Monday, 28 February 2011

The Letters Page Isn't Just For Grovelling

There's a letter in the March 2011 issue of Outdoor Photography magazine, which proves that not all published letters are by grovelling readers, lashing loads of praise upon the editor for doing a good job. Actually, this letter forces the editor to apologise for doing their job - editing - wrongly.

It's a good example though of the benefits of having a Letters Page in a magazine. Not only do letters offer readers a chance to comment and feedback upon the articles and the magazine, but it also gives the editor an opportunity to offer a right of reply.

The letter in question queries the writer's statements about the advice offered to fellow photographers, when the photographs used to illustrate the article did not follow the advice the writer was giving. It's a valid point for a reader to make. If article writers make a statement and enclose photographs, the photographs should at least back up the article. (It's no good saying that the beach offers an opportunity to escape from the crowds, if the photo of the beach demonstrates there's not room for an ant to move!)

However, because the letter writer made this point, disputing the article, the editor has used the Letters Page to clarify things. Firstly, the editor has commented, "The original text that [the writer] Ian provided for the article was edited to fit available space, but that edit did change the understanding of the original text." (Note: this doesn't mean to say that the writer didn't produce an article of the right length - he may have been commissioned for X number of words, and provided them, but a change in the magazine's contents could have reduced the space available for his piece, hence the need for the editor to start editing.) The editor then allowed the article writer to add their comments to, offering them the right to reply, too.

So, if you're targeting a Letters Page, don't automatically assume that you have to be gushing praise in order to get published. If you have a valid criticism about something you've read, your letter could give the editor an opportunity explain, apologise or to clarify. You don't have to be praiseworthy to be published, when writing letters. If you're criticising an article and raising a valid point, it certainly proves that you've read the magazine!

And if you write articles, just bear in mind that the Letters Page could offer you the opportunity to put things right. A similar situation happened to me once, where an editor was forced to cut the space available and had to edit my text, changing the meaning. They apologised on the Letters Page and gave me a few words to say something on the matter too!

Good luck!

Monday, 21 February 2011

With A Little Help From Your Friends ...

Firstly, regular readers amongst you may have realised that I'm a little late in producing this post for my blog. Well, my excuse is that I've been on 'Uncle Duties' for the past 48 hours, and as you can see from the picture here, my  two and a half-year-old nephew likes sitting at my desk and typing away on my computer! His mummy has taken him home now, so I've been able to claim back my desk!

There were several ideas I was going to draw upon for today's blog, but that all changed at last minute, following something that happened today. I got paid. Yippee!

I'd encourage you to read Alex Gazzola's post on his Mistakes Writers Make blog about the mistake in not chasing your dues. As a freelance writer, you are a 'business' and it's sad to say that most businesses experience late payers from time to time. I've only completely missed out on being paid once, when a magazine went bust and my name was added to the long list of creditors who have to take their place behind the taxman, who basically takes pretty much everything of whatever is left! But, occasionally, I do come across a late payer from time to time.

Indeed, on Alex's post, I'd commented that I was chasing some £800 of late payments from 3 magazines, £300 of which had been outstanding since the middle of November. I'm delighted to say that I've now successfully extracted payment from all of my late payers, the last one being the £300 due from November.

I only achieved this, with a little help from a writers' organisation called the OWPG - the Outdoor Writers' and Photographer's Guild. Membership of the organisation includes access to a forum where members can share news, information, leads and advice, so I decided to post about the problems I was having with a publication that I knew other Guild members wrote for. I didn't go ranting and raving about the magazine, or calling the editor something immensely rude - I simply stuck to the facts. I told members that I was due the £300 in mid November, that I'd sent an invoice, followed by a statement of account after 30 days and 60 days, that my emails and phone calls had gone unanswered and I was one step away from threatening legal action with my 90-day statement of account. I then ended my forum post by stating that other Guild members may wish to bear in mind my experience, should they decide to pitch any ideas to the editor.

Some members did post replies, stating that they'd too had problems, but finally extracted payment after threatening legal action. I was fortunate in that one of the Guild's members happened to have a meeting with the editor today and so he brought up my outstanding payment on my behalf. Later on in the day, another Guild member and regular contributor to the magazine happened to be talking to the editor and mentioned my payment problem. (I'm sure the editor isn't keen on employing my services again now, although, to be honest, after an experience like this, I'm less inclined to pitch any further ideas to him.)

Hours later, I received an email from the editor apologising for the delay and the money was sitting in my bank account.

