Monday, 26 December 2011

Start Jotting for Christmas 2012.

Happy Boxing Day!

To paraphrase a line from a Christmas nursery rhyme, Christmas is over and we're all getting fat, so thinking about Christmas 2012 might not be at the top of your agenda today. However, the writer in you should be busy jotting down notes.

Many of you are aware that magazines start preparing their Christmas issues as early as June, however, it can be difficult sitting in a heatwave, trying to think about Christmas. The trick is to take out your notebook and make notes now. Go on! Shift your bottom from your comfy chair - you don't really need to be slumped in front of the television watching the repeat of yesterday's Eastenders or Coronation Street.  And you don't need to worry about the children, because they're still playing with the cardboard boxes yesterday's toys came in.

Grab your notebook and pen, and jot down all you see, smell, hear, taste and feel. All you need are bullet points, although if you want to write more, then go for it. Things to consider are:


  • Advent calendars
  • The Nativity
  • Christmas trees
  • The spicy aroma of Mulled wine
  • Christmas lights
  • Mince Pies
  • Mistletoe
  • Wrapping paper
  • Mess!
  • An elderly relative snoring ... in front of the Queen
  • Turkey
  • More Turkey
  • Eggnog
  • Children arguing
  • More Turkey
  • Chocolates
  • The Queen's Speech
  • Candles
  • The snap of Christmas crackers
  • The groan at the so-called joke inside it
  • Carols
  • Midnight Mass
  • Even More Turkey
  • and so on....
It's far easier to make these notes whilst everything is in front of your eyes, nose and ears. See how much you can jot down in ten minutes. Ten minutes of notes now will save you so much time next June!

Have your camera to hand too. If you have any top tips for stuffing a turkey, take a photo now, while you're stuffing it. It'll be much more difficult to take a photo in June! Likewise, if you're writing a travel article about visiting a destination at Christmas, get out now and take photos of that place with the Christmas lights and decorations all up. Take photos of the Christmas shop windows displays.

A little preparation now, will come in immensely useful later in 2012 when you begin thinking about articles and short story ideas for next Christmas. And if you suddenly find yourself drafting the first version of your article or short story, even better! Put the draft aside for a couple of months, and let the editing begin when the decorations have been taken down, and the New Year Resolutions long forgotten.

Now you can put your feet up and relax, smug in the knowledge that you're prepared. All that's left to do is start tackling that teetering pile of Turkey sandwiches.

Good luck!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

Just a quick post to say Merry Christmas to you all, and thank you for your posts and comments on my blog this year. I hope you have a great time and that 2012 will be the year when many of you achieve your writing dreams.

Best wishes,

Simon

Monday, 19 December 2011

Dear Santa

So, have you written your Christmas list yet?

I write two Christmas lists. One I give to my family listing what I would like from them (and I never know what to put on it, so it gets shorter every year, therefore I must be getting old) and the other one is for me. This second list is the one where I identify what I want to give to myself over the following year, through my writing. (This one seems to get longer every year.)

This year, I wanted to secure a publishing contract for a new non-fiction book. I can tick that off my list (more about which, next month). I also wanted to go to a new writing conference - and I did - which gave me access to a literary agent who offered me some good advice.

Another present I wanted to give to myself, was to learn more about the Amazon Kindle, and self-publish a second e-book - which I have also achieved this year, and seen sales too.

This is the time of year when many look back at what they've achieved over the last 12 months, before trying to gaze in to the future and identify what they hope to achieve in the coming year. But instead of creating a set of New Year Resolutions, why not write down an extra Christmas list for yourself, detailing the writing presents that you will give yourself over the next 12 months?

This does two things:
  • Writing it down helps you to focus on what you want to achieve.
  • It reminds you that you're the only one who can give yourself that present. (If you want to write an article every month, then only you can give yourself this present by sitting down and writing one ... every month!)
When we reach a certain age in childhood, we discover that Santa is not the well-fed chap with the bright red outfit and the facial hair problem. Christmas presents do not materialise down the chimney one night. They happen because real people make them happen. They go out and battle the crowds of shoppers to buy them, or they go to the effort of making a hand-made gift to give to you. So, if you create a Christmas list of what you want with your writing next year, just remember that Santa won't be the one to deliver it to you - only real people - you - can make that happen.

And this is where your first Christmas list comes in - the one you give to friends and family identifying the gifts you'd like to receive from them. Choose carefully, and those gifts could help you give yourself the present you want from your writing next year. If you're still stuck for things to put on your Christmas list of presents that others can buy for you, here are a couple of ideas:
  • A subscription to a writing magazine (Writing Magazine, The New Writer, Writers Forum.) When your creativity is flagging, the next issue will help reinvigorate your muse.
  • Notebooks, pens, and Post-It notes to help you to jot down those inspirational ideas.
  • Useful writing books (more of which, next month :-) but here's some ideas, in no particular order or preference).
  • Ask friends, or relatives, to buy you a ticket to a literary festival event.
  • Or perhaps, they don't have to give you anything of financial value - they can simply give you an IOU - I Owe You two hours of peace and quiet, so that you can write!
So, over the next few weeks, while everyone is busy watching the repeat of Mary Poppins or The Great Escape, why not take a bit of time to think about the writing gifts you'd like to give yourself over the next 12 months?

Good luck.


Monday, 12 December 2011

Don't Beware The Idea Snatcher!

In the latest issue of Writing Magazine there's a great article by Helen Yendall about ideas and the fear of someone 'snatching' your idea. Essentially, her advice is to 'get over it', and I have to agree. For some of my newer students, this may come as a shock.

Idea theft is something that many new writers fear. Indeed, I have had one writer say to me, "I'm not sending off my article in case the editor pinches my idea." Well that's fine, do what you want, but what was the point of writing the article in the first place if you're not going to send it off? If all writers kept their ideas to themselves, fearing the editor would steal their ideas, then nothing would be published!

There is no copyright in ideas. An idea isn't something that is 'tangible'. Not until you write it down. Then it becomes tangible and you own the copyright in the way you have expressed that idea.

It is rare for an exact idea to be copied. It is common for many writers to have similar ideas. The 7th February 2012 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens. In the next few weeks we're going to be bombarded with articles, TV programmes, radio programmes, Internet articles about the writer. That's not to say that the writers of these TV and radio programmes, and articles, have stolen the idea from each other. They haven't. They'll have taken the theme of Charles Dickens and applied a different angle to create their idea.

We're all individuals. Our life experiences are unique to us. And it is those unique experiences that enable us to put our own individual twist on those ideas.

If you don't think this is possible, go to a writers' group, creative writing class, or workshop. There, you'll be given an idea. (In fact, you'll probably be given many!) You might have to take it away with you and write it up for the next meeting, or if it's a workshop, you may only have an hour to write something. But remember this: everyone is given the same basic idea. But when it comes to reading them out, every writer will have applied their own experiences and thoughts to the idea, and you'll hear that everyone's final written piece is completely different.

With ideas, it's all about what you do with them. Don't sit on them. Don't hoard them. Do something with them. Get them written and get them out there. And if you find another writer has had a similar idea to you, don't get angry about it. Get over it. Be pleased with yourself, because you're clearly thinking along the right lines!

Good luck!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Back Up ... Back Up ... Back Up ...

Of the many nightmares a writer can have, losing all of our work must be one of the most frightening. Especially if it is a big project, like a novel, non-fiction book, or a series of articles.

But there are some online services which can prove useful to writers in several ways too. Dropbox (www.dropbox.com) offers registered users 2 gigabytes of storage, online, for free. It is possible to increase this to 8Gb for free, although further space is available for a fee. I find the free 2Gb is perfectly adequate for how I use it.

