Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Market Analysis

A blog posting fell into my intray this afternoon, which I found interesting and thought I would share with you. It's by Darren Rowse who is writing a blog posting every day about how to write a better blog. Today's posting though suggests how bloggers can analyse a magazine to get some useful blogging ideas. There are certainly comments here that many writers will recognise, but I would encourage you to read the whole post - there's certainly some ideas that benefit writers too. (And carrying out a market analysis whilst sitting in my local cafe - now why didn't I think of that one?)


Allow yourself to get sidetracked

There can be times when it is useful getting sidetracked with your writing. Whilst it's good to plan an outline of your article, short story, letter or whatever, sometimes your brain decides to take you off in a completely different direction to that sketched out in your notebook.

Deviating from your plan can be the road to ruin if your planned idea remains focused on your target readership, however, as long as you recognise that you are deviating away from your plan (and will have the strength to return to it later) then why not follow where your brain is going to see where the deviation takes you? You may surprise yourself with what you write.

I often think that writing is a lot like mountain climbing. You know where you're going to start (at the bottom) and where you are aiming for (the top) and your outline should identify your route to the summit. But until you actually start wandering along that path, you don't know what lies out there.

Last week I was in the Lake District and the weather on one day was perfect for climbing a mountain. The lucky mountain in question was Skiddaw, one I'd attempted to climb several years ago with a friend but we were beaten back just 500 feet from the summit by bad weather.

Anyway, there I was, climbing up between Dodd and Ullock Pike, (they didn’t mind, honestly), and to be quite frank, having ascended some 1,000 feet, I was looking for an excuse to stop. To the right I spotted a seat, so I wandered off my path. I sat down (okay, call it collapsed) and gazed at the view over Bassenthwaite Lake. Outstanding. When it was time to start moving again, instead of returning back along the route I’d come, to rejoin my main path, I continued to follow this minor path. It gently bent around to the left, and continued in a long arc until eventually, about fifteen minutes later, another amazing vista opened up. Far below, lay Keswick, Derwent Water and the beginnings of Borrowdale. Sheer magic.

But I only saw that view, because I’d been prepared to deviate from my intended route, and there are times when we should allow ourselves to do that with our writing. If a new angle takes over, when you were not expecting it to, let it. See where it takes you. It could be to a better view. And if it leads you to a precipice, well you can still turn round and retrace your steps. But at least you know where that route leads.

Continuing my ascent of Skiddaw, I deviated from the route several times during the day. Near the summit, the map suggested that the path went up a sheer scree slope, but I decided on another deviation to follow a more obvious path through more scree, but this one that looked more survivable.

Now this alternative route was about a foot wide, but had about the same number of people on it as the escalators at the Trafford Centre in Manchester. This meant it was a slow climb to allow people to pass safely, one at a time. I didn’t mind – it offered more chances to stop and breathe, as well as great conversation opportunities or as we writers call them - eavesdropping moments. One woman, who was on her way down, slowed as she passed me. She nodded to the man in front of her then turned and said, “If he wanted a divorce there were easier ways to go about it.” I laughed. She didn’t.

Moments later, a group of school kids rushed by. “Mr Stevenson says that the tuck shop at the top closes in ten minutes. Come on, get your skates on!”

Oh Mr Stevenson, how naughty of you! But there in my mind was the formation of a new article – overhead conversations on a mountain. It’s already on its way to its intended market. Now that wouldn’t have happened, had I not deviated from my planned route.

So next time you start writing, and you find yourself wandering off your intended route, relax. Let it happen. See where it takes you. The worst that can happen is that you end up retracing your steps and then following your planned route. As for the best - well you could get a whole new piece of work out of it!

Good luck.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


If any of you happen to get the May 2009 issue of Writer's Forum magazine, then yes, that is me being featured in the "Where I write" column just inside the back page. There I am, exposed, for you all to see.

Since that picture was taken (by me!) there have been a few changes to my office environment. The computer has changed to an all new, all singing, all dancing Apple iMac, which is great (everything just works and I am not sorry to see the back of Windoze), and I also have a new chair. The chair saga has been running for several months and I am probably on my fifth chair in that timescale. No, don't panic, I don't go all heavy metal rock star-type and through a right wobbly, trashing my chair every time I get a rejection. (If I did, I'd have had more than 5 chairs by now.) It's just that being 6 foot 1 tall, means getting the right height chair, relative to the height of the keyboard on the desk, has not been an easy problem to solve. And until retailers will allow you to take your desk 'chair-shopping' with you so that you can check out the height at the actual desk you will be working at, it seems I am destined to follow the infuriating rigmarole of taking a tape-measure with me, identifying how high the seat needs to go and then go around the showroom setting every chair to its highest setting before measuring it. Suffice to say, I think I've now found the right height chair.