Being a member of the OWPG clearly helped me get paid, so if your writing takes off, I would encourage you to consider joining an appropriate organisation. There are several out there, depending upon your writing specialism. Sometimes their membership fees look a little steep, but they come into their own when they can help you out of a little difficulty.

Useful writers' organisations include:

and there are many, many more. A good place to find many of these is in the Writers' Artists' Yearbook and The Writer's Handbook, both available from Amazon.

In an occupation that can feel lonely during difficult times, it's nice to know that you have friends you can call upon.

Good luck.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Everything You Tweet Will Be Taken Down In Evidence And Used Against You

One of my students recently asked me about the rules regarding quoting somebody's Tweet. (For those of you who don't know, a tweet is a message of up to 140 characters that can be posted on the Twitter website, for that person's followers to see.)

Ironically, a couple of days later, on 8th February 2011, the UK's Press Complaints Commission ruled that Twitter messages were not private, and therefore quoting them was not an invasion of someone's privacy. To read the ruling and background behind the case, click here.

They decided that although someone's tweets were distributed to only the people who were following them, any of those followers could distribute the tweet to any of their own followers, and therefore the 'tweeter' had no control over who could and could not view the text.

From a writer's perspective, it's useful to have a clarification like this, because any quote can add authority and credence to an article you may be writing.

However, I would still urge a word of caution when quoting a tweet. If you do want to quote a tweet, then you should (as with ANY quote) attribute it to its source. For Twitter, this means attributing the tweet to the name of the twitter account, (which begins with the @symbol) and not the Tweeter's Profile name. Search for one of Twitter's most famous and prolific tweeters, Stephen Fry, and you'll see around 20 profiles. Now some are clearly not Stephen Fry, but others aren't as clear cut. In other words, a Twitter account may not actually represent who they claim to represent. (Twitter strongly encourages 'spoof' or 'fake' accounts to make it clear that they are not the real thing, but that doesn't guarantee anything!) Therefore, by attributing the quote to the Twitter account, rather than the name of the person the account purportedly represents, should prevent you from getting into any trouble!

As an aside, if anyone reading this post isn't on Twitter, then I would encourage you to consider it. There is a huge number of writers on Twitter, sharing a lot of ideas and offering support. It doesn't matter whether you write non-fiction, or fiction, you'll find many like-minded people and well-known writers there.

And to get you started here are some Twitter accounts worth following:

@simonwhaley (that's me, of course!)
@WritersMistakes (Alex Gazzola - whose blog is Mistakes Writers Make (And How To Avoid Them and fellow WB tutor)
@PennyLegg (fellow WB tutor)
@lomace (fellow WB tutor)
@writersbureau (the official account for The Writers Bureau)

@FMNews (Freelance Market News)

I follow fellow writers, publishers, magazines and published novelists.

To sign up to Twitter, visit

Before you do, there's some excellent guidance about how writers can use Twitter at Nicola Morgan's brilliant blog, Help! I Need A Publisher and I would encourage any newbie to Twitter to read these postings.

Good luck!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Boot Sale

So there I was last week, following my map to check that I was on the right path for the walk I was doing for Country Walking magazine, when I came upon this sight.

As you can see, the locals are clearly 'barking' mad by trying to 'branch' out with this new idea. (Okay, I'll stop now.) But what a fantastic opportunity for a writer. Already I've submitted this to one of the women's magazines that pays for humorous pictures. It's also generated an article idea, and it's raised several questions, which could lead to more articles or short stories:

  • Who started it? Did someone throw an old pair of shoes up there for a laugh and then someone else thought of sticking up the sign and adding another pair of shoes?
  • I wonder if the person who started it pops back to count how many pairs the tree now has.
  • Does anybody swap shoes? If there were a pair of boots/shoes swinging in the tree that looked in better condition than those you were wearing, would you swap? (Assuming they were your size!)
  • What would you think if you passed a person walking down a country lane with a pair of socks on their feet, and then ten minutes later, came across this tree?
  • How many people have tried throwing a pair of shoes high in the sky, in an attempt to loop them over a branch, only to watch those shoes plummet back down to earth and hit them in the face?
  • If those shoes could tell stories about the people they once belonged to, what would they say?
And so it goes on.

One of my new students recently asked me where I get my ideas from. And as I tell everyone, ideas are everywhere, if you know where to look. The idea may not be obvious at first, which is why it is useful to ask questions. All it takes is five minutes and you could have dozens of ideas all waiting to be explored. And, of course, if that doesn't work, then do what I did and go out and find them.

The trick with ideas is not to think about what something means to you, but what it could mean to someone else (a potential reader). I'm tempted to say, try thinking with the boot on the other foot.

Good luck.