Monday, 30 September 2013

Is It A Man's World?

I was looking through the latest issue of Outdoor Photography magazine this week, and when I turned to the page listing all of the different contributors (and their head-and-shoulder photographs) my immediate thought was: “they’re all men.” Then I looked more closely and spotted that there was one woman in amongst the collection of 12 contributors.

The reason I mention this is because I was then amused to see on the readers’ letters page a question from a reader making the same observation, and asking the editor outright, why he preferred male contributors to female contributors.

The editor responded that he didn’t - that was just the way things worked out, mainly because he received more contributions from men than women. He ended his response by saying that he looked forward to receiving more contributions from female writer/photographers (so, if you’re reading this, are female and can take photos too, then there’s an opportunity for you!).

But the editor raises an intriguing point. If a magazine relies upon freelance submissions, the editor can only choose to publish from what he receives. And writers shouldn’t perceive that just because the subject matter is geared towards either a predominantly male or female readership, that you have to be of the same sex to write for it too. You don’t! Men can write for women’s magazines and women can write for men’s magazines. Indeed, some magazines like getting a different perspective on the subject matter.

So, don’t think because Woman’s Weekly is a women’s magazine, predominantly written by women, that you have to be a woman to write for it, or that because Esquire is a man’s magazine you have to be a man to write for it. You don’t. All you need is the right idea for that readership. And, thankfully, both male and female writers are capable of coming up with good ideas! So there’s nothing stopping you. Got that?

Good luck! 

Monday, 23 September 2013

What's In A Name?

Hello. My name is Bella Beechcroft. Well, it was a couple of weeks ago when I was at the National Association of Writers’ Group’s Festival of Writing. During the festival, they run a Mini-Tale competition, where delegates who enter have to tell a tale in exactly 100 words. Not 99 words. Nor 101 words. Exactly 100.

However, in order for the competition to be judged blind, entrant’s have to use a pseudonym, a pen name, so for mine, I chose Bella Beechcroft, and as you can see from the photo here, my Mini-Tale entry was one of the shortlisted tales.

I know many writers wonder about whether they should use a pseudonym. There is an air of mystery behind pseudonyms, especially in light of the recent revelation that JK Rowling is Robert Galbraith. But don’t get hung up over whether you should use a pseudonym. To be honest, put the effort into writing whatever it is you want to write first. Worry about your name later.

At the moment, my attitude is that whatever I write will have my name next to it, unless there’s a reason for not doing so, such as this competition example. But there are legitimate reasons when a pseudonym may be necessary:

- Like JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith - if you have a track record in one particular genre, getting agents/editors to read work you’ve written in a different genre in an objective way can be difficult, so a pseudonym may help with this. But this is only something you need to worry about when you’re a well-known name in a particular genre!

- To differentiate one genre of books from another to your readers. Again, when you’re well known for writing one particular genre, and you have an enlightened publishing team who are willing to consider something you’ve written in another genre, it may still be necessary to use a different name to tell your readers that your work is of a slightly different nature. Iain Banks wrote books under this name, but he also wrote Science Fiction books under the name of Iain M Banks. Not a huge name change, but enough for his readers to differentiate the genre of the book. The novelist Joanna Trollope also writes as Caroline Harvey. Madelaine Wickham had written several successful novels before she began writing the (very) different Shopoholic series of books, under the name of Sophie Kinsella.

- Sad to say, but some readers expect certain genres to be written by men, and others written by women. Men make better thriller writers whilst women are better writers of erotic fiction. Actually, that statement is complete trash, but if the general readership believes this to be true then some agents/publishers believe it’s better to have the right ‘name’ for the genre. 

- To get more work. For non-fiction writers, pseudonyms aren’t as important, with many non-fiction writers writing about a variety of topics under their own name. However, there may be times when a different name can be useful. If you regularly work for an editor of one magazine, they may not take kindly to you selling similar work to a competing magazine … so a pseudonym can help get over this problem! 

- Sometimes, editors become aware that a large portion of an issue is written by a handful of writers, and so they might encourage the use of pseudonyms to suggest to the readership that their bank of writers is actually bigger than it is! Some short story writers use more than one name, especially if they are prolific.

- Finally, a writer may use a pseudonym because they don’t want to be known as the writer. If you’re a six-feet nine-inch tall bloke, who plays rugby at the weekend with your mates, drinks fourteen pints in the after-match party and drives 44-tonne juggernauts during the week, you might not want your mates knowing that you write Mills and Boon romances.

So, don’t get hung up about what name to write under. The one you’ve got is pretty good place to start. If you need to consider a pseudonym there’s usually a very good reason for doing so … even if it is just for one competition to help with the anonymity for judging. If you don’t have a good reason for doing so, then don’t.

Good luck. 

Monday, 16 September 2013

The Writing World of Contradictions

The writing world is full of ‘rules’ that contradict each other. On the one hand we’re told to “write about what we know,” yet on the other hand if we do that we’d never research anything new. Which is why there’s the other rule of “question everything and write about it,” so we give ourselves more to write, to save ourselves from becoming stale.

One of the other common writing contradictions that can confuse newbie writers is:

 - “Always write for a specific market” and
 - “Be true to yourselves and find your own voice.”

