Saturday, 16 September 2017

This year has been stressful. They're building 70 flats on the plot next door.

This year has been stressful. They're building 70 flats on the plot next door. Our house forms the boundary wall. I've had 18 months of noise and vibrations. The whole house shakes daily, and last week they piled soil up against the wall of our house, with no consultation. Then they had diggers collecting the soil from the wall of our house, and ignored my attempts to communicate with them. I wanted to say, "Be careful - that's a load-bearing wall! It would have been nice to be consulted about this! And what about damp?"

But none of the workers speak English, making it impossible to effectively communicate with them directly, and the management's communication is awful. So I threw my toys out the pram (metaphorically speaking). I'm now expecting a call from a surveyor next week... because they're also planning to plant a privet hedge next to our wall, with the potential to grow to 12ft. This would block access to the wall for maintenance, prevent the wall from drying out after heavy rain (we've had damp problems there, rectified them for now, but need to keep an eye on it). And there's a threat to the foundations of our house from 40 x 12' trees.

It's stressful and I feel I need to get away from this environment, so we've had lots of holidays this year. Now the holiday season is ending, I've decided to start going down to the library more often. I can use the desk space and their amazing wifi. Last time I hot-desked at the library (due to our internet being down), there were 30 kids singing in the kids' section, so it's not always great for concentrating, but it's got to be worth a try? Perhaps I'll write another blog in a few weeks to let you all know how I'm getting on!

Sunday, 9 July 2017

How to sell your feature ideas to a magazine

I recently received an email from a lady who'd read my book, "Freelance Writing: Aim Higher Earn More". She asked, "My question is, how do I pitch? Do I write a story then think what magazine to send it to or do I write to the magazine asking for a page for a story?"

I did write a small section in the book on this, but it doesn't go into much detail on pitching because it's aimed at people who've got the basics covered and are now looking for new markets and new sources of inspiration. So... how to pitch?

You need to write to the magazine outlining your idea, why you're the best person to write it, and why you think it would suit their magazine. Be aware that many publications have six month lead times, so you need to be thinking aboug new year features now, in July. Weeklies have a shorter lead time. It varies between publications.

So to pitch, email the features editor / commissioning editor / managing editor and explain in one or two paragraphs what your feature idea is, why you're the best person to write the article, why the publication's readers would enjoy it, and provide a 'hook' - a link to an upcoming event, season, or newsy topic, to make it current and newsworthy. Make the idea really compelling, be able to provide pictures if you can, and with any luck, you'll get a commission if you keep doing this repeatedly, and for long enough!

When I write a pitch, I keep a copy of it and record who I've sent it to, so that when I'm uninspired, I can return to my previous ideas and see if I can use them to generate more work. I have hundreds of pages of ideas that I recycle with every new season.

In terms of sending completed articles on spec, there are a handful of magazines who ask for articles to be submitted in full, on spec. A case in point is 'The Oldie'. Look online for submission guidelines for the publication you want to write for, and they may have specific advice on this. If they don't specifically ask for articles on spec, then the rule of thumb is to send the idea only, and not write the article until you receive a commission. The Oldie's submission guidelines are here: https://www.theoldie.co.uk/media/The-OLDIE-MAGAZINE_submission-guidelines-v22.pdf

Good luck!

If you're interested in my books, you can view them here.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Writing, the environment, and story inspiration!

I wrote this RANT for The Oldie, who duly ignored it, so I thought I'd post it on here! I work from home and can concentrate better in a quiet environment. Next door, 70 flats are going up. It's been like working in an earthquake zone for 18 months, with all the noise and vibrations. But on the upside, my noisy, polluting builder buddies have been the subject of a couple of features I've sold to magazines! I'm sure they'd be delighted if they knew. Here's the RANT!

The builders idle outside my house, pumping fumes from their stationary vans, polluting the air, creating noise and a nuisance. It irritates me, so I ask them to stop and they look at me, like I'm mad. I explain that unnecessary stationary idling is illegal, that we have a pollution problem in the UK, and they should turn their engines off when stationary. They're standing on the pavement with the doors wide open. It's not like it's even keeping the van warm!

They're part of the Considerate Constructors scheme, so they apologise, turn their engines off, and all is well... until it happens again later, or the next day. Some sit there for half an hour or more pumping fumes unless I intervene.

This building work will take 18 months and they're already clogging up our road with their vehicles. So I now have a sign outside my house, provided by the site manager, asking the builders to turn their engines off when stationary. Some idle in front of the sign until I go outside and ask them not to. One repeat offender has vanished altogether since the site manager 'had a chat' with him, and promised me it wouldn't happen again.

But the thing is, it's not just the builders. I walk into our little town, and all along the high street people are idling in their cars - young and old alike. No-one seems to care about pollution or the environment. I've asked a few people to turn off. My husband thinks one day I'll get beaten up. But all this idling, all this pointless pollution, is really irritating me. Does no-one care about our health, or the planet?

Some of the London Borough councils now hold anti-idling days. They enforce the law and issue £20 fines to anyone who refuses to turn their engine off when stationary. It's progress, but it's not solving the problem across the country.

Leaving your car idling for more than about 30 seconds uses more fuel than switching off. It's in breach of road traffic regulations (see Highway Code section 123) and it can incur a £20 fine. Some Boroughs say you can keep the car warm by cutting the engine and leaving the fan on. There is no excuse. I'm glad some councils are now taking enforcement action, but sadly, they're not in my area.

We know air pollution is bad for our health; we know it's bad for the environment. We know it contributes to thousands of premature deaths every year. So why idle? Just turn off! If you're an idler, save yourself a few quid in fuel too. Let's all be responsible and stop the pointless pollution.