Dropbox installs a folder on your computer. (It works with all operating systems). Whatever you save in that folder is automatically saved and copied to an identical folder online. So, should your hard drive suddenly decide to go up in smoke (which has happened to me in the past) all is not lost. You simply switch on another computer and connect to your online Dropbox account, and you are up and running again.

Dropbox also allows you to work on the same project on different computers. When you have a Dropbox account, any computer you work on, can be linked to this. I have a desktop computer and a laptop, and so I have my Dropbox folder on both. If I'm working on a project on my desktop computer, when I save it, the updated copy is uploaded to my online Dropbox folder. Then, when I next switch on my laptop, one of the first things my laptop does is update the copy of the file from the online folder. This means that whichever computer I happen to be using, I can work with the current copy of the text. And should the worst happen, there's always a recent copy on my online folder.

I don't save everything to Dropbox. I save any current 'big' projects to my Dropbox folder, such as novels and non-fiction books. (They're the ones I would be most devastated about, if my computer were to suffer a catastrophe!)

There's also another online service called SugarSync. (www.sugarsync.com) It, too, enables you to use free online storage space (about 5Gb for free - more storage space can be acquired for a fee) as a back up to your work. Unlike Dropbox where you have to put the files you want backed up into one specific folder on your computer, SugarSync works differently - you tell it which of your existing folders you want it to back up. So by using a combination of the two free services can provide you with a more than adequate amount of back up space for your text.

Don't just rely on these online services though. Always take extra back up precautions. I save a complete copy of my work once a week, on two different hard drives, which means that the important files on Dropbox are backed up every time I save them (several times a day) and then again, when everything else is backed up weekly.

So, don't have nightmares - back up frequently!

Good luck.

Monday, 28 November 2011

A Spooky Way To Write?

Ghost writing has nothing to do clanking chains, wailing spirits hiding under dust sheets, or skeletons getting up and boogying about in churchyards. It's actually about offering your skills as a writer to somebody else. However, your name doesn't get credited with the writing - instead that goes to the person who you're doing the writing work for. So, what's in it for the writer? Well, money. (Hopefully.)

Ghost writing is more common than you probably think. Many a celebrity memoir has been ghost written by a 'jobbing' writer. Hunter Davies has written the 'autobiographies' of Wayne Rooney, Paul Gascoigne and John Prescott.

But, it's not just celebrities who need writers to write their words for them. If you think about it, everyone has a story to tell (just look at the true life magazines on the shelf every week). But not all of these people are good with words ... or writing them down and putting them into sentences that tell a compelling tale. Which is where the you, the ghost writer, come in.

Ghost writing is a business transaction. A writer offers their writing skills for payment. One of Lynne Hackles' first ghostwriting jobs was to write a love letter on behalf a friend. Her payment was a jam doughnut. Since then, Lynne's gone on to ghostwrite many other projects (this time for money), which she fits in around all of her other writing projects (short stories for magazines like Fiction Feast, columns for Writing Magazine, and many, many more).

It's possible to ghost write anything - a love letter, a best man's speech, an article, short story, autobiography, even a novel. If you would like to know more, I can recommend Lynne Hackles' book, Ghost writing. Here she tells how she began ghost writing, and demonstrates that many jobs are quite ordinary (just don't have your client hand over the cash in the window of a coffee shop, for all of your friends to see ... as Lynne once did. It gives a whole new meaning to 'services rendered'!). The book also has quotes from other ghost writers, each giving advice and tips for this line of work.

If you enjoy writing, and have never ghost written before, then Lynne's book will help lay down the groundwork, that many other ghosts have taken years to discover.

Good luck.

Monday, 21 November 2011

I'll Put That Bit There ... Part 6

For the final posting in this I'll Put That Bit There mini-series, I wanted to look at Headers and Footers. If you're submitting your text to an editor within the main body of an email, (by cutting and pasting it, for example) then you don't need to worry about headers and footers in your manuscript. However, for many fiction manuscripts, when you have to submit a hard copy of your text, headers and footers are important.

Some magazines that accept short stories prefer manuscripts to be paper clipped together, not stapled. If you're sending a book manuscript to an agent, or publisher, then most of them stipulate that printed pages should not be bound in any way. (They do this because it makes it easier for them to read the text, not to annoy you.) However, the drawback of this is that it's much easier to lose a page or to drop the entire manuscript and have to pick up the pages one by one. Heaven forbid the writer who hasn't numbered the pages in either the header or the footer, in that situation!

If you're using Microsoft Word, to view the Header section of your manuscript, go to View, then select Header and Footer from the drop down menu. Word will take you to the header, to begin with. (For other word processing packages, checkout the Help section for 'Headers and Footers'.)

What should you put in your header? Well, on the right hand side of the page I type my surname, the manuscript title (or an abbreviated version if it is quite long) and the page number. So, my header will look something like this:

Whaley / Manuscript Title / Page Number

Whatever text you enter into your headers and footers, it will appear like this on EVERY page. (It is possible to set this up so that it doesn't print headers and footers on the first page, if you give your manuscript a cover sheet, or title page.)

This means that if you manually type in 1, for page 1, then every page will have 1 on it. So, for automatic page numbering in Word, go to Insert and select Page Numbers from the drop down menu. This will automatically insert the correct page number on each page.

In the footer of the manuscript, I insert a method of contact, usually my email address. That's in case a cover sheet with all of your contact details goes astray. Does this happen? Yes! Read this post here. You can't expect every editor to go to the lengths this editor went to, to track down this writer, when her cover sheet was separated from the main manuscript. At least by putting some contact detail (email address or telephone number) in the footer, you know it will appear on every page of the document.

One final word of warning. Competitions. If you enter manuscripts into competitions, check your headers and footers. Most competitions judge entries blindly - so they do not want any marks on the manuscript that can be used to identify the writer - that means any names or contact details in headers and footers should be removed! Failure to do so, could result in your entry being disqualified, and that's a waste of your entry fee. Simply put the title in your header, along with the page number.

Using headers and footers means that should an agent decide to drop your manuscript across the floor of her homeward-bound train, or if a competition judge opens a window and lets the fresh air blow all the entries across to the other side of the room (both such situations have happened), then at least you know your manuscript can be brought back together again, without too much trouble.

Good luck!

Monday, 14 November 2011

I'll Put That Bit There ... Part 5

I often say to magazine and non-fiction book writers that offering photos with your submissions not only increases your chances of publication (because picture sourcing is immensely time consuming and therefore you're making the editor's job easier), but it can also increase your fee too.

Magazines are visual products these days (getting side tracked - did you buy last week's copy of Woman's Weekly magazine, which included a copy of its first issue over 100 years ago? Yes it had pictures, but there were an awful lot more words in it than today's magazine has!) so page layout is important. Photos and pictures help with this. But you are not the page layout designer, so you do not need to worry about where to put your photos in your script.

In fact, you do not 'insert' your photos anywhere into your word processing document. Magazines cannot take the photo from your word processing document and then use it successfully in their page layout software. When you import a photo into your word processor, there's a high chance that the word processor will process the image and throw away some of the data, so that your document does not become some humongous 56 gigabyte file! Magazines need high quality images and those inserted into documents are not as high quality as they could be.

When inserting images into a word processor, many then start moving the text around the image, which goes on to create other formatting problems within your document.

Giving a magazine the largest file size you can provide offers them flexibility. With a large file size, they may be able to use the image as a double-page spread Like so:



They can also use the image much smaller, if that's what they prefer. What they can't do, is take a smaller thumbnail image and use it as a double page spread. Once you start enlarging an image, the quality deteriorates quickly. And if the quality isn't in the image in the first place, because it has been placed into some word processing software, then it is practically unusable.

