Monday, 28 June 2010

The Long Game

I mentioned last year about an approach I'd made to an American publication, British Heritage magazine, and the editor had kindly sent me two issues for me to analyse before I pitched some ideas to him.

A few weeks after receiving the copies and studying the magazines, I made my pitch. I suggested three ideas, which I hoped would be of interest. Unfortunately, the editor replied stating that he'd already covered two of them within the previous year, and the third idea didn't fire him up enough for him to want to proceed with it. He then went on to say that the competition from writers to get an article in his magazine was fierce, and therefore I shouldn't be disappointed with his response.

Now, although I was disappointed, (we all like it when editors turn around and say 'yes') I accepted that these things happen. Far better for me to pitch these ideas and discover that the magazine had already covered them, than spend the time writing the articles and sending them off, only to discover a few weeks later that I'd been wasting my time. As for the third idea, well, not every idea works despite the effort you put into slanting it to fit a particular magazine's readership.

Now, I've been meaning to pitch some more ideas to the editor again, but every time I came up with a selection, I would visit the magazine's website and see what topics they were covering in the 'current' issue - only to discover features on the subjects I was going to pitch! That was immensely frustrating! (But at least it proves I was thinking along the right lines!)

Last week, I thought I'd have another go and came up with three new ideas. A quick check on the magazine's website suggested that the current and previous issue weren't tackling these areas, so I sent them off.

The editor replied the same day. He didn't like two of the ideas, but the third intrigued him. Could I tell him a bit more? (Er ... yeah!) Twenty four hours later, I had my commission. He liked what I'd proposed and a contract is in the post. And he took the opportunity to tell me that my pitch is only the third he's accepted from a UK-based writer this year. Which just goes to show that sometimes, when you first approach a magazine, it's the start of a very long game. Don't let the first knock backs put you off. Keep trying. It will be worth it in the end.

Good luck!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Critical Letters Can Be Positive ... But Not Necessarily Environmentally Friendly!

Assignment 4 asks students to produce letters for three magazine letters pages, and one student, Sarah, had success with all three of hers. One of her letters, was to the Sunday Times Travel magazine, criticising an article in a previous issue.

The article was called, "The World's 50 Best Beaches" and Sarah argued an article that included only one beach from a country as large as Australia, was misinforming its readers.

She then went on to list three more beaches in Australia, which she'd been to, and described the various sights and experiences that can be had there.

Not only was Sarah's letter published, but she's also won a prize (a rather expensive luggage set). Some of my students say they only write positive letters, in order to get published, but whilst on the face of it, Sarah's letter is critical of what the original article left out, it's also a positive one, because it demonstrates that there are more than 50 Best Beaches in the world! And now, thanks to her letter, the editor has been given the opportunity of passing this information onto his readers.

The Letters Page is frequently used as somewhere to 'update' readers. We all know from article writing, that word counts force us to make a decision between what is included and what we have to leave out. Sometimes, the letters page offers the editor an opportunity to mention something that had to be cut. Perhaps a particular point of view or angle wasn't mentioned. Perhaps a point wasn't explained clearly. Or perhaps a too much emphasis was placed on out of date information.

Sarah's letter was critical from the point that the writer's mention of only one beach in Australia was mere tokenism to this country. But she used the letter to pass on more information to readers that the writer was unable to do, thus making it informative too. Proof therefore, that it is possible to get published and be critical at the same time.

I've had a letter success this month in BBC Countryfile magazine too. But the reason I'm mentioning it is that it raises an interesting issue. My letter was chosen as the star letter in the June issue of the magazine and my prize was a picnic set. It was delivered at the end of last week, by DHL, and I was intrigued to know from where it had come. Using the DHL tracking number, I was amazed to learn that my prize left Denmark and was flown to Leipzig in Germany, from where it was flown to Birmingham International Airport. It then continued its journey by road.

I can honestly say that when I wrote my letter, it never crossed my mind that were it to win, it's carbon footprint would be quite so large!

Good luck!

Friday, 18 June 2010

Structural Success

For tips on how to structure an article, read my advice in the June issue of the Ezee Writer e-zine:

Good luck!

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Independent Booksellers Week

Just a quick post to remind you that it is Independent Booksellers Week this week, where authors are going into their local independent bookshops and creating complete mayhem!