I sold two articles about the idling issue, with the builders playing the starring role. Is someone irritating you? Perhaps they could be the source of a short story or article!

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

My plan for 2017 is a bit like the plan for Brexit

My plan for 2017 is a bit like the plan for Brexit. There isn't one. And I think I need one. I started off on day one, after the new year bank holiday, finishing off a couple of jobs left from last year and by 10.30am, it was like, "What now?"

Having spent a lot of time in December pitching to my 'hottest prospects' list, I decided to try a different approach and coughed up £9 for membership of a writing website for three months. It highlights jobs and freelance opportunities in publishing. It goes against the grain to pay for these things, but it came recommended by someone who'd got work from it, so I thought it was worth a punt. First impressions: disappointment. It's a list of publications with links to their writers' guidelines - and they're all in the USA, which is less than ideal for the regional publications who only want regional articles (in the USA). I've already got The Writers' Market (the US equivalent to the W&A Yearbook), so it's mostly duplicating that. But hey, it's a new way of looking at the opportunities, and it's making me think again. So I pitched to two of the publications listed, and I'll keep an eye on it, because I think it might turn out to be more useful than my first impressions suggest.

Anyway, I didn't stay on that website for more than an hour or so, because some good news arrived in my inbox... Before Christmas one of my old clients said he wanted a series of articles written for 2017. I'd pondered his comments over the Christmas break and sent him some ideas. He came back to me in the new year, saying he liked them all... and had some ideas of his own. By the end of the day I'd secured 11 assignments, which should keep me going for the next couple of weeks.

I've also subscribed to a writing magazine for the year ahead, so hopefully these things will all pay dividents. After all, it only takes one new client to make an investment worthwhile.

There's still no plan. But I've now got a few more resources to draw from, and I've got work for the next two weeks. After that, I expect something will turn up. It usually does. If not, I usually spend the time pitching relentlessly, until a new job comes in. I do have ambitions to do more fiction in 2017, so perhaps working on that will bear fruit.

On another topic, this vibration from the builders next door is utterly horrendous. Perhaps I should just go on holiday!

Thursday, 29 December 2016

How did I do in 2016?

In January 2016, I published a post identifying some plans for the year ahead. Call them resolutions if you like. How did I do?

1. Juggling workload - keep the balls in the air, and keep the work coming in.

I managed this one, although there's been some emphasis on finding new clients, since some of the old ones have fallen away due to budget cuts, editorial changes, new policies, or big backlogs of commissioned work already on file.

2. Maintain the income. Always a challenge!

The income wasn't so much a problem as the earnings this year. Earnings fell (see problem above). However, the income actually went up, because I'm starting to be paid for some of the things commissioned years ago, that have only just been printed and paid for. Some clients have big backlogs.

3. Write more fiction.

I wrote some fiction. Not sure it was 'more' than previous years, but I'm still struggling with the short story genre and getting it right for the paying markets. I submitted three short stories to My Weekly and they were all rejected. Oh well; we can't all be brilliant at everything.

4. Complete and publish the guinea pig book!

Nope. I completely failed. But I blame the book deal I received in April for stealing my attention. It's ghost written. Don't ask. I also published The Little Book of Freelance Writing under my own name. It's a collection of articles to inspire, inform, and assist aspiring writers. Some chapters were published in magazines last year, others were written especially for the book.

I will have more time to review the situation with the guinea pig book again in 2017. I hear Bloomsbury is doing a good trade in guinea pig books. All I need is a contact in the Bloomsbury guinea pig department!

5. Complete the novel. And find a publisher.

Failed again. See above.

6. Sell more books.

Well I sold more books, but I won't be retiring on the proceeds. Perhaps no. 4 will become a best seller.

7. Have lots of holidays.

I achieved this objective, and visited Glastonbury, Lynmouth, Rutland, Welshpool, Barmouth, Coastal Suffolk, Buxton, and Lincolnshire! Still trying to sell the stories.

8. Find new clients.

I have achieved this one with a number of new magazine clients, one new book publisher, and one in the corporate sector, so I seem to be doing OK on the day-to-day stuff.

9. Develop and improve my photography skills.

I bought a new lens and did some great macro photography with bees. Did I improve? That's a bit subjective, but I like to think I'm always improving.

10. Sell photos independently of my writing work.

I started selling my photos on Alamy in December. When I say 'sell', I actually mean there are some listed for sale.

11. Complete more courses: next up: Commercial Photography, starts 11 Jan. Free! Bargain!

I did about 20 FutureLearn courses before exhausting my list of interests and deciding it was actually taking time away from my writing work. I did sell a few articles about the experiences though!

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

My Weird 'Green' Christmas

Since green lifestyle blogger @greenrosielife challenged us to contribute to her new environmental initiative #GoingGreenLinky, I thought I'd blog about my weird green Christmas and all the ways we try to be environmentally friendly at Christmas time, and all year round!

Christmas gifts
In an effort to be 'green', economical and imaginative at Christmas, many of our presents come from charity shops, often 'like new', but for a fraction of the cost and recycled. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is a good motto to remember.

Christmas deocrations
I was in Esk last weekend - a huge retail warehouse in Eastbourne. The isles and isles of Christmas decorations seemed a bit crazy. At home, our Christmas decorations are 30 years old. They come out every year and will continue to do so. Where's the demand for all these new decorations come from? It seems that many people throw their decorations away every year. What a shame. Ours go back into the loft for next year.

Wrapping paper
It seems wasteful to throw perfectly good wrapping paper away after one use, so our family get recycled presents wrapped in recycled wrapping paper. They're used to it and no-one bats an eyelid! One year, they got presents wrapped in wallpaper samples, because we'd been reviewing our decorative schemes (...I was going to say 'family and friends' and then realised we have no friends. Perhaps this is why).