So, if you have suitable images, save them as individual files on your computer in JPEG format. When you save them, give them a useful file name that includes the following:

  • A unique reference number
  • A suitable caption
  • Clarification as to who owns the copyright
The photo in the top of this posting is one page of a six-page feature I wrote for Discover Britain magazine. The image of the unusual AA phone box was saved as follows:

IMG_0001 - The 1920 AA Phone box in Eardisland- Herefordshire - by Simon Whaley

When I wrote the feature, at the end of my article text, I added a subheading, List of Illustrations, and then I listed the file name of every image I was supplying with my accompanying article.

This is sufficient for an editor to identify which images they want to use, whilst also giving them enough information to caption the image on the page. There is no need to insert any images within your document anywhere.

I usually burn the images onto a CD Rom, although this is mainly because my camera has 21 mega pixels, so the average size of each of my photos is about 18 megabytes (and I supplied the editor with nearly 30 photos for this feature) so emailing this many images would bring down my own email account along with the magazine's too!

If you're pitching an editor with an idea and you have photos available, it can be useful to attach low resolution images to your email pitch, to give the editor a flavour of the types of images you have available. I always ask how the editor prefers to receive large-sized files. Some stipulate CD Rom submission, some will say it's okay to email if there are not too many images, whilst some magazines operate a specific email address for photos only. (Another reason for not inserting the images into your text!).

So next time you want to include images with your article, all you need to do is list the unique reference number, the image caption, and who owns the copyright in the photo at the bottom of your article. You do not need to insert the photos into your text where you think they ought to go. Just ask the editor how they prefer to receive image files and then follow their instructions.

Good luck.

Monday, 7 November 2011

I'll Put That Bit There ... Part 4

Editors love bonus material - text that can be used to break up the page with further information, fascinating facts or practical what-to-do-next steps. These are referred to by a variety of names such as further information panels, boxouts, sidebars, or fact file boxes.

When you analyse a target publication, look out for these sections. Travel magazines practically always have them. This is where readers can find out which airlines fly to that destination, what the website address is for the local tourist board, or the websites for the tourist attractions mentioned in the article. Boxouts and sidebars are also used to provide extra quirky information. Take a look at the picture here - it's fact file at the end of a long article about Scotland, and is headed up as Top 10 Uninhabited Islands. This is extra information that does not appear within the main article.

If you see a magazine regularly uses these fact files, or boxouts, then you need to consider including one, or more, with your proposed article. And if you're targeting a travel magazine that has a standard sidebar of practical information for potential travellers with headings like:


  • How To Get There
  • Where To Stay
  • Where To Eat
  • What To Do
  • What To Avoid
... then you need to provide this information, with those headings, too.

But, you don't need to put this information in a box. Don't insert a Text Box into your manuscript, with a border all the way around, and then enter your information. Just give the information. 

The safest way to do this is to put this information at the end of your article, after your concluding paragraph. Drop down a couple of lines and then give your Further Information Panel a heading. So, in the example in the photo here, the writer would simply have typed the heading:

Top 10 Uninhabited Islands.

You do not need to put in parentheses afterwards (boxout information) or (suitable for a side panel). Editors are quite clever and will be able to work it out, especially if you're following the format that the magazine uses for every article within its pages!

Then, underneath this heading, type the information that you're giving. In this Top 10 Uninhabited Islands example, you'll see that the text is bullet pointed. How the text is displayed in the magazine is down to the editor, or the page layout designer. You can use bullet points, although personally, if my headings have a number in them I number each point - the last thing I would want to do is offer ten top tips and only provide nine! What you don't need to do is use a different font size, or even a different font. Stick to the same font and size you have used throughout the rest of the article.

If you want to offer another boxout, then simply give that a new subheading and write the information underneath it.

So, remember. Further information panels, side bars, boxouts, or whatever you want to call them, come at the very end of your article, and the information they contain does not need to be inside a box, table, or grid.

Good luck.

Monday, 31 October 2011

I'll Put That Bit There ... Part 3

Double spacing. Why do we do it? And what exactly is it?

Well, first things first: double spacing is NOT two spaces between every word, or sentence.

Double spacing means having a blank line between each line of text.


The image here shows how to set it up in Microsoft Word, although many other word processors operate in a similar fashion. In Word, go up to Tools, select Paragraph and the following window will appear.

About half way down the window are the options for spacing. In the middle of this section is the drop-down menu for line spacing. Select the arrow, and then choose Double from the drop down list.

THAT'S IT! Yes, that is all there is to it. (Okay, I lie, you also have to press OK at the bottom, too.)

DO NOT select anything in the boxes to the left, labelled Before or After. These need to be left at 0pt. (I've explained why in last week's post - I'll Put That Bit There ... Part 2)

So, why do we use double-spacing? Basically, because it's tradition. It's what writers always have done, since the days when anything printed, be it newspaper, magazine, or book, was published using hot metal presses. An editor would take a double-spaced typescript, use the extra space between each sentence to annotate to the typesetter any changes that needed making, or inserting any special instructions to the typesetter about headings, or inserting images, and then send the document to the typesetter for setting out on the metal presses.

Proofreaders and copy-editors needed double-spaced text to give them the space they required to annotate any corrections.

But since the advent of computers, hot metal presses have not been used to publish material. So why do we still do it? Double-spaced text is easier to read. (Try it. Print out one of your typescripts in double-spaced format and then print out the same text in single spaced format. Which is easier on the eye?) This is why writing competitions ask for double-spaced text. It is far easier for the judge to read. I once had to judge a pile of 166 short stories (of up to 4,500 words each) and it's surprising how quickly the eyes tire.

Editors know how much text there is on a double-spaced page. And yes, the gaps still give the editor space to write notes or comments for other staff to action.

When should you not double-space your text? When the editor tells you there's no need to. Yes, that's right. If an editor tells you there's no need to double-space, then you don't have to do it. But don't do this until you have permission from the editor.  (Let's be honest, if an editor says he wants your manuscript on pink paper, in Comic Sans font, at size 8, then that's what you bloody well give him!) But until you are told otherwise, you give an editor double-spaced text.

So, when you set up your article, short story or book template, make sure you include double-spaced text. Whilst double-spaced text is no longer required for the publication process, it's what writers have been doing for years and what many publishers continue to ask for today.

Good luck.

Monday, 24 October 2011

I'll Put That Bit There ... Part 2

Last week, I looked at text justification, this week, I thought I'd look at paragraph layout. This is an area that confuses many new students, yet it needn't. There are two accepted styles, and the  key is using the same one throughout your piece; don't mix and match.

Your choice is to either use block paragraphing or indented paragraphing.

The style that many writers recognise is indented paragraphing. Indented paragraphing is what you see in most published articles, short stories and novels. This is where (generally with the exception of the first paragraph of the piece) the first line of each new paragraph is indented. The first word of the paragraph appears a few spaces to the right of the rest of the paragraph. So, to create your new paragraph, press the RETURN key on your keyboard once, then press the TAB key once. (Don't press the space bar several times to create your indent.)

Block paragraphing is what you see here in this posting. Instead of the first line of each paragraph being indented, an extra blank line appears between each paragraph. This is achieved by pressing the RETURN/ENTER key of your keyboard twice. Pressing it once, drops your cursor to the next line, pressing it the second time means your text now appears under that blank line.

So, why have two styles, especially when most published text uses the indented paragraph system? Here's the science bit ...