Pictured here, is a very patient Ros, owner of Burway Books, trying to teach me the intricacies of ordering books from the distributors for her customers. I hope I entered them correctly, otherwise the Vicar's wife could end up getting Frankie Boyle's biography, My S**t Life So Far, whilst the local pub landlord will end up with Religion for Dummies.

They also let me loose on the tills, so Ros is clearly up for a late night tonight, trying to balance the thing at the end of the day, after I've finished with it. (I was a bit confused when the till was recommending that I gave back more money to the customers in change, than they gave me in the first place. Oh well.)

Seriously, it's great to be given this opportunity to go and 'help' (!) out at our local bookshops, when they do so much hard work for us authors. If you want to find out about the events that are taking place in your area, visit and type in your post code. It's so important that our local independent bookshops are supported ... especially after the authors have created so much chaos this week!

Good luck.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Happy New Year!

Yes, it's that time of year again, just as everyone has got used to writing the date as 2010, out come all the 2011 writing handbooks!

If you've never come across the annual yearbooks, then firstly, read Alex Gazzola's excellent review of The Writer's Handbook, on his blog.

There are several of these books on the market, the longest running is the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook (often abbreviated to WAYB). It's 2011 edition comes out at the end of this month and is the 104th year it has appeared on the shelves.

You may also come across the Writer's Market UK, although it looks like there will not be a 2011 edition. (In my opinion, having 3 such books aimed primarily at the UK market, is a little overkill.)

As Alex alludes to in his posting, a similar guide exists for the USA market, the Writer's Market 2011, published by Writers Digest, and it's possible to obtain a copy of Australia's handbook The Australian Writer's Marketplace, which provides similar listings too.

What I think is important about these books, is that they are great 'starting points'. The reason, I'm blogging about this subject today, so soon after Alex's review of the latest handbook is because this morning the postman delivered a batch of student assignments. The first one was from a student who said, "I've found XXX magazine in the WAYB, so I'm going to send it to them."

Wrong. These books do not replace the need to buy the magazines. They simply bring to your attention possible markets for you to consider. As Alex says in his post, standing in WHSmiths, or any large newsagent, can be overwhelming. Sitting down with these yearbooks can be less daunting.

But they are not the writer's panacea to avoiding market analysis. You still need to go out and buy the magazine and look at it.

The problem with these handbooks is because they are books, which need the information collating, proofreading, layout and designing and then printing, it's quite possible for a lot of the information to be out of date. A handbook may be labeled as the 2011 edition, but some of the information may have been collated back in 2009.

Which is why they make excellent starting points. The name of the editor may have changed since the book was published, but the handbook will give you an address and phone number so that you can ring up to check, and usually a website too, so you can begin your market analysis there.

They contain other articles too, often commenting on current trends and thoughts in the publishing business, and these can be immensely useful.

I would recommend purchasing as least one of the UK handbooks and the USA one too. (One sale to a magazine will cover this cost, which is also a tax-deductable expense, if you're writing to make money.)

But bear in mind that the directory listings you're getting in these books may not be up-to-date. The publishers are aware of this, and make some of the information available online.

Because the American and Australian versions charge, you get all the market listing information contained within the book. The benefit of having access to the online version is that when anything is updated, you have immediate access to it, you don't have to wait until the next edition is printed.

So, do invest in one or two of these handbooks. They are immensely useful. But don't think that they are a shortcut to market research.

Good luck.

Monday, 7 June 2010

The Subjective Art

Creativity is subjective. What works for one person, may not work for someone else. You may recall back in March I wrote a post about agreeing to rewrite a piece of text when an editor asks. ( In this post, I mentioned how I'd sold a short story to Australia, and now I was trying to sell it here in the UK. The UK editor had liked the story, but there were aspects he didn't feel were quite right and wanted the text rewritten.

Now, the short story had already been published in Australia, so the Australian editor didn't have a problem with it. But the UK editor did, so I rewrote the story, trying to clarify the points he found confusing. Sadly, upon taking a second look, that editor decided that the story still didn't work for him.

A few weeks later though, I heard that the editor at this publication had changed, so I submitted the same story to the new editor ... who bought it, and I've just banked the money today.

So, two different editors at the same publications made different decisions. What worked for one editor didn't work for another. We all have our personal likes and dislikes and editors are no different. In the past, I've successfully sold an article to the third editor at the same publication where the previous two editors had rejected it.

Next time you hear about a change of editor, consider resubmitting some of your previously rejected work. You never know - the new editor may like it.

Good luck.