Left overs
We don't throw away perfectly good food. Leftovers gets frozen, or made into another dish the following day. You'd be amazed what you can freeze!

Cards
We mostly send out Christmas newsletters attached to emails instead of cards these days. We only send cards to old folk who seem to value them. Our fun and cheerful newsletter actually takes a lot more effort to write than a Christmas card and it doesn't use much carbon to deliver by email. To us, the effort involved in producing that fully illustrated newsletter is much better than sending a commercial card from a pack of 50 anyway!

Thermostats
We try to keep fuel consumption to a minimum by having the heating on 15 degrees centigrade in the entrance hall. The lounge radiators are bigger, so the lounge heats up nicely, and we have faux fur throws over our legs. Our house is well insulated, we wear thick jumpers and padded jackets, and we only have the heating on for three hours a day! But we do turn the heat up if we have guests! We might go wild and leave the heating on for longer if we're relaxing at home this Christmas Day!

Other ideas for a green Christmas
Shop locally.
Gift a gift to the environment, such as a charitable donation to an environmental cause.
Make gifts at home.
Cut cards up to make gift tags for next year.

Recycle, Reduce and Reuse... everything!


Have a great Christmas! And think green!

Look for more ideas on the Going Green Linky blog

Or write your own!  #GoingGreenLinky

Friday, 25 November 2016

Writing inspiration, last minute changes, and self-publishing

I had a couple of articles published in Writing magazine recently, on the topic of self-publishing. It showed my newest project under production, "The Little Book of Freelance Writing," so I thought I'd better get on with publishing it!

The manuscript had been steadily growing over the course of the past year, while I produced stories, ideas and interviews on writing topics. Some were intended for magazines but never quite made it. Others did, and appeared in Writers' Forum earlier that year. More chapters and sections were written specifically for the new book, plugging gaps in information, providing sources of inspiration, and helping it all hang together.

There were a few ups and downs; a last minute change and a bit of a rewrite at the eleventh hour, but I drew from author interviews and my own experiences to bring stories to life, inspire readers, and show how others have overcome big challenges to succeed in this very competitive industry.

So finally, my newest title, just out, is 'The Little Book of Freelance Writing - writing ideas, opportunities, inspiration, and success stories'. It's a short easy read, designed to inspire, educate and get writers thinking about where to go next.

It includes interviews with authors and comment about the industry. Best selling author Mary Mackie explains how her work was inspired by living in a National Trust house. Comedy writer Jon Rance explains how he got a publishing deal with Hodder and Stoughton after he self-published his hugely successful first novel. Best selling thriller writer, Rachel Abbot, explains how she sold millions of copies of her book by publishing her way.

The book also looks at opportunities for new writers in different commercial markets, how to come up with new ideas, and how to pitch to editors. It covers rights and contracts, and how to find new homes for articles that get rejected. There's a chapter on blogging, a chapter on self-publishing, a piece on website content creation, and lots more. 

It's available as a paperback book here for £4.99 www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1535180498 
Or as an ebook for Kindle here for £1.99 www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01MQNTHF4


Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Writing for children: point of view

I'm on a FutureLearn Course, Brand Storytelling, where in week 3, Al MacCuish explains how he overcame his struggles to write a successful children's book. This is a bit of the transcript from the interview. It's a great reminder to get into the head of the child and see the world from their point of view!

"I suddenly understood why I was struggling. I had never once tried to look at the world from a child's point of view. I didn't know, understand, or empathise with my audience. So I went back the one of the very first children's stories ideas that I'd had, and I started again. And this time, the approach was completely different. I was actually looking at the world through my son's eyes. And the key turned out to be making everything about discovery. It was a really simple idea, where basically every letter in the world was alive and worked for a top-secret government department called the Ministry of Letters. Through a kid's eyes, secret worlds are immediately interesting, especially if adults don't know about them. So to reinforce that, on the first page of the book, I wrote, 'The only people who know about this world are one, the queen, two, the prime minister, three, spies, and now you.'" 

This immediately engaged the children in tests. Then he added an evil moggy to create tension and extra interest. The kids loved it!

Credit: FutureLearn interview on the Brand Storytelling course. Why not sign up? It's free!


Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Books for writers - a selection of reads



The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success

I love the approach of this book, which explains in a really honest, no-nonsense way, how the authors succeeded in freelance writing. I enjoyed the style so much, that when I came to write my own book on freelance writing, I endeavoured to emulate their style. It's frank, open, and hilarious in places, about the highs and lows of a writer's life. The challenges of getting paid - I have a vague recollection of the writer camping outside her publisher's offices! It was a while ago that I read it, so I'm not sure if that was just a suggestion or an actual event! It really is ridiculous, but in a fabulous way. It has been criticised for being too American, and that's where I felt that writing something more British, to emulate the style for a British market, was a worthwhile exercise. This book has been superseded by an updated version. If you want to know what it's really like working as a freelance writer, read this book - or even better, buy mine!

 * * *

Be a Travel Writer, Live your Dreams, Sell your Features

I picked up this book because I was curious to find out if I could learn more on the art of travel writing, as a practising professional writer already. It's aimed at beginners and gives some interesting examples of the diversity of travel writing. It includes details of interviews the author has written after meeting people in foreign countries, and how she's sold stories on poverty and abuse that she's witnessed, as well as the beautiful places she's seen. She tells you to look for the unusual element, to make your story stand out, and gives examples. I would have liked to have seen more on the markets for travel destination writing. I know the market is vast and lifestyle publcations often do travel, but I've found a lot of unresponsive or dismissive publishers, often saying they work with a set of preferred travel writers and there are no opportunities for new contributors. So a leg up on the best opportunities for new entrants might have been useful. But then I guess they might be inundated. Interesting read.

