Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Do You Know This Woman And Why Is She Looking At My Blog?

Why is this woman looking at my blog? Well hopefully she'll explain in the 'After Tea' session at the Caerleon Writers Conference!

Apologies for those of you who aren't there and won't understand this blog - I'll explain upon my return! Promise.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Overheard Conversations

Today's post has brought publication of one of those articles 'that just happened.'

You may recall from my post in April "Allow Yourself to get Sidetracked' that I mentioned you should let mind wander unhindered from time to time, just to see where it takes you.

I used the posting to mention a couple of 'snippets' of conversation that I'd heard whilst mountain climbing in the Lake District. Well, when I returned to my holiday accommodation one day, I wrote a short 500 word article about overheard conversations on a Lakeland path. Called 'The Things They Say' it enabled me to open the article with a great sentence that one woman said as she perspired her way past me ... "I want Julia Bradbury's bottom."

This is quite a simple article, merely a collection of comments heard whilst I was on the hills during the week's break, but it demonstrates that even the simplest of ideas can work well.

How many times are we told as writers to carry a notebook with us to jot down thoughts and comments? Well most of the comments I used in the article, I'd written in my notebook. It was only when I began flicking through the notes I'd made over the previous three days that made me realise how many I'd collected in a short space of time. If I hadn't written them down, I certainly wouldn't have remembered them, nor would I have thought I had enough for an article.

Setting out one snippet per paragraph, using the quote and setting the scene, created a short collection of anecdotes, ideal for my target market. In some way you could argue that I didn't write that article, but all those people I passed on those fell-side paths did.

So next time you hear something that amuses you, jot it down. We always say that overheard conversations can generate ideas, but in this case it generated a whole article.

I want to say congratulations to Sarah Hussellmann, who proudly declared when she submitted her seventh assignment to me this week, that's she's now earned more than her course fees from article sales. There's proof that it can be done!

Sarah has succeeded because she hasn't just looked at articles for her non-fiction work, she's also written press releases and reviews too, which have helped to boost her income. Sarah has also just launched her website - which is a must - for any freelance writer these days. Not only is it somewhere where you can advertise your services, but you can also showcase your work. Editors do look at websites - particularly if you've sent them a query letter suggesting an idea. So well done Sarah, and keep up the good work.

I'm taking a short break from posting on this blog, because next week I'm at the Writer's Holiday in Caerleon. I've been asked to run five workshops on "Travel and Other Feature Articles", which will keep me out of mischief!

However, on Sunday, the organisers asked me if I could help out by filling a gap in their schedule of lectures because unfortunately another writer had to drop out. So on Monday afternoon I will be trying to inspire all the delegates with my wisdom. That will probably take five minutes, which is a shame really, because it's an hour's slot I have to fill!

This year's event, the 25th, looks set to be another great time with writers like Katie Fforde, Jane Wenham-Jones, Lynne Hackles, Stephen Wade, Lesley Horton, Lucy Mangan, Zoe Sharp, Solange Hando, Sophie King, Della Galton, Kate Walker, Jane Pollard, Paul groves, Marina Oliver and Steve Bowkett sharing their knowledge and skills.

I'll let you know how it went, when I get back!

Good luck.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Double Vision

I mentioned in a post a couple of weeks ago, that I'd approached a magazine in America asking if I could buy some sample copies to examine. The editor liked my professional approach and kindly offered to send me a copy, free of charge, to look at.

Well this morning, two copies arrived in the post - the July 2009 issue and the September 2009 issue. Here's an editor who knows how to help a prospective writer! Analysing a magazine is an important way for us to identify who our target reader is. However, it's always best to analyse at least two copies of a publication you're considering writing for. Why?

To increase your chances of publication, you need to identify the 'slots' in the magazine that are freelance written. Studying more than one issue enables you to do this much more effectively. Literally, lay both issues of the magazine side by side and turn each page simultaneously. Do that and you'll spot the layout pattern of the magazine. The Letters page, for example, will usually be on the same page number each issue, the expert advice column and the news round up will too.

