I latched onto an offer that the publisher made. She said that she'd be happy to look at any other ideas I had. So naturally, I thought of some and made my approach.
I was chuffed to discover that she liked my idea for the Bluffer's Guide to Hiking, and I was then commissioned to write that (it will be published in Spring 2009).
Then, out of the blue, the publisher contacted me and asked if I would be prepared to work on the text of the Bluffer's Guide to Banking. Having looked at both of our initial submissions, the publisher felt that if I and the other writer collaborated on the text, we could produce a far better book. So suddenly, I was working on the Bluffer's Guide to Banking again.
The 'final' manuscript was submitted to the publisher towards the end of 2007 and was scheduled for publication in early 2008.
Then the Credit Crunch hit. Suddenly foreign banks were collapsing, there was a run on Northern Rock and the boring world of banking was suddenly in the limelight. And of course it didn't end there! More of the bigger banks needed Government support too! The text had to be completely revised. In the original version the biggest banking scandal was the collapse of Barings Bank caused by rogue trader Nick Leeson at a cost of £1.3billion. With the American Government bailing the American banks out to the tune of some $250 billion and the British Government bailing the British banks out with over £50 billion, the Barings £1.3 billion, was mere pocket money!
And every time we made an amendment to the text, something else would happen. The merger between Lloyds and HBOS was on, then it was off, then it was on again. In the original text there was no need to talk about the 'sub-prime market' yet in the new text we had to include it.
Of course, the fact that the banking industry has gone through so much turmoil (and still is), makes it ripe for publishing now. Hopefully the public will appreciate the humorous touch that has been added to this subject to make it an easy but enjoyable read. (If you've read my dog books, then you'll understand my weird sense of humour.)
So the moral of this story is: don't get despondent about rejections. Often they can lead to other projects. And just because your idea is rejected by somebody today, it doesn't mean that it won't work for them in the future.
Here comes the sales pitch:
The Bluffer's Guide to Banking is published by Oval Books.
and will be available in all good bookshops and retailers soon.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Liz Dawes has contacted me to say that she's received an email from The Observer today, advising her that her Crap Holiday (No Nooky in Norfolk) will be used in this Sunday's edition of The Observer (30th November). Not only is she overjoyed at this, but it's even more special for her because it's her very first piece of work to be published.
Congratulations Liz, I'm sure you'll enjoy the moment (and don't forget to tell family and friends to go out and buy a copy!)
This means that in the six weeks since my Crap Holiday was published on October 19th, there have only been 2 weeks when this slot was not produced by one of my students!
I hope this proves that there are slots within many newspapers that are open to outside contributions, and Liz's experience demonstrates that previously unpublished writers can achieve publication here.
Keep sending the crap holidays into the Observer. Let's see how many more of my students can get their work published in this slot before the end of the year.
And if this has whetted your appetite, UK based students should check out The Guardian on a Saturday. In their Family section they have a 'Family Life: Your Stories' section, and they pay up to £75 for some of the contributions. Over to you then!
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Thanks to everyone who wished me a pleasant 'retreat' with my writer friends. I've just got back and am in the process of catching up with my emails.
For those of you who don't know, I go to a writer's circle that meets monthly in Telford, Shropshire and some of us have fallen into the habit of going away at this time of year in order to write. We hire a large house somewhere not too far away and for a few days the aim is to escape the pressures of everyday life, the phones and family and to write.
If you're interested in finding out what we got up to, there are pictures and videos on the writer's circle blog, which can be found here.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Anyway, I've been busy marking the assignments that came in whilst I was away and I noticed an interesting trend. Not one of those students had given their articles a front cover sheet!
It's important that you give all your articles and short stories a cover sheet. Not only does it make it clear to the editor what you're submitting to them, but in some magazines, the editor will scribble a price on the front of it, rip it off from the rest of the manuscript, and that's what gets sent down to accounts to pay you. So cover sheets or title pages are important!
Remember, a cover sheet should include:
- The title of your article / short story
- Who it is by (so put a pen name here, if you are going to use one)
- The number of words
- Your (real) name, address and any other contact details you want to provide
- And finally, details of what rights you are offering the editor (First British Serial Rights, First Indian Serial Rights, First Malaysian Serial Rights etc)
Right, I'm off to Wales for a few days with a few of my writer friends on our annual retreat. We've hired a large mansion near the Welsh Coast and are escaping from the modern world in order to write, so I'll let you know how I get on. In the meantime, for those of you here in the UK, if you want a laugh, then take a look at this week's "Take a Break" magazine (issue 48 - purple cover). It's my short story on page 57, and it'll probably demonstrate why I don't do short stories very often!
Sunday, November 9, 2008
To read about Penny's unfortunate experience, click here.
That means that since my piece was published in the Observer, two of my students have now had their pieces published. Anyone else had a go? Do let me know if you're successful!
If you haven't heard about this reader's column in the paper, the details are as follows:
Have you had a crap holiday? If so, tell us about it. The writers of stories we publish will receive a £16 Lifesystems Adventurer First Aid Kit from Cotswold Outdoor (0844 557 7755; cotswoldoutdoor.com) for taking the sting out of minor holiday mishaps. Email email@example.com
To get a taster of what's expected, read a selection of other people's 'Crap Holidays' at this link.
