Friday, 26 June 2009

Three Books for Penny in 10 months!

I just wanted to say congratulations to one of my students, Penny Legg, who is rather overjoyed at the moment. She now has commissions to write 3 books, all of which will be published within the space of 10 months.

Her first commission was for 'Folklore of Hampshire' which will be published by Tempus Publishing in July 2010. She's now signed contracts for two more books, 'Haunted Southampton' which will be published in February 2011, and 'Winchester: History You Can See' which will be published in May 2011.

Suffice to say that she's a little ecstatic, although, clearly she now has a lot of work on her hands!

This also demonstrates how far in advance the publishing industry works, particularly for books. There's just under two years between now and when Penny's Winchester book is published, but in order to get that contract she's had to supply a proposal with an outline. She's already had to think of that detail, even though she may not start writing the book for another 12 months.

But this is where writing non-fiction books differs from writing novels. It's possible to sell the idea for a non-fiction book based upon a proposal and sometimes a sample chapter. For a novel, you need to have written the whole book first.

Psychologically, writing non-fiction can be easier, because if you've signed a contract then you know that the book should be published. Whereas with a novel, you can only start trying to sell it once you've finished it. Not knowing whether the idea works until you've written 100,000 words is a big risk to take.

So, good luck with the writing Penny, you're certainly going to be busy for the next year or so.

And I'm looking forward to meeting everyone at the Writing Buddies meeting at the Borders Store in Southampton on 3rd July. See you then!

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Motivation Begins The Minute You Wake Up!

Last Saturday at my writers' circle meeting, we had a guest speaker, Liam O'Connell. Now Liam and I share a similar wavelength - we both like positivity. In fact, as I sat listening to him during his workshop, I spent most of my time doing a nodding dog impression!

Liam's attitude though, was one of 'can do'. Instead of saying 'I can't do that'. He told us to say 'I CAN do it' and 'I believe I CAN do it.'

Much of this is down to being focused on what it is that you want to achieve, and this is a core skill with writing. Being focused and determined to get a piece published will result in publication eventually.

Liam played a video of several students all running around one another, passing basketballs between them. He asked us to focus on the basketballs and count the number of passes made that didn't involve bouncing the ball on the floor. This played for about two minutes and required immense concentration - well it did for me anyway! At the end of it, some of the group said they'd seen 15 passes, other guesses ranged up to 23. I'd counted 19. The correct answer was 22. Then Liam asked, "Hands up those of you who saw the Gorilla?"

What? What flipping Gorilla?

About half the group stuck their hands up. (not me, I completely missed it!)

Liam then played the whole sequence again and this time he told us to look for the Gorilla. And there it was, bold as brass, someone dressed up in a Gorilla costume walking onto the set turning to face the camera, waving both arms about frantically before walking off the stage again!

I found that exercise really enlightening, because for me, it was a clear demonstration as to how focused I could be. When I looked around the room at the members of the group who like me had not seen the Gorilla, it was interesting to note that many of them were the members that I would classify as the more 'successful' members of the group too, with their writing.

He then discussed about having a positive attitude. He explained how we all have control over our actions. Yes, we can't control what life throws at us, but we can control how we deal with. Liam told us of a time when he'd filled up his car with diesel instead of petrol. When he realised what he'd done he flew into a rage, cursing and swearing at the hassle this was now going to cause him. His wife, then reminded him that he'd woken up and decided to have a positive day that day. And that's when he realised that all this anger wasn't solving his problem. Thinking positively, he realised that once he'd called his roadside recovery company, he would then be provided with a courtesy car. Within the hour, he and his wife were on their way again, and enjoyed the rest of the day. He made that decision not to let this event ruin the whole day.

Likewise, we can't stop an editor from rejecting our work, but we have a choice what we do when we discover the news. We can either:
  • Moan and wail, and throw our arms about in pure misery that our talent and creative genius has not been recognised, or
  • review our work, rewrite if necessary and submit our talented creative muse to another editor, creating a new opportunity in which to get published.
Every morning, when we wake up, we have the opportunity to decide whether we're going to have a good day, or a bad day. So when I woke up yesterday, I said to myself, "Today I'm going to have a good day." And do you know what? At 11.45am the deputy editor of Country Walking magazine rang me up and asked me if I could provide an urgent piece of text for him. How positive was that?

So remember, when you wake up tomorrow, make a decision as to what sort of day you're going to have and stick to it. You don't know what might happen!