Turning the pages simultaneously like this will highlight the pages that do differ - i.e - the freelance written article pages. Once you've identified these, then you can go to work on analysing these articles in more detail. How long are they, do they use fact files or side panels, what style do they follow? Copy this format for your own submission and you know that not only are you targeting the right pages within the magazine, but you'll also stand more of a chance of having your work accepted because you're providing the right material in the right style at the right length.

Looking through the pages like this will also throw up the names of the regular contributors. What might look like a freelance written piece in one issue, can be spotted as a 'regular' column in two or more issues. For example, if you look at one issue of Country & Border Life magazine, you will see my feature article, walk and pictures. I'm listed in the front of the magazine under 'This Month's Contributors' which identifies me as a freelance writer, not staff. Look at another issue of the magazine and you'll see that I fill this slot every month, so although I'm a freelance contributor, those particular pages are regularly filled be me, rather than any other freelance writer. So if another freelancer were to try to submit something for these pages, the chances of acceptance are quite low. (I'm not going to say impossible - the editor is God, she can do what she likes and if the 'right' article comes across her desk then she may want to run with it!)

So looking at two different issues of the same magazine helps you to identify who the regular writers are, and then which pages they DON'T write. They're the ones you should be targeting.

For writers, double vision, can be truly enlightening!

Good luck.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Can You Help Me?

If you by any chance, happen to have bought the Saturday papers today (11th July), can you look through it for this picture? Why? Because it's one of mine!

I'm sure many of you know that I like to take pictures when I'm researching articles, but I'm not finished with them when I've sold the article. I try to upload as many as I can onto the Picture Agency website www.alamy.com.

Well, by pure chance, I happened to log onto the Alamy website today and discovered that this picture has been bought by a UK National Newspaper for use today. Unfortunately, when you make a sale on Alamy, you are not told who has bought the image - it is classified as confidential information between Alamy and the customer!

So if any of you happen to see it, I'm just curious as to which newspaper it appeared in!


Thursday, 9 July 2009

John's Just Stepped Out of his Comfort Zone

On Monday, I posted an opportunity for writers living in the Northern Ireland and East of England areas to pitch ideas to the BBC Countryfile magazine.

Well, I've just received an email from one of my past students, John.

Hi Simon,
Having read your latest blog post concerning BBC Countryfile magazine I contacted the editor with an idea for an article on Belfast's Cave Hill. I don't know why but I didn't fancy my chances of even raising an eyebrow. However, I received an email telling me that she thought my idea would be suitable for the December issue. Happy days, I thought.

As I continued reading she informed me that they are always looking for new writers from N Ireland and was pleased to hear from me. She has included a list of themes for future issues (up to December next year), and wants me to come up with ideas for each one. She also wants to see some samples of my work and is sending me a recent copy of the mag.

I'm so excited at the minute that I can barely think never mind put an idea together, so I think I'll take a few days to mull it over before putting anything on paper.
But I'm totally stunned, getting the offer to write for a magazine like this is a dream come true. I know that there's nothing definite yet but it has proved to me that I can generate some interest in my work if I try.

This neatly links into the post I made earlier about stepping outside of your comfort zone. John's email clearly shows that he'd had never have considered approaching BBC Countryfile magazine before. But he did. He stepped out of his comfort zone and took the risk. Not only may his original idea be used later on in the year, but this could become a regular market for him. By stepping outside of his comfort zone, John's created a brand new writing opportunity.

Good luck!

Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone

Are you comfortable with your writing? If so, there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think every writer should have their own comfort zone - an area of writing where they enjoy writing and submitting work. Psychologically, we need that comfort zone to turn to when things aren't going as well as they could be. But are you purely existing within your comfort zone?

One of my students, Jackie, recently said to me that she found it difficult looking for new markets. I'd commented that the work she was submitting for her assignments was mainly aimed at the specific reader slots - where editors ask for reader's contributions. Think back to the Observer's 'My Crap Holiday' slot that I and so many of my students had success with last year. These are great sections within a magazine to target because you know that the editor is actively seeking material for that section.

Jackie was targeting these slots and having some success, however, this meant that she was writing relatively short pieces - most of these reader slots are between 250 and 500 words. In my opinion, this had become Jackie's comfort zone.

We need to break out of our comfort zones as much as possible. Without stretching our writing muscles, we don't learn new techniques. We don't know what we are capable of. Being self-employed certainly helps you to step outside that zone. If ever I'm asked what inspires me to write, I simply hand out my credit card bill!