Monday, November 3, 2008
How are you?! Thanks for your email and sorry about the late response. We've
read through the piece and while it's a great piece, we have already done
articles on the topics you have covered in it. So we can't repeat, I hope
you understand. Would be happy to hear some pitches though. Let me know your
Now I'm sure you'll agree that Lubna was disappointed that her article had been rejected. This is a classic example of where the magazine feels that it has already covered this topic recently and to ensure that they don't bore their readers, don't want to revisit the subject for some time. But notice how the editor has told her that this was a 'great piece'. So her writing was good, and clearly her article was targeted at the right publication because the magazine has already covered the topic. Clearly, Lubna has done everything right here. Unfortunately it hasn't worked out, purely because Lubna wasn't aware that the magazine had recently covered this topic. That doesn't mean that Lubna didn't do her market analysis - on the contrary, if she'd examined the last 3 issues the chances are this subject hadn't been covered then. The topics may have been written about 6, 7, or even 8 months ago. But it's still too soon for the editor and the readers.
But look at the final sentence of that rejection email : Would be happy to hear some pitches though, let me know your thoughts. WOW!
Now let's get one point clear. Editors don't ask writers to send in article ideas if they are naff writers! They get inundated with ideas from naff writers everyday, they don't need more. But they DO invite the writers who show promise, and clearly Lubna's article demonstrated that she could write to a high standard, and it also showed that she knew what the magazine's readership wanted. That's what the editor is thinking. Here's a writer who can write, and can write well for our readership.
So I've told Lubna to send in a list of three or four ideas. She needs to think carefully about them, and approach the ideas in the same way that she did for her article. But if she can supply three or four, the editor may like one of them and ask her to write it up.
Now this is NOT a commission. If the editor likes an idea it does not mean that it will definitely be used. However, it puts Lubna in a much stronger position because she knows that the editor already likes her idea. It also means that when she submits the finished article she can begin her email:
Please find, as requested, my article entitled ...
Again, this gives her a stronger position because when the editor looks at the email he/she will know that it is an idea that is suitable. He/she has already asked to see it.
So what started out as a 'reject' email, actually ends up very positive. If ever you find yourself in this position then do send the ideas in.
Never worry about your ideas being stolen. This just doesn't happen. People often have the same ideas at the same time (funnily enough, lots of writers are having ideas about credit crunch / financial doom and gloom articles at the moment).
Ever wondered why in assignment 2 when you're asked to analyse the publication right at the end of the analysis you are asked to come up with several ideas that you can offer them? Now you know!
The rejection began as a "No", but it definitely turned into a "could be!"
Sunday, October 26, 2008
So, I feel a challenge coming on... how many more of my students can get their crap holidays in the Observer? To find out how to submit your work, read Sarah's piece and my piece to assess the style. The details on how to submit your crap holidays are provided at the very end of the columns.
Of course, perhaps it is just Sarah and I who've had crap holidays ... but something tells me that if the Observer are running a whole series on this, then we're definitely not the only ones!
Let me know how you get on.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
"A group of other writers seemed to be a good idea so I sought one out and it's been a joy. Apart from the laughs, the incentive to have something to share each week - whether it's in response to the prompts given out at the meetings or one of my own writing projects - has certainly got me writing more quickly and even dabbling with unfamiliar genres. But Rising Brook Writers in Stafford is different from other writers groups in this area in that it is a voluntary charitable trust that aims to promote the joys of creative writing among the over-50s and the disabled. As well as weekly meetings and on-line workshops, each year we run a series of touring workshops for senior citizen groups, care centres and the like that encourage people to share their memories, which we help them to write and publish as both a book and a CD. Last year the theme of the workshops, which are supported by lottery funding, was wartime memories, this year it's seaside holidays, and I've been asked to lead the sessions and write the book. So, I joined the group for company and feedback on my own writing and end up getting paid work. It really is true that there can be writing opportunities in the most unexpected places."
So, if you want to broaden your skills, friends and overall writing experience, then look for a writing group in your area. John would now like our help to gain some grant funding for a project they're involved with:
"We have applied to the Staffordshire County Council’s Local Member Initiative Scheme for funding to replace computer equipment to enable senior citizen volunteers to operate a weekly online writing workshop for the housebound. If you would be kind enough to vote for us by text message before 31st October, It would be a great help. Just send Vote SW11 to 60003. "
Please remember that your mobile phone operator will charge you for texting your vote, and that votes need to be cast by 31st October.
Good luck John.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Many of the newspapers have sections which are open to 'readers' and in The Observer's Escape section (travel and holidays) there is a 'Reader's Page' mainly consisting of letters asking for help with their holidays. There is however, a section of about 400 words entitled "My Crap Holiday" where readers can describe their worst holiday. There's no payment, but there is a small prize of a First Aid Kit (designed to 'take the sting' out of future holiday disasters!).
To give you an idea, why not read an example of someone's 'crap' holiday and see if you have one that's even crappier?
Click on this link to read an example - yes folks - it's my crap holiday - which was published yesterday Sunday 19th October 2008. It's easy to do. I emailed it to the address that the paper provides on 8th October and here it is 11 days later. And no - they didn't tell me they were going to use it. Why should they? After all, it's on the "Reader's Page" therefore they expect me to be a reader every week and buy a copy anyway!
So go on. Have a go. We've all had at least one crap holiday. Haven't we?
Friday, October 17, 2008
It's only available to UK addresses unfortunately and the offer closes on 31st October 2008, so you'll need to be quick.