 * * *


Telling Life's Tales: A Guide to Writing Life Stories for Print and Publication

I read this book out of curiosity mostly. It's quite thorough, in that it covers how to tell your life story, how to help others tell their life stories, and how to approach these as topics for books, magazines, or other markets. I liked the bits that encourage the reader to think beyond the story itself, to setting the scene and exploring what life was like at that time in history: the music, the style of clothes, the TV shows, games, lifestyles, and little things that people remember. They help bring a period to life. I'm not explaining this as well as Sarah-Beth does, but hopefully you get the gist. She explores how to conduct interviews, and different routes to publication, including self-publishing. 

I didn't feel I learnt a lot, but as a professional writer, I have been telling people's stories professionally for years. For someone starting from scratch, this book could be a really inspiring. For me, the big take away message is to make sure I'm not missing great snippets of information that will help bring a time-period to life. Sometimes the smallest things can be quite impactful. 

On the downside, there were some annoying grammatical errors, that made me wonder what went wrong with the proof reading, but it's difficult to get a book perfect. On balance, it's a good read for someone who's interested in writing biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, real life tales for magazines, or indeed, any other form of life stories! 

 * * *


How to Write and Sell Short Stories 

I started off really enjoying this book, working through it with a notepad, and writing stories with an element of conflict. One turned into an actual whole story, which I submitted for review on a course, and had good feedback, although it needs more work. The book starts off really well and once you've got started, it goes into the nitty gritty a bit with dialogue, characterisation and settings. I enjoyed the first three chapters a lot more than the rest, but then on reflection, it might be the rest that I need to work on, so worth returning to at some point. Overall, it's a well written concise, and very accessible book on writing short stories, and it certainly helped me get inspired with some ideas from the outset, which is half the struggle.

  * * *

Freelance Writing: Aim Higher, Earn More: Build on your successes and take your writing to the next level

This book is my own title. It's designed for people who don't want all the basics explained, but are interested in trying new markets, and want to earn more from their writing. It explains how I started out in 2011 with no contacts in publishing and no experience in journalism. I grew my workload from nothing, to become a full-time freelance writer, with an impressive client list. It looks at how to grow your writing income, how to find new markets for your work, and how to keep going when it seems hopeless! The book looks at the writing discipline and organisational skills, for when your workload gets busy. It also explores new avenues for your work - it looks at blogging, writing for businesses, magazine publishing, writing books, photography, and other types of writing. The feedback has been very good.

  * * *


Easy Money For Writers And Wannabes  

If you want a book about writing letters and sending photos to the letters pages of magazines, this book is full of inspiration. However, the potential to make money from these markets has shrunk dramatically in recent years, since the majority now only pay for the 'best' contribution (e.g. star letter/winning pic) in each category. They used to pay for all contributions, and was a more worthwhile activity.

I found the book a bit dated, recommending sending letters to a magazine, which went out of print almost a year before the book was published. I did expect the book to include a bit more than how to write letters and take photos for letters pages, but it's nicely written and upbeat style, so if that's what you want, it's fine. Cheap and cheerful. 


 * * *

Easy Cash Writing

This is a beginners' book, providing an interesting look at different opportunities in writing, some of which I hadn't considered before. The title is a bit misleading, suggesting that it's easy to make cash writing. It isn't - it's a hard slog and some markets are very difficult to break into. That's something that the author admits repeatedly. It's hard work, not easy - but it's rewarding if you succeed. The author also admits that there are plenty of people who will ask you to work for nothing, and he encourages you to avoid these people and focus on the paying markets. He provides some useful lists of paying markets in different genres, and provides insight to some areas that I haven't worked in before, so I think I'll investigate them further.

 * * *


Photography for Writers

When I started writing for a living I quickly learnt how much editors value good photographs. Within a year I'd got myself onto a course and invested in a decent camera. This book looks at different ways of using photography to enhance your writing. It starts at the very beginning, looking at opportunities for photographic fillers in magazines. Then it takes you through ideas for more aspirational photography to accompany your writing.

Now, having been on a photography course and spent three years taking photographs for publications, I admit this book didn't teach me a lot of new tricks, but if you're a writer who's new to photography, then this is a great little tool! It's bursting with inspirational tips. It's also much cheaper than a photography course! Importantly, it highlights the money to be made from photography in writing, gives you lots of ideas, covers some technical details, shooting angles, storage and legal issues.


 * * *


Freelance Writing on Health, Food, and Gardens

OK I'm biased. I wrote it. I think this book is very good! Hopefully you'll enjoy it too. It talks about my rocky journey into freelance journalism - the ups and downs, the highlights and challenges. It also provides hints and tips on how to get an editor's attention, how to turn a rejection into a sale, and how to find inspiration from everyday life. It includes interviews with other professional writers in the field, and you'll get a little insight into each writer's journey in this competitive arena.

It's written to be helpful and accessible whatever your preferred genre as a writer, but the examples given obviously focus mainly on my experiences as a writer in the three areas of health, food and gardens. These are huge areas, covered in hundreds of magazines, so they represent lots of potential. Why not download a sample for Kindle and see if it piques your interest?

 * * *


Horror Upon Horror: A Step by Step Guide to Writing a Horror Novel

If you're interested in the history of literary horror, this book provides a great introduction. It looks back at the best of literary horror from the 1800s to the present day.