If we’re being true to ourselves and writing what we want to write (meeting that urge within us that forces us to pick up a pen, or caress that keyboard), how can we ensure we’re writing for a specific market? Writing for the market means being clear who you writing your words for, and why, and following the ‘style rules’. Whereas being true to yourself and finding your own voice means writing whatever interests you, in a way that interests you.

The solution is simple: play by both rules … at the right time.

Many of you know that I sometimes provide walking route descriptions for Country Walking magazine. The style means that when I write such a route description I have to write with the specific market in mind. I have 400 words to describe, in a way that ensures the reader doesn't get lost, my walking route, whether that’s two miles in length or twelve miles.

But I often write two versions: the Country Walking version, and then the version for myself - where I write using my own voice. I write about the sounds, smells and the historical and natural sights along the way. This process satisfies my need of writing what I want to write, whilst also enabling me to write something for publication.

And there are times when I can draw upon that ‘true’ writing for other articles, or even short stories, or other forms of writing. Nothing in this writing game is wasted. Write what you want to write, to satisfy that urge we all have within us. Then learn to write what you need to write to get published. Over time, your personal ‘true’ writing will help your voice develop, which will help you to grow as a writer.

Good luck.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Think About It.

On 31st August I attended the National Association of Writers’ Group’s Festival of Writing at Warwick - and very good it was too. One of the workshops I went to was Tim Wilson’s Writing A Novel: Working Practices and Motivation, designed to give us strategies for starting and maintaining a regular writing habit in order to get that first draft of the novel written.

Of course, the strategies work whatever type of writing you do, and one of the exercises he gave us was to think. Yes, that was it. We had to spend ten minutes thinking. We weren’t allowed to write anything down. All we could do was think about something we wanted to write about.

Now, in some ways, this seemed to go against other advice we writers are given, such as always carrying a notebook to jot down our ideas so we don’t forget them! But here we weren’t allowed to write down anything.

After that particular exercise we then moved onto another technique, and then we broke for tea and coffee (offering us our first opportunity to meet up with others and chat). About twenty minutes later we returned to the workshop room and sat down. Tim then asked us to write about the subject we’d been thinking about over half an hour ago.

And it worked. We all sat there, busy scribbling in our notebooks. The words flowed. 

Tim is a great advocate of the principle of knowing what you want to write about when you sit down to write. In other words, if you sit down to write and then think, “Now, what am I going to write about?” the words won’t flow. Whereas, if at the end of your previous writing session you think, “When I next sit down to write I need to write about this, this and this,” you’ll find it much easier to get going.

But his thinking exercise takes this one step further. If you know roughly what you need to start writing about when you next sit down, that can be enough, as long as you think about it in more detail before your next writing session. So, when you’re doing the ironing, the washing up, or mowing the lawn, use the time to think about what you’re going to write about, when your next writing session arrives. Thinking time is still writing time, even though you’re not actually writing.

From the novelist’s point of view, he was suggesting that we think about the next scene, but, of course, any writer can use this technique, whether you’re writing an article, a filler, a non-fiction book or a short story. And the more often you sit down knowing what you’re going to write, the more often you’ll sit down and write something. Which, at the end of the day, is what all writers want to do!

Good luck!

Monday, 2 September 2013

Slowly, Slowly, Catchy Monkey

I had one of those nice commissions on Friday afternoon: one that came out of the blue, when I least expected it. Except, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that this was not completely out of the blue. I had done something to generate it.

The commission was from the editor of Outdoor Photography magazine, Steve Watkins, who wanted 650 words to accompany a couple of images I’d offered him several months ago for a specific slot within the magazine, called Viewpoints. (One of the photographs accompanies this blog.) Here, photographers send in images of places that would be of interest to other outdoor photographers, so they can visit those places and (hopefully) capture some awe-inspiring photos.

The Viewpoint section within the magazine comprises two 650-word pieces with accompanying photographs, and then there are also 8 smaller pieces, each with one photograph and 50 words. All ten of these submissions are provided by ten different photographers. So, it’s a great slot to target, because the editor is looking for ten different contributions every four weeks (yes, Outdoor Photography is published four-weekly, not monthly, so that’s 13 times a year, or 130 opportunities in this one section of the magazine every year!).

I’ve always liked this slot as a reader, and so I made a conscious decision to submit something to the editor for this slot on a regular basis. And this ploy has worked: the editor has used three of my photographs for the smaller 50-word slots over the last couple of years. However, last Friday’s commission was the first time I’ve been asked to do the bigger 650-word slot (which also pays considerably more!).

As a writer, the larger, 650-word, slot is the one I’ve always wanted, and as a photographer I prefer this slot because the photos are printed bigger than the other viewpoints. So, after making regular submissions over the past few years, I’ve been rewarded with the opportunity that I was looking for.

If there’s a slot, or a magazine, you’d like to see your words in, then, obviously, you need to submit something to it. However, if the first submission fails, don’t give up. Keep submitting. And if the editor uses your submission, but not in the way you’d thought, then go with it, and continue submitting for the slot you want. The editor will spot your tenacity and remember you for it.

Even though I’ve achieved the commission for the slot I was targeting, I shall continue making submissions to this slot in the future. After all, if I’ve done it once, I can do it again! So, make a commitment to submit regularly. It may take you several years but determination is a major ingredient in the recipe of success. And my commission would not have happened, if I hadn’t sent something off in the first place.

Good luck!