Monday, 24 February 2014

Hello? Is There Anybody There?

Last week, I chatted about pitching and chasing, because it’s important to keep sending out ideas and chasing them up. However, we should also remember the human being at the other end of our emails and phone calls. It’s easy to assume that magazines are staffed with hundreds of people. Television programmes and films (such as The Devil Wears Prada) that are set in the offices of a glossy magazine always show offices inundated with people running around with products, writing copy, making tea, having water-cooler moments and sorting out their love lives. Not every publication is like that though. In fact, few are. 

Many, many years ago, I went for a job interview with a publication and was shown around the offices of a large magazine and I remember thinking, “Blimey! I never knew so many people worked on this magazine.” Then it was explained to me that the three people sitting in that far corner over there, were all the staff that worked on the magazine I had the job interview with. 

Not all writing staff at a magazine work full time, or all of their time, on a particular section of a publication. Jill Finlay is the Fiction Editor of The Weekly News, and she is inundated with our short story submissions. She’s a lovely editor, and writes some of the loveliest rejection letters/emails. (I know, because I’ve had some of them!) Yet one contributor was told last week that she only has three and a half hours a week to deal with the fiction slot in the publication. That’s not a lot of time to read the hundreds of submissions she receives every week, let alone deal with all of the correspondence and the emails from writers chasing their submissions!

It should be remembered that publications are businesses - there to make a profit for shareholders. Writers and editors are costs to that business. Whilst it’s easy to say that the publication should invest more time into the fiction pages, the accountants at head office might look at The Weekly News and point out that the fiction constitutes two pages of a 48-page weekly publication.

So, whilst it’s a good idea to chase your pitch submissions, and enquire about submissions made several months ago, always remember that at the other end of the line/email is someone who is probably harassed, stressed, and over-worked, who would love it if their days were forty-eight hours long, or they could have another twenty assistants to help them. Indeed some publications are staffed by only one person, who needs holidays like the rest of us, and the odd day off sick. So always remain polite and courteous and business-like in your correspondence.

Good luck.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Chain Reaction

I thought I’d return to the subject of pitching following some comments from students and followers over the last few days.

One of the many frustrations with pitches is the lack of response from editors, when they’re submitted. On one hand I can understand the editor’s lack of response - after all, the pitches are usually unsolicited. They didn’t ask for them in the first place. (Some magazines do send out requests for ideas for certain slots within their pages.) But, as any writer will point out, a magazine needs ideas to fill its pages. Still, nobody knows what sort of day an editor is having at the other end of the email system.

The problem is, we writers are an impatient lot! I know from my own recent experience. I pitched an article idea and the editor responded within 24 hours saying he liked the idea but he wanted to think about it a bit more. He said he'd get back to me. It took four weeks before he did, and it was a long four weeks, but it was worth it in the end!

One of my students pitched an idea to a magazine, and the editor replied quite quickly, however, she replied by asking if the idea could be tweaked slightly. The angle wasn’t quite right. This, the student did, promptly, but then didn’t hear anything. After a month she chased, but still there was no reply. Another month passed and the student thought the editor didn’t like the new pitch. Still, she chased again and was then shocked to get a reply. However, her heart plummeted when she opened the email and the first word she saw was, “Sorry.” Was this the precursor to a rejection?

When she read the email properly, the editor was apologising for the delay in responding, and also because they were still unable to make a decision. Whilst I understand the frustration, I also think this is good news. The revised pitch has not been dismissed out of hand, something that the editor could easily have done at this stage. So, there is still hope.

Another writer mentioned to me that she’d pitched an idea to an editor and not had a response, so assumed that the editor wasn’t interested. This was months ago, but I suggested she chase it up. She did, and despite several months passing, the editor responded with a positive reply.

So, sometimes the pitching game is a slow burn. It’s not a game of instant gratification, although my record between pitch and commission is four minutes! But remember, when you pitch your starting a chain reaction. The editor cannot commission your idea unless you take that first step and pitch. Set the chain reaction going but appreciate that those chain links are of various lengths. Some chain links can take months of gentle enquiries to get a reaction.

Good luck.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Offer, When Asked

As writers we should always be seeking out new ideas, and I sometimes find myself jotting down potential ideas, with a view to tackling them at some point in the near future. Unfortunately, other projects take over and that near future becomes some point in the distant future. 