The depth of history presented in the book, gives a very thorough grounding to the horror genre. It wasn't quite what I was expecting from a 'how to' book, but none-the-less, it's interesting to see how the genre has changed and developed over the centuries. I particularly enjoyed the list of vampire rules for vampire novelists - some of them were new to me and if I ever feel inclined to write a vampire novel, this list will come in very handy!

Ideas for avoiding too much narrative are discussed, looking at how some novelists in history have successfully 'shown' rather than 'told' their tale. Characterisation is also discussed.

As someone who grew up reading contemporary works including James Herbert, Clive Barker, Stephen King and Dean Koontz, there was too much emphasis on 19th century literature for my personal tastes. I felt to me, like the product of an academic dissertation on classic gothic literature. But there is a discussion about modern literature nearer the back of the book, which I found more appealing.

The book is designed to help you draw inspiration and ideas from previous horror novelists. Each chapter ends with a practical exercise, encouraging you to apply the principles described to your own work.

On balance, if you love horror and are interested in the techniques used by some of the earliest horror novelists, you'll probably like this. If you enjoy reading about the history of the horror genre, this book could be right up your street too. 


                                                                             * * *

Dead Easy Ways to Boost Your eBook Sales

I was recently offered a review copy of this ebook on boosting your book sales. It's targeted at Christian writers and provides details of ebook promotional services for independent authors. Some are free. Some, you have to pay for. The free opportunities require you to have a free ebook to promote, which for those people who run free offers on their ebooks occasionally, might be worth considering.

There's a section on guest blogging, which I found quite interesting. It has a list of bloggers with large followings and who accept guest blogs. Many of them are Christian blogs, because the ebook is focused on this market, but some cover other genres too.

I have to admit that while scrolling through the pages of book promotion sites, all charging fees, the opportunities just smacked of desperation. But I've also heard that some of these sites do positively impact sales... so what do I know? I've never used one. The author shares her experiences where she's used the paid services, and covers social media and online advertising. I did identify a few opportunities that looked worth exploring. Overall, I'd say it's a useful little book.

The only disappointing thing, is the cost of most of the opportunities. I'd hoped for more ideas that were free to implement - perhaps that's expecting too much. For those with an advertising budget, this could be a worthwhile read. For those with time but not money, there are a few things you might find helpful. It's mostly aimed at those with a decent marketing budget though.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Helen Libby on inspiration, self-publishing, marketing, and other writerly challenges



Helen Libby releases her new book, Paris Actually, on Tuesday. Here she talks about her stories, her inspiration, self-publishing, and her career as a writer so far.



Helen says, "I write novelettes or long short stories if you prefer - my stories tend to average round the 15,000 word mark. I have always loved writing, enjoyed it at school, and continued writing stories as part of my degree (Literature/Imaginative Writing). Even when I graduated and started working full-time I continued to write, but somehow I could never finish a project.

"I started taking my writing more seriously just under 10 years ago, when I relocated and everything felt so strange that I found writing cathartic. I decided to write a novel about a young woman who was diagnosed with skin cancer. My sister had skin cancer, which gave me the idea for my book, although the story wasn’t based on her. I got to about 60,000 words when I stopped and put it away for a while. I was working full-time and had a stressful job; I couldn’t focus on my writing.

"A few years ago I had the opportunity to go part-time, which I grabbed! It meant a drop in salary, but it also meant I had more time to devote to my writing. I dug out my old manuscript and began editing. I was ruthless and cut a lot of it and eventually ended up with a story of approximately 17,000 words. I felt I’d found my niche writing novelettes.

"I have written four other novelettes since the first one, with a sixth well under way, and with ideas for at least three more. I have approached various publishers, but although I received some positive feedback, no-one wanted to take my novelettes on. I think they are very niche considering their length, and the fact that although they have a romantic bent, the romance is not usually the main focus of the story. There is another issue such as being heavily in debt, or adoption, or skin cancer, and so on.
 
"In November 2015 I decided to take the plunge and self-publish my work via Kindle Direct Publishing, and I have self-published two novelettes so far in e-book form. I have not yet released the first novelette I wrote, purely because it was appropriate to release the other two stories during the winter period due to the time of year they were set.

"Now I know what I’m doing with regards to formatting a manuscript before uploading it to KDP, I’m really enjoying self-publishing my work. I have some beta readers, I send my stories to a professional proof-reader, and my husband helps me design the covers. The hardest part for me is marketing - I have a lot to learn about this.

"Sales so far have been slow, which I’m not worried about at the moment because I’m in this for the long haul. I’ve had a mix of 4 and 5 star decent reviews, which is encouraging.

"Many people I know prefer to read a full length novel, not something that can be read in one sitting, like my stories. That said, I think the era we’re in means that many people are sometimes only looking for something short to read, especially if they’re reading a story on their mobile phone. My stories are compact, but they have layers, so I don’t believe they are one dimensional." 

Get Helen's new book, Paris Actually here

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Charles Naton: "Being fashionably obscure can actually be an advantage"

Getting a book deal is every new author's dream, right? Why then, are so many traditionally published authors now choosing the independent route? Charles Naton shares his experiences.

Charles Naton is the author of 'Section 12', a war-time psychological horror, telling the story of a traumatised WWII soldier, who ends up in an English psychiatric clinic after D-Day. He experiences headaches, nightmares, and supernatural phenomenon. Charles' dramatic supernatural tale was originally published through the small publisher, Can Write Will Write. He's since self-published the book and has a sequel entitled 'The Cronus Equation' due out in early 2016.