Liam O'Connell is an excellent guest speaker and I can thoroughly recommend him. For more information, visit his website at, and you can buy his book direct from Amazon.

Good luck.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Victorian Farm

Living in South Shropshire, means that I am only three miles away from the Acton Scott Museum where the BBC 2 television series "Victorian Farm' was filmed. The series was broadcast in January and February this year and consistently attracted viewing audiences of over 5.2 million, which is very high for the BBC2 channel. In fact, in the last 5 years only 2 programmes have attracted higher viewing figures on BBC2.

This afternoon, two of the show's stars had been invited by our local bookshop to come along and do a talk in the church hall. Both Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn chatted about the making of the television series, and showed us a collection of photos and pictures of behind the scenes events. One common comment was the fact that mother nature and farming, didn't always want to 'play ball' when the film crew was around, particularly the animals!

And we also learnt that if you have a male Shire Horse who won't pull a load, then put a female Shire Horse in a field ahead of him and he'll soon move!

Fans of the show may be interested to know that they are filming 3 one hour shows to be broadcast later in the year, possibly around Christmas time.

Talks are underway about another series, possibly an Edwardian Farm this time, although the talks are at a very early stage.

Both Alex and Peter were quite tired because having listened to the Met Office's weather forecast at the beginning of last week, they decided that this week would be a good week to harvest the hay. For this you need long periods of sunshine to allow it to dry after cutting. Thursday was the chosen day which stayed dry for cutting. Since then, here in Shropshire we've had rain on Friday, Saturday and today, so their hay isn't drying out particularly quickly! They've also lost confidence in the Met Office forecasts too!

What struck me though, was the infinite knowledge these two people had. They merely had to change the photo on their Powerpoint Presentation and immediately they launched into the tricks of the trade, the mishaps and their successes of their time spent on the farm.

Which brings me onto a 'writing' point. Have a specialism. Or two. Or three! If you know about a subject, then writing about it will be easy. If the mere sight of a picture can trigger a series of thoughts and comments then you will probably find that you can write quite easily about that topic. (You should see the size of the accompanying book that Alex, Peter and their co-presenter Ruth have written!)

Too often, writers don't know what to write about and they feel that the regularly trotted out phrase "Write about what you know" doesn't help. But if you have a specialism, writing about that subject is easy. So don't have one interest - writing - have lots of interests. Then you can use the writing to write about your other interests. This is why you should get out an experience life. It gives you something to write about. Alex, Peter and Ruth stayed on the Victorian Farm for a whole year - hence the size of the book! But it will give them lots to write about for the rest of their life.

So next time you get the opportunity, go to an author talk and just watch how they enthuse about their subject. It's proof that they are 'mini-experts' and have a lot of knowledge to share. And what is writing, whether it is fiction or non-fiction, if it isn't the author sharing knowledge of some kind with their reader?

Good luck!

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Perfect pitches

This is just a quick plug for this month's Ezee Writer newsletter, which has just been published.

This month's article has been written by yours truly. It's called 'Perfect Pitches' and explains how to go about 'pitching' an article idea to an editor first, before you actually go through all that hard work and effort that is involved with actually writing the flipping article in the first place!

Our work gets rejected for many reasons, some of which may be down to bad luck - the editor has just accepted a piece on a similar idea, for example. A query letter helps to identify this situation and stops you working flat out writing an article which stands no chance of being accepted through no fault of your own.

In this piece, I've included an example of one of my pitch letters. It's a real letter and it worked - it got me two commissions. It's so much more exciting writing an article that you know the editor is actually looking forward to seeing.

So to save yourself some heartache and time, click on this link to read the article in full, if you haven't had it already as an Ezee Writer subscriber.

Ezee Writer is a free email newsletter. To sign up, simply follow this link.

Good Luck!

Monday, 15 June 2009

Independent Booksellers Week

Here in the UK it's Independent Bookseller week, this week, so if you have an independent bookshop in your local town, then pop in and see what's going on.

As you can see from the picture, I've done my bit in my local bookshop already this week, signing books today. (Just mine - I hasten to add!)

But up and down the country, authors are supporting their local bookshops by selling books, standing behind the tills, taking customer orders or just offering tea and coffee.

Independent bookshops can find it difficult to compete on price against the major bookselling chains and websites like Amazon, however, they are able to offer a more individual service, with many regularly running author events, book clubs and book launches.

To find your nearest store taking part in this event click here.

Good luck!

