Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dealing with PR Departments - How To Stay In Control

You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. Essentially, that's how PR departments and writers get on with one another. We NEED each other. If PR departments don;t give us the information, then we have little to write about. And if we have little to write about, the products that the PR companies are trying to sell won't see the light of day. It's the perfect relationship isn't it?

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.

Good luck.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Analyse Magazines on the Cheap!

The downside to writing for magazines is that the only real way to understand who they are written for and where the freelance opportunities may exist is to look at a copy. And even then, it's best to look at three or four copies, not just one issue. Some magazines occassionally theme their issues, so if you happen to pick up a 'travel special' or a 'gardening special' then you won't be getting a true reflection of the opportunities available in that particular magazine.

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
The magazines hope that you'll enjoy the magazines so much you'll then continue with your subscription (or 'forget' to cancel your subscription after the first 'offer' issues). And if you study them well and make a sale, what you get paid will more than cover the full price subscription anyway!

So check out those offers and get your market analysis done on the cheap!

Good luck!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Head and Shoulders Above The Rest?

Do you have a head and shoulders picture of yourself that you can offer to editors with your articles? More and more editors are using these images either at the beginning of the magazine near the contents page, or on the page where the writer's article appears.

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!

Well done.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Success for Said!

Well Said Y Mohammed is having the perfect start to his Writers bureau course. He's just sold his article produced for his second assignment to his local paper the Bridge. To view a PDF version of his article (onpage 2) click here.

"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

After Caerleon

Well, I said I'd let you know how I got on doing my afternoon lecture at the Caerleon Summer Writer's Holiday, so here I am. Clearly I survived and wasn't bombarded with rotten fruit!

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!

Can You Manage 100 words?

You'll need to be quick because the closing date is August 15th, but then how long will it take you to write 100 words? Actually, I would tell you to take as long as it needs (before the closing date) to get your entry perfect, but if you're up for a challenge why not enter the Wigtown Book festival 10th Anniversary Short Short Story competition?

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.

Good luck!

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