Charles explains, "My first step into publishing was when Can Write Will Write offered me a book deal. It was a new venture and we didn’t know each other, so I only signed a contract for the e-publishing rights initially. The publisher gave me some very useful editorial feedback, which was a great help in the early days. It taught me to look at my own work through the eyes of an editor as opposed to an author. I agreed to do my fair share of marketing, as they're a small publisher, and was committed to the project.

"Then things started to go wrong when I saw the cover design they'd produced. I hated it. This left me stuck in the strange situation of being reluctant to throw my weight behind my own work! I was also bewildered by the publisher's reluctance to make the book available on Amazon. I thought it was a poor business decision not to have any kind of presence on that mega-platform.

"So, keenly aware that one never gets a second chance to make a first impression, I made a conscious decision to draw as little attention to myself and my work as possible, until I got my electronic rights back, and could republish on my own terms. I wrote the sequel while I watched the clock ticking down!

"Following that disappointing experience, I wanted complete control over the publishing process, so I set up my own publishing company, Cordlant Publications. This enabled me to control my own ISBN series, which is important to me.

"When I got my rights back, I relaunched the book with a new cover, making it available in paperback too. The good news is that since striking out on my own, I’ve seen a significant rise in interest and in sales. At the moment I’m focusing more on building my reputation rather than shifting volume. That takes time and a lot of shoe leather if you’re working by yourself.

"Doing it all myself has been a real education. I've learned an awful lot about the subtleties of print layout - a couple of millimetres here and there can really enhance the reading experience. I urge any self-publishers to resist the temptation to cram their work into as few pages as possible to save a little bit on each sale. The thing to remember is that a book is more than just the words it contains. The way it looks and feels is just as important as what’s printed inside.

"I've done all my own techy stuff too. I built my own website, although the artwork was supplied by my long-suffering and extremely talented graphic artist. I’ve learnt how to collaborate with other creative folk, to listen to their specialist insight, and explain important decisions where it’s not possible to please everyone.

"Since deciding to self-publish, I’ve found word of mouth, via the internet, is the most successful way to sell books. Being fashionably obscure can actually be an advantage. Some people like to shop local and support 'independent' artists and content producers. At this early stage in my career, I have the ability to engage with readers and customers at a very personal level, which simply isn’t possible for established household names.

"We are living in fascinating times, where it’s possible to take an idea and reach out to literally millions of potential customers in ways that were never possible before. However, self-publishing still requires a lot of hard work, in addition to actually writing something good in the first place! Self-publishing isn’t for everyone and the results will be hugely disappointing if you’re hoping to be an overnight success, but for the able, the committed and the determined, it really can be a brave new world."

www.charlesnaton.com

Monday, 8 February 2016

Internet dependency: a modern problem



Is Aghabullogue nearer to Blarney or Cork?
Is Ireland supposed to have pixies as well as leprechauns?
What's the history of Cork Cathedral?
Is it even called Cork Catherdral, or does it have another name?
Does my editor want his reptile article?
How are my book sales doing this weekend?
So many questions. So few answers.

It's one of those frustrating weekends when I'm visiting the mother-in-law, wondering how she can survive without internet access. I already have a list of unanswered questions waiting for my return home, and it's only been 24 hours.

My husband has a smart phone, but the signal's often not very good. Here I am on Sunday morning, itching to make progress on various writing projects, and coming unstuck at every turn, due to lack of internet access. Meanwhile, hubby and mother-in-law are dozing in bed.

While I sometimes think the internet is too much of a distraction from work, it's easy to see how my work also depends on it, and starts to suffer the moment I'm not connected.

Back in the bad old days, I'd have to wait for the reference library to open, then spend hours trawling through books, looking for answers. I love the internet, but it's very frustrating to be offline when our modern lives are so dependent on it.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Cloud computing sounds risky to me. Am I stuck in the 20th century?

19 January 2016: Twitter went down this morning. Remarkable for such a widely used site. It made me think about cloud computing, and why, despite being on Windows 10, I'm reluctant to store my files in 'the cloud'.

It's a nice idea, but it puts someone else in control of your work. If their servers go down, how good are the backups? Do they exist? What if the whole thing goes down? What if stuff goes missing? What if a virus deletes everything on their server? What if a hacker steals my work?

Call me paranoid, but I like to feel in control of my files. Now in truth, my perceived control might be quite limited. My computer might break. My back up system is rubbish, but unlike Twitter today, my computer has never 'gone down'. It's reliable. It works. My photos are on external drives and when they're about to die, they usually clunk first, giving you a warning, to copy everything onto a new drive quickly! Although I do have a back up of sorts too.

My stuff doesn't go missing (I'm sure Windows 10 stuff doesn't either, but Twitter has just vanished off our screens for the time being). If my files do vanish, a quick file search usually solves it. If it doesn't, I have only myself to blame for inadvertently deleting something!

On that topic, knowing how to activate the 'Are You Sure?' prompt on Windows 10, would sure add a helpful layer of added security to my Windows 10 experience, which does seem to have an auto-delete problem on emails. Fortunately, my email filing is pretty good. It has much improved since auto-delete from the inbox became a problem.

How do other people get on with cloud computing? Do other people think it sounds risky. Am I stuck in the 20th century?

And can anyone tell me how to activate, 'Are You Sure?' as detailed above? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Monday, 4 January 2016

New Year Resolutions for 2016

The plans for this year include:

1. Juggling workload - keep the balls in the air, and keep the work coming in.
2. Maintain the income. Always a challenge!
3. Write more fiction.
4. Complete and publish the guinea pig book!
5. Complete the novel. And find a publisher.
6. Sell more books - did you notice I've got a new one out: "Pagan Journeys"?
7. Have lots of holidays.
8. Find new clients.
9. Develop and improve my photography skills.
10. Sell photos independently of my writing work.
11. Complete more courses: next up: Commercial Photography, starts 11 Jan. Free! Bargain!