Publishers tend to use one of two computer software packages for designing the layout of their publications: QuarkXpress (from Quark) and InDesign (from Adobe). There are other software packages out there, but these are the two biggest. When you sell a piece of your writing, the publisher will import your text into their design package. A publisher explained to me that one of these programmes doesn't recognise an indented tab from some word processor packages, whereas it does recognise the block paragraphing and (ironically) converts the blocked paragraphing into indented paragraphing!

Personally, I prefer indented paragraphing. Whilst block paragraphing works well for non-fiction, I don't think it looks right in fiction, especially if your fiction contains a lot of dialogue. Indented paragraphing works well for fiction and non-fiction.

Finally, when you're setting up your page layout in your word processor, and setting up your double-spacing (more of which next week), make sure your spacing before and after is set at 0pt. Before and after spacing (seen on the left of this picture here) determines the space between paragraphs. Writers who use block paragraphing often use this to set the gap between each paragraph. Don't do it like this, because the publishers simply have to strip it all out. Just press the RETURN KEY twice.

So, to sum up with paragraphing, use either block paragraphing or indented paragraphing, but not both. And when you're writing, use the RETURN + TAB key (indented paragraphs), or the RETURN + RETURN key (block paragraph) combination.

Next week, I'll look at double-spacing and why every writer is told to use it, how to use it properly, and when you don't have to use it.

Good luck.

Monday, 17 October 2011

I'll Put That Bit There ... Part 1

I've received a couple of queries recently about manuscript layout, particularly for magazines, so I thought this was something I'd look at again over the next few posts.

The key point I want to make here is that you are the writer, not the page layout designer. Think of yourself as the content supplier, not the designer.

Left/Right Justification
Joseline recently emailed enquiring whether text should be left and right justified, as it often is in published books and magazines.

First of all, here are some justification examples:

This is LEFT justified text. Notice how, when text is spread over several lines, it has a straight edge down the left hand side of the page/screen, but the text on the right has a 'ragged' edge, with variable amounts of white space between the last word on the line and the edge of the page/screen. The amount of white space depends upon the size of the following word, which is too big to fit on the previous line.


This is RIGHT justified text. Here, when text is spread over several lines, it has a straight edge down the right hand side of the page/screen, but the text on the left has a 'ragged' edge, with some white space between the edge of the page/screen and the first word on the line. 

This is BOTH LEFT AND RIGHT justified text. This time, the text has a straight edge down the left and right hand side of the page/screen. This is how many books are published and how many magazine text columns are aligned. It looks neater. However, it also s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s the text across the page, inserting extra spaces and gaps between words to ensure that both sides of the page have a straight edge.

Because left AND right justified text has extra spaces to ensure both sides of the text have straight edges, this reduces the number of words on a page. Another problem this creates is that it adds extra 'hidden' characters in the text (a space is still a character, even though you can't 'see' it), which can cause problems when your text is copied from your word-processing document and imported into the publication's magazine layout software (such as Quark, Adobe Indesign). And then some poor person at the magazine has to sit there and delete all of the hidden characters.

So, all you need to do is LEFT JUSTIFY your text only.

You can also centre your text.
This is acceptable for titles ...
... BUT NOT YOUR WHOLE TEXT!

In Part 2, I'll look at paragraphing - should you indent, or use block paragraphs? And I'll try to explain why some magazines prefer indented paragraphs, when others prefer block paragraphs.

Good luck!

Monday, 10 October 2011

The Life Time of a Submission

The November issue of Dogs Monthly magazine carries an article of mine about fireworks (I like the promotion of it on the front cover!). But this idea was first born in August 2006.

Having done the research for a different commissioned piece, I realised I could quickly produce an article for dog owners, using the same information, so I submitted this speculative article to a dog magazine on 17th August (not Dogs Monthly!). Of course, an article about how to help dogs cope with fireworks is best aimed at the November issue of a magazine, however, fireworks are just as much an issue for dogs owners at Christmas and New Year too, so the piece may also have been suitable for the December or January issues.

At the end of December (when the January issue had been published), I contacted the editor to enquire if they were still interested in my feature. I heard back in February 2007 - the editor liked it and wanted to retain it for possible use in the November 2007 issue.

Well, time flies and the next thing I realised was that it was January 2008 and the article hadn't been used. I tried contacting the magazine, but heard nothing back. I tried contacting again in January 2009, but heard nothing.

In May 2009, I contacted the magazine again, mentioning the dates I tried contacting the editor in the past, and enquiring whether they were still interested in the feature. The editor emailed back the following day, saying they remembered it, but could I send a duplicate copy. This I did by return. A few days later, the editor emailed saying that they hoped to use it in the November 2009 issue.

Well, I'm sure by now you can guess where this one is heading. Suffice to say, it didn't appear in the November issue. So, in January 2010, I emailed the editor and enquired if they were planning on using it in 2010, if not, then I wanted to offer the piece elsewhere. The editor replied, saying that they couldn't guarantee using it this year, so I was free to offer it elsewhere.

Which I did, to Dogs Monthly, at the end of July 2010. The feature wasn't used in their November issue (with a feeling of deja vu!), so in January 2011, I enquired if the article was of interest to the editor. She said yes, and in June 2011, she asked me to bring the feature up to date again (because I'd submitted it a year previously) and provide a short biography.

Then, lo and behold, after five years, the article finally saw publication.

There are a few points to make here:

1. I said at the beginning this was a speculative piece. When I'm commissioned to write a feature, I always try to get another article (or two) out of the research I've undertaken. Whilst I try to get commissions for these, sometimes it only takes a short while to write the 'extra' article and so I'll risk a speculative submission. This example shows the risk of speculative submissions. Commissioned work rarely gets treated in this way.
2. Maintaining accurate records is imperative. Remember, you should know exactly where all of your submissions are at any one time. This is a business. You are competing with other professionals, even if your work is written around your day job and looking after the family.
3. However, the main point I want to make here is to never give up. I never set out on a journey of five years, but that's what it ended up taking. And it's only by keeping on top of submissions and contacting editors, without hassling them, that this piece has finally been published (and paid for).

Who knows what happened at the first magazine I submitted it to. Perhaps there was a plan to use it but something better came up, which was used instead. I don't know. I don't hold any grudges against the first magazine I sent it to. (But I haven't sent them any more stuff since!)

So, if you haven't heard from an editor, don't necessarily assume that's the end of your submission. Make enquiries. Don't chase two days after you submitted the piece. Even editors have days off and annual leave, and rumour has it, they're human and get stuff like the flu and coughs and colds too. They don't like being hassled during the week that the magazine goes to press, and they only deal with urgent emails and phone calls in that week, so everyone else has to take a back seat. But if several months have passed, then it's not unreasonable to make contact and just ask if your submission is of interest.

And if it turns out your target market is not interested, then find a new one. Stay persistent, and you increase your chances of publication. Ten years is my record, so far, for writing a piece and then finally seeing it published.

Good luck!


Monday, 3 October 2011

Better Than Publication?

For many, being published is one of the greatest feelings there is. For those of us earning a living from it, being paid for it is even better! But, can anything beat that feeling of publication? I think so. Reader interaction.

I had an article published in the September 2011 issue of Outdoor Photography, entitled Where There's A Will... It looked (in a fairly light-hearted way) at why photographers need a 'last will and testament' in this digital age.

A few days ago, I was reading the October issue of Outdoor Photography and read a letter from one reader praising my article. He said that whilst he always knew he ought to get a will written, my article pointed out the drawbacks of failing to do this. He's since seen a solicitor and now has a will.

I feel proud to have been part of this. That reader now has a will because of something that I wrote. Should he die tomorrow (and I hope he doesn't!), his family will find the administration of sorting out his finances much simpler. In a small way, I have influenced that reader's life. (Or perhaps I mean the aftermath of his death!) Seeing his letter in the magazine though, brought it home that what we write can affect people's lives.

