Monday, April 26, 2010

Posing Picture Problems

When I was running an article workshop in Burton upon Trent on Saturday (hello everyone again!) a few questions arose about pictures. Yesterday, I marked a couple of assignments where the students had questions about pictures too, so I thought I'd pass on some of my answers to you here today.

Thinking about pictures is important these days. Most magazines contain pictures as well as words (although there are some mens magazines where the picture count is probably higher than the word count!) However, there are some points you should consider when you're investigating where to get pictures from.

Pictures are subject to copyright just like the words you create. How would you like it if someone took your words without asking? The same goes for pictures too. Ideally, the best way to get pictures is to take them yourself. That way, the copyright is yours and you can do what you like with them. But sometimes, you may not be able to take the picture, or someone else has taken a better image than you could manage. If you want to use their picture - GET PERMISSION.

Some people will ask for payment for using their picture. And why not? You want paying by the editor if he uses your words, after all. Never commit an editor to expenditure. You don't know what the editor's picture budget is (if he has one at all.) However, if you've identified a suitable source for a picture and you've made enquiries and the source is willing to consider allowing the image to be used, then pass all the contact details onto the editor. This will save them so much time.

Some picture suppliers will be happy for images to be used free of charge, as long as they are credited. That's fine - simply make this clear to the editor how the pictures should be credited. PR companies will often provide pictures free of charge if your article is offering good, positive publicity for their product/destination.

Don't Take From the Internet
The Internet is not a copyright free zone. Whatever appears on there has been created by someone, so taking it (whether it is text or images) is theft. However there is also another important reason. Picture quality. Internet images are low-res and magazines need hi-res images.

Most images on the Internet are 72 dots per inch. This means that there are 72 dots in every square inch of the picture, that go to create that image. This figure is used for two reasons - historically, computer monitors used to create every image on screen using 72 dots for every square inch (although this is changing now with HD). Secondly, images of only 72 dots per inch are quicker to download.

Magazines print pictures at 300 dots per inch. In other words, for every dot used on a computer screen, a magazine needs 4 dots. Put another way, to print a 72 dots per inch picture in a magazine, will mean that the size of the picture will be less than a quarter of the size it is on the screen.

Do you need permission to take photos?
As I said earlier, taking your own pictures is the best solution, because you know you have the copyright. Also, if you're taking pictures on a small digital camera, as long as it has more than 5 megapixels, the quality will be suitable for a magazine's 300 dots per inch requirement too, whilst reproducing the image at a sensible size.

However, you may need permission from the landowner to take pictures for use in an article. If you're not sure - check. Here in the UK, we have the right to take pictures from any public right of way. That could be the pavement of the street you live on, or a footpath crossing the countryside. (There is an issue with overactive Police declaring that you can't do this under various anti-terrorism laws - but actually you can.)

What you need to be aware of is when you're visiting tourist attractions such as National Trust properties. As soon as you step onto their property, you are no longer on a public right of way. There may be public access - but it isn't a public right of way - you are now on private property. Many places will permit photography for PERSONAL use, but not for commercial use. For many of these places though, a simple request in writing (by email or letter) to the organisation's PR department or spokesperson will grant you this permission. (Again, you could be offering them free publicity, so there's something it in for them.) Just be aware though that some organisations (such as the National Trust) may not grant permission. The National Trust, for example, has it's own picture library and because it is a charity, it would prefer magazines to pay to use the pictures in its own picture library. This may not seem fair, but private property is private property and how would you feel if someone came into your home taking pictures, without asking, which were then going to be splashed across a magazine?

Don't be frightened
Some of this may seem a bit daunting, but the golden rule is quite simple. Ask. If you're not sure, simply ask the organisation if you are allowed to take your own pictures or if they have pictures they can give you. Or, if you come across a picture that you think would illustrate your own article well, ask the owner if it can be used. They may just come back with a 'yes'.

And finally, if you're taking your own pictures, FILL THE FRAME. Whatever it is you are taking, zoom in and get it to fill the picture. When the image is published readers want to be able to see what it is you are referring to. Mentioning St Agnes's Church with it's intricately carved door is no good if the only picture you have of the Church is of the steeple poking up through the trees on the horizon six miles away!

Good luck ... and happy snapping!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Poetry and Short Story Competitions

The Writers Bureau annual poetry and short story competitions are now open for 2010.