There are times when life nudges you to change your priorities. I have an Apple desktop computer and an Apple laptop, so I regularly read the Apple magazines. (Being self-employed I am the IT department, and so those magazines come in useful sometimes if ever I’m not sure how to tackle something.) But as a regular reader, I’m aware of the slots where the magazines need reader involvement. One of those, in MacFormat magazine, is called ‘Me And My Mac’. Essentially, a reader sends in a photo of their desk with all of their Apple equipment and then writes about why they have the computers/gadgets they do, what they use them for and what’s their favourite piece of software. There’s no payment as such, but successful submissions win a prize.

I’d had this slot in mind for a couple of years, but had never got round to sending something off. That might be because the magazine wants photos of a tidy desk … and mine isn’t always the tidiest of specimens on the planet! However, last Saturday - February 1st - MacFormat magazine put a call out on their Facebook page. Wanted: photos of their readers’ desks for the Me And My Mac slot. Clearly they were running short of submissions, so it was time for me to get off my backside and make the submission I always said I would!

It took about fifteen minutes to tidy the desk. (Okay, make that move everything out of view of the camera.) Then I set everything up and took three photos. Ten minutes later, I’d emailed them in to the magazine. On Monday, a member of the magazine’s staff got in touch, thanking me for my submission, and if they liked it they would be back in touch. An hour later they got back in touch saying they’d like to use my photos, and could I answer the following questions. I spent thirty minutes providing all of the answers and emailed them back. By the end of Monday afternoon I received another email, thanking me for my answers, and telling me that my photo will be in the next issue out at the end of February. They asked me for my address so they could send me my prize (a multi-card reader, with additional USB slots, worth £50). I gave them the info and then updated my records of the impending publication. The following day, Tuesday, the postman delivered my prize!

From submission on Saturday, to acceptance on Monday, and payment (by prize) on Tuesday. If only all publications paid that quickly! So the next time you see a magazine call for submissions, DO SOMETHING! You might be surprised by the response you get!

Good luck!

Monday, 3 February 2014

Competition Rights

Wrekin Writers have just launched their annual Doris Gooderson Short Story competition, and they’re looking for short stories of up to 1200 words, on any theme. Like last year, all profits will be donated to the Severn Hospice. To find out more and download an entry form visit:

Do you read all of the rules when you enter a writing competition? Do you understand their implications? In the Wrekin Writer competition the copyright remains with the writer, although the group reserves the right to publish the winning stories on their website and in their annual anthology. This is quite common and reasonable in my opinion (although I would say that because I’m involved in the organisation of the competition!).

However, not all writing competitions are the same. The Daily Telegraph runs a weekly travel writing competition called Just Back. Item 6 of the competition's terms and conditions begin: “Copyright in all submissions to the competition remains with the respective entrants.” Well, that’s good to know, isn’t it? However, the clause continues, like so: “However, the entrant grants a worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual licence to the Telegraph Media Group and The Post Office [the other competition sponsor] to feature any or all of the submissions in any of its publications, its websites and/or promotional material connected with this competition.

You might expect the sponsors of this competition to want to have the right to use the winning entries in print, or online, just like the Wrekin Writer competition. But that’s not what the competition is asking for. They want this right for EVERY entry submitted, irrespective of whether you win or not.

Now, I’m not saying that this is bad, or wrong, or that you should avoid entering the competition - far from it. The reason for mentioning it is because it’s important entrants understand the implications of entering competitions. Once a competition’s results have been announced, many writers, if they don’t win, submit their entry to another competition. But with the Telegraph’s Just back competition things get a little difficult. Many competition rules state that submitted entries can not have been previously published. However, by entering the Telegraph’s competition you’ve given them the right to publish your entry, even if you didn’t win. In practical terms, the Telegraph probably won’t publish your non-winning entry, but they have the right to do so, which means they could.

And should any competition ask for exclusivity, then you wouldn’t be able to offer it in this particular entry because by simply entering the Telegraph’s competition you’ve given them the option to use your material at any time in the future, forever, therefore no-one else can have exclusivity.

Of course, nothing is stopping you from rewriting your submission from a new angle, making it longer, or from a different viewpoint, thus creating a brand new piece of work. And that’s certainly something worth considering. But it’s important to remember that the Telegraph’s competition rules impact upon what you can do with your submission, even if you don’t win.

So, next time you enter a competition - read the rules - and understand the consequences. If you’re interested in entering the Telegraph’s travel competition (it runs on a weekly basis) check out the details - and the terms and conditions! - here:

Good luck!