Monday, 23 February 2015

And There's More ...

Ten days ago I received a phone call. Country Walking magazine enquired if I could undertake an urgent walk for them. Naturally, I said yes. Then I made the mistake of listening to the weather forecast and believing it when it said things would brighten up on the Sunday.

Anyway, I did the walk and spent Monday writing it up and processing the photos. Later on Monday afternoon Country Walking got back in touch. Could I do them some additional text for a new section they’re doing, linked to the walk I’d just done? (Naturally, I said yes again.) The deputy editor emailed the specific requirements, and when I say specific, I mean specific. I was given a breakdown of the number of words required for each heading. Some needed fewer than 50 words, others could be as long as 90 words.

Why am I saying this? Well, I recently marked a student’s assignment where he’d written an article that he thought could be suitable for two markets. But he hadn’t decided which one. When I reviewed them online I could see that although both markets used 1,000-word pieces (the length he’d written), they were both structured completely differently. My student had written one straightforward (no headings or other structure) 1,000-word piece. However, one of his target markets preferred three similar length sections (about 300 words each with a 50-word intro and conclusion), while the other had up to ten separate headings, with short paragraphs underneath.

My student’s article didn’t follow either of these, but at least it was relatively simple to adjust the text accordingly. However, before he does that he still has to make a decision: which one market is he going to go for first?

While it’s a simple exercise to alter your text for a different market, it makes sense to write it in the right structure to begin with. As my instructions from Country Walking show, some publications have detailed requirements for some sections of their publication. And if you’re targeting that section then you need to adhere to its structure.

So the next time you target a publication examine the structure the magazine uses in the slot you’re hoping your text will be bought for. Do you follow the same structure, right down to the number of words per heading? It could make the difference between a sale and a rejection.

Good luck.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Four Rejections With A Dose Of Realism

Last week there were four rejections at the writers’ group in Staffordshire I’ve been visiting on a monthly basis. Three were short stories and one was an article. Obviously, the mood was one of despondency, but then we started analysing the rejections.

The stories had all been given reasons for the rejections. Editors don’t have to do that. But now, as we went through the rejection letters, we realised we had something to work on … if we were going to try for that market again. It’s worth bearing in mind that rejections are just one person’s/market’s opinion. And any help an editor gives is for that specific market. This actually leaves the writer with two choices: to try another market by adapting their piece to fit that, or to take on board the editor’s suggestions and to rewrite to resolve those issues and then resubmit.

The article rejection was a shame, because the writer was so close to an acceptance. The writer had written an article and a magazine assistant had written back asking if the writer could rewrite it and make it a bit more personal. So the writer did and resubmitted. The magazine assistant got back in touch and said that the writer had now made this version too personal, and would they mind if the magazine assistant rewrote it merging the two versions into one? Well, the writer was happy for the magazine to do this. Then, when the editor saw the piece, they decided that the area of the UK this article covered had been covered too recently, and therefore the piece had to be rejected. This is just one of those things that happens. The writer was so close, and by doing what the magazine wanted was getting closer to acceptance.

Although this wasn’t the outcome that these writers wanted, I reminded them that to be rejected they’d had to write something and submit it in the first place. The three short story writers now had something tangible to work on to rewrite their stories, because the editor had given them a clue. And the article writer had got very close, and was therefore thinking of the right sort of material for the magazine and their target readership, so it would be worth having another go and sending something else in. Let’s face it - the magazine assistant is going to remember the writer’s name after all that previous correspondence.

So, despite all the rejection we decided it wasn’t the end of the world after all. There was some hope, and everyone had an idea about what step to take next.

Remember to add a dose of realism when you next get a rejection.

Good luck!

Monday, 9 February 2015

Market Research the Library Way

Buying magazines to analyse can get a little pricey at times (although it is a tax deductible expense), and I’ve commented on this blog about the different ways you can cut your costs. Another way is to use your library - or rather - to use your library’s online digital magazine service (if it has one).

My library website has an e-Lending service where it hopes to offer eBooks for lending soon. However, one service it now offers is the ability to view the latest full digital issue of 25 popular magazines. This makes use of the Zinio digital magazine facility, but you have to access it through your library’s website. For me, this was quite straight forward. I simply clicked on the link from my library’s website and then had to register to create an account. This involved quoting my library card number and then setting up a password. Simples!