To claim a free copy (there is the cost of the telephone call to consider - approx 5p per minute from BT lines) ring 0844 243 9861 and quote code LPEM08.
They are offering a free copy of the very first issue (December 2008) which will be available in mid November (and posted out then).
Scotland Outdoors is another new magazine that has been recently launched and looks at anything to do with Scotland's great outdoors whether it is nature or sports related.
On the subscription page of the magazine, it is offering a free copy for readers to look at. The website says that the offer is available whilst stocks last but it makes no mention of whether only UK addresses can claim, so if you're based abroad, all i can suggest is that you try it and see!
Visit their website for more details and to find out more about the magazine.
Firstly, I told her that she wasn't going mad! It's important for a writer to assess their work and look for ways to improve it. Work should be the best it can be when it is submitted.
However, if there comes a time when tweaking or titivating is preventing you from submitting a piece of work then you need to stop!
Ros's situation is that a publisher has asked to see the first few chapters of her work, so whilst she's waiting for the publisher to respond to that, she's busy 'tweaking' the rest of her manuscript. This is fine because her work is still being considered whilst she looks for ways in which to improve her text, so that when (thinking positively!) the publisher asks to see the rest of the text, she knows it is the best she can make it.
I always advocate putting your work aside for a day or so and then reviewing it with fresh eyes. If you make an amendment, put it to one side again and then review it later with fresh eyes, and continue doing this until you read it without making an amendment.
So if I write a first draft of an article on a Monday, I'll review it Tuesday, then Wednesday and so on, but usually by Thursday I'm ready to submit it.
But of course, if you keep 'tweaking' a piece of work forever, you will never send it out and the only way it will get published is by submitting it. So be realistic with yourself. If the only amendment you are considering making is whether a comma should or should not be taken out, make a decision and then send your work out. Your work won't be rejected on the basis of whether that particular comma is right or not.
A writer whose aim is to write for publication, but keeps amending their work and never gets around to sending it out IS going mad! So don't go mad ... get it written ... get it right ... then send it out!
Finally, I just want to say congratulations to Sarah Radev who has just been offered a regular column in Kennel and Cattery Management magazine. She's certainly someone who can't spend all her time tweaking her work now - she's got a monthly deadline to adhere to!
Monday, October 13, 2008
Here are the guidelines for anyone interested in writing for this magazine. One such area in the magazine where you may be able to achieve publication is if you can interview a writer you know. Now the writer doesn't have to be famous, but if a member of your writer's circle has achieved publication, or has had a great experience with self-publication then other writers may be able to learn from this (see notes below on what is and is not acceptable with self-published stories).
And if you are based abroad, are there any good markets in your own country that you can write for, or have had success writing for yourself? How did you break into these markets? The reader's of Writer's Forum magazine are interested in any tips - just like you are! So if you have any knowledge you can share, then this could be a useful market to share it with!
This is what the editor, Carl Styants (make a note of his name!) has to say:
SUBMISSION HELP FOR NEW WRITERS
We welcome feature ideas from both new and established writers, but we expect journalism not opinion. [Top tip!] Back up any statements with facts and figures. Unless the story is personal and told in the first person, keep your voice from intruding.
In almost all instances, articles should show research of current markets or issues affecting writers, and include quotes from relevant experts. [Aren't I always telling you how quotes add credence and authority to your work?]
Space is limited and articles that try to cover too much will not be able to explain any part in detail. Stick to one topic, but make it one that will be of interest to enough readers.
Avoid formats used by regular contributors in their columns, such as 'Where I Write'. [I know Phil Barrington who writes this piece and I can tell you, he wouldn't be very happy with someone muscling in on his territory. PS - He's just interviewed me about my writing space - look out for in an issue around Spring 2009 - I might mention it nearer the time in the blog! It's where I mark all your assignments too!]
As in all good writing, show don't tell. Give detailed examples of any points being made; ask other writers, publishers and relevant experts for them.
The main reason for rejection is that an article tells us things we already know; advice that even a relatively new writer will have seen too often. If you want to cover a familiar aspect of good writing, show why and how it applies in today's publishing world. New ideas in writing are extremely rare but there always new ways to present old ones.
Articles examining an issue that affects writers (eg legal, political or financial matters, or those involving writing relationships or health concerns), are especially welcome. Again, these require quotes from relevant experts. [In other words any 'off-beat' or more unusual articles about writing stand more chance than traditional 'how to write' type articles.]
Author interviews should concentrate solely on the process of writing and getting published. We prefer masterclasses on a specific technique or style for which the author is known. The content of books, plots and characters should only be discussed in those terms; as examples to illustrate a piece of advice. Do not praise the author or the quality of his or her work but state reported facts, such as 'bestselling', 'controversial' or 'prize-winning'.
If you are writing about your own success in getting a book published, pick out aspects that make your story unique or interesting. Everyone knows they should keep going and not give up, but how did you do it? Tell your story chronologically and stick to your own experience. Show don't tell, eg: 'This is what happened to me and this is what I would do next time.' Don't presume to speak for all writers, or lecture the readers on what they should do. Let them decide which parts of your story are useful.
We are inundated with stories from readers who have self-published a book. We welcome how-to articles on specific aspects but please don't send submissions describing the whole process. Contact Siobhan Curham firstname.lastname@example.org who uses lots of case studies for her Self-Publishing Workshops. She plugs the books of those featured who can help out with anecdotes and tips.
