Thursday, 26 June 2008

Do You Love Your Local Bookshop?

Do you love your local bookshop? Here in the UK, the first ever Independent Booksellers week is running between 1st and 8th July 2008. As a result a whole range of events are taking place at over 300 independent bookshops next week, with many authors getting their hands dirty and working on the other side of the till!

Pop into the Little Green Dragon Bookshop in Alton, Hampshire next week and Alan Titchmarsh might be the one to help you with your credit card transaction. Gyles Brandreth will be helping out at a bookshop in Kew, and Mark Billingham will be at Stoke Newington Bookshop.

To find out more about what's going on in your own area next week visit

I do wonder if the local independent bookshop owners know what they're letting themselves in for. I shall be helping out next week in my own local bookshop, and I just hope that I don't short change anyone! I'll let you know how I get on.

Wish me luck!

Love Your Local Bookshop

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Fact Files, Side Bars, Further Information Panels and other snippets

Writing for the magazine market means giving editors more than they need. This does not mean giving them a 2,000 word article when they only print 800 word articles. What it means is giving them a choice.

Flick through any magazine these days and the vast majority have extra snippets of information related to the article, but dotted around the page. These are called Fact Files, Side bars, Side Panels, Further Information Boxes ... in fact there's probably as many different descriptions for them as there are boxes!

If the magazine you are targeting uses these, then you should provide them too. Often they are used to provide the reader with extra information, or add a touch of humour. Bullet points are particularly popular, especially if the fact file offer Five Top Tips For ...

For travel magazines these are ESSENTIAL. With a travel article your aim is to get the reader to want to follow in your footsteps. If you achieve this, then the fact file and further information boxes will give the reader all they need to know in order to do this. Empower your reader with contact addresses, website addresses, currency rates, useful tips, opening times etc, etc, etc.

I have an example posted on my website about the Royal Yacht Britannia. It's in PDF format and is 10MB, so it's quite large, but you can download the full article here, and at the end you'll see the various fact files and side panels that were used. (Note my phrase 'that were used').

I always offer the editor a wide range of information and fact files. It is up to the editor how many or which ones he or she uses. They're not always used. But it gives the editor the choice to decide what to use and where. It helps them spread information around the page.

Some students query about how this affects your word count. It doesn't. When giving a word count, always quote the length of your main article, excluding the extra fact files etc. I sometimes put on my cover sheets:

A 1500-word article
(with additional 500 words of further information)

...just to make it clear to editors that the 1500 words relates to the main body of text.

Will you get paid more for providing more words? Probably not. However, the extra information you provide can make the difference between an acceptance and a rejection.

So next time you finish an article, think about what 'added bonuses' you can give to an editor. Afterall, everyone likes getting something extra for free don't they?

Good luck.

Monday, 16 June 2008

New Magazine - The Sea

I've just discovered a new magazine called The Sea, which may be of interest to students. It's affiliated to the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) and Sea Vision, but seems to cover a variety of topics connected with the Sea, and not just Britain's waters.

Issue 1 is dated June 2008 and has articles about the following:

  • The history of the Bikini
  • The Science of Oceanography
  • An article about RNLI volunteers
  • A Q&A section (how far can icebergs travel? how does the gulf stream work?what's the best paid job at sea?)
  • The Plight of the Albatross
  • Maritime Crime - Pirates and People Smuggling!
  • An article onone of the largest Container ships in the world
  • An article about fish in the Caribbean Sea
  • Sustainable seafood
  • A history of lighthouses
So you see, it's packed full of a variety of sea-related features and not just UK based ideas either!

For further information visit the magazine's website

The magazine is also doing a special subscription offer for those based in the UK - 3 issues for £3. This is great opportunity for some market research and at £1 per copy is one of the cheapest ways to do it! Click here for more information.

The website is also offering the opportunity to but just one copy of the magazine for £3.70. Click here for more details.

Many people love the sea - I'm sure we can all think of something to write about, wherever in the world we are!

Editor: Alison bridge
Postal Addres: The Sea, Signature Publishing Ltd, Headley house, Headley Road, Grayshott, Surrey, GU26 6YU

Good luck!

Friday, 13 June 2008

Seven Ways To Structure Your Article

Las Vegas needs gamblers, London needs Harrods, and articles need structure. Apart from a beginning, a middle and an end, the main body of your feature (the middle) needs a structure that’s fun to read and easy to write. And once you know how, the structure can help you generate many more ideas for hundreds more articles!

27 Ways To Get Rich

How many times have you seen such a claim on the front cover of a magazine? Readers love numbers, which means that editors do too. Look at the title of this blog. This method of structuring is perfect for those articles that comprise a number of themed ideas. It’s easier to deal with each idea as a separate paragraph, and this will keep you focused and to the point. Popular numbers are multiples of 5 (10, 20, 25, 50, 75 etc) although any number works. Company magazine recently had “237 new fashion ideas”. I sold an article to Cumbria magazine about humorous incidents on its open top bus service, and called it “Ten Open Top Tips”.