Incidentally, I wrote a similar article on this topic for Writing Magazine, and you can read the article on my website here. All writers need wills, as well as photographers. (Actually, being blunt, EVERYBODY should have a will.)

A similar thing happened last week. As a member of the Society of Authors, I receive their quarterly publication, The Author. In it was an article I'd written about the benefits of writers taking a walk, getting away from their desks to stretch their muscles, having been hunched up over a keyboard for several hours at a time. I discussed, not only the physical benefits, but the mental benefits of walking too.

Within 48 hours of receiving my copy, I began getting emails from other society members, saying how much they'd enjoyed my article. Some authors contacted me to say they agreed with what I'd said, whilst others emailed to say that following my piece they too were going to give this a try.

And if you want to read why I think all writers should be walking away from their desks on a regular basis, then follow this link.

So, next time you have something published, don't just buy a copy of the magazine with your piece in it. Buy the next issue too, to find out whether your words moved the readers to write in too.

Good luck.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Remember - It's A Craft

I was marking a couple of assignments over the weekend and I realised that two of them had been sent to me too early. The market analysis was not as in-depth as it could have been, not enough thought had been given to the article topic, nor to the editing process. One article even ended in mid sentence.

Now, don't get me wrong, I quite understand students' keenness to want to get going, writing and submitting. But it made me think back to the last country show that I went to, where I saw a man, sitting at his stall, working on his latest leather gift he was creating.

With his small wooden mallet, he hammered the punch into the leather he was working on, stopped, blew on it three times, before rubbing the tips of his fingers across the newly-created indentation. Then, he turned the leather over, rubbed his fingers across the braille-like mound he'd marked, before turning it back over and repeating the process. Only when he was happy with each indentation, did he move onto the next step.

At what point did this craftsman feel that he was starting to craft something? When he picked up his mallet? When he picked up the punch? When he first felt the indentation with his fingers? Or when he had the idea of what he was going to create?

It's easy to see the craft of writing beginning with the moment when you start writing, or at least, editing. But actually, the craft of writing begins with the idea, the angle you decide to take, and then how you will develop that idea for the market you've identified. The craftsman, here in this photo, spent time selecting the piece of leather he was going to use, in the same way that we should spend time selecting the idea that we are going to develop.

When the time comes for you to send off your article to an editor (or your tutor) think about it instead as a piece of physical artwork, like the leather goods this craftsman has on his stall in the photograph here. Are you really happy with it? If, instead of sending your text in an envelope, or via email, you had to place it on stall in a marquee at a country fair for passers-by to purchase, would you still have confidence to put it out on display? Would you be proud of your creation? A craftsman (or craftswoman) only put out their best work on display for others to buy. As writers, we should be striving for that attitude too. Whether it's a letter to a magazine, an article, short story, or novel, only when our work is the best we can possibly make it.

Good luck.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Have You Hearst The News?

When readers go to their local newsagents and pick up a magazine, most people are not concerned with the company that publishes it. But earlier this year, in the UK, there were a few changes taking place behind the scenes, and some of the implications are beginning to filter through now. It's something many students need to be aware of, but if you're doing your market analysis properly, you should already have spotted some of these subtle changes.

Hachette Filipacchi, publisher of Elle, Elle Decoration, Psychologies and Red was bought by a company called the Hearst Corporation. Hearst also own the National Magazine Company, publishers of titles including Best, Company, Cosmopolitan, Country Living, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Harper's Bazaar, Prima and Reveal.

Hearst are now in the position where they can claim that their publications reach 33% of UK adult populations and 47% of the UK's women.

For those of you sending articles by post, check the Contents page for new contact details. Instead of addressing your letters to Best at the National Magazine Company you need to change it to Best at Hearst Magazines UK.

Those submitting and pitching by email will need to use new email addresses (although old email addresses will automatically re-direct for a while - but why not get it right first time?) Email addresses will be firstname.secondname@hearst.co.uk.

There have been a few casualties. She and Cosmopolitan Bride have ceased publication.

So, next time you buy a magazine you feel you are familiar with, just check out the contact details and confirm that you're using the correct company name or email address. It's a small detail, but small details matter.

Good luck.


Monday, 12 September 2011

Never Lose Your Nuggets!


Today’s posting follows on from last week’s post about allowing yourself to write freely for your first draft. The first draft is not the place for perfection.

You may have heard of the phrase to kill your darlings. This is something that every writer comes across as some point during the self-critiquing process, when they are editing the text created in that first draft. There are times when everything comes together perfectly. The ideas flowed, the style is there and the words have rhythm. When you read that piece of text to yourself you experience a warm glow – this is what being a writer is all about, you tell yourself.

Unfortunately, those best bits, also known as your darlings, are not always appropriate for that particular piece of text. On the occasions when you need to cut excess wordage from your work, often it is your darlings that your deleting knife should be wielded at, but because of the emotional attachment you have to those phrases, you end up trying to delete everything else apart from your darlings. This is because the writer fears that they are throwing away their best work.

Now, as a writing tutor, I’ve always told students that nothing in this game is wasted. Accepting that a darling needs to be culled from a particular piece is a huge step for a writer to take in their learning journey, but it doesn’t mean that you have to throw it away, permanently. You can, and should, keep it.

One of the books I’m reading at the moment, (I often have several on the go at any one time) is The Secrets To Writing Great Comedy by Lesley Brown. (Hodder Teach Yourself - ISBN: 978-1-444-12892-5 - £12.99) In this book, Lesley refers to this moment of knowing when to kill your darlings, except she doesn’t refer to them as darlings, but as gold nuggets. And just like gold nuggets, their value can increase over time. There may come a moment when you are writing something and you suddenly remember that nugget of text that you had to cut from one piece, which would now fit a new piece you are currently writing. And, sometimes, that nugget of text works better in this new context than it did in the original piece for which you wrote it. Your nugget has appreciated in value!

When it comes to the editing process, forget the phrase kill your darlings, for this suggests getting rid of it, never to see it again, which isn’t true. Learn to accept that there will be times when you need to cut the bits of writing, that you enjoyed writing the most, from your current writing project. But understand that you are not killing something off, merely putting into your own private safe another gold nugget that might appreciate in value at some point in the future, and pay better dividends than it would now.

Look after your nuggets!

Good luck. 

Monday, 5 September 2011

First Draft / Final Draft: Two Very Different Beasts


It doesn’t matter whether you write articles, short stories, fillers, novels, non-fiction books or even blog postings … the first draft is exactly that … the first draft. It could be the first of two drafts, or the first of two hundred, but beginner writers need to understand that the first draft is never the final draft.

Many new writers don’t always appreciate this. The sheer euphoria at completing a first draft often has beginners reaching for an envelope and some stamps, or for a new email message, in order to send off their newly created piece of work. But this is not the right time. Writers are commonly told that the editing process is vital and that great writing isn’t written, but re-written.