Now in its 16th year, the competition will, once again, be judged by Iain Pattison and Alison Chisholm. Alison commented on last year’s winners saying, “The wide-ranging subject matter and a host of individual voices made this a fascinating competition to judge. Many of the entries reached out and captivated the reader, who was drawn into another world and invited to become a part of it. The winners were spectacular.”

Last year’s winners can be viewed at

Total prize money is £4000: First prize in each category is £1000,

second prize £400, third prize £200, fourth prize £100, plus six

runners-ups prizes of £50 each.

The theme is open so entrants can choose to write about any subject.

Poems should not exceed 40 lines and short stories should not exceed 2000 words.

The winners will be featured in Freelance Market News and on The Writers Bureau competition website giving the winners a chanceto showcase their work and boost their profile.

The entry fee for each poem or short story is £5.00 and the closing date for entries is 30th June 2010. Entry can be either online or through the post.

For entry forms or further information contact:

The Competition Secretary,

Dept Comppr, The Writers Bureau,

Sevendale House, 7 Dale Street, Manchester, M1 1JB

Tel: 00 44 161 228 2362

Or Visit

Good luck!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Well, there's a first!

It's never happened before and it will probably never happen again, but last week I had a 'first'. No, not a first place in a competition, but a first experience. I got paid ... for being rejected!

The cheque in question was from The Lady. In 2008, I'd submitted an article, which they accepted. It had a topical hook and ideally, needed to be used in November sometime. But, it didn't appear in the November 2008 issues. (remember, The Lady is a weekly publication.) Then, in 2009, The Lady went through it's revamp, so when it didn't appear in the November 2009 issues, I sent a polite letter inquiring as to whether they still planned to use the piece. They replied, quoting the magazine's revamp as the reason as to why the piece hadn't been used, apologising for the inconvenience and saying that they saw no opportunities for being able to use it in the near future, therefore they wished me luck in placing it elsewhere.

I duly tweaked the article for another magazine, submitted it, and they accepted it! So, no skin off my nose really.

And then last week I received the letter with the cheque. It was certainly a surprise. They enclosed my original material and apologised, saying that despite originally accepting the material, they no longer felt they had a need for it and were now returning it. The cheque was a small gesture of recompense for the inconvenience and because they had changed their minds.

There are two points I want to make here. The first, is that clearly, not all magazines keep accurate records. If they did, The Lady should have realised that they'd already 'rejected' it last year. This is another reason for keeping key paperwork until a piece has been published, at least!

The second point is, this cheque is not a 'kill fee'. A Kill Fee is a payment made to a writer when they have been commissioned by an editor to write a piece and then the editor decides not to publish it. This fee varies but is usually around 50% of the fee that would have been paid, had the article been published. A Kill Fee is designed to be some recompense for the work and time that the writer has put into producing the article because the editor had commissioned them to do the work. In theory, a writer may have turned other work down in order to concentrate on completing this commission. (Update: please see the comment made by Alex (Mistakes Writers Make) about the 'rights' side of things with regards to Kill Fees.)

My article to The Lady had been submitted on spec. I had not been commissioned, so no Kill Fee was due. The £30 cheque they sent was merely a polite apology for not publishing after originally accepting the piece. If only more magazines had a conscience like this! I could certainly get used to being paid for being rejected. It would take the sting out of the experience wouldn't it? Hey, I could probably earn more money from being rejected too!

Good luck.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Stepping Into The Editor's Shoes

Gather together ten of your oldest (and still unsold) manuscripts (or as many of them as you can). Print them out and put them in a pile in front of you. On the cover sheet, cross out your name and put a different writer's name on each manuscript. (If you can't come up with ten names, borrow some author's names from your bookshelf!)

Go and get a cup of tea, or a stiffer drink if you prefer, and make yourself comfortable.

You are now the editor of Manuscript Monthly, a magazine devoted to the sort of material that you enjoy writing. (It doesn't matter whether it's fiction or non-fiction.) In front of you are ten manuscripts from freelance writers, desperate to be published in your magazine. You have three slots in your magazine still to fill, which is why you've turned to the freelance submitted work. As the editor, your job is to assess the manuscripts and pick the three best pieces to fill those vacant slots.

