Friday, 25 July 2008

Who Is Going To Read Your Work?

In the assignments I've marked this week, I've noticed that several students have analysed their target magazines to get a feel for where the freelance slots may be in the publications, and how many words will fit into those slots, but there hasn't been much focus on the reader. Yet it is the reader after all, who you are writing for in the first place!

Back in February, I posted a blog about using media packs to get information about readers, and I'm going to repeat it here, particularly for those new students who have recently signed up to my blog. But if you've already read it before, it's worth rereading it again. The reader is the most important person in our equation. Satisfy the reader and you'll satisfy the editor.

You stand more chance of getting published if you write with a specific reader in mind. It doesn't matter whether you are writing a letter, article, short story, novel, non-fiction book ... whatever. You need to know who you are talking too.

If you're writing for the magazine market, let me give you a sneaky little secret. Do a seach on the internet for the 'media pack' for the name of the magazine you're interested in writing for. They are often available as PDF files, which most computers can open particularly if you have Adobe's free reader programme (

A Media Pack is designed for advertisers, not writers, so it isn't all of interest to writers, but they have their uses. Let me give you an example. Eve magazine is a woman's magazine here in the UK and they have a media pack, which you can view online at

Go through and you will discover useful information about Eve readers including:

  • the magazine views itself as a 'truly, luxurious treat for intelligent, independent and stylish women in the 30s'
  • they are well educated, interested in personal development
  • 30% of its reader earn between £50,000 and £100,000 per annum
  • spend over £90 per month on beauty products
  • the magazine has 294,000 readers

The media pack also mentions a special website for their readers about cars

The average eve reader is 37 years old.

Wow - that's quite a lot of information. But already you can see that if the readers spend an average £90 per month on beauty products, then your "Ten Top Beauty Tips for under £2.50" clearly isn't going to fit. That's not to say that "Ten Top Beauty Tips for under £2.50" isn't a great idea - it just isn't a great idea for Eve's readers. (And if Eve's readers aren't going to be able to identify with your idea, then the editor certainly won't.)


Using media pack information is NOT a short cut to market analysis. A media pack WILL NOT tell you how long the average article is. It WILL NOT tell you which pages are open to freelance written material. It WILL NOT tell you how much they pay for reader's letters.

But used in conjunction with your own magazine analysis, they will help you gain a better understanding of who your reader is.

Here are some media packs for a range of UK magazines which may be of interest:

I shan't be posting anything next week, because I'm away at the Writer's Holiday at Caerleon in South Wales (see this post for more information). I'll let you know how it went when I get back.

Good luck.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Are You Competitive Enough?

Do you consider entering writing competitions? Student Sarah Husselmann has and she's now landed herself a regular column in her local magazine!

There are thousands of writing competitions out there, but I usually advise writers to target the smaller competitions first - the ones that don't get quite so much publicity. That way you'll reduce the number of other writers competing against you too!

Winning, or being placed in a competition not only gives you a huge psychological boost (YOUR writing was chosen above all the other entrants) but it is also something worth putting on your writing CV. When you approach other editors with ideas, being able to mention that you came first in a competition on a similar subject, gives you extra authority.

You never know where a competition win may lead. I once won a travel writing competition in a small magazine, and on the strength of that was asked by another magazine to produce a feature on my local county. So not only did I get a win, and something to put down on my CV, I also got a commission out of it too. Sarah now has a regular column, so she'll be getting plenty of writing experience now - and best of all, when she approaches other editors with idea, she can legitimately tell them that she is regularly published, and has a monthly column. And that may not have happened had she not entered the competition in the first place.

So next time you see a competition advertised, why not consider submitting an entry? Not only will the writing experience be a useful one, but you never know where it may lead.

Good Luck.

PS - I'd also like to say congratulations to Penny Legg, who has been offered a wonderful writing opportunity. She's written numerous articles and pieces for local publications and now, she's got to make what could be a life changing decision - and I bet it's one she never thought she'd be making when she started her Writers Bureau course!

Monday, 14 July 2008

Calling All Writers Bureau Students! Write and Edit A New Magazine

I don't know if any of you subscribe to the Writer's Bureau Ezee Writer Monthly newsletter (click here to sign up, if you don't), but the organisation is looking to create a quarterly online magazine written and edited for students, by students. See below for more details:

We have an exciting project we want to get up and running in the near future. We want those of you who are already students, to put together your own writing magazine, which we will publish in a new student community area we are in the process of creating on our website.