Learning to accept that the first words you write won’t necessarily appear in your final draft offers many benefits:

1.     It frees up your writing. Many of us were taught at school to write properly. (Some weren’t, but that’s another blog posting!) Sometimes though, this instils in us the desire to get our words right from the start. It’s as though we were taught to get one sentence right, before we began writing the next. This kills creativity. It kills the writer’s early voice. Accept that the first draft is never the last and therefore you can be free to write what you want to write. Ignore grammar. Ignore punctuation. Get your thoughts down on paper, whilst you remember them! You can get the grammar and punctuation sorted later!
2.     Pooh-pooh Perfection. In the same way that a first draft allows you to forget grammar, punctuation, and even spelling, don’t get hung up on finding the right word. At this stage, any word will do. Sometimes we think that a multi-syllable word shows off our writing prowess, but coming up with that right multi-syllable word isn’t easy. So, don’t worry about it. Instead, opt for a simple word. Often, this simple word turns out to be the better word in the end, anyway.
3.     Ignore the logical left. It’s the left-side of our brains that deal with the details of life, and for writers this means the editing process. First draft creation is not the time or the place for left-brain interference. Let the thoughts and ideas flow from your right-brain. Nine of those thoughts may be completely naff, but if your brain needs to dump them on paper first, before producing the amazing tenth idea, then you need to get those first nine ideas written first!
4.     Ignore word lengths. The first draft is not the place to worry about word length. Just write. It doesn’t matter that you need to write a 1,000-word article or short story and your first draft is 3,000-words. It’s not your first draft that you’ll be sending off, is it? Once your first draft is complete, then you can let your logical left-brain jump into action and start culling.

Once a writer understands that a first draft is exactly that – a group of words that others will not see – it can free your brain from the restrictions of punctuation, grammar and perfection. And once you understand that you can throw perfection out of the window for the time being, you might surprise yourself at what you write in the first place.

Good luck. 

Monday, 29 August 2011

Er ... Excuse Me ... Can I Take Your Picture, Please?

Following my last post, Taking Better Travel Photos, Nan Sheppard commented about the rules with regards to taking photos of people. This is an area that can cause some confusion, so I thought I'd take the opportunity this week to explain the basics. Please note that in this posting I am referring to UK law. Laws in other countries may differ considerably.

The picture in this posting contains many people. Did I ask their permission before taking the photo? No. It simply wasn't possible. Do I need their permission if I want to use this photo to illustrate a magazine article? No.

In the UK, the law allows photographers in a public place to take photographs. Permission is not required from the people who are captured in the image if the photograph is used for editorial purposes. There are two key points here:
  • the photographer is in a public place,
  • the photograph is used for editorial purposes.

In this posting, what I mean by a public place is somewhere where the public have a legal right to be at any time of day, such as on the pavement beside a public road, or on a footpath in the countryside. A shopping mall is not a public place, because despite being full of members of the public, many are owned by private companies. So, when you enter a shopping mall you are stepping onto private land. It just happens that the landowner is happy for you to do so! Generally, public land is the road/highway and its pavement, a right of way across a piece of private land, common land, and land designated as open access (such as mountains, moor and heathland).

There are many places which people perceive are public places, but they are actually privately owned. Railway stations, car parks, shopping centres, National Trust properties, even many beaches, are all places where lots of people gather, but they are privately owned. To take photos for editorial purposes, or commercial purposes, in these places, you should have the landowner's permission. (Generally, taking photos for your own personal use, to record a family day out, is not a problem.)

For editorial purposes means for use in media, such as magazines and newspapers. In other words, I can use the photo above to illustrate an article in a magazine, but I could not use the photo above as an image on a T-Shirt, on a mug, or on a poster to sell to the general public. Those examples would be classified as commercial use of the image. Any image containing people (whether it is obvious who they are or not) which is going to be used for commercial purposes, must be accompanied by a model release form signed by every person in that image.

This is why, in the UK, the paparazzi can operate. They take their photos from a place where the public have a right to be - genrally they are on the pavement of a street - and their photos appear in newspapers and magazines.

Of course, there is nothing stopping you from being polite and asking people if they mind having their photo taken, even if, by law, you don't have to ask them. Often, you'll get a better photo, if you do. If you're at a seaside location, and see four senior citizens sitting on a bench on the promenade, wrapped up in winter coats and scarves, but each eating an ice-cream, that could make a great photo! Ask them if they mind having their photo taken. Most people are actually quite willing.

Obviously, extreme caution needs to be exercised when taking photographs in public places where children may be present. (This is an area of the law that some members of the legal profession feel ought to be clarified further.) The safest option is always to ask the parents' permission, or simply return to the site when children are not around.

For many travel articles, taking a photo of market scene, or a carnival procession will not cause any problems, because you'll be in a public space and, the chances are, those people won't even know that you are taking their photo. But just be aware that if you're taking a photo that includes one person, or a couple of people, then being polite and asking permission first, is a good policy to follow.

Good luck.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Taking Better Travel Photos

Following on from last week's posting about writing travel articles, I thought I'd continue sharing some of Solange Hando's tips, this week looking at ways to take better photos.

I've had many writers ask why they should take photos, when they're a writer, not a photographer. The simple answer is, it increases the opportunity of publication. Gone are the days when magazines could pay a writer for the words and then send a photographer to get some photos. (Some of the prestigious magazines still do this ... Country Life, Cosmopolitan, Vogue, but most cannot afford to do this.) So, a writer who can offer photos is an editor's dream. Last week, I gained a commission from a magazine based upon some of the photos I had taken, which I included with my pitch. A friend of mine mentioned recently that she'd pitched an article to an editor, and he'd come back and asked her to show her a sample of the pictures she had available, before he would make a decision.

So, photos are important, especially for travel articles, but you don't need a fancy camera to take good pictures. These days, a simple point-and-shoot camera can produce great shots ... as long as the person taking the photo has some idea of what type of picture they want in the first place!

  • For travel articles, photos are essential, and these days, digital makes life so much easier. Editors expect digital images these days - in JPEG format.
  • If you have photos available when pitching an idea to an editor, include some of your best photos in your pitch - but just send low-res images.
  • Always send your best pictures - this is what catches the reader's eye when they flick through the magazine - and these are what will catch the editor's eye.
  • Photos can be obtained from tourist boards, however, some editors dislike this because tourist boards tend to send out the same photos to potential markets - which means the same picture gets used over and over again. A writer who can submit their own photos will be offering a different photo - something the reader won't have seen before.
  • Take loads of photos. Digital makes this easy! Photograph everything and anything! Take photos of information panels, general scenes, people doing things, unusual events. Whatever you see with your eyes - take a photo of it!
  • Every picture should tell a story. There has to be a reason for the picture in the first place. Why are you taking the image? Does it show how luxurious the hotel is that you are staying in? Does it show how close to the beach it is? Does it show the rats running away from the refuse bins out the back?
  • Think variety. Take pictures in portrait mode (ie. rotating the camera 90 degrees to take a tall and thin image) and also landscape mode - the traditional format (as in the image at the top of this blog). Take pictures without people in them, and take pictures with lots of people in them. Ideally, if you've done some market research before hand and have an idea as which publication you are targeting, look at the photos. Do they like photos with people in them, or photos without? Give the publication images that you know they like using.
  • Take photos of your accommodation - inside, outside, and every room - including the bathroom! (Take them as soon as you arrive and before you unpack, for that 'clean' look.)
  • Take pictures of funny signs - especially ones where they've tried to translate into English, but it hasn't quite worked.
  • Have something in the foreground - near to the front of the image - because this can help with the sense of scale.
  • When taking photos of people (where they agree to be photographed and look straight into the camera) take two photos. Take the first one (where the subject will 'pose') and then quickly take another one when the subject has 'relaxed' after the first one was taken. The second photo will be more natural.
And that's all there is to it!


Take a picture of your bathroom in your accommodation!








And take a photo of your room as soon as you arrive and before you unpack and make your room look untidy!










And take a picture of other rooms within the property too.











Finally, have something in the foreground to add a sense of scale.











Good luck!

Monday, 15 August 2011

Top Travel Writing Tips

At the end of July I was at the Caerleon Writers Holiday and one of the workshops I attended was on travel writing, by Solange Hando.