Remember that Writers' Forum is a trade magazine, not a literary review. The language should be kept simple and all jargon explained in passing. Save any literary flourishes for your creative writing. Be informative, accurate and, just as importantly, entertaining.
NUTS AND BOLTS
How to suggest ideas:
All ideas should be sent in the body of an email to email@example.com. Briefly describe the proposal in the subject line to make it stand out. Be as concise as possible but explain the aim and scope of the article. Add a few words about your writing experience, if any. [From my own experience, Carl will get back to you if interested although allow several weeks before chasing.]
How to send copy:
Once agreed, articles should be sent attached as a Word document preferably (.doc not .docx) or as a Rich Text File (.rtf).
Use a single plain font at 12pt or 14pt. Bold and italics are fine but keep it simple. Please do not format the text with tabs, indents, borders, colour, images, headers and footers etc.
There's no need for a cover sheet but make sure your contact details are in your email and at the top of the copy on the first page (not in a header).
Freelances often ask about wordcounts but it is more important to get all the details into your article. We edit all articles on the page and it is easier for us to cut material than to add it. As a very rough guide, an article that suits a page should be about 800-1000 words, or about 1500-1700 words if it suits a spread, depending on photos, book covers etc. We'd rather receive 500 tightly written words than a 1500-word article padded out with repetition and deviation.
How to send images:
Mention any available images in your submission but you needn't send them until requested. You should source images of anyone interviewed – we prefer normal colour photos to arty black and white 'author' shots. If necessary, you must seek the consent of the copyright holder and supply a credit.
Electronic images must be print quality – 300 dot per inch (dpi) at a decent size. Web images at 72dpi will not reproduce well unless they are four times the size they will be used in the magazine (ie a 20cm square web image at 72dpi will be only 5cm square when printed at 300dpi).
Give them filenames that are brief captions, eg sam_at_her_desk.jpg You can also send images to be scanned by us, although we cannot be held responsible if they are lost in the post. The address is:
PO Box 6337
Bournemouth BH1 9EH
We appreciate that many contributors will be new to feature writing and do not mind if these points are not followed to the letter. The ideas and level of detail are far more important than the presentation.
Here in the UK Writer's Forum is available in most large newsagents. You can buy back copies which may be a good idea for those based abroad. Click here for more details.
My article about writing for the outdoor magazines was published in this issue
and my article about arranging your own Writer's Retreat was published in this issue.
Friday, October 10, 2008
There's a website called goreadgreen.com which enables people to subscribe to magazines but read them electronically instead of buying a paper version. The idea is to cut down on the number of trees cur down!
Part of the initiative allows people to have one free electronic magazine subscription. Now the site is American, but it's an opportunity for a free market study of an American magazine.
For further information and details of their terms and conditions, visit http://goreadgreen.com/category/subscriptions/featured/ to see the sort of magazines available.
Monday, October 6, 2008
Addenbrookes is quite a famous hospital and well known for its pioneering enterprise. (Unfortunately my elderly relative is an ordinary Cambridge resident and therefore her ailments do not push Addenbrookes' pioneering boundaries back further. Perhaps that's why she was admitted to A&E last Tuesday needing an urgent MRI scan, and here we are a week later, and they still haven't arranged it for her. Still, that's a completely different posting, and one that if I said everything I wanted to say, would probably see me in court for saying naughty things I shouldn't!)
Anyway, whilst she waits for the urgent MRI scan, we've been chatting, and when you're in small wards you often start chatting to the other patients as well. And across the ward in a bed opposite is an elderly woman whose husband was posted in the rural town where I live in Shropshire, during the Second World War. She heard us talking about the Long Mynd, the big hill that dominates the town.
Now, my neighbour and his son have been exploring the hill and have recently discovered some remains of what look like some Second World War buildings. They're quite large and looked as though they may have housed some big machinery.
Well, wouldn't you believe it, but the elderly woman in the hospital bed opposite says, "my husband used to drive tanks up and down the Long Mynd," and suddenly I realised what those huge buildings were.
I'm now in the process of doing some more research for an article on this subject, but isn't it amazing how someone in a hospital bed 160 miles away from home can unlock a whole host of ideas? The thought of driving up The Burway, the single track road that climbs up and over the Long Mynd fills many drivers with dread, for the sheer drop on one side that they might get acquainted with if they don't pull into a passing place properly when they meet something coming the other way. I'd hate to think what they'd do if they met a tank coming in the opposite direction!
I must say congratulations to Joan Newman who's just told me that her second assignment has been retained on file by Best of British magazine. She was a little disappointed that the editor hasn't said that it will definitely be published. But I've reminded Joan that editors don't have a habit of hanging onto unpublishable material!
Ships Monthly magazine is on the look out for nautical related articles. It's preference is for all types of sea going vessels except yachts and it prefers boats to be 20th or 21st century models. Alternatively, a sea related topic such as lighthouses, shipyards and harbours may also catch the editors interest.
As you can see from this month's front cover, it's not just British orientated, so perhaps those of you based further overseas may be able to sell an idea to the editor, More information can be found at the magazines website www.shipsmonthly.com
Friday, September 26, 2008
After a hard working but enjoyable conference there, I nipped across the Pennines to the Lake District and spent the rest of that week climbing mountains with my father.
But just like any other job, when i got back home, I had several hundred emails to plough through as well as numerous assignments from some of you to catch up on. Sometimes you wonder whether it's worth going away in the first place!