Sunday, 14 June 2009

The Talking Writer

Firstly, I want to say congratulations to one of my students, Rosemary Wells, who won first prize in the poetry section of her local Arts Festival competition. Of course, as her non-fiction tutor, I had absolutely nothing to do with her poetry success, but every success is a success and one that should be shared, so well done Rosemary. And believe it or not, the trophy she's clutching here in this picture is the first trophy she's ever won, so I hope she puts it somewhere prominent on her mantle piece and points it out to everyone who walks into her home!

This posting is a little later than usual because for the past week I've been proofreading. I was approached to produce a Proofreading & Copy Editing correspondence course, which was great fun to do, although last week I must admit the fun element certainly wasn't there. It wasn't until I started proofreading, that I suddenly realised the implications of missing an error on a Proofreading & Copy Editing course! Talk about making my eyes go funny as I scrutinised every word!

And this is the problem with our work. We can read and re-read our work until we're blue in the face, and convince ourselves that it is perfect. And then four months later, when the editor rejects it, you read through the piece again and suddenly 3 more errors will jump out at you!

Many of my students will have read my advice in their assignment feedback, which is to read your work out aloud. Now it makes the neighbours think that you've gone completely doolally, talking to yourself, but it has it's benefits.

If you just read through your text, your eyes will 'see' what you THOUGHT you had written, not what you have 'ACTUALLY' written. This means that your eyes tend to gloss over any errors. Whereas, if you read work out aloud, you use a different part of the brain in order to say the words, so you stand more chance of actually 'hearing' what you've written.

Speaking text takes time, so you read more slowly than you do when reading with just your eyes.

Proofreading by talking also picks up those parts in your text where sentences are too long, or where there are complete words missing and they don't make sense. It can help you with your punctuation, whilst also picking up those words or phrases that you repeat without realising!

So next time you finish a manuscript, don't put it in an envelope just yet. Put it aside for a couple of days and then when you do come back to it, find yourself a quiet room and read your work out aloud. Your friends and family may think you've gone mad, but the editor at the receiving end of your submission won't know that!

Becoming a talking writer can also make you an error-free writer!

Good luck.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Scrutinise Your Published Pieces

When you are lucky enough to have a piece of work published, do you crack open the champagne, dance a merry dance and then count the days off until the cheque arrives?

No? Well you should do! But you should also take a look at your piece and see what the editor has done with it. Compare the printed version with the version you submitted. How does it differ?

"What do you mean - how does it differ?" I hear you cry. "Surely if the editor buys it, they buy what I've written, don't they?"

Well, yes they do, but remember that an editor is God and therefore God can do whatever he or she likes. Editors are wordsmiths and no one knows their magazines as well as they do, which means that they know what tweaks and amendments to make to really make the piece fit their readership. Alternatively, they may suddenly run out of space, but really like your article but only have room to use two thirds of it.

So, whenever you have anything published, sit down and see what has changed. I'm not saying that editors always make changes, there are many pieces of my work that get published as I submitted them. But there are pieces that are 'tweaked' from time to time. If your work is 'tweaked' look to see what the editor has done. Try to learn from this.

Some of you may recall that I produce a regular column for Country & Border Life magazine. In the early days, I noticed the editor was always changing my introductory paragraphs. When I realised what was happening and appreciated the style she was trying to achieve with the introductions, I tried submitting future work with my introductions written in that same style. A few months later I received an email from the editor thanking me for doing this. She'd spotted that I was constantly trying to improve my submissions.

Sometimes the changes are for production reasons. I've written articles for example publicising a literary festival, which an editor has accepted and then for various reasons not been able to use. But they've held onto them for another year and used them 12 months later. The editor went through and changed all of my references to the various talks and events that I'd advised readers were going to take place - because obviously they were now a year out of date!

Editors changing your work can also have other positive effects. I've sold a couple of short stories to an Australian magazine. These have been rejected by a British magazine. However, when I saw the published version in the Australian magazines I spotted the changes that the editors have made. Often, they're only subtle but it can be enough to make a huge difference to the story. For example, where I may have used 'he ran quickly', the editor may have changed this to 'he dashed' which is more exciting - and uses fewer words. What I've then done, is rewrite my English versions of the stories to include the changes made by the Australian editor and then resubmitted them to the British magazine. Hey presto! Two of my stories that the British mags had previously rejected have since been bought and published.

So scrutinising your published work can help you improve your writing technique, and also your own sales!

Good luck!