We are looking for people who would be interested in designing the magazine, editing it and, of course, we need contributors. This will all be done on a voluntary basis by whoever chooses to take on the roles and is completely flexible. So, if you want to edit/contribute/design the magazine for 1 month, 3 months or a whole year it is up to you! We are planning on the magazine being quarterly to begin with.

The topics of the articles and all other content will be chosen by the editor and can be related to writing or about something else completely. They could be on how writing has changed your life, where to get articles published, how to research, your top tips for each other. You may also want to include puzzles and teasers, such as writing related crosswords and inspirational ideas. You can also send in your own work for publication, this can include poems, short stories, in fact anything you like.

It could also be useful for those of you who feel a little nervous about sending your work to publishers. You can try out the techniques and build you confidence using other students as a sounding board.

This is a fantastic opportunity for you to see publishing from the inside. You get to experience the trials and tribulations of being involved with a publication firsthand, which offers a unique perspective for those who choose to give it a go.

The main thing to remember is that this is a magazine for students by students; so the world is your oyster!

If you want to get involved, send an email to

Good luck.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Love Your Local Bookshop - Take 3

You may recall last week that I got involved in my local bookshop's events planned for the Independent Book Shop's Booksellers Week. Well as you will have seen from my earlier post, we managed to get a passerby to take a picture of the event.

The industry's trade magazine - The Bookseller - asked bookshops to send in any pictures, so even though I'm an author, not a bookseller, (I am a subscriber to the magazine - not cheap at £4.40 a week!) I sent in the picture.

Well it just goes to show that nothing ventured, nothing gained! Boy did I get a surprise yesterday morning when the postman delivered the latest issue of The Bookseller. There I was sitting in bed with a cup of tea, just flicking through the pages when, the page above jumped out. (click on the picture to see a bigger version) Talk about spit a mouthful of tea across the bedclothes!

I don't know why they used my picture quite so big or why the two pictures underneath of authors Kate Mosse and Alan Titchmarsh are so much smaller.

If nothing else, my local bookshop was pleased!

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Writing From Life

If ever you are stuck for ideas, Lynne Hackle's new book "Writing From Life" (ISBN:978-1-84528-241-7) will be just the antidote you need.

Lynne is a prolific short story writer and regularly uses personal experiences as the basis for her tales. For those of us who know her, we're still waiting to see a short story based on her experience when she was on the Channel 4 game show with Noel Edmonds, "Deal Or No Deal" (and won!).

In her book, Lynne shows you how to sell a snippet of conversation (how many times have I told you to get eavesdropping?), how to take your boss and your best friend and come up with an entirely new character, sell one experience to several different markets and how to make the most from your hobbies.

Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, we always put elements of our own experience in our writing, and Lynne's book shows you how to maximise this.

The book is also littered with quotes from a variety of writers about how they've used their experiences to get into print, (read mine on page 40!), as well as a series of exercises to help you delve into the inner depths of your memories and recover those life experiences you thought you'd forgotten.

I read Lynne's book in one sitting and jotted down five ideas without really thinking about them. One I've already submitted as a letter, and two which I'm currently developing as articles.

So if you're stuck for ideas, then check out Lynne's book.

Good luck.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Editors Are God

One of my ex-students, John Rooney, mentions in his blog (The Ups, Downs and Sometimes Insane World or Freelance Writing) that sometimes editors seem to have a knack of asking for the impossible.

John submitted a query idea to an editor back in February. He heard nothing. Then, and during a time of crisis for him and his family, the editor wrote back asking him to write the article within the next four days. John actually had less than four days because the magazine doesn't accept email submissions, so he had to allow time for the postal system too.

Now many people would dismiss the letter and say that the editor is being completely unreasonable. He has, after all, had since February to make his mind up about whether he likes the idea or not.

However, it is not as simple as that. It may well be that John's idea, now has an element of topicality that makes it suitable for the next issue of the magazine. Perhaps a news item broke last week, and suddenly John's idea is the perfect idea now. This means that it wasn't the perfect idea three weeks ago.

Or perhaps another writer has let this editor down and he's desperate for something to fill the gap at short notice, and he's picked John's idea.

Or perhaps the postal system has swallowed John's idea since last February and only recently spat it out on the editor's desk last week.

Whatever the reason is, moaning about the tight deadline does not solve the problem. If you read John's posting (and I recommend that you do - click on the link above) you'll see that John takes a pragmatic approach to this. Yes it is a pain in the neck that the deadline is just four days. It's unfortunate that it has happened at a time of personal crisis for John. But in this freelancing world, it isn't the writer's place to moan. The editor cannot leave two blank pages in his magazine and just print a sorry excuse saying:

"I'm sorry but the writer was unable to meet their deadline so these pages are left blank."