I thought I'd share with you some of the useful tips that travel writers need to consider when writing travel-related articles.



Before You Go:
  1. Buy a recent guidebook and read it. Find out about the places that people recommend visiting. It might also enable you to create a feature about great places to go that the guidebooks miss out on!
  2. Research previous travel articles. (What's changed since they were written? Can you write an updated version?)
  3. Jot down any ideas in your notebook that come to you as you read through the guidebook.
  4. Look for any special approaching anniversaries.
  5. Check out when there are any special market days or festivities. Find out about them in adavance and plan going to them.
  6. Learn a little about local customs in order to become friendly with the locals. Once the locals appreciate that you have made an effort to understand their culture, they are more likely to open up to you and share knowledge with you.
  7. Research your target market before you go. (If one magazine prefers photos of views, whereas another magazine prefers pictures with lots of people in them, you can then ensure you take the right type of photos for each market.)
  8. Check to see whether the publication uses a picture of the writer 'on location'. If so - make sure you ask a passer-by to take your photo of you 'on location'!
When You Are There:
  1. Keep a diary. Don't write down the information that you have in the guidebook, write down your personal experiences, what you see, feel, taste, smell and hear.
  2. Whilst out and about, don't write copious notes - write enough to help jog your memory for when it's time to write up your notes at the end of the day. (Solange gave us an example: Monk + Crash Helmet and from that she recounted an interested anecdote! But those three words were enough to trigger the memories.)
  3. Make a note of a dominant colour. Lanzerote is white because of the houses. Wales is green, because of the hills. (Actually, I think its green because of the rain, but still.)
  4. Talk to people. At first, Solange thought the food in one place was very cheap, but it wasn't until she began talking to people at the adjacent table that she learned the alcoholic drinks were immensely expensive. What she was going to call a good place out for a cheap meal, suddenly became a venue that needed to be selected with care.
  5. Make a note of email addresses and contact details of anyone official at any organisation or attraction you visit. It's useful to have this back-up to drop someone an email to check out a fact.
  6. Collect everything you can - leaflets, postcards, business cards.
  7. If you have a tape recorder, don't just use it for interviews - use it to record any sounds - it helps with atmosphere. Record a few minutes of the bells peeling in a local church, or the sound of a busy market place.
  8. Look up! We spend too much time looking around places, but we often forget to look up. You just don't know what you could be missing out on!
Good luck.

Monday, 8 August 2011

If You're Going To Read Someone's Diary ...

... I would recommend this one.

In September 2009, Rachel Johnson took over as the editor of The Lady, the oldest women's weekly magazine in the world, and was charged with turning the magazine around and increasing its circulation.

This diary is an account of her first twelve months and is absolutely hilarious. It's not an insight into what happens in a typical magazine, but for those interested in writing for magazines, it certainly shows how frenetic putting together a magazine can be.

I should offer a word of warning ... to those who may have sent in articles to The Lady during Rachel's first year of office. Occasionally, she starts her daily diary by listing the post that has come in, which includes detailing the outlines of some of the articles and proposals that freelance writers have submitted. Don't panic, she doesn't name names, but if you sent in something you might recognise it ... and not like Rachel's comments. (But then, shame on you for not doing your market analysis properly!)


Not only is it revealing about the sort of material that writers send to editors, but the lengths an editor goes to get the front cover image they're looking for is interesting. I was a bit surprised to read about Rachel going into her nearest Tescos store and comparing how the front cover of The Lady looked on the shelf, with the covers of Take a Break, Chat and the "juggernaut" that is The People's Friend. (I must admit, I've never thought of The People's Friend as a juggernaut!).

Anyway, if you want to know how Rachel got on during her first year as editor (a role she hadn't done since her University student days) then this is a great read.

For more information, click here.

Good luck!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Single Copy Purchases


When it comes to analysing potential magazines, getting hold of a physical copy isn't always easy, especially if the title is not carried in your local newsagents. (County magazines are a great example of this - living in Shropshire, my local newsagents does not carry copies of Cumbria magazine, but that doesn't stop me writing for it!)

Traditionally, the only ways to get hold of a single copy were to find a large newsagents that did carry the title you were looking for, or to contact the magazine to see if you could purchase one issue, or even, if you were lucky, blag one for free from the editor.

But times are a-changing. One the UK's largest regional publishers, Archant, (who also publish several national titles too) have just launched a website called www.buyamag.co.uk, which does exactly what it says; it allows you to buy A magazine. Yes, you can take out a subscription, but you can also buy a SINGLE issue.

In fact, simply browsing this site may spark off potential ideas that may suit some of these titles, so it's worth a browse just for this!

Another potential (and money-saving) source of single issues is the Zinio website - www.zinio.com. Anyone with an Apple iPad, or other tablet device, may already be familiar with this service that allows you to buy electronic version of magazines - either an annual subscription, or simply a one-issue purchase, which is then downloaded to your gadget. If you don't have an iPad, or similar gadget, don't dismiss this service - it's possible to download Zinio's application on your Windows, Apple or Linux computer, enabling you to purchase single issues to read and analyse on screen.

My father, who has an iPad (and he's working very hard at convincing me to buy one!), says that what he likes about it is that prices are often cheaper. Some publications that may cost £3.95, or £4.25 for a physical copy from the newsagents can be purchased for as little as £1.79. (Zinio also has the advantage of being able to offer magazines from different countries including the USA and Russia!)

So, if you find it difficult to obtain single copies of specific magazines then consider looking at both of these websites. They may just provide you with the solution you are looking for.

Good luck.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Pitch Perfect

After last week's successful pitch (albeit one reached via a rather circuitous route!) I thought this week, I'd briefly mention about another pitching success.

I was reading a magazine and had reached the Letters Page, where one reader's correspondence jumped out. It was moaning about a difficulty they were having and the letter ended with a question: did other readers have a similar problem?

I was about to construct a letter in response, but as I began outlining the points I wanted to make, I realised that there was an article here. Hmmm. Perhaps it was worth pitching it to the editor?

And so that's how I began my pitch. I mentioned the letter in question and said, here are the solutions I can offer to this reader's question, whereupon I then bullet-pointed my ideas. Within ten minutes, the editor had replied, with a Yes please! (I wish all pitches worked that way.)

  • By telling the editor that I was offering an article that would answer a reader's question, it shows that I read the magazine.
  • Using the letter as the inspiration for an idea, I knew that it was a topic that was of interest to the readership.
  • And by commissioning the article, the editor can show that he is listening to his readers and providing articles and information that he knows they are keen to learn.
 Next time you read a letter in a magazine's letters page, consider replying with another letter, but check first whether you could get an article out of it. Instead of writing a letter to the letters page, you may be better off writing a query letter to the editor.

Good luck!

Monday, 18 July 2011

Pitch Imperfect

(This is one of my longest posts, but I hope you find it worth it!)

Last week, I secured a commission from an American magazine (yippee!) for an article about some of the quieter lakes in the UK's Lake District. The editor made me work for it (quite rightly too), but I thought I would explore this process in this posting, because there are some students who may have been frightened off by the editor's first response. But hopefully, this post will illustrate that when an editor doesn't say, "Yes," they are not always saying, "No," either. Here's my pitch:

Lakeland's Lesser-Known Lakes
When people think of the Lake District National Park, in Cumbria, UK, many think of the large bodies of water, such as Windermere, Derwent Water and Coniston Water with huge boats ploughing thousands of tourists up and down them all day long. However, there are hundreds of lakes, tarns and ponds in Lakeland, and this feature will explore ten of the lesser-known, but just as majestic, waters of:
  1. Loweswater
  2. Esthwaite Water
  3. Loughrigg Tarn
  4. Buttermere
  5. Levers Water
  6. Stickle tarn
  7. Beacon Tarn
  8. Crummock Water
  9. Loughrigg Tarn
  10. Moss Eccles Tarn
These lesser-known waters are just as interesting. For example, Crummock Water is fed by the tallest waterfall in the Lake District - Scale Force; Esthwaite Water is the most nutrient-rich body of water in Cumbria and the one that William Wordsworth rambled around and paddled in as a small boy; whilst Moss Eccles Tarn was owned by the writer, Beatrice Potter, who considered it an inspiration of many of her stories.

