Monday, 26 January 2015

Letter Stepping Stones

I know I’ve said it many times before, but I’m going to say it again here … because it’s happened again. Letters can be useful stepping stones.

My reader’s letter is the star letter in the latest issue of Writer’s Forum magazine. I’d written in response to an article in the January issue of the publication, about the Scrivener writing software (of which I use and am a fan of). The article mentioned that the learning curve for Scrivener is quite steep.

Drawing upon my many years of using the software, I wanted to pass on some extra information, and this is where a reader’s letter can be useful. I explained that I agreed with the writer’s comments, but then gave readers some further pointers, which included making the most of the video tutorials, and only learning to use the bits of the software that you actually need to use. I also recommended a couple of books.

Now, I can’t be certain, but I think my letter was published because I was giving reader’s additional information. My letter augmented the article, so readers were benefitting from my suggestions. But as the star letter I’ve now won a year’s free subscription (worth nearly £40, so not to be sniffed at!).

My letter has also generated another article idea, which I’m in the process of developing.

I’ve also recently submitted another letter to a journal, and the editor replied last week saying that he couldn’t agree more with the comments I was making. As a result, he’ll be using my letter in the next issue. Brilliant. Even better was the way he ended his email: by the way, I’m open to article pitches if you have any ideas.

Well, what do you think I did next? Yep. A pitch has been submitted.

So they may only be short and relatively easy to write (it’s still worth spending time editing letters and making sure they’re succinct and to the point), but they can lead to other projects.

Good luck.

Monday, 19 January 2015

It All Started With Some Snow

Winter arrived in many parts of the UK last week, and when I say winter, what I mean is snow. Here in Shropshire, on the Welsh Borders, we copped a good dollopful, to use a technical weather term! Wednesday morning dawned bright, cold, but sunny, so I wasn’t going to hang about. I slipped on my walking shoes and set off with my camera to do my daily walk. And it was the right thing to do, because a couple of hours after getting back the blue skies disappeared and the grey cloud rolled in.

I’m used to taking photos specifically to illustrate magazine articles, but on days like this, it’s nice to simply go out and make the most of what the world has to offer. But that doesn’t mean to say that these photos are wasted. There’s an opportunity in everything.

Later on that afternoon I had an email from an editor thanking me for some work I’d sent through. He ended his email by commenting on the weather - that where he was he had loads of snow, and did I have any? So naturally, I responded, but just before I hit ‘Send’ I thought I’d send him a copy of one of my photos taken earlier in the day. I sent the photo shown here.

About five minutes later the editor came back - saying how lucky I was to have blue skies - all he had was a dark grey one.Then he asked if I had any winter-themed travel articles planned, because his magazine was always looking for good winter front covers. I’m sure you’ll have realised by now that one should never look a gift horse in the mouth!

Admittedly, I was challenged slightly in that the snow was melting, and the blue skies had already disappeared. This wasn’t something I could sort out now. And this is where my own photographic library that I’ve built up over the years comes in useful. Browsing my own library for snowy images I quickly spotted a theme, and one I should have thought of much earlier. I often say to students to write about their home town as a travel destination, because they live there, so that makes them an expert. And which place in the world do I have the most snowy pictured of? My own doorstep. 

I selected a small collection of images, created a pitch for a travel piece about my home town and sent it to the editor to see if he was interested. Twenty four hours later I had the commission, and the article will be used in an issue in December this year. 

So, whatever you do has the potential to become a commission. This one simply started with some snow falling last Tuesday night.

Good luck!

Monday, 12 January 2015

The Complete Article Writer

Welcome to my New Year plug! I have just finished going through the self-publishing process, which involved creating a substantial print and eBook version of the text for the first time. And it’s been an interesting journey, which isn’t over yet, judging by some of the problems I was having on Friday. But the books are out there, so it’s time to start telling the world! (You lucky people, you!)

The Complete Article Writer began life as a series of eight workshops for the Writers Holiday event in Fishguard last year. The course went well, the delegates enjoyed it, and I realised that the structure of the course would make a good book (I hope!). So, I came home from the course at the end of July, spent most of August and September writing it, and October editing it. November was taken up with getting a proofreader friend to edit it and December was sorting out the finer details, such as making a final decision about the cover, before arranging for a proof physical copy to be printed and sent to me. After that, I then set to work creating the eBook version.

The print version is now available through Amazon, as is the eBook version, which is currently being distributed via Smashwords and will also be available through Apple’s iBooks/iTunes and various other eBook channels such as Kobo and Barnes and Noble.

I had pitched this idea to a traditional publisher, but when I examined the contract I was being offered I felt that I could probably do better by self-publishing. Self-publishing isn’t right for every project, but it can be the best option for some.

So, what can you expect to learn from The Complete Article Writer? Well, in the book I explore:

- how to generate article ideas and then mine them for their maximum potential,
- how to analyse a magazine to learn which bits of your idea a magazine’s specific readership will be interested in,
- how to choose the right structure for your article (and how a different structure can give you a different article),
- how to add creativity and sparkle to your articles - non-fiction isn’t just about repeating facts, but how you repeat those facts,
- how to pitch your idea to an editor first, and get them to commission you to write the article,
- what it means when a publication asks for certain rights in your article and what affect this has on what else you can do with it.

There’s another reason why I wanted to self-publish this book: I have more control over its price. I’ve set the price of the print book to £7.99, which I think is good value for a 60,000-word book that weighs in at over 200 pages. The eBook version is £2.99, which I hope will be seen as good value for what it offers.

I hope readers find it useful, practical and informative, and even better if they leave some lovely reviews too.

Would I go through this self-publishing process again, after this? Yes. For the right project. But one thing that I do think is important is that if you’re going to self-publish don’t just go down the eBook route: produce a print version too. Recent figures suggest that there is still a huge demand for print books, and eBook sales have waned recently. Don’t get me wrong: the eBook isn’t dead, but then neither is the print book.

I wish everyone a creatively prosperous 2015. And perhaps buying a copy of The Complete Article Writer will help you with that creative prosperity  

Good luck!

Monday, 5 January 2015

New Year Inspirations

The start of the new year often fires up writers with their desire to get something published, but finding ideas can be a little difficult. Well, a great way to get the creative juices flowing is to draw upon any interesting anniversaries that are coming up in the next twelve months, which include:

- 60 years ago on April 5th, Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister.
- 150 years ago on April 15th, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
- 70 years ago on May 8th was VE Day.
- 40 years ago on June 18th the first North Sea oil was pumped ashore.
- 80 years ago on June 1st the driving test became compulsory for all new drivers in the UK.
- 50 years ago on July 8th, Ronnie Biggs escaped from Wandsworth prison.
- 30 years ago on September 1st, the remains of Titanic were located in the North Atlantic.
- 150 years ago on 30th December, Rudyard Kipling was born.

For a wealth of other anniversaries, check out the full list available from Expert Sources at:

And a bit of self-promotion here - the publisher of my writing books (Photography for Writers, The Positively Productive Writer) are currently selling the Kindle versions for 99p this month. If you haven’t bought them already, then now is a good time to get your hands on a copy.

Happy New Year … and may 2015 be creatively prosperous for you all.

Good luck!