On a serious note, when perched at your writing desk, you should be thinking right angles. Your feet should be at right angles to your shins - which means either flat on the floor, or on a footrest (like mine have to be because I have to have the seat set so high). Your thighs, should then be at right angles to your shins, and your back, at right angles to your thighs. Ideally, your elbows should be bent at right angles, so that your hands loosely drape over your keyboard, as opposed to being bent upwards at the wrists.

The correct posture is a necessity, for if you get it wrong, you will be plagued by aches and pains, which are not conducive to being a productive writer.

This will be my last post for a few days or so, because I'm off to stretch my legs in the Lake District next week. Hopefully, when I return, I shall be able to tell you about all the ideas I've had whilst away!

Good luck.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Free Magazines - Ideal for Market Analysis Purposes!

Before you write anything for a magazine, you should analyse the magazine to get an idea as to what sort of person the average reader of that magazine is, so you know who you are writing your article or story for. The trouble is - this means spending some cash on a couple of copies of your target publication.

However, a forum posting on the MoneySavingExpert website has identified a special offer where you can get 3 free copies of some magazines (digital versions) and some physical copies of The Lady magazine. For more information see below.

What's it about?

The Telegraph is giving away three free copies of a magazine of your choice to download digitally. These are the same as what you'd buy in the shops, where their prices range between £2 and £4.90 each. Here's the full list:

Cosmo Bride
Harper's Bazaar
Prima Baby
You and Your Wedding
Good Housekeeping
Country Living
Men's Health
Runner's World
House Beautiful

You'll need to download a special viewer to read them but it's free. Though depending on your internet speed it can take a while to download each magazine, so bear that in mind.

How do I get them?

Simply go to Magazinesondemand and pick up to three mags of your choice by clicking on each, selecting "single issues". You can only get this month's magazines (ie what ever is there at the time you sign up). You can't sign up for one now, and then get another tomorrow as the promotion code can only be used once.

When going through the online checkout enter the free code "3FREEMAG". You won't need to enter any card details. The confirmation page will provide a link to download the special 'Delivery Manager' software you'll need to install, which is basically a fancy way of browsing the magazines and getting them onto your computer.

Once you've got the copies you can read them whenever you like, plus move them to another computer, or send them to a friend via email or a USB memory key. Or you could print them; but they're pretty lengthy mags so it'd be much more environmentally friendly to just print the relevant articles.

The offer ends 31 May 2009.

What's that about The Lady magazine?

The Telegraph's also offering four free printed copies of weekly magazine The Lady. To get them just fill in the form online form on the Telegraph website or call 0800 917 0006 for free.

Anything else?

There's no obligation to buy any more magazines after you've downloaded them, though if you want to, each costs the same as it would on the news-stands. Read the Magazine Offers thread for more ways to get cheap and free glossies.

Both PC and MAC users should be able take advantage of the freebie. Here are full details of compatible operating systems and browers if you have any problems.

Terms and Conditions

  • 1. You must register and provide a valid email address
  • 2. No obligation to purchase further magazines on registration
  • 3. The offer can only be used once.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Simply Moleskine

I always tell my students that you should endeavour to carry a notebook around with you at all times. You never know when that next great idea will strike, and believe me, it doesn't hang around in the memory for long - well not mine any way.

A notebook is just as important a tool for a writer as a computer is, and I think that writers should 'treat' themselves to a nice notebook. After all, a notebook that is always inviting you to write something in it, must be a good thing to have around because you'll always be dipping in and scribbling in it!

I love the Moleskine notebooks, which are becoming easier to find these days. Many of the larger bookshops stock them as well as numerous stationers, and of course, there is always the internet.

There's one website that I look at from time to time and they happen to have a newsletter, which I signed up to. Each month, they run a competition to win a Moleskine book of your choice, so thought I'd have a go and guess what? This month I won! You can read what I said at the site on the 'Me and My Moleskine' page.

As you read through it, you'll see that effectively all I've produced is a letter to a magazine's letters page.

If you want to read about the history of Moleskine books (Hemingway, Chatwin and many more) then click here. But if they were good enough for Hemingway, then they're good enough for me!

Take your notebook wherever you go. In the future you never know where a thought or scribbled comment inside it, could ultimately lead you.

Good luck.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Dig Out Your Sludge And Take A Picture Of It.

We're fast approaching the long Easter break here in the UK, and it always brings back memories of an annual chore that we used to do as family when we lived in Greater London. The Easter holidays meant one thing - the annual clearing out of our fishpond. This meant taking everything out, from our large 10-inch long Koi Carp to all those little tadpoles, Water Boatmen and Pond Skaters. We'd then drain the water, clear out all the sludge that had accumulated over the year from the bottom, before straining the pond water and putting it back in and repeating the process with all the animals and plant life.

