Monday, 30 April 2012

The Reader In Your Head

When you start writing, are you writing for the reader of your target market, or the reader sitting inside your head?

Occasionally, these two readers turn out to be different people, when they should be the same. But, your words will reveal all ... if you're prepared to look at them objectively.

Let me give you an example. A student was targeting a weekly women's magazine. So, you'd be right in thinking that the core readership of this publication is female. But, the student wasn't thinking of a female readership as they wrote the following line:

It's at this point that your wife walks in.

Here, the words your wife suggests that whilst the writer was trying to write for a female readership, in their mind the reader they were trying to please was male. Generally speaking, only male readers will be able to identify with those moments when your wife walks in.

Of course, this situation is easily rectified, because you simply change the phrase to your husband or your partner.

Another example is this:

We all know what it's like taking our young children abroad on holiday.

That sentence suggests that the reader is talking to other parents with young children. And in a magazine read by parents with young children the reader will be able to identify with this - indeed, the reader will probably feel that this writer is 'one of them' and knows what she's talking about. However, the publication targeted was not one read predominantly by parents with young children, but older parents whose children have flown the nest.

The phrase, We all know clearly sets the writer as writing for people of her own age, when the readership of the target market was older than that.

That doesn't mean to say that this idea was inappropriate for this readership. It's quite possible that these readers may have young grandchildren now, and would be interested on some practical ideas about how to keep them entertained whilst on a two, or three, hour flight. Again, the solution is simple. A slight tweaking of the sentence will skew it in favour of the target readership.

We all know what it's like taking young grandchildren on holiday.

Now the reader will feel that the writer is talking to them.

In your first draft, points like this don't matter. It's important to get your piece written. But when it comes to editing, just remember who your target reader is, and ask yourself the question: Is it your target reader sitting in your head, or is it someone else? A few judicious tweaks of your text could make it much more appropriate for the readers of your target publication.

Good luck.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Something A Little Different - I've been Tagged

This week's blog posting is a little different, because some time ago I was 'tagged' by Diane Fordham ( This is where you paste a piece of your current WIP (work in progress), but just so that you don't paste the best bit, there are a couple of rules that state you should draw upon the 7 lines of text from the seventh line on the seventh page.

Actually, the piece I'm working on at the moment is a short story, so there are not seven pages, so here are the seven lines that follow on from the seventh line of the first page:

If you don't want your petunias dead-headed early, put fifty pounds in used notes inside a brown envelope and leave it in the ladies loos, off Ribble Street, at 4 o'clock, today. Place the envelope behind the cistern of the second cubicle, then leave. Return at 5pm and, if everything is order, your petunias will be waiting for you. Don't call the Police.

"Ribble Street ladies loose again," Rose moaned. "That means you need me to do the drop-off and collection again."

"You'd know I'd go," said Geoffrey, "but a man walking into the ladies loos might draw someone's attention. And the last thing I want is for some nosey witness to call the Police. I need those petunias back for Saturday's village show. I'm convinced they'll win. Stan's petunias are only half the size of mine."

So there you go. Now you know how my fiction mind works! There's still a bit of work to do on the whole text, but I'm hoping to send it off soon.

All that leaves me to do is to tag seven other bloggers to see if they want to have a go at sharing seven lines from the seventh line on the seventh page of their current work in progress, so here goes:

Julie's Quest:

Penny Legg

I Should Be Writing

Rob In Espana

Working to Write

Blog About Writing

Yvonne Sarah Lewis

There's no compulsion for any of my seven nominees to do this, but I hope I've suggested a variety of writing styles here!

Good luck!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Pitch, Post or Email?

Whilst running a series of workshops for Relax and Write last weekend, in Derbyshire, one area of questioning that cropped up was: How do you submit your work? Do you pitch the idea first? Do you write your article on spec and submit by email, or do you write it on spec and send by post?

The problem with answering these questions is that there is not a one-size-fits-all kind of answer. It depends. So, I thought I'd explain how I usually operate.