Reader won't accept it.

Whatever an editor asks for, you have to deliver. If you want his work, you have no choice. If you won't another writer will certainly step into your shoes. In this light, an Editor is God, particularly if you want to be published in that specific magazine. Of course, it is down to you whether you decide to worship that God or not.

But John took what I feel is the right approach. He took the deadline head on, and he delivered on time. The editor could still reject his piece. But the editor will certainly remember that John delivered what he asked, when he asked him to.

It would have been so easy for John to turn around and say, "sorry, I can't do this at the moment." But he didn't. He was still there for his family, but he also found a way of delivering work to the editor too. The chances are, John will be rewarded with more work in the future because of this.

So next time you receive a response from an editor, which wasn't what you expected, stop and think. Could you deliver it if you really put your mind to it? Go on, have a go. You might be surprised with what you achieve.

Good luck.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Don't Be A Solitary Writer - Be A Holidaying Networking Writer

As you sit at your desk beavering away at an assignment or other writing p
roject that you may be working on, it's all to easy to become isolated. Every now and then it is necessary to get back in touch with the real world, and thankfully there are a couple of great ways to do this. Writers holidays.

Caerleon, new Newport, Wales is the venue of the Writers Holiday, held at the end of July through to the beginning of August. From Sunday through to Friday, you can mix with over a hundred other writers as you tackle a variety of workshops in the mornings, listen to visiting writers lectures in the afternoon, attend even more workshops and classes after tea, and then listen to more writers after dinner. (Then it's all down to the pub after such a hard working day.)

If you're able to attend, I would seriously encourage you to do so. Yes, it costs a few hundred pounds but that's inclusive of accommodation, all meals, all workshops, tuition, after tea sessions and lectures. All you have to pay for is the drinks in the bar!

I led one of the series of workshops last year and this year I shall be giving one of the afternoon or after dinner lectures. It's a great, friendly atmosphere and I guarantee that if you went with a blank address book with you leave the event with it full of new friend's contact details.

For more information visit

If you're unable to get to Caerleon, or you do and you catch the bug (which I would be surprised if you didn't), the National Association of Writers Groups (NAWG) run the Open Festival of Writing at Durham over the first weekend in September. Again, it's packed full of other like-minded writers and is a non-stop weekend of fun, frivolity and workshops. Saturday night is also the gala dinner when the winners of the organisations competitions are announced, and the Oscars have nothing on this ceremony!

The NAWG Festival is sightly cheaper than the Caerleon holiday, but then is a long weekend event rather than nearly a week. More details can be found at NAWG FESTIVAL. I shall be running 3 workshops at Durham this year.

There is another 'event' - the Swanwick Summer School in Derbyshire in the second week of August, which is also popular.

If you're unable to make this year's events, do consider 2009. Start putting a few pounds a week aside now, or try to sell a couple of articles to pay for the break. They are great learning opportunities, as well as great holidays. You'll make lots more writing friends and who knows where that networking could lead?

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Love Your Local Bookshop - Take Two

So here I am with a cup of tea (no change there then) at my local bookshop as part of the "Love Your Local Bookshop" week. (Emma and I didn;t just drink tea and eat chocolate biscuits. We also put the world to rights over avrious matters and even sold some books!)

It's always interesting chatting to people when they walk past. One woman bought 3 copies of my dog books (thank you- I can eat next week now) and then said how much she enjoyed my walking book - Best Walks in the Welsh Borders). It's so nice hearing this feedback from readers. A lot of effort goes into producing any book, but the walking route guides have to be checked and double-checked against official rights of way maps, so it's delightful to hear from readers who enjoyed following my route. It makes the effort so worthwhile.

An unsuspecting couple from Cheltenham who'd popped up to Church Stretton for a couple of days were soon pounced on when they said they were looking for some interesting walks to do. Naturally they left with a copy of my book too (signed, of course!).

All the staff at Burway Books worked hard (although it might not look like it in the picture!) and there are several more authors going there throughout the week, culminating with bestselling novelist Kate Long (Author of The Bad Mother's Handbook) on 8th July.

And if you ever needed more of an incentive, Burway Books are offering a 10% discount on purchases throughout the week long event. More details can be found here.

I had fun at my local independent bookshop. So why don't you pop along to your local independent bookshop to see what they're doing. You may be served by a writer, not a bookseller!