One year, I decided to take pictures as we went along. Now these pictures were pretty boring. You can see from the image here (click on it to see a larger version) there's a picture of pond sludge and even one of a pond repair kit. But as you can also see - they were published. Who says you need an A-list celebrity in a picture to sell it?

So how do you sell a picture of a pile of sludge? The answer is as easy as 1..2..3..

The article was published in Water Gardener magazine and was called "Freshen Up Your Fishpond." Along with 9 other pictures and about 800 words it helped to earn me £300. Whilst you come to terms with the exciting life that I lead, why not stop and think about your exciting life too?

Words and picture packages are an editor’s dream, and even better are those step by step practical guides. Not only is the editor getting their beloved words and picture package, but the feature also shows readers how to get involved and learn a new skill. So here are ten steps to creating your own step by step picture guide.

Step 1 – What tasks do you do that could be turned into a step by step illustrated feature? From packing a suitcase properly for your holidays, to growing your own fresh herbs, the ideas are out there.

Step 2 – When you’ve identified a task, write down the individual steps. Try not to think about writing the article at this point, just focus on each of the steps required to complete the task.

Step 3 – Look at your list of steps and begin to think about the photographs that you’ll need to take. For my fishpond article, as well as getting shots of us trying to catch the fish and putting them in temporary storage, I also wanted to take a ‘before’ and ‘after’ shot of the pond. This way, the editor could use these images to show the readers what improvements can be made by following the step by step process. Alternatively, do you need ‘create’ some images? For example, if you are doing an article on how to pack a suitcase, do you need to create an image of a poorly packed suitcase with socks sticking out the sides? Remember to think visually at all times.

Step 4 – Approach or analyse your target market. If you can get an editor interested in your idea before you start your task, the better. If not, study the magazine in detail, with particular focus on the pictures. In their step by step guides are there many close up shots? The photographs in craft articles for example, often include a model’s hands as they make the product in question. Look at the word count too.

Step 5 – Before you begin your task, try and arrange everything you’ll need so that it’s close by. Would it be easier to have someone else help you out and tackle the task so that you can concentrate on taking the photos?

Step 6 – Start by taking any of your ‘before’ shots. Do you need to take pictures of the equipment that’s needed too? If so, take them before you start, whilst they’re still nice and clean, and not at the end when they are dirty. Remember the basics of photography – fill the frame with the subject you are taking. If you’re taking a picture of your friend making an origami sailing boat, don’t take a picture of him or her sitting at a disk, zoom in on his or her hands and the folds they are making in the paper. (Think of those human hands in the close up shots in the TV series “Thunderbirds”!)

Step 7 – Jot down any extra notes as you tackle the task. If it is a task that you do regularly, you may have missed a step out when you originally wrote them down. If your task is too messy to have pen and paper around, use a Dictaphone instead.

Step 8 – Finish off by taking your ‘after’ shots. Remember to capture your completed task in all its glory. If you’ve created a hanging basket for example, leave it a couple of days before you take your final shot, to give it time to settle, bush out and provide you with a picture which will have much more impact.

Step 9 – Now’s the time to write up your article by referring to your notes and your pictures. Catalogue your pictures first and give them a reference number. This enables you to refer to specific pictures in your text. It is also best to do this particularly at any difficult stage in your task. Referring to a particular picture will also encourage the editor to use it, although don’t refer to every picture you’ve taken. The editor won’t use all 349 shots you took on your digital camera for your feature about how to stick down an envelope.

Step 10 – Finally, if you can, do you task one more time purely following your own guidelines. The last thing you want is for readers to mess up because you forgot one vital piece of information.

And there you have it - a recipe for an interesting article. Don’t forget that cookery magazines use step by step features too. Just make sure you don’t burn anything!

I hope you have a productive Easter.

Good luck!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Contacts help you sell.

Last Saturday I was at another author event at a local bookshop in Newport Shropshire. Unfortunately the picture is a bit dark, but there were 7 local authors tempting visitor's to buy books at the shop's opening of it's new first floor section.

The Book Nook in Newport is only a few months old, but the store's manager, Alison, has always supported local authors and thought this would be a great way to launch her expansion.

Alison used to work for WHSmith's in another Shropshire town and first held a 'local author' event there a few years ago. Since leaving WHSmith's to set up on her own, she's obviously kept our details on file and regularly invites us back.

