Monday, 26 November 2012

Note The Detail

At our writers’ circle meeting this month, our chairman ran a workshop called Showing the Detail. It was a look at how we can use detail to convey more information in our descriptions to the reader, whilst also trying to avoid using cliches. 

It doesn’t matter whether your write fiction or non-fiction - giving your reader a useful amount of detail is important. The reader needs sufficient information to understand and re-create the scene you are describing in their own imagination, however, they don’t need to be overwhelmed with detail that it stops the message behind your writing getting through.

In our workshop, we were given a series of bland sentences to rewrite in a more interesting and detailed way. Here are three that I had a go at:

The man had a bad smell. I rewrote this as: He needed air traffic control to co-ordinate the bluebottles in their stacking formation above his putrid, matted hair. 

Miranda was rich I rewrote as: Miranda stepped out of her Tuesday morning Porsche and realised it needed changing, for the tyres on this one were now dirty and it had lost that new-car freshness since driving it off the forecourt ten minutes ago.

And finally, instead of She cried I came up with: Once the first tear found her chin, others quickly followed to the lowest point of her face, gathering confidence as their numbers swelled, ready for the next leap.

Now, I’m not saying any of those are brilliant, but the extra information the reader has there gives them more to draw upon when recreating the scene in their own imagination.

Detail is useful for travel writing too. I recently marked a student assignment where they had written: We found an Italian parlour on the promenade, which sold the best ice-cream I’ve ever tasted

That’s interesting information, but with a bit more detail, it could prove so much more useful to a reader who might be going to the same destination. Think how much more practical the following is:

Look out for Fuscardi’s on the promenade near the pier, for the best Rum and Raisin ice cream you’ve ever tasted!

Not only does the reader now know the name of the ice cream vendor, but they also have a better clue as to where to find it and  that the Rum and Raisin flavour tasted good!

Next time you sit in a cafe, or somewhere busy, and people watch, make a better note of the detail. It could make your writing more interesting.

Good luck.

Monday, 19 November 2012

How Do You Keep Yours? - Update

Just a quick post to let you know that the article I mentioned in my blog posting of 12th November, has now been published on the Ezee Writer ezine.

So, for more information about the sort of data you might want to consider collecting when you submit your manuscripts, click on:

Reader Churn

A readership isn’t always static. Yes, there are some magazines whose readers stay with them for years (I am one of the original subscribers to Writers News magazine, gulp!), but there are also some magazines whose readerships change quite frequently.

When a magazine targets a particular niche readership the end result can lead to it loosing those readers! For example, the core readership of Photography for Beginners are … er … beginner photographers. These readers are buying the magazine for knowledge and to learn a new skill.

There will come a time when the magazine is not teaching them anything new and, as a result, they will look for another magazine to move on to for further knowledge and skills. So those readers will stop buying Photography for Beginners and move onto Amateur Photographer, or Digital SLR Skills, or one of the many other photography magazines. And then, after a couple of years, they may stop with that publication and move onto Advanced Photographer or one of the other professional magazines.

What does this mean for the writer? It’s important to identify these types of magazines, because the editor will be looking for ideas and articles on topics they’ve already covered before, possibly as recently as 12 months ago, although they will be looking for a slightly different angle. For example, a photography magazine might want a winter article offering advice to beginners on how to take photos of snow. The following year, the editor will be looking for another article about taking snow photos, because there will be a bunch of new readers who weren’t around when the last article was run, but it needs to be slightly different for those readers who did read last year’s article.

In some magazines, once editors have covered an idea, they don’t want to return to it for several years (the frequency of the publication also influences this, too). A quarterly publication rejected an article I’d submitted because the editor had recently accepted another article on exactly the same topic. I did mange to sell that article to that same editor at the same publication, ten years later, because enough time had passed for the reader (which had a low churn rate).

Of course, one magazine’s loss is another magazine’s gain, although it’s not quite so cut and dried if you look at the bigger picture. Magazine companies often produce a magazine for beginners, intermediates and more experienced readers, so whilst the readership might churn from one magazine to another, the company tries to keep the readers amongst its own stable of publications.

Good luck.

Monday, 12 November 2012

How Do You Keep Yours?

I mentioned last week the importance of keeping accurate records, and Maxi commented that some tips would be useful. So I thought I’d share a couple of my tips here:

BBB (Bloody Barclays Bank)
I call this my triple B tip, because it goes back to my time working for Barclays Bank. I spent many years as the Open & Close Clerk (Barclays weren’t very creative with their job titles) which involved … opening and closing bank accounts on the bank’s mainframe computer. Despite the fact that I could do it with my eyes shut and didn’t need an aide mémoire, EVERY account being opened or closed HAD to have one of these checklists. I had to initial a series of boxes to acknowledge I’d undertaken every step necessary to either open, or close, an account on the system.

When you do something for so many years, it becomes ingrained. Despite having a computerised database of my records, I also have a paper checklist (a single sheet of paper) for every project, which I initial to ensure that every step is actioned to keep my records correct and up to date. So, whatever your record-keeping system is, consider creating your own aide mémoire for you to check off at every stage of your project.

NAD (Next Action Date)
I like to have what I call a ‘Next Action Date’ - by this I mean a future date when I need to do something. So, whenever I submit a piece of work, I put in a future date when I might consider chasing the editor, if I haven’t heard back from them, by this time. For example, if I know a publication takes 12 weeks to respond to a submission, I’ll but a NAD of 13 weeks time. When a piece is accepted and I’m asked to forward an invoice, I’ll set my NAD for when the invoice is due to ensure that I’m paid when I should be.  Most days, I check my database for any NADs, and chase as necessary. It enables me to keep on top of everything, as these jobs become due. Of course, it only works if you set a NAD in the first place!

Ezee Writer
In a couple of days’ time (probably Thursday) the November issue of Ezee Writer will be out, which includes an article where I discuss the sort of information you might like to record when you submit your work. More information can be found (later in the week) at

Good luck.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Oops - We All Make Mistakes!

A friend of mine happened to mention the other day that he'd mistakenly sent the same piece of work to two editors. Thankfully, one had rejected the piece, so at least he's not been put in the embarrassing position of having two editors accept the same work at the same time. (A complete NO NO!) He's not sure how it happened, but he's now updated his recording system to make sure that it doesn't happen again.

We all make mistakes, and I'll admit that I've accidentally done this in the past too. It's easily done, until you find a monitoring system that works well for you.

However, there's another reason why you should keep on top of your submissions, because we writers aren't the only ones to make mistakes. Two weeks ago another friend sent a text congratulating me on my short story, Flower Thief, which had just been published. I was puzzled. If my memory served me correctly I hadn't had a decision on the story yet. But, my memory not being what it once was, I decided to log onto my database and check it out. When I did so, my database still had that submission sitting at "Awaiting Decision". Perhaps I'd failed to update my records. Anyway, I went out and bought a copy of the publication to confirm that, yes, there it was in print.

Two days later, I had an email from the editor apologising profusely for the delay in notifying me and confirming the good news that my story was in the current issue and (more importantly!) that a cheque was in the post!

Whilst this was a lovely surprise (it made my Monday morning, that's for sure) it highlights a problem that could happen if any writer inadvertently submits the story to two different publications at the same time. Suppose both markets had published and there'd been a delay in notifying the writer? That could have been interesting, with both publications thinking they'd bought the first rights to publication!

So, make sure you have a robust system for recording your submissions and that you use it. And just remember that whilst writers lead busy lives and forget to update things, it can happen to editors too. It also suggests that it's useful having good friends who'll tell you that they've seen your published work!

Good luck!