Monday, 30 June 2014

Going It Alone

A couple of my students have recently asked my advice about becoming a full time freelance writer, and I thought I would pass on to you some of the comments I’ve offered to them.

Don’t Do It! 
Okay, I’m joking. Or am I? Seriously, though, do think about it. If you’re in paid employment, think about what you’re giving up: regular hours, regular salary, regular paid holiday, regular everything, regular life!

Have A Nest Egg To Fall Back On.
Selling an article, or a short story, may give you confidence, but it doesn’t generate a regular income. When you’re starting out it can take time … a lot of time … to build up a reputation. I’m talking a couple of years here, not a couple of weeks. In the meantime, the gas bill still needs paying, as does the council tax, food needs buying, and if you have a car you need to pay your road fund licence, and insurance costs, and that’s before you’ve stuck any petrol in the darn thing. Selling an article for £250 gives you a good confidence boost, but that’s not going to cover all of those expenses listed here, let along all of the other expenses you have. If you can, have at least two, if not three years’ worth of living expenses set aside in a savings account.

Have Specialisms
You’re not a writer, you’re an expert. So what are you an expert on? I write about walking, British Travel, writing, humour, dogs and occasionally finance. Why? Because that’s what I have a lot of experience in.  Telling an editor you’re a writer isn’t enough. They want experts who can write. And if you’re writing fiction, you need to be an expert in story-telling, and an even better expert in coming up with plenty of ideas!

You Need To Be A Self-Starter And A Finisher
When you’re self-employed as a freelance writer, there’s no boss yelling at you to do something. If you don’t do it, it doesn’t get done. You have to want to get up in the morning and you have to want to start work (even if you don’t really want to … remember, there’s no such thing as sick pay for self-employed freelance writers). You need to be organised, be able to prioritise your workload so that you can complete a job on time … because it’s only by completing a job on time that editors will trust you to deliver a job on time again. Being self-motivated means getting a job finished as well as getting a job started.

Be Prepared For Tight Deadlines
Timescales for projects are determined by editors, who are pressured into those timescales by many other factors in their job. If you pitch an idea to an editor, be prepared to hear nothing for weeks on end and then get an email out of the blue asking for the complete job in the next 48 hours. It might not be what you planned for the job, but if that’s what’s being offered to you, then that’s what you deliver … that’s assuming you want the editor to come back for more … which, if you like eating on a regular basis … is usually a good thing.

The Customer Is Always Right
Whatever the editor wants, the editor gets. If the editor asks you to submit your work on pink paper, in Comic Sans font at 8 point font size, with capital Zs instead of spaces, while you’re wearing a tutu on your head - no matter how ludicrous that seems to you - that’s what you deliver to the editor. The sales maxim is true - the customer is always right … especially if you want paying. If you won’t deliver what the customer wants … there are plenty of other suppliers out there willing to step in and deliver instead.

Enjoy The Experience
Above all though, learn to enjoy the experience … even when you are still up at 3am because you’re trying to meet that 9am deadline and the first draft just doesn’t want to come. Every job has its good days and bad days. It’s the same with being self-employed.

Ultimately, It’s All Down To You
You are everything. You are the main go-to chap/chapess when something goes wrong. You are the IT department. You are the finance department. You are the legal department when one of your customers doesn’t follow their own contract. If you need something to happen, you need to be the person to make it happen. No colleague will step up to the plate and offer to take it off you. 

I Did That!
But at the end of the day, because you’re responsible for everything, you have the right to that sense of smug satisfaction when things work out that you did that. And if you did it once … you can do it again!


Good luck.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Double, Single, Double

Now you may have read the title of this post and thought it has something to do with the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, but it doesn’t … although there has been an element of looking at one end of the court, watching the ball shoot to the other end, only to watch it return back in the other end of the court again. Let me explain. I’m talking quote, or speech marks.

Firstly, quote or speech marks are for what they say they’re for - quoting someone else’s words (either verbal, or written). If you want to emphasize a particular word then do it another way - such as in italics. (If you want to know how readers can mis-interpret speech marks around words people want to emphasize then take a look at this link: http://pulptastic.com/37-quotation-mark-fails/)

Regular fiction contributors to Woman’s Weekly have recently received new guidelines about quote marks. Before the recent change the style of Woman’s Weekly required single quote marks around dialogue, like so: ‘I need to say something,’ said Jane.