It's good to see though that so many of you have been busy. One student, Lara Haddadin, wrote an email quite dejected that her article produced for assignment 2, had been rejected. However, she sent me the email that the editor had sent her, and this quite clearly said that although the article was right for them on this occasion, they would love to see any other ideas she had.
Now, bear with me for a moment while I get on my high horse again, but this is actually a GREAT REJECTION! Was the editor saying she was a crap writer and should give up? NO! Was the editor saying that she should find an isolated garret somewhere and learn how to write? NO! Was she telling her not to darken her inbox with any more material in the future? NO! In fact, far from it - the email says that the editor would LOVE TO SEE ANY OTHER IDEAS SHE HAS.
Yes it was disappointing that this article was right for whatever reason, but reading between the lines, it was an encouraging rejection. Let's be honest here, editors do not have the time to read work from writers who produce completely unsuitable work. Therefore they do not encourage such writers to send more work in.
To reiterate this point even further, Lara told me that she had rewritten this piece to fit a different magazine and had sent it off to them. GREAT! This is exactly what you should be doing with rejected work. Don;t get downhearted - think positive - it's a new opportunity!
Within days, Lara had a response from the editor who loved the piece and wants to use it. Not only that but the editor also asked for more work and the phrase 'regular column' has been mentioned. Now nothing is finalised at the moment, but again Lara has done the right thing and produced the next article quickly. And I've suggested that she thinks of up to 8 more ideas, to demonstrate to the editor that a regular column could be sustained on the topic she's writing.
So what have we learnt from this? That good things can come from rejections.
I also want to publicly congratulate Penny Legg who has just been made the editor of magazine for the Society of Women Writers and Journalists. That's pretty good going for someone who hasn't even completed the comprehensive course yet!
So keep up the good work everyone. And if you're getting rejections, don't let that dishearten you. It could be the start of a much more exciting journey!
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
I just wanted to take the opportunity to remind you about timescales in this writing world of ours. I've marked a couple of assignments this week by students who have submitted articles that would be appropriate for the November issues of the publications they were targeting. However, even though it's only the beginning of September now, the November issues of monthly (and some weekly magazines) will already be finalised.
Ideally, you need to be working about 6 months in advance for a monthly magazine. I'm currently writing articles for January issues at the moment, and thinking about February and March. For weekly publications you need to be thinking at least 12 weeks in advance and submitting material at least 10 weeks in advance.
This often means that for the writer it's a very topsy turvey world. In Winter you're writing about summer stories and in summer you're writing winter stories!
Of course, nothing in this game is wasted, those students merely need to file their work and then send it off next May in time for next November. And let's face it, if you're thinking of ideas for next February and March, it'll be next May before you even know it!
Thursday, August 28, 2008
PR departments can give us information, facts, statistics and even be a good source of free pictures. However, in order to give us this free information, they want to ensure that their products are getting the right sort of 'spin'. Sometimes it's common for PR companies to ask to see a copy of your article to check that the right message is coming across. Now there's no right or wrong answer to this. However, with PR companies I tend to refuse and say that as a freelance writer I have no control over the piece once I've submitted it. So if the PR people made changes to my article, I can't guarantee that the piece the returned to me is the piece that is published. I was once commissioned by a magazine to write an article about going to the Lake District in winter. The tourist board were immensely helpful in providing information and pictures. They didn't ask to see my piece, and it was probably a good job too. The editor commission me to write a 1500 word piece, but all that was published was 800 words. (I was paid for 1500 words - it was a last minute problem with space that led to the cutting.) But the point I'm making is that if the tourist board had seen the 1500 word article and asked me to make changes, the changes I'd made would probably have been cut anyway.
There are occasions when I show my work to others, usually if I've interviewed somebody and I want them to check that I've understood what they told me and not made any errors. But essentially, with PR departments, I say no. So how can you stay in control?
Explain exactly what you're up to. When you approach a PR officer, make it crystal clear what your feature will be about, the angle you are taking and how you would like them to help you. Remember, there needs to be something in it for the company the PR officer represents. Tell them how you see it as an opportunity for them. I once wrote a feature about staying in unusual self-catering holiday accommodation in the UK and approached two agencies asking for pictures to help illustrate my feature. I explained that the article would be targeting the American market. These agencies like this because when Americans come over to the UK they tend to stay for a couple of weeks rather than just a few days - so they hire accommodation for longer periods.
Clarify what is expected of you. PR officers often make requests of you and you need to follow these (as long as they are reasonable). I once produced a regular column for a local magazine about outdoor clothing and had contacts with over 20 PR officers at various companies. What they requested differs, but I did my utmost to accommodate them. Some just ask me to credit the pictures to their company, whilst others ask me to send them a photocopy of the published feature. This is quite understandable because it becomes the evidence that they can show to their bosses that they've been doing their job properly!
Be prepared with your own facts. Try to have some facts and figures about the publication you are writing for. I almost lost a PR contact I had with my clothing column. They'd been providing me with some brilliant pictures, but unknown to me there had been some internal confusion in the company concerning costs. Because of this, they were reviewing the help they were giving me. Apparently it was costing £80 a time to supply me with the images I was asking for and they weren't sure whether they could continue. I explained that my feature appeared in a magazine with a circulation figure of 20,000 and a readership of over 30,000. Could they get that sort of advertising for £80? When they realised this, they saw that the costs were reasonable and continued to help me.
