Monday, 29 March 2010

Book Review: No Contacts? No Problem!

I've just finished reading a book entitled,

No Contacts? No Problem! How to Pitch and Sell Your Freelance Feature Writing (Professional Media Practice)

by Catherine Quinn. (ISBN: 9781408123560)

In it, Catherine advises how to go about selling an idea to an editor before you've actually written the article (which those of you who have tackled assignment 5 of the Comprehensive Writing Course will know all about.)

For those of you who don't know, when you're earning a living from writing, writing a complete article in full first and then trying to sell it is time consuming. And as any businessman will tell you, time is money. So, to save yourself some time, freelance writers send 'pitches' to editors, whereby they sell the idea and if the editor likes it, they'll then ask the writer to write it. This saves time and enables you as the writer to slant the feature squarely at the editor's readers.

However, many novice writers feel they can't do this because they don't have a track record. They wrongly assume that the pitch needs to list their writing experience and that editors will only take interest if they've been published in Cosmopolitan, Vogue, The Sunday Times Magazine or Esquire, for example. In most cases you don't, you simply need a good idea - that's what an editor is really interested in.

Catherine Quinn's book works well at explaining the pitching process in detail and shows you how to word your pitches positively. There are a couple of things in her book that I disagree with - for example, she says that a writer should never offer an editor pictures. Her attitude is, a writer's specialty is words, a photographer's specialty is pictures so don't do a photographer out of a job. I disagree with that, knowing full well that on many occasions, my words have only been accepted by editors purely because I've sourced the pictures myself. And anyway - who says a writer can't be good at taking pictures? There's no law against it! I would agree that there are occasions when a writer can't produce the right sort of images. For example, if reporting from a war zone for a national newspaper, the writer needs to be engaged in writing what they see, (and staying alive), therefore a professional photographer would be better at capturing these pictures.

Quinn also goes onto provide a four week plan with a section at the end of each chapter on how to get started and demonstrates the need for keeping track of which ideas you have submitted to which publications.

Over all, it is a good grounding in the production of pitches, (particularly for the newspaper market), and how to make them grab the editor's attention. Her advice clearly works, because her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Observer, The Independent, The Times, The Mirror and Time Out.

If you don't want friends and family getting you chocolate for Easter this year, suggesting this title instead as a present could be a great move!

Good luck!

Monday, 22 March 2010


Congratulations to Vic, whose filler has been accepted by Take a Break's Fate and Fortune magazine. In his email, Vic says of the editor, "She asked me if I have a photo of me as a scout (as you predicted) - unfortunately I haven't. Her second choice is a photo of me as a boy. I have one of those and have emailed it to her."

I am obviously overjoyed for two reasons. Firstly, that Vic has done as the editor asked and found a picture that meets the editor's requirements, even if it isn't her first choice. As a result he will be published. The second reason is that it's nice to know that I was right!

Pictures are so important these days and not just for articles. The letter and filler market needs pictures just as much, if not more. A friend of mine had a picture published in a magazine once. It was of a sign. "Due to unforeseen circumstances, the Fortune Teller could not be here today." The picture says it all! You don't need anything else!

Whatever you submit, always ask yourself, do I have a picture that I can send with this? Often, especially for the letter pages, the pictures are quite small when they are published, so you don't need to have the photographic equipment of David Bailey or Lord Lichfield. Sometimes, a mobile phone image is enough.

Look out for funny signs, amusing situations or people just being silly. The chances are, the image and a sentence or two will net you £25, £50 or even more if you send it to the right place.Take a Break, That's Life, Real People, Pick Me Up and many more need photos for their letters pages, and some of the specialist hobby magazines like to see pictures of readers with their own magazines in unusual places.

So, next time you're just about to send something off, just stop and ask yourself - can I illustrate this in any way? As Vic has found out, you may not have the perfect image, but sometimes any second choice image is better than none.

Good luck ... and don't forget to smile!

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

And Repeat After Me ... "Of Course I Can"

Some time ago, I had a rare success - I sold a short story to an Australian magazine. Now, if I've had a success with a piece in one country, I try to replicate it again in another country. So, I've been trying some of the British magazines with this story and last week an editor emailed saying they liked the story - in fact - it was just the sort of story they liked using in the publication. However, (there's always a 'but' isn't there?), the editor felt that there was an element of the story that wasn't quite right. More explanation was required to clarify part of the plot to the reader. If I was prepared to resolve this query, then the editor would be happy to consider the piece again.

So, guess what I'm doing at the moment? Yes, I'm rewriting the short story. The editor has asked and I have replied, "Of course I can."

(This is also an interesting point about the subjectivity of editors. Remember, this short story has already been published in Australia and the Australia editor clearly thought that the plot made sense. So, publication isn't always black and white.)