Alphabetti Spaghetti

If you can’t use numbers then how about letters? Want to write an article about the healing properties of herbs but don’t know where to begin? Well why not write it as an A-Z? Identify one herb that begins with each letter of the alphabet and write a few sentences on each one, then move onto the next. Get a good idea and an editor may want to spread the article over two separate issues. An A-Z is an excellent way of getting the basics across about a new subject, but it can also be flexible. The Lake District Magazine recently ran a piece entitled “An A to Z of the Lake District” where each letter focussed on an individual village. Sometimes your creativity is required with the X’s and Z’s, but often a tongue in cheek approach adds humour!

The Taj Mahal Approach
Travel articles are popular with writers because they can feature somewhere near or far. What’s on your own doorstep will be exotic to someone else in a different location! But if you’ve been asked to write about your locality for a national audience, structuring the article can be the most difficult challenge. What do you write about? Which attractions do you mention, and which do you leave out? The answer is to make comparisons. You’ve heard of the 7 wonders of the world, well why not give them the 7 wonders of Winnipeg? Your local country estate garden may not be the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, but I bet there’s one feature there that is unique to them. Sow that seed in the reader’s mind and then find your next wonder.

The Time Line
Historical features appear in many general interest magazines such as The Lady, Best of British, People’s Friend and the Scots Magazine in the UK. In the USA titles such as American Heritage, British Heritage, Gateway Heritage and Preservation Magazine are good markets to approach. But it’s very easy to confuse your readers if you jump from one time period to another and then back again. A chronological approach is better, allowing you to break each paragraph down into centuries, decades, years or weeks depending on the time frame that you are covering. Time can be a useful way of telling a particular story of an unusual job or organisation. Articles that are titled “A Day In The Life Of …” are popular with editors and are often used as the final article in the magazine. With a title like this, there’s only one way of dealing with the information, which means as a writer your thoughts and comments will be clear and concise.

The Accumulator

This is a variation of the numbers structure, but it needn’t follow a mathematical pattern. It’s often used to suggest to readers how they can save thousands of pounds, with several short and easy to achieve tasks. (Save £6,000 by following these 12 easy steps.) However, instead of numbering each step 1 to 12, the figure used is how much you could save by implementing each piece of advice. So the first idea may show a total saving of £50, combine this with the second idea and you could save £125, implement the third and you save £220, the fourth £390, and so on.

Excuse me, but how do you do that?

Instead of collecting a series of facts and then regurgitating them in a haphazard way, why not use a question and answer technique? This is sometimes used for interview pieces, but it can also work well when you need to explain a subject. By anticipating the questions that you think the reader may ask, you can then answer them, ensuring that you restrict yourself to answering that specific question. It’s possible to improve your structure further, just by rearranging the questions and their appropriate answers into a logical sequence when you’ve written all of your text. I felt that this was a useful format when I wrote an article about questioning technique for interview situations.

“To Be, Or Not To Be. That Is The Question”

Sometimes a series of quotes or proverbs can help you assemble your ideas in a logical sequence. In an article about money saving tips, I used 8 proverbs to head each paragraph. Each proverb demonstrated the point of that specific section. So when I discussed about saving a regular amount of money by Standing Order, I titled the paragraph with the proverb, “From Tiny Acorns, Grow Mighty Oaks”. The paragraph dealing with the benefits of saving was headed with “A Moneyless Man Goes Faster Through The Market”.

Giving your article the right structure will make it easier to write, and improve its appeal to readers and editors. Find a structure you like, and it could spark off hundreds of other ideas. Next time you analyse a magazine, analyse the structure of the article too and you’ll be one step closer to making that sale.

Good Luck!

Sunday, 8 June 2008

It Shouldn't Happen To A Freelance Writer!

The weather we've had here recently has been unpredicatble to say the least, but on Friday the forecast for Chester was looking good. This was great because Country & Border Life magazine had asked me to do a feature about the town's tourist guides who have just created a tour of the Gardens and Open Spaces in the area. Twice we'd put off the tour because of bad weather. (Naturally we wanted blue sky pictures to tempt tourists to visit the town in the future!)

So Friday dawned and as I drove the 60 miles to Chester I was overjoyed to see the blue skies expanding further. Earlier on in the week I'd travelled to the Llyn Peninsula to do a feature about coves and bays for August's issue and the day had dawned well. Clear blue skies everywhere. Three hours later when I'd reached the Llyn Peninsula - the arm of Wales in the north stretching out into the Irish Sea - I'd discovered that I was in the only area of Wales under cloud that day!

Anyway, back in Chester, I met up with the Guides, Stephen, Yvonne and Gerry who began showing me around their new Gardens tour - the climax being Grosvenor Gardens. It really was amazing being told about all the different plants and trees that exist in a large park that half the town sunbathes in on a beautiful day such as today. I wondered how many sunseekers realised that they were lying next to a Strawberry Tree? (Apparently the fruit are really bitter!)

As we turned a corner, the guides suddenly stopped in sheer horror. Unbeknown to them, the contractors who look after the gardens had moved in, in the early hours of the morning. They were completely revamping all of the flower beds in the park. The vast borders we were expecting to be a riot of colours were not. They were areas of brown earth!

So guess who has got to go back to Chester in a few weeks time when the contractors have finished replanting? I just hope the weather is as good as it was on Friday. Two sunny days in Britain? Hmmm, that's what we call a heatwave!