So treat PR officers with professionalism - it is a professional relationship. You never know how they may be able to help you in the future. And if they've helped you in the past, then send them a Christmas card. It's business etiquette and allows you to put a personal message thanking them for all of their help.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
One way to reduce the cost of magazine analysis is to look out for any subscription special offers. Magazines sometimes offer the next three issues for £ or £1 each if you subscribe by direct debit. When magazines often retail at between £3 and £5, this can be a great saving! It does mean that you have to be on the ball with regards to your Direct Debits! Let the magazine take the first payment and then cancel the direct debit, so the company can't take any further funds. the joy on online banking makes this much easier.
If you're lucky, some magazines are offering 12 month subscriptions for a relatively low price. I currently subscribe to Esquire magazine because the offer was £12 for 12 issues!
One of the best places to look for such offers is Martin Lewis's MoneySavingExpert.com website. He has a specific forum posting page for these sorts of offers. Click here to find out what's on offer at the moment.
Current offers include:
- Subscribe to Red magazine for £6 for 6 issues.
- Yours magazine - 4 issues for £3
- Mother & baby / Pregnancy & Birth - 3 issues for £3
- Practical Photography - 3 issue for £3
- Today's Golfer - 3 issues for £3
So check out those offers and get your market analysis done on the cheap!
Monday, August 11, 2008
It seems that readers want to know more about the writers and this is the editor's attempt to give the magazine a friendlier style.
Don't use those dreaded passport style photos against a plain background where you're trying to stifle a grin, yawn or snigger! Try to find one of you in a relaxed situation. And try to be appropriate. So here's the one I use when offering my walking articles - I'm out in the hills!
If you want to write about travel, then find a picture of yourself somewhere sunny. Cooks should be photographed in the kitchen, garden writers in the garden and those targetting parenting magazines should be on the floor with their children!
So next time you're just about to send off an article, double check the magazine/publication that you're sending it to. Do they print pictures of the writer anywhere? If so, then you should consider doing the same. Smile now!
Before I go I would like to pass on some more congratulations. Julie emailed me to say that Woman's Weekly want to use her fifth assignment piece about her recent past life as a rocker! And another of my students, also called Julie, has emailed to say that Your Cat magazine has asked to use her article about a cat getting stuck up a tree.
Congratulations to you both. Enjoy the moment, and try to get addicted to the feeling of success. It's a useful spur to keep you going!
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
"I am glad to inform you," Said wrote in his covering letter for assignment 3, "that I have sold assignment 2 to The Bridge magazine. I have made the changes you suggested and added some suitable statistics and they jumped at it. They paid me US$100."
But it gets better than that. Said continues:
"They also asked me to write another piece for them on Somali wedding ceremonies for their September issue."
So not only has he got his second assignment published, but he's just received his first commission.
So well done Said. Keep up the good work!
Monday, August 4, 2008
Actually it went really well, but then that's the whole atmosphere at Caerleon. It's so friendly there, I could feel everyone in the audience 'willing' me to do well. In fact I lost count of how many people came up to me afterwards to say how much they enjoyed it, although I do remember one person doing that - Raymond Allen, author of the BBC hit television series "Some Mothers Do Have Them". That was really special.
If ever you've thought about going to a writer's gathering, I would encourage you to do so if you can. The Writers Holiday at Caerleon runs every year and if you book online, you'll save £10. However, if you book for 2009 by post by sending a cheque BEFORE 30th September 2008 AND you mention my name, you can get £25 off the cost of the 5 day break. (Who said I'm not worth knowing?)
The venue is part of the University of Wales and is located just outside Newport, Cardiff, and it's student accommodation (but I didn't realise that students had it so easy these days. It's all single rooms, with ensuite toilets, wash basins and showers!)
Here's a picture of the tables and chairs outside the bar area, which shows that if you can write while you're busy drinking, the views are pretty inspirational too!
You have the option to choose two courses for the duration of the break (from a choice of 14 next year). There are two workshops on the first course on Monday morning, two more on Tuesday morning and then the final one is on Wednesday morning. After that on Wednesday morning, you then have the first workshop of your second course, followed by two more on Thursday morning and two more on Friday morning.
During the afternoons there is an afternoon lecture whethere a writer tells how they got involved in the business (hence my talk) which lasts for about an hour and there is usually a question and answer session. Later on, there are called After Tea sessions which last an hour and some are run by the tutors (I ran two different ones) whilst others are run by other delegates. Anyone can run an After Tea session. Then, after dinner, there is an evening lecture, again by a successful writer, usually for an hour.
In between all these there are plenty of opportunities to meet up with other writers and chat over tea/coffee. I've already mentioned the bar too, so that's gets busy in the evenings! We all eat and socialise together so you can chat to the tutors as much as you want.
On the last night of the holiday, the evening lecture makes way for the Cwmbach Male Voice Choir who provide over an hour's musical entertainment. Then they all pile into the bar (are you spotting a trend here?) where they continue to sing several songs, but this time accompanied by by a pint of beer in their hands. It seems to have become traditional now, for regular tutor and novelist Jane Wenham-Jones to climb up onto the snooker table and dance to one of their songs!
If you want to see more of the Cwmbach Male Voice Choir, they've been used in a television advert recently, a copy of which can be seen on YouTube
Of course, it is a holiday, so you can do as much or as little of all of this as you wish. I went to all of the lectures and some of the workshops, and I've picked up several tips, and I think that's what works well about Caerleon. We all share ideas and we all learn from each other.