I'm currently writing a correspondence course. Now this is something that had never even crossed my mind when I became a full time writer over five years ago. But when someone rings you up and says, "Could you write this for us?" the self-employed section of the brain utters the word 'Yes' before the rest of the brain has a chance to catch up.

The correspondence course I am writing now is my second. Having completed the first earlier this year, when I was asked to do another one, I wasn't quite so scared saying 'Yes' this time. Which brings me to my next point.

What starts out as being outside of your comfort zone, could soon become part of your comfort zone. If you succeed in pushing your boundaries - then the comfort zone inside them becomes much bigger. This means that over time, we become more relaxed about writing in a wide variety of styles and formats.

I suggested to Jackie that she needs to get back to writing longer articles. If you find yourself in a similar situation, start analysing the magazines again for those freelance written articles. Find out where in the magazine those slots are and then come up with an idea for a feature. Have a go at drafting a piece.

If you get stuck, stop what you're doing, go back to your comfort zone and write something for a market you're happy writing for. Then come back to this piece that is stretching you, and continue. Eventually, you'll produce a piece that you can submit. And when you've done that, reward yourself by writing something else in your comfort zone.

So if you write cosy romantic stories, have a go at writing a thriller, or a twist in the tale. If you write humorous articles, try writing something more factual. Could you write something for a national newspaper, if you're used to writing for magazines?

Step out of your comfort zone from time to time and expand your markets. It won't be easy, but you will benefit from it. Do it enough times and your comfort zone will get bigger. The more markets you write for, the better your chances of success. Limit your comfort zone and your narrow the writing opportunities that are out there.

Good luck.

Monday, 6 July 2009

New Opportunities

Well it's been a while since I last posted, mainly because I was taking a short break on the Costa Del Dorset last week for a traditional family seaside holiday. But whilst I was down south, I took the opportunity to meet a friend of mine, Penny Legg, and her 'Writing Buddies' who meet at the Borders bookstore in Southampton every fortnight.

It was great to meet them all and they were all so friendly and welcoming. As the author of "Running A Writers' Circle" I'm a fan of writers' circles, and whilst 'Writing Buddies' are not a traditional writers' circle, they still carry out one of the key elements of a writers' circle - a networking opportunity with like-minded people. It's surprising how much you can learn, just from chatting to people.

Congratulations on 'Writing Buddies' plug on page 20 of the latest issue of Writer's News magazine too!

Whilst I was away there were some interesting emails that dropped into my inbox, which I thought I'd share with you.

BBC Countryfile magazine is looking for contributors for the East of England region and also the Northern Ireland area for its 'Great Days Out' section. This is a section that I have contributed to on several occasions and it's a prestigious magazine to be in. Great days out can be walks, cycle rides or even long car drives. To see the sort of thing they are looking for visit the following pages of their website.

If it looks like the sort of thing you can help them out with then contact the outdoors editor, Jo Tinsley at outdoors@bbccountryfile.com.

The latest issue of Writers News also mentions an American based History magazine group called History Net. Ironically, I'd come across these before I went away and tried to purchase some back copies from their website. However, their website only allows purchases to be made from a USA or Canadian postal address. Not to be out smarted I sent an email to the editor, clearly stating that I was a UK based writer interested in contributing to the magazine, but was having difficulty in obtaining some back copies to look at to analyse for style and content purposes. Here's what the editor said in her email that was waiting for me upon my return:

Hello Simon,

Thank you for your inquiry. Smart man to do your homework.

Yes, British Heritage does accept freelance material, but we are a very difficult market. I receive more good ideas and material in a fortnight than we could publish in a year. Still, every editor is always looking for the next great story and writer.

If you’d like to send along a mailing address, I would be happy to post you copies of our recent issues.

Best regards,

Result! See, proof that if you don't ask you don't get. And whilst she's pointed out that she gets deluged with ideas, my approach to her like this had demonstrated that I am professional in my work. Perhaps she'll remember me when I pitch some ideas to her then!

Remember, there are no short cuts to market analysis in this game, but any work you do put in will be rewarded.

Good luck!