I pitch the vast majority of my article ideas. That means I contact the editor and try to sell my idea before I've written the article. When an editor replies with a 'yes', then I write my article. Sometimes an editor will clarify how they prefer to receive submissions - usually by email - sometimes as an attachments, or pasted into the main body of the email message.

If I've been commissioned to write a feature, I always try to maximise the number of angles I can get from that research, and often pitch to other magazines different ideas for their readerships on the same topic.

I'm always on the look-out for any potential market, so no magazine gets past me without a quick analysis. This means that when I'm scrutinising an idea for all possible angles, I often think of a particular slot in a publication that I could produce some material for.

If the word count for that slot is low, then I sometimes consider producing the text on spec. For example, there are slots, or columns, within magazines with a maximum word count of 500 words. If I've spent most of the day typing up a 1500-word feature that I've been commissioned to write, then producing a shorter 500-word piece on the same topic is relatively straight forward for me, especially whilst I have all the research in my head, or close to hand. And if the slot I'm targeting is generally aimed at reader-contributions, then I wouldn't bother pitching the idea to the editor. I'd simply submit it on spec. Amateur Photographer magazine's BackChat column, is one such example.

Another example is the newsletter of an photographic association I'm a member of. They have a regular slot for photographs that members have taken, which have sold well. For this slot they want to see a copy of the image and then 300 words on why the photo has sold. They don't want pitches for this slot - they want to see the images, and learn the story behind their success. So, I have always written these on spec. Payment is £40, but it is something I can do in about 15 - 30 minutes.

I always follow the guidelines. I prefer to submit by email, because it's cheaper, and the magazine has the option of cutting and pasting text. But there are some magazines who ask for postal submissions. One magazine I write for prefers to scan the printed document, rather than dealing with email attachments. It seems a little strange these days, but that's what the editor wants ... so that's what the editor gets!

The submission process also depends upon the type of material you are writing. When I submit short stories, there are some markets who only accept email submissions, whilst others only accept postal submissions. And with short stories, pitching is not an option - the editor wants to see the finished piece.

So how and when I approach a market often depends upon the length of the potential piece and the size of the market and whether the editor expects to receive pitches from professional writers for the slot I'm targeting.

Good luck.

Monday, 9 April 2012

The Taxman Cometh ...

Here in the UK, we entered the 2012-2013 tax year on Good Friday, April 6th. So this weekend I've started sorting out my paperwork for the last financial year and setting up my spreadsheets for the new tax year. (Oh the joys of being a writer!)

Many people fear paperwork, yet it needn't be complicated, and if you're writing with a view to selling your work and being paid for it, then you must keep records to satisfy the taxman.

Even if you work during the day and write in the evenings, it is possible to be employed and self-employed at the same time. In fact, until I became a full-time writer in 2004 (on 16th January at about 8.30am) I was both employed and self-employed. Before 2004, I worked for a local authority, but I was also writing and selling work, so the taxman taxed me as an employed person through the Pay As You Earn system at work, and then he taxed me on my self-employed writing earnings, when I told him what they were at the end of each tax year. At that time (figures have probably changed now, so do check them out at ), self-employed earnings of less than £15,000 could be declared on a simple form, which summarised your total income and total expenditure. The taxman deducted the expenditure figure from the total income figure, and then taxed me on the balance - my profits.

So, if I'd earned £1,000 and spent £200 on legitimate business expenses, I would be taxed on the difference, £800, not the £1,000 of earnings.

What with several books and income from many different sources, I now have an accountant do this for me, however, I still use simple systems to keep my paperwork in check. My accountant loves me, and hates me for this. He loves me because my paperwork is easy to process and he hates me because my paperwork is easy to process ... so he doesn't spend too long doing it and therefore can't charge me for spending days sorting it out!

As I hinted above, if you're writing with a view to earning money, then you're writing as a business. The tax man is interested in your profits - the surplus cash you make from selling your words after taking into account any expenditure you incur.

Almost any legitimate (that's the keyword - legitimate!) business expense can be offset against your income to reduce your tax liability, but the common ones I claim against are:

  • Stationery (paper, pens, envelopes)
  • Postage
  • Magazine subscriptions (Writing Magazine, The New Writer, Writers' Forum)
  • Professional subscriptions (The Society of Authors, Bureau of Freelance Photography)
  • Computer consumables (toner and ink jet cartridges).