And if I haven't put you off enough, I shall be there next year tutoring the Travel & Other Features for Magazines course.
If you book up, I guarantee that you'll want to go every year!
Student Heather Bestel brought this to my attention because she lives nearby in the beautiful Scottish region of Dumfries and Galloway. If you've never been, then go - it's scenically outstanding and a very quiet region of Scotland - perfect for getting some writing done.
Wigtown is also Scotland's official Book Town, and is full of secondhand and new bookshops - a bit like Hay-on-Wye in Wales. I've been there a couple of times and always seem to come away from there with another carrier bag full of books!
Anyway, if you click here, this will take you to the site where you can read the entry rules, and if you;re chosen to be the winner, you could win a free ticket to every event in the 2009 Wigtown Book Festival. Entry won't even cost you a stamp, you have to email them, so there's no excuse.
There is a theme, "On The Edge" so your short, short story needs to be linked to this theme in some way.
Friday, July 25, 2008
Back in February, I posted a blog about using media packs to get information about readers, and I'm going to repeat it here, particularly for those new students who have recently signed up to my blog. But if you've already read it before, it's worth rereading it again. The reader is the most important person in our equation. Satisfy the reader and you'll satisfy the editor.
You stand more chance of getting published if you write with a specific reader in mind. It doesn't matter whether you are writing a letter, article, short story, novel, non-fiction book ... whatever. You need to know who you are talking too.
If you're writing for the magazine market, let me give you a sneaky little secret. Do a seach on the internet for the 'media pack' for the name of the magazine you're interested in writing for. They are often available as PDF files, which most computers can open particularly if you have Adobe's free reader programme (http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html)
A Media Pack is designed for advertisers, not writers, so it isn't all of interest to writers, but they have their uses. Let me give you an example. Eve magazine is a woman's magazine here in the UK and they have a media pack, which you can view online at http://www.evemagazine.co.uk/eveglobalmediainfo.pdf
Go through and you will discover useful information about Eve readers including:
- the magazine views itself as a 'truly, luxurious treat for intelligent, independent and stylish women in the 30s'
- they are well educated, interested in personal development
- 30% of its reader earn between £50,000 and £100,000 per annum
- spend over £90 per month on beauty products
- the magazine has 294,000 readers
The media pack also mentions a special website for their readers about cars http://www.evecars.com
The average eve reader is 37 years old.
Wow - that's quite a lot of information. But already you can see that if the readers spend an average £90 per month on beauty products, then your "Ten Top Beauty Tips for under £2.50" clearly isn't going to fit. That's not to say that "Ten Top Beauty Tips for under £2.50" isn't a great idea - it just isn't a great idea for Eve's readers. (And if Eve's readers aren't going to be able to identify with your idea, then the editor certainly won't.)
A WORD OF WARNING
Using media pack information is NOT a short cut to market analysis. A media pack WILL NOT tell you how long the average article is. It WILL NOT tell you which pages are open to freelance written material. It WILL NOT tell you how much they pay for reader's letters.
But used in conjunction with your own magazine analysis, they will help you gain a better understanding of who your reader is.
Here are some media packs for a range of UK magazines which may be of interest:
- People's Friend http://www.marketing.dcthomson.co.uk/pdf_window.asp?pdf=peoples_friend.pdf
- My Weekly http://www.marketing.dcthomson.co.uk/pdf_window.asp?pdf=my_weekly.pdf
- Animals and You http://www.marketing.dcthomson.co.uk/pdf_window.asp?pdf=animals_and_you.pdf
- I'm Pregnant! http://www.marketing.dcthomson.co.uk/pdf_window.asp?pdf=im_pregnant.pdf
- Nuts magazine http://www.ipcmedia.com/mediainfo/nuts.pdf
- Country Life http://www.ipcmedia.com/mediainfo/countrylife.pdf
- Chat http://www.ipcmedia.com/mediainfo/chat.pdf
- Homes & Garden http://www.ipcmedia.com/mediainfo/homesgardens.pdf
- Marie Claire http://www.ipcmedia.com/mediainfo/marieclaire.pdf
- Woman's Weekly http://www.ipcmedia.com/mediainfo/womansweekly.pdf
- Woman & Home http://www.ipcmedia.com/mediainfo/womanhome.pdf
I shan't be posting anything next week, because I'm away at the Writer's Holiday at Caerleon in South Wales (see this post for more information). I'll let you know how it went when I get back.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
There are thousands of writing competitions out there, but I usually advise writers to target the smaller competitions first - the ones that don't get quite so much publicity. That way you'll reduce the number of other writers competing against you too!
Winning, or being placed in a competition not only gives you a huge psychological boost (YOUR writing was chosen above all the other entrants) but it is also something worth putting on your writing CV. When you approach other editors with ideas, being able to mention that you came first in a competition on a similar subject, gives you extra authority.
You never know where a competition win may lead. I once won a travel writing competition in a small magazine, and on the strength of that was asked by another magazine to produce a feature on my local county. So not only did I get a win, and something to put down on my CV, I also got a commission out of it too. Sarah now has a regular column, so she'll be getting plenty of writing experience now - and best of all, when she approaches other editors with idea, she can legitimately tell them that she is regularly published, and has a monthly column. And that may not have happened had she not entered the competition in the first place.
So next time you see a competition advertised, why not consider submitting an entry? Not only will the writing experience be a useful one, but you never know where it may lead.