Now, this has changed to double quote marks, like so: “I need to say something,” said Jane.

Interestingly, according to the email from Woman’s Weekly, this is a return to their old style - hence my tennis court reference earlier: dialogue used to be in double quote marks, then it changed to single, and now it has gone back to double quote marks. 

However, Woman’s Weekly also want writers to use single quote marks for internal thought. This one is causing some interesting chatter, although, at the end of the day, it’s a straight forward matter … that’s what the editor wants, so that’s what the editor gets. Personally, I prefer to use italics to show internal thought … but from now on … in any story I write for Woman’s Weekly, the italics will go and the single quote marks come in.

Having two sets of quote marks can also be useful for non-fiction writers. Sometimes, an interviewee may quote someone else in their own dialogue, so having the two sets helps to differentiate this to the reader like so:

“I wasn’t particularly bothered about it,” said Fred Bloggs, “until my colleague came up to me and said, ‘have you heard the news?’ Then I realised I should be bothered about it.”

Can you see how I’ve used single quote marks around the colleague’s dialogue that sits within Fred Bloggs’ dialogue, which I’ve encapsulated in double quote marks? If a magazine prefers to use single quotes for dialogue, then we swap both sets of marks around - using single for the main quote and double for the colleague’s dialogue:

‘I wasn’t particularly bothered about it,’ said Fred Bloggs, ‘until my colleague came up to me and said, “have you heard the news?” Then I realised I should be bothered about it.’

In theory, if Fred’s colleague had then quoted yet another colleague within his dialogue, we’d continue alternating between single, double, and single quotes:

‘I wasn’t particularly bothered about it,’ said Fred Bloggs, ‘until my colleague came up to me and said, “Have you heard the news? Dave’s just said, ‘we’re up that creek without a paddle,’ and I agree.” Then I realised I should be bothered about it.’

Admittedly, that’s getting quite difficult to follow who said what, but it can be a useful system to follow!


In the meantime, “Good luck!” ;-)

Monday, 16 June 2014

From Loft to Library

You know how there are some things in life that need six other jobs doing before you can do the one that really needs doing … well, I’ve just started doing one of those.  The house needs re-wiring, which means the electricians have said they’ll need access to the wiring ducting in the loft, which means we have to declutter the loft, which means we have to go through everything and sort out what really needs retaining and what should have been chucked nearly twenty years ago when we first moved here, which means I’m having to make a tough decision about the vast numbers of books I have up there.

It’s quite frightening the number of books writers acquire over the years. But then, writers have to be avid readers. How else can we learn our craft? By reading the work of writers we admire we learn how they write. We absorb the way they phrase things, the way they reveal information, their style and their choice of words. 

Likewise, when we read a writer’s work whose text does not gel with us, we still examine it to find out why (albeit sub-consciosly). What is it that we don’t enjoy? Is it their choice of language, the length of their sentences/paragraphs, or the way they punctuate their work? We learn just as much how NOT to do something as we do on how to DO something, when we read other writers’ works.

Going through the books I had in the loft has forced me to be selective. I only have room for a handful in storage (and I am only referring to the books I have in storage in the loft - not the hundreds in my study!) and that’s been an interesting exercise: choosing which books to retain.  For example, when I come across an author I like, I often buy several of their books. In this exercise I’ve only kept the books that have had the greatest impact upon me - great story, great story-telling technique. Then there are the books with sentimental value. The concise dictionary and the beginners book on photography are not used now (it’s a bigger dictionary on my shelf and more specialist photographic books) but these two books were given to me at a school prize giving (they have so much to answer for!).

Some decisions were easy though. It appears on more than one occasion I have bought the same book twice! I hope the author appreciated the royalties!

Still, with the decision made I then sorted the books in paperbacks and hardbacks. The paperbacks (4 boxes worth) went off to the local charity shop. The hardbacks (because they are more durable) have gone to the local library service. At least that way the authors may earn a few more pennies from PLR.

Once we’re re-wired then there’s nothing stopping me putting more books in the loft, which means I’ll be able to go out and buy some more  


Good luck!

Monday, 9 June 2014

Anatomy Of A Permit


I mention in my book Photography for Writers that some private premises charge photographers to take photos. Such properties are well within their right to do so, and I usually buy a permit because you never know when the photos may come in useful. I recently visited Wells Cathedral, in Somerset, and although I have no current plans to write an article about it, or set a story inside the venue, who knows what ideas may crop up in the future? (And at £3, the price of the permit was extremely reasonable.) So I bought my permit and snapped away.