And that's the point I want to make here. It doesn't matter whether you are an author or a article writer, you must keep a decent 'contacts' book. The programmes that most computers offer are perfectly good for the job, Microsoft's Outlook and Apple's Address Book, both provide spaces for 'notes'. Whenever you come across someone new, put them in your contact's book, AND make a comment in the 'Notes' section where you came across them. Then next time you need to talk to them you can 'jog' their memory about where you first met.

My next book selling opportunity will be at my nearest National Trust property over the May Bank Holiday weekend. We spread the word about it at this event and obtained several new contacts - contacts that we shall keep and invite to other author events. And that's how it should continue. Keep adding to your Contacts book and those contacts will stay in touch with you too. Suddenly they'll approach you with an idea for an article.

Whether you're trying to sell articles, or books, keeping in contact and staying in touch is vital.

Good luck.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Proof that being Professional and Courteous Does Work!

I'm delighted to say that Lawrence Pagett emailed me to tell me how chuffed he was that he was finally getting an article published in the Times Educational Supplement. It's a publication he felt he could write for, but like many writers has been exasperated by the delay in getting a response.

(See blog posting -The Waiting Game - 20th February and Gosh What An Impatient Lot We Are - 24th february)

Lawrence was keen to submit more work to TES but didn't want to do so until he knew whether TES were interested in his first piece. As I've mentioned before, it makes sense holding off submitting more work to an editor of a magazine you haven't approached before, until you hear the outcome of your first decision. (If the editor comes back and says their policy has recently changed and they no longer accept freelance written material, any submissions you've made after that first submission, will soon be winging their way back to you too.) Holding out until this first response is received will prevent this sort of situation arising.

Lawrence held off from chasing TES for several months, but then politely emailed them stating that he had other ideas he'd like to submit, but didn't want to do so until a decision had been made on his first piece.

The editor eventually replied stating that his first piece will be published in TES on 17th April. She also apologised for the delay and explained the reason why. Best of all, she ended the email with the most beautiful phrase ... "I look forward to reading your future submissions."

So, although you may want to rant and rave at editors from time to time (which you are perfectly entitled to do, in a sealed room where no one can hear you,) the most productive attitude to take is the professional one. Treat the editor with respect and they are more likely to show you respect.

Which just leaves me with one thing to say. Start writing those future submissions Lawrence!

Good luck.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Writing Magazines

Jean Stevens recently wrote to me asking .... "I wonder if you can help with with a question..... I am currently doing the Writers Bureau course and thought it would also be a good idea to subscribe to a writing magazine. I have a copy of the Writing Magazine and Writers Forum and wondered if you could advise me what to look for when choosing a subscription. I'm struggling to choose so I thought some professional help might assist me."

Now unfortunately, I don't think I was much help, because in my opinion, if you're interested in writing then you should be subscribed to at least one of these magazines if not more. I subscribe to many, but then writing is my profession, and that's a point I want to make. Don't think of these magazines as 'magazines' but as 'trade journals' for your profession. And yes if you make a profit from your writing, you can claim the subscriptions as a legitimate business cost for tax purposes.

Writing is a lonely business, so a regular 'hit' from the writing world can help to keep you up to date with what's going on. Magazines like Freelance Market News and Writers News, clearly contain 'news items' about new magazines, competition details, publishers seeking new material. But the others, Writing Magazine, Writer's Forum, and The New Writer provide a bit of information, along with a vast array of articles passing on hints, tips and writing skills.

There is also another magazine called Mslexia which is written by women for women writers. As a mere man, I wouldn't dream of commenting on such a publication, but the female writers I know certainly speak highly of it.

If you can only afford to subscribe to one magazine, then try to get hold of one copy to look at to see if you like it. Writing Magazine, Writer's Forum, and Mslexia can be bought from high street newsagents. Freelance Market News, The New Writer and Writers News are by subscription only, but contact them to see if you can obtain a sample copy, with a view to taking out a subscription.

With regards to Writers News magazine, this is subscription only, however, if you subscribe to Writing Magazine (found at the newsagents) you get Writers News included in your subscription.

Do you go to a Writer's Circle, or know of a writer friend? if so, why not consider swapping magazines? You subscribe to one, get your friend to subscribe to another, and then when you've read those copies, swap and hey presto - two subscriptions for the price of one!

At the writers circle that I go to, we often swap magazines. Again, it's another way of seeing what's out there before deciding which to subscribe to.

Remember, make a sale of an article or short story and the fee will cover the cost of an annual subscription.

If you can afford to take out at least one subscription, then I would encourage you to do so. It helps to keep you informed about current events in the writing world. And if you think that subscribing to these magazines is expensive, wait until you start writing books like me and have to subscribe to The Bookseller magazine, at £4.40 PER WEEK! Like any subscription, think of it as paying for information - information that could help your career as a writer to develop.

Good luck.