Yesterday, I received an email from an editor of a magazine concerning an article I had submitted. I'd targeted a 1,000-word slot, but the editor has emailed to say that this slot will be full for the foreseeable future. However, he needed a 500-word piece and felt that my subject matter could work well here. Would I be happy to cut and rewrite my 1,000-word article to 500 words? And so I have replied with, "Of course I can."

Sometimes publication does not come about as we envisage it to. But, as long as you are prepared to be flexible, your chances of success are that much greater. Show an editor that you accept they are the customer (because they are - and as we all know - the customer is always right) and you'll have lots of happy, returning customers in the future.

Before I go, I would just like to flag up a television programme you may find interesting, that is being aired this Thursday, 17th March on Channel 4 at 9pm. It's a documentary called "The Lady and the Revamp" and it's a behind the scenes look at the changes that have been taking place over the past year at The Lady magazine. It could be a great insight into how the magazine works and what they hope to plan for the future!

(If you miss it, or if you are based abroad, you may be able to watch it after Thursday on the Channel 4 On Demand website at:

Good luck.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Eighth Place ... That's Not A Mistake

I had a pleasant surprise towards the end of last week. I discovered that one of my short stories had been placed in the final 8 of a competition. Now, I know many people would be disappointed with this. Surely a first, second or third would be better? Well yes, there's no denying one of those would have been more palatable especially as those positions come with cheques attached to them, but let's look at it another way. There were a total of 196 entries received by the competition, so my story was judged to be better than 188 of them. That puts it into perspective.

I've kept the note confirming this. I keep all my 'good news' correspondence, no matter how tentative the good news is. We all need a boost from time to time and when I need mine, I go to my achievement files. This is where I store all my published articles, stories, letters and competition wins and notifications. I like these files because they are what I call 'third party' reminders. These are judgments made by other people about my writing. If an article or short story is published, then the editor enjoyed it and agreed to pay me for it. That wasn't a friend or a relative telling me 'it was good' because that's what they thought I wanted to hear. This was someone in the business.

Every writer should keep an achievement file(s). It's the ideal antidote for when the postman brings those bulging stamped addressed envelopes back. Those editors may not have liked your work, so get your achievement file out and remind yourself that others thought you were worth publishing. If it makes you feel better, just tell yourself that the editor who has just rejected you has made a mistake. It's a mistake that they will have to live with. (Just ask the editors who rejected JK Rowling's Harry Potter, about making a mistake!)

Talking of mistakes, fellow WB tutor Alex Gazzola has just launched a blog called, Mistakes Writers Make. You can find it at and I would encourage you to take a look. Alex has also included some additional pages on his site offering details of a few international markets. He's been acting as a co-ordinator between tutors collating details of foreign markets that we've come across.

Alex makes some valid points in his postings so far, so not taking a peek, would certainly be a mistake!

Good luck!

Monday, 1 March 2010

Not Letting Go ...

On 16th June 2005, I submitted an article to a magazine. Two days later, the editor wrote back accepting it and expressing that he hoped to be able to use it in the issue after next (it was a quarterly publication I had approached.)

The issue after next came and went, but I thought nothing of it. Things can change at the last minute in the magazine industry. But two years later, in June 2007, I sent a gentle enquiry letter to the editor, asking if he had any plans to use it in the near future. I received an email a few days later, acknowledging my letter, apologising for the delay, but expressing a hope to use it in the next issue, if not, the one after that.

Fast forward two years to June 2009. The article still hadn't been published, so I sent another 'gentle' reminder asking if it would appear in a near future issue. Imagine my surprise then, when a deputy editor replied, saying that having checked their records, they could find no trace of my submission. If I would like to resubmit it, they would certainly consider my work. A duplicate copy was in the post by return.

A few days later, I had an email accepting my article (for the second time!)

You can therefore imagine my uneasiness when in January 2010, I received the latest issue of the magazine, containing a message from the editor - the new editor. The magazine had been sold and bought by a new company, with a completely new editorial team.

So, on 17th January 2010, I sent an email to the new editor enquiring whether the previous owners had passed on all of the paperwork, such as my previously accepted article. On 19th January, the new editor replied, advising me that having gone through the transferred paperwork, my article was not there! However, if I'd like to resubmit it, the new editor would be happy to consider it.

Frustrating as this was, I appreciated that none of this was the new editor's fault, so by return of email, I promptly enclosed yet another copy of my article. The following day, the editor replied, accepting it, and he hopes to use it in the autumn issue. I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn that I shall believe that, when I see it!

But this just goes to show how important it is to keep detailed records of where you send your work. Do you know what date you submitted which manuscript and to whom you sent it? When an editor accepts my work, I don't let go. And because I keep accurate records, when I query something, I query with confidence. Somebody in the relationship should be professional, after all!

Hopefully, this autumn will see the publication of an article that was originally accepted five years ago (for the first time!) but, if it isn't, I'll be on the case again. Whatever you do - when you have an acceptance - don't let it go!

Good luck!