I envisage such a piece would be about 1200-words in length, with about 150-word introduction explaining the different names for a Lakeland lake or pond, followed by a brief summary of 100 words exploring each body of water, ending with a 50-word summary.

I can provide several hi-res digital images to illustrate the piece.

If you feel this idea may work better with different word length, I would be happy to accommodate this. I have attached a couple of lo-res images to demonstrate the kind of images I have available for these features.

Yours sincerely

Simon Whaley

Here's the response I received:

Hello Simon,

Thank you for your query. Those are nice looking images.

This sounds promising. That’s an interesting angle, if there’s enough to say. Several of these, such as Buttermere, are very well known, but I’ve not heard of some and I’ve been to the Lakes many times. Are all of these places accessible without being a hill-walker? I like treating the idea in gazette format. Assuming 1,200 words, is 10 the right number, or is it arbitrary? What do you actually have for images?

It’s a start.

Now, this wasn't a "Yes" but, it wasn't a "No" either. The editor's last comment, "It's a start," is a clear signal that he expected me to go away and think about the idea further.

I have seen replies along this theme that some of my students have received from editors and it surprises me how often, many of them think that the editor didn't quite like their idea enough to commission, so they think they should give up. NO! How many times do you hear writers moaning that they never receive a response to their pitches? Frequently! So, if an editor actually replies, then take note!

This is also an example of me not thinking about my pitch enough. (Yes, even I get it wrong sometimes!) I hadn't quite angled this correctly for the editor's readership. It was more of an idea of something that I wanted to write about, rather than what his readers would be interested in. So, what is the editor saying here?

  1. He likes the idea. That's good news!
  2. He likes the basic angle - lesser-known lakes.
  3. He knows the area too - but he is not a hill-walker, like the majority of his readership. My pitch had failed to recognise this, and some of my suggestions would require a bit of a hike to see them.
  4. Why had I chosen ten lakes?
I didn't reply to the editor for 24 hours, but spent the time, instead, focusing on his points. Here is my revised pitch:

Yes, thinking about it, I was suggesting ten, purely as a nice round number. Some of the tarns mentioned would require some hill-walking, so reflecting upon this, would the following seven sedately waters be more appropriate - all of which are accessible by car, one requiring a short level walk of about two-thirds of a mile, and none of which have tourist pleasure boats ploughing from one end to the other!

Loweswater - with its western tip lying less than 500 metres from the Lake District National Park boundary, this is, in my opinion, the most beautiful of the Lake District's lakes. Offering mirror-like reflections of majestic mountains on calm days, it's southern shore is flanked by ancient woodland, still home to the Red Squirrel. Hire a rowing boat from the National Trust but don't disturb the locals, one of which is Hunter Davies, biographer for many a celebrity, including the footballer Wayne Rooney, the official biographer of The Beatles, and Lakeland Legend, Alfred Wainwright.

Esthwaite Water - sandwiched between the Lake District's most popular lakes, Windermere and Coniston Water, this lake is often overlooked. Yet it is full of character and history. The most nutrient-rich lake in the Lake District, it is popular with all those interested in fishing (including the occasional passing Osprey) and was frequently paddled in by the young William Wordsworth, who went to school in nearby Hawkshead, and mentions it in his poem, The Prelude.

Crummock Water - fed by the highest waterfall in the Lake District, Scale Force, it is also acknowledged as the source of the River Cocker, which flows through Cockermouth (the town devastated by the flooding in 2009). It is believed that at one point Crummock Water was joined to Buttermere as one great lake.

Buttermere - This is the lake from which many hikers set out to climb Haystacks - Alfred Wainwrights favourite fell, the summit of which holds Inominate Tarn, where his ashes were scattered. The small village at its western edge, was the source of a scandal in the early 19th century, when Mary Robinson, the Maid of Buttermere, reputedly the most beautiful woman in the area, married a bigamist impostor, John Hatfield, which only came to light when the poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, wrote about the wedding in a London paper. Avoided by coaches because access to Buttermere and Crummock Water means negotiating Honister Pass, Buttermere offers an opportunity for a level walk around its edge in stunning scenery.

Moss Eccles Tarn - a short walk of about two-thirds of a mile up a gently rising track, starting from Beatrix Potter's House in Near Sawrey, brings you to Moss Eccles Tarn, on Claife Heights. Away from the crowds, this is where Beatrix Potter went rowing, and in the summer months it is full of lillies, which inspired Potter's story of Jeremy Fisher - the gentleman frog. Beatrix bought the tarn in 1913, the same year she got married.

Tarn Hows - Accessible via a single track road, which thankfully, the National trust have now made one way, Tarn Hows is evidence that man is capable of creating beauty, for these tarns, high in the hills between Hawkshead and Coniston, are man-made. Created by the MP for Leeds, they were later bought by Beatrix Potter, and offer great views of many of the Lake District's fells and mountains. A two-mile level path encircles the tarns, which freeze solid during the coldest of winters.

Brothers Water - Found alongside the Kirkstone Pass to Patterdale road, Brother's Water is in a bit of a quandry - it is either the Lake District's smallest lake, or it is its largest tarn. A level footpath from the nearby car park, offers visitors an opportunity to wander along its shores and through some of the oldest oak woodlands to be found in the Lake District. According to Dorothy Wordsworth's diaries, she wandered along this very path, the day after coming across those famous daffodils, which her brother, William wrote about. This was once called Broad Water, but was renamed when two brothers drown in it, in the 19th century.

Whereas many visitors to the Lake District head for the lakes with boats to ferry them from one end to the other, such as Windermere, Coniston, Ulswater and Derwent Water, this feature will focus on the lesser known lakes and tarns, reveal their physical qualities, and historical links, whilst also suggesting how best to explore them on foot.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes

Simon

So, my response to the editor's email was to cut the number of lakes from ten, down to seven, and I also went into a lot more detail about why I had chosen those seven particular lakes. And here is the editor's reply:

Hello Simon,

Good show. You’ve done the homework and taken the time to give me a good preview. Yes, let’s do this.

Yes, writers tend to gravitate to the “nice, round number,” but it’s not necessary. I think your seven waters work nicely – and it gives you a few more words per water or for contextual introduction.

We do work quite a bit in advance. I can put this on the edit calendar for the July issue, so you’ve got some time. That issue goes into production late winter; we’re in edit production now on the November issue.

Your pictures are gorgeous as well. You present these as examples, implying there are others. If, in fact, we can illustrate this story completely from your pics, we might do a contract for the text/pic package. If that sounds reasonable, then do send along low res images of whatever else we might like to see. Otherwise, I’m happy to do a contract for the text and we can work on the pics when the time comes.  

Happy weekend.

See? The editor likes the fact that I took on board his comments and I adjusted my idea so that it meets his requirements better. Note his comments too about the 'nice, round number'. Editors love numbers, but here's proof that we don't have to go with the obvious ones all of the time.

So, there you go. An example of how a pitch can be won. Of course, if you can get it right first time, that's much better!

Good luck!