Whenever I incur a legitimate business expenditure, I write a unique reference number on the receipt. The reference number begins with the tax year and then uses a sequential number. So, the first receipt for this financial year (2012-2013) will be labelled 12-13-01, the second one will be labelled as 12-13-02, and so on.

Then I have a simple spreadsheet, listing the date, the reference number, the type of expenditure (stationery, postage, etc) and the amount. When the expenditure has been logged, it gets dropped into a folder. That way, if ever there is any query, the spreadsheet quickly tells me the reference number and I can quickly locate the specific receipt.

The same goes for income. Most magazines and publishers send me a remittance form if they pay funds straight into my bank account. If they send a cheque, then these usually have a detachable docket attached to it too - so I simply add a unique reference number to each income remittance too. Then, I file those in a separate folder. Essentially, you only need two folders - one for income and one for expenditure and that's the paperwork sorted!

The spreadsheets enable me to quickly tot up total expenditure and total income, as well as enabling me to break down the information a bit more to see what I'm spending on stationery, or postage etc, but that's more for my own information, rather than the taxman's.

So, if you're writing and selling your work, don't forget that you can claim legitimate business expenses against any income you earn, so you only have to pay tax on the profit you make. And if ever you hit the big time and earn so much that you have to register for VAT, well, you're earning enough to pay someone to sort that one out for you, aren't you?

Good luck.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Writers Bureau Servers Down

Just a quick post to advise students that the Writers Bureau servers have been down for the past few days, and tutors have not been able to log in to check emails, nor mark any email-submitted assignments.

We've been advised that the boffins are working hard to solve the problem (all I could suggest was switching it off and then switching it back on again, but I think they tried that one last Tuesday).

So, if you've sent me an email, or an assignment, to my Writers Bureau email address, and not had a response it's because I haven't been able to get into it yet! I hope this will be rectified next week, but please bear in mind that I may have several assignments to mark, so it may take a few more days to get back to you.

Sorry for any inconvenience.


Monday, 2 April 2012

Royal Mail Fail?

So, if you haven't heard by now, let me be the one to give you the bad news that, in the UK, postage stamps are on the rise again, with effect from 30th April 2012.

First Class (letter format) is rising from 46p to 60p and Second Class (letter format) rises from 36p to 50p. First Class (Large Letter) is increasing from 75p to 90p.

I, like many others, think this will force many people to start using email more, and for many of my submissions email is the delivery method I choose, if it is available.

However, for some writers snail mail is still important. If you're entering competitions, many organisers still prefer snail mail submissions, although a few are beginning to accept email entries (such as Wrekin Writers' Doris Gooderson Short Story competition). If you're a novelist pitching to agents, many still want snail mail submissions, not email. (From my own personal experience, it feels the balance is currently 50/50 at present, with half accepting email submissions, the other half accepting postal submissions only.)

And there are still a couple of magazines where I have to submit my photos on a CD Rom and post them, purely because the editor's inbox can't cope with emails with over 2GB worth of attachments!

Even though there is still a month to go until the price hike kicks in, remember the following:

  • If you're posting anything by snail mail, and you are enclosing a stamped addressed envelope (so your work can be returned by an agent, or your competition entry can be returned if it is unsuccessful, or if you want a list of competition winners) make sure you include sufficient postage on your envelope for its return after 30th April. 
  • buy some stamps now, before the price rise, but make sure you buy the stamps that are labelled as 1st or 2nd and do not have a price on them. These will be valid after the price rise at the new rate. (If you can, put stamps labelled 1st or 2nd on your SAEs now, to ensure your envelopes are correctly stamped after 30th April.)
And, of course, to cut down on your postage costs in the future, investigate any way of submitting text by email in the future. Some magazine editors will accept unsolicited email submissions, whilst others will only accept solicited email submissions. A few short story magazines (The Weekly News, for example) only accept submissions by email now, but a couple still insist on snail mail.

For further details of all of Royal Mail's new prices from 30th April 2012, click here.
Good luck.