PS - I'd also like to say congratulations to Penny Legg, who has been offered a wonderful writing opportunity. She's written numerous articles and pieces for local publications and now, she's got to make what could be a life changing decision - and I bet it's one she never thought she'd be making when she started her Writers Bureau course!
Monday, July 14, 2008
We have an exciting project we want to get up and running in the near future. We want those of you who are already students, to put together your own writing magazine, which we will publish in a new student community area we are in the process of creating on our website.
We are looking for people who would be interested in designing the magazine, editing it and, of course, we need contributors. This will all be done on a voluntary basis by whoever chooses to take on the roles and is completely flexible. So, if you want to edit/contribute/design the magazine for 1 month, 3 months or a whole year it is up to you! We are planning on the magazine being quarterly to begin with.
The topics of the articles and all other content will be chosen by the editor and can be related to writing or about something else completely. They could be on how writing has changed your life, where to get articles published, how to research, your top tips for each other. You may also want to include puzzles and teasers, such as writing related crosswords and inspirational ideas. You can also send in your own work for publication, this can include poems, short stories, in fact anything you like.
It could also be useful for those of you who feel a little nervous about sending your work to publishers. You can try out the techniques and build you confidence using other students as a sounding board.
This is a fantastic opportunity for you to see publishing from the inside. You get to experience the trials and tribulations of being involved with a publication firsthand, which offers a unique perspective for those who choose to give it a go.
The main thing to remember is that this is a magazine for students by students; so the world is your oyster!If you want to get involved, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
The industry's trade magazine - The Bookseller - asked bookshops to send in any pictures, so even though I'm an author, not a bookseller, (I am a subscriber to the magazine - not cheap at £4.40 a week!) I sent in the picture.
Well it just goes to show that nothing ventured, nothing gained! Boy did I get a surprise yesterday morning when the postman delivered the latest issue of The Bookseller. There I was sitting in bed with a cup of tea, just flicking through the pages when, the page above jumped out. (click on the picture to see a bigger version) Talk about spit a mouthful of tea across the bedclothes!
I don't know why they used my picture quite so big or why the two pictures underneath of authors Kate Mosse and Alan Titchmarsh are so much smaller.
If nothing else, my local bookshop was pleased!
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Lynne is a prolific short story writer and regularly uses personal experiences as the basis for her tales. For those of us who know her, we're still waiting to see a short story based on her experience when she was on the Channel 4 game show with Noel Edmonds, "Deal Or No Deal" (and won!).
In her book, Lynne shows you how to sell a snippet of conversation (how many times have I told you to get eavesdropping?), how to take your boss and your best friend and come up with an entirely new character, sell one experience to several different markets and how to make the most from your hobbies.
Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, we always put elements of our own experience in our writing, and Lynne's book shows you how to maximise this.
The book is also littered with quotes from a variety of writers about how they've used their experiences to get into print, (read mine on page 40!), as well as a series of exercises to help you delve into the inner depths of your memories and recover those life experiences you thought you'd forgotten.
I read Lynne's book in one sitting and jotted down five ideas without really thinking about them. One I've already submitted as a letter, and two which I'm currently developing as articles.
So if you're stuck for ideas, then check out Lynne's book.
Monday, July 7, 2008
John submitted a query idea to an editor back in February. He heard nothing. Then, and during a time of crisis for him and his family, the editor wrote back asking him to write the article within the next four days. John actually had less than four days because the magazine doesn't accept email submissions, so he had to allow time for the postal system too.
Now many people would dismiss the letter and say that the editor is being completely unreasonable. He has, after all, had since February to make his mind up about whether he likes the idea or not.
However, it is not as simple as that. It may well be that John's idea, now has an element of topicality that makes it suitable for the next issue of the magazine. Perhaps a news item broke last week, and suddenly John's idea is the perfect idea now. This means that it wasn't the perfect idea three weeks ago.
Or perhaps another writer has let this editor down and he's desperate for something to fill the gap at short notice, and he's picked John's idea.
Or perhaps the postal system has swallowed John's idea since last February and only recently spat it out on the editor's desk last week.
Whatever the reason is, moaning about the tight deadline does not solve the problem. If you read John's posting (and I recommend that you do - click on the link above) you'll see that John takes a pragmatic approach to this. Yes it is a pain in the neck that the deadline is just four days. It's unfortunate that it has happened at a time of personal crisis for John. But in this freelancing world, it isn't the writer's place to moan. The editor cannot leave two blank pages in his magazine and just print a sorry excuse saying:
"I'm sorry but the writer was unable to meet their deadline so these pages are left blank."
Reader won't accept it.
Whatever an editor asks for, you have to deliver. If you want his work, you have no choice. If you won't another writer will certainly step into your shoes. In this light, an Editor is God, particularly if you want to be published in that specific magazine. Of course, it is down to you whether you decide to worship that God or not.
But John took what I feel is the right approach. He took the deadline head on, and he delivered on time. The editor could still reject his piece. But the editor will certainly remember that John delivered what he asked, when he asked him to.
It would have been so easy for John to turn around and say, "sorry, I can't do this at the moment." But he didn't. He was still there for his family, but he also found a way of delivering work to the editor too. The chances are, John will be rewarded with more work in the future because of this.
So next time you receive a response from an editor, which wasn't what you expected, stop and think. Could you deliver it if you really put your mind to it? Go on, have a go. You might be surprised with what you achieve.