That'll do for now. :-)

Happy New Year.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Goodbye 2015, Hello 2016!




2015 was a year of travelling, exploring, and trying to brighten up Charlie guinea pig's life, after his mate Alvin, died in the new year. While Charlie went to stay with his grandma, who always spoils him rotten, we went to the New Forest, Dorset, Devon, Somerset, Shropshire, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire, and Kent in a caravan! It wasn't quite as adventurous as the Grand Tour of Scotland last year, but we had some great times and the weather was reasonably good most of the time.


In the process of seeking out new clients, I got work with a regional magazine and a health website. We've had free cinema courtesy of Tesco for the past year, so non-commercial writing in the evenings has suffered, although I did manage to complete a Start Writing Fiction course with FutureLearn, which I felt was a worthwhile experience.

Plans for 2016? Goodness knows! It's as much as I can do to keep work coming in and maintain the status quo. Although somewhere in the pipeline is a funny book on guinea pigs, and I have a few more ideas to flesh out. I'm starting to dabble in fiction, so perhaps this will be my first year of having short stories published. I also have a novel in the offing, which isn't too far from completion... although finding a publisher might be another story.


So I'll sign off with a Happy Christmas, and festive new year to all. See you in 2016! If not before.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Why didn't I think of that? Oh. I did.

I saw an article in Writer's Forum recently - an interview with a fantastically successful self-published gentleman from my writing group. I thought, "Talk about missing an opportunity. Why didn't I think to pitch that interview idea?!"

Then I realised that I had thought about it. Once in 2013 and once in 2014, when I pitched similar ideas to interview the same author, to the editor of the same magazine. At the time, both suggestions were met with rejection, and I hadn't given it any further thought since.

So was my timing poor? Was my pitch shoddy? Perhaps the other writer wrote a better pitch! That wouldn't surprise me. I was writing so many pitches, they couldn't all be fantastic.

However, I do recall the interviewee being coy about his achievements in 2013 and 2014, which made it difficult to convey just how fantastic his achievements were. Apparently by 2015 he'd overcome this modesty, or perhaps been persuaded it was good for business to be a bit less bashful about it all.

Anyway, the experience gave me a kick in the butt to resubmit some old ideas to the same magazines who'd rejected them before. I received two new assignments the very same day. I'm now grateful for that kick up the butt. Just because an article idea is rejected by a magazine one year, doesn't mean it will be rejected by the same magazine a year later. If you know it's a great idea, keep plugging away.

It seems to have worked for me!

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Can I earn a decent wage freelancing, compared to a full time job?

"Can I earn a decent wage freelancing, compared to a full time job?" someone asked me recently.

Well, it depends! The Author's Licensing and Collecting Society did a survey in 2013, and the results, made available in 2014, said that professional writers only earned an average of £11,000 per annum. However, I think many of those were part time, and many were authors.

So the answer has to depend on your earning power in employment, and also whether you can get work with decent paying publications as a freelancer. Some businesses pay better for freelance work than magazines, but it varies enormously. Some publications pay a lot more than others.

Author's pay varies widely too, with debut authors often earning very modest sums, while famous authors might make millions.

Working for magazines is erratic and pay can be a long time coming, if you're paid on publication, as most magazine freelancers are.

For someone who has an aptitude for writing and a commercial mindset (you have to write what people want to read/buy) it's certainly possible to earn decent money. However, most writers work long hours, have to stay focused and motivated, and obviously you don't get perks like holiday pay or sickness. Also, in my first year, my income was low, but building up any new business takes time. If you work hard and stay focused, you'll hopefully be rewarded with growing profits year on year.

The Writers' Bureau published a blog on How Lucrative is Freelance Journalism? It's worth a look here

There are lots of books that might be helpful. I've got a book that sheds more on my own experiences here 

What do other people think about this topic? The ALCS is of the view that it's getting increasingly difficult to make a full-time living as a writer. Do leave a comment below.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Don't be a publisher's nightmare. One space at the end of a sentence is plenty!

My mum always taught me to put two spaces after a full-stop, just as she was taught to do in typing school in the 1960s. But when I started working in marketing and brochure production in the late 1990s, I quickly learnt to stop this bad habit. Times had changed and one full-stop is now sufficient for modern typefaces. Two full-stops cause ugly gaps in the text and creates more work for your editor or graphic designer, who has to go through your work, taking them all out!

In the modern world, publishers want just one full stop. Don't be 'traditional' and give them two. After I was told once, I didn't dare do it again, yet in 2015, some publishers are still battling to get the message across to their contributors!

The editors of Chicken Soup for the Soul have sent the following message to their contributors, in their September newsletter...

"Did you take typing in high school? We did, and we were taught to add two spaces after a period. It turns out that is very “old school.” Everyone over 40 was taught to add two spaces; many people under 40 were taught to add only one space after a period.

"Here’s why: In the old days, we didn’t have word processors and  fonts   that   automatically   spaced   themselves   nicely,   so   it  sometimes  wasn’t  clear  that  there  was  indeed  a  space  after  a  period.  Now,  with  most  fonts  it  is  crystal  clear.  And  that  extra  space  at  the  end  of   sentence wastes  space,  spaces  that  add  up  over the course of  a newspaper article or a 400-page book.

"No  matter  what  you  were  taught,  and  how  diligently  you  put  two  spaces  after  every  period,  stop  doing  it!  We  have  to  go  through  all  the  stories  and  remove  those  extra  spaces.  AP  style, Chicago style, and every other up-to-date source will tell you the same  thing—put  one  space  at  the  end  of   a  sentence! 