It’s worth hanging on to the permit after your visit, because the terms of the photographic permit are often printed on the reverse. (Useful when in five years’ time I suddenly remember I have photos of Wells Cathedral, but can’t remember whether I can offer the photos to editors!)

Wells Cathedral make the following conditions:

    1.    This photographic permit authorises the purchaser to take photographs on the date of issue in Wells Cathedral for the purchaser’s own personal use. Photographs may not be taken for publication or commercial gain without additional written permission of the Chapter. WARNING: The Chapter reserves the right to take legal action for infringement of copyright.
    2.    No flash photography in the Quire at any time.
    3.    No photography or video recording within the sanctuary of an altar or in the library.
    4.    No video recording during guided tours.
    5.    No photography or video recording during services or concerts.
    6.    Sound recording equipment in any form other than video camera is prohibited without the prior written consent of the Chapter.

Rules 2 to 6 are straightforward in setting out where and what you can and can’t photograph. Rule 1 is the one that we writers/photographers are interested in. This states that as a permit holder we’re permitted to take photos. Good. However, they’re for our own personal use, not publication or commercial gain.

At first, it may seem a waste of time taking them, if we can’t use them to illustrate our articles. However, we’re entitled to use the photos for personal use, so if I want to set a story inside Wells Cathedral and need photos to remember the interior for descriptive purposes then I can use my personal image library of photos to do this. And there’s nothing stopping me referring to anything inside Wells Cathedral in an article I happen to be writing (and checking my photos to ensure descriptive accuracy).

But all is not lost because the permit says that photographs cannot be taken for publication purposes without additional written permission. So, if I decide I want to write an article about Wells Cathedral and offer the photos I took to an editor for illustrative purposes, then it means I simply have to contact the Cathedral’s Chapter, in writing, and ask permission. I would also supply a copy of the images that I wanted to offer to the publication, so they could see what I wanted to use.

The Cathedral may grant permission at no additional charge (your article could be good publicity for them), or they may then make an additional charge for such use. It’s up to you to make the decision about the economic impact of the charge on your project. (Clearly, you don’t want to pay out more than you may earn from any article.)

But this also raises an important point. If you buy any such permits, always ensure that you keep a copy of them, and record with the relevant photos that a permit was purchased and applies to those photos, because in ten years time you may not remember what the terms and conditions of the permit are … and you wouldn’t want the property owner taking legal action, as this permit warns!

Good luck!

Monday, 2 June 2014

It's All About You

In the July 2014 issue of Outdoor Photography magazine, the editor, Steve Watkins, writes about the nerves photographers have to deal with when standing up in front of a group of people and talking about their work. “There’s no knowing the level of knowledge the crowd possesses,” he wrote, “but it’s easy to imagine a majority of them having substantially more insight than yourself about the subject you are covering!”

I’m sure many other writers feel like this too, not just when giving talks, but simply when writing about a specific topic, or subject matter. I know there are times when I feel out of my depth. However, the editor went on to share some pearls of wisdom from a friend, who told him …

“My friend’s sage words were: they may know more about the general subject than you, but nobody knows your own personal story and experiences as well as you do; in those you are the world’s expert.”

And I think as writers it would do us well to think of it from that perspective too. We may not be the world’s authority on the subject matter we’re writing about, but we are when it comes to expanding upon our perspective of the world. So if we’re writing about a weekend city break in Rome we may not be the world’s expert on Rome, but we are an expert on the experiences we faced on our Rome city break.

When I write about my walking experiences, I am the expert about what happened on MY walk, if not the expert on the area through which I walked.

This also translates to fiction too. I’ve said before: give ten writers the same story idea and you’ll end up with ten different stories, because there are ten different writers with ten different perspectives and experiences upon which to draw. They may not be the most authoritative experts on the subject matter the story is about, but they are of the experiences that helped them to shape their story.

So what am I saying? Have confidence in everything that YOU write. It’s YOUR idea. It’s YOUR writing. It’s YOUR perspective on things. It’s how YOU have interpreted and experienced things that’s enabled you to create YOUR masterpiece. And the world’s most authoritative expert on your interpretation of the world is YOU!


Good luck!