I've spent the past weekend judging the entries in the Flash 500 competition, and later this month will be judging the entries in the article category of the National Association of Writers' Groups' competition. As a judge, like an editor, I'm looking for good submissions. I want:

  • A manuscript that grabs my attention, with a great opening line and an enthralling opening paragraph.
  • A manuscript that keeps my attention throughout the piece.
  • A manuscript that is easy to read.
  • A manuscript that is error free and uses good grammar.
  • A manuscript that concludes with a satisfying ending and leaves me feeling that I have not wasted the past ten minutes of my life reading it.
Over the years, I've judged many competitions and a few years ago I had one entry that hadn't double-spaced their text and used font size 8, proudly declaring that all 989 words were on a single sheet! I couldn't read it! I tried, but with over a hundred other manuscripts in the pile I gave up on the second paragraph because my eyes were hurting!

Only when you have a pile of material in front of you, do you really appreciate the need for that attention-grabbing opening sentence and the entertaining first paragraph that sets up the whole reason for your article or short story.

So, when you've settled yourself in your chair, pick up your first manuscript and start reading. Assess whether it is suitable for publication in Manuscript Monthly. Is the text easy to read? Does the opening sentence and paragraph grab your attention? Does the manuscript entertain you all the way through and draw a satisfactory conclusion at the end? Were there any spelling or grammar mistakes that spoiled your reading?

When you've finished reading all ten manuscripts, take a time check. How long did that take? (Bear in mind the editor or competition judge who may have twenty times the number of manuscripts to read.) Were you able to identify three manuscripts from your pile that really excited you? Were there any mistakes you spotted?

If this exercise has helped you to identify errors with your work, then now's the time to rectify them and find new markets for these pieces. Concentrate on the three best pieces that you've selected out of your ten, but when you've done that, look at ways to improve the remaining seven manuscripts too.

Standing in the editor's shoes can throw new light on an old manuscript. And it's fun too. According to the Hollywood blockbuster, the Devil (editor) wears Prada, after all!

Good luck. (And don't trip over in those high heels!)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

UK Postal Prices have gone up (again!)

Just a quick reminder to writers based in the UK, that Royal Mail increased their postal prices yesterday. An ordinary First Class stamp now costs 41p and Second Class costs 32p.

If you send manuscripts out in A4 sized envelopes (which is best - no editor enjoys reading screwed up material) then a First Class Large letter increases from 61p to 66p, and a Second Class large letter increases from 47p to 51p.

To cut postage costs, it makes sense to email material if you can, but only do this if the magazine editor has said that you can, or that they make a statement in the publication you are targeting that says they accept submissions by email.

If you are sending by post, then submit your work in an A4 envelope, but use an A5 envelope for your SAE. An A5 envelope carries the lower stamp prices.

If ever you're unsure how much it is going to cost to post something, use the Royal Mail's Price Finder page on its website at:

Good luck!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Blogging Eck!

Well, first of all, I should say thank you to Julie Phillips for awarding my blog a beautiful blogger award! And, as is custom when receiving such an award, I would like to thank my parents, my postman (despite all the rejections), the woodlouse that happens to be walking across my carpet at this very moment .... (pause) .... it's okay, I've just thrown him out of the window. He's now outside, where he should be. (At least, I think it's a 'he'.)

Award receivers are encouraged to pass on the award to 10 more bloggers, so here's my list:

  1. Mistakes Writers Make (And How To Put Them Write)
  2. The Writers Bureau Blog
  3. Article Antics
  4. From The Chair's Cupboard
  5. Working 2 Write
  6. It's Only Words
  7. Rob in Espana
  8. Writing Buddies
  9. Help, I Need A Publisher
  10. Heather Bestel

So, there you have it - my top ten blogs.

And if you don't have a blog, then why not consider writing one yourself? From a writing point of view, they have several benefits:

  • It's gets you into the habit of writing something regularly.
  • It helps you to develop your writing style.
  • It doesn't have to be long - just a few snippets of ideas or thoughts are all you need.
  • You can use it to paste examples of your published work, for editors to view.
  • You can share your successes with others.
  • You can get feedback and ideas from others.
Simply visit or to find out more about setting up your own blog.

Finally, a little competition is always a good thing, and The Writers Bureau have just launched their big annual Poetry and Short Story competition. First prize is £1,000, so it's certainly worth the effort!

For more information, visit

Good luck!