"Thank you."

I don't think I need to say any more! This is 2015, not the 1960s. Don't do what my mum did in the typing pool. Get up-to-date with the modern world! One full-stop is enough.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Is social media for authors a waste of time?


I've been writing professionally since 2011, and started using social media in 2014, pending the publication of my first book by Compass Books, called 'Freelance Writing on Health, Food and Gardens'. My day job is writing magazine articles. I've also self-published a second writing book, a collection of WWII memoirs, and some inspiring Christian stories.

When I first joined Twitter, it struck me as a waste of time, but I persevered and have since come to enjoy some of the interactions with other authors. I've learnt some valuable things from people on social media. For example, I first heard about the Author's Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) from people I met on Twitter, and I've since made money from joining ALCS, which made the whole experience worthwhile! I've also picked up things about commercial book publishers, agents, and self-publishing, which have been useful.

I find Twitter infinitely more engaging than Facebook, perhaps because my Facebook author page rarely appears on anyone's feeds due to Facebook's policy of charging for exposure. Twitter, in contrast, results in some great interactions. I've met some really interesting people, and find the author community really supportive. I try to post links and tips that will help people achieve their writing ambitions.

My blogs help me engage with readers, exchange thoughts, and promote my work. Does my social media activity result in book sales? Well, writers like to read too, and some of those people I've met online have bought copies of my books. Some even told me how much they enjoyed the books or felt inspired by them. This and the other benefits, such as generation of feature ideas and positive interactions, make logging onto social media regularly, worthwhile.

Authors can be a generous bunch on social media, and will offer hints and tips, help promote your work, might give you an interview on their blog, or support you in other ways, so there are good reasons to be active on social media. My most memorable interactions on social media have been from readers who have loved my books, or been inspired by my articles, and have tweeted to say so.

The main thing to remember is that it's not a one way street. If your communications are all about promoting your work, to the exclusion of everything else, you're not making the most of the opportunities to engage with potential readers in a more meaningful way. Two way communication is more effective, more rewarding, and more likely to generate interest in your work.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Meet prolific book reviewer, Tracy Shephard



My latest guest blogger, Tracy Shephard, is a prolific book reviewer, with ambitions to have a novel of her own published. She has a decent following on her blog, which has surprised her with its success. I asked Tracy about her book reviews, her writing, her favourite books and her life as a book reviewer. This is what she said...


Q. How do you select which books to review next?

A. I always review books in order that I am asked to read them. If I have a blog tour I read those first. A blog tour is where a group of book reviewers all get a specific date to tweet our reviews. These blogs sometimes include a Q&A with the author, or whatever the blogger wants to include. My next tour is on the 9th June when I'll be reviewing The Spider in the Corner of the Room

Once the blog tours are prioritised, I read other books I've been asked to review, and then I read whatever takes my fancy.

Q. Does one book you've reviewed stand out above all the others?

A. A couple of reviews stand out. The Red Notebook by Antoine Lauren was one of them. I fell in love with this book from the first page and read it in three hours. It's a beautiful book and one I recommend. 

I also like reviews that include a Q&A with the author. My favorite review is with a rather unknown author, L M Krier, about her novel, Baby's Got Blue Eyes. It's a fab read and in my opinion should be picked up by a Publisher.

Q. How long does it typically take you to get through a new book?

A. I have so many books to read, but I'm quite an avid reader too, so I can read about four books a week. I am partially disabled so I can't do very much, which means I sit and read a lot. I usually read a book in one sitting, if its doesn't grab me then I read it in about two days.

Q. Do you only review novels or do you sometimes review non-fiction works too?
A. I like to read all books, but the ones I review are mainly fiction. This is because I only get sent or asked to read this type of book.

Q. Have you ever given up on a book? Why?

A. I have given up on books, mainly ones I read for the book club I attend. They are books that I wouldn't normally read. I have given up reviewing these books for my blog. I like to be honest in my reviews and I don't think my negativity is helpful so I don't review them. I'm sure the books would appeal to other people. They're just not my cup of tea.

Q. What's your background / career history / greatest achievement?

A. I was a manager in a department store but had to leave when I had an accident which badly hurt my back. I cannot work now as I am always in a lot of pain and sometimes, I can't move easily. My greatest achievements are my children. I take no credit for how they have turned out, but they are successful well-rounded kids and they are rather likeable.

Q. What are your personal writing aspirations and what are you doing to try and achieve them?

A. I have written a book called A Human Drama, which has sold a few copies on Kindle. however it has been turned down by two publishers. I am now writing a romance which I hope will be successful.

Q. How do you rate the success of your blog?

A. I am quite surprised by how well my blog has been received. I started it on Christmas Eve 2014. It has had 3500 views and I have about 30 followers. You can find my blog here https://tracyshephard.wordpress.com/

Q. Do you find blogging fulfilling?

A. Yes. I enjoy blogging. I like it when I receive comments that tell me how much someone has loved my review or when someone has bought a book based on my review. I also love being able to recommend a good read to the people I meet. I have seen the way I review change over the time since I started my blog, and I hope to continue with it  - and for it to be successful.

Q. What's your favourite book ever?

A. My favorite books of all time are anything by Agatha Christie. She was so plot driven and although I try, I can never guess the culprit. They are so cleverly written, Agatha really had a fantastic brain.

Q. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

A. I would encourage people to start a blog about anything they enjoy. It is a way of connecting with new friends and giving yourself a voice about something you are passionate about. I marvel at blogs I read, as each are different and interesting. I read as many as I can and follow almost all of them.

View Tracy's blog on https://tracyshephard.wordpress.com/ - you'll find plenty of inspiration on what to read next!