And now, I have full access to the latest issues of the following magazines:

  • 25 Beautiful Homes,
  • Amateur Photographer,
  • Artists & Illustrators,
  • Auto Express,
  • Computer Shopper,
  • Cosmopolitan,
  • Country Homes & Interiors,
  • Cycling Plus,
  • Digital Camera,
  • Digital SLR Photography,
  • The Economist,
  • GoodtoKnow Recipes,
  • Health & Fitness,
  • Hello!
  • Homes & Gardens,
  • Ideal Home,
  • Kitchen Gardener,
  • MacUser,
  • marie claire,
  • Men’s Fitness,
  • National Geographic,
  • National Geographic Traveller,
  • net,
  • NewScientist,
  • Newsweek,
  • Rolling Stone,
  • WebUser,
  • woman & home,
  • Woman’s Own,
  • Your Family Tree.

You can even set it up to notify you by email when a new issue is available.

As well as magazines, my library also offers access to the PressDisplay service - this gives access to over 3,000 newspapers and magazines from over 100 different countries. All I have to do it enter my library card number and I’m away.

So next time you want to moan about market research costing an arm and a leg, check out your local library service to see if they can help you out.

Good luck!

Monday, 2 February 2015

Investigating Scrivener

Okay, so last week I mentioned my Star letter in Writer’s Forum magazine, which discussed the topic of Scrivener, and several of you got in touch to ask me more about this writing software. Now, clearly, I can’t go into a lot of detail in one blog post: indeed, there are entire blogs, books and training courses dedicated to the software. But hopefully I can give you some clues on how to go about finding out further information.

I’ve been using Scrivener for a little over three years now, and I’m no authority on the software. But I like how it works for me, which is what is important.

Scrivener has been created by a writer (who now spends a lot of his time developing the software!). It is not page layout software (like Word), but software designed to make it easy to create, edit and move text about, as well as being a receptacle for all of your research. For big projects, like non-fiction books and novels, having all of your research together in one place is great.

But Scrivener is so flexible, you can use it for any kind of writing. I have all of my articles in one file. All of my short stories are in another. All of my walking routes are in another. All these blog posting are in another file. 

However, Scrivener’s flexibility can work against it, because it can do sooooo much, so it can be overwhelming. The trick is to learn only what you need to know, when you need to know it. In other words - rather than change the way you work to make it fit with Scrivener, you should learn how to make Scrivener work the way you work. 

For example, last month, when I was creating the eBook version of The Complete Article Writer I learned how to get Scrivener to create a Table of Contents. (Five mouse clicks was all it took! Brilliant!) But I only learned how to do it when the need arose (and I’ve been using the software for over three years now).

You can find out more about the software by visiting Scrivener is available in Windows and Apple OSX formats.

Watch the ten minute overview video. ( This will give you an insight into some of what it can do. 

Download the free trial. This gives you 30 days free use of the full programme. And just to be clear on this, it is 30 separate days of use. So if you downloaded the software and open it for the first time today (2nd February), and then you open it again on 12th February that 2 day’s worth of use, not ten. 

Compared with other writing software (remember how much Microsoft Word cost you?) Scrivener costs $45 (approx £33). However, don’t think you can ditch Microsoft Word - you can’t. Scrivener is software that helps you to create your text. You do not email editors Scrivener files. Instead, you export them from Scrivener. Again, this is where Scrivener’s flexibility can become overwhelming. You can export Scrivener text in Word format, rich text format, pdf format and many other formats, including Amazon Kindle, ePub and even some movie software format. So last month, from the same file I exported The Complete Article Writer in Word format to send to Createspace to create my paperback book. Then I exported the same text from Scrivener in Amazon Kindle format to create the eBook version to upload. 

When you buy Scrivener it comes complete with a manual in PDF format. Although the manual is a readable document, don’t sit down and read it like a book. Instead, a better book to buy is Gwen Hernandez’s Scrivener for Dummies.

If you enjoy writing novels, David Hewson, author of the Nic Costa crime books, has written a guide to using Scrivener for writing your novel. Or rather, he’s written a guide as to how he uses Scrivener for writing novels. There is no right and wrong way to do this! His book is called Writing A Novel with Scrivener

Gwen Hernandez also offers useful tips and tricks for Scrivener on her website at:

Scrivener won’t improve the quality of your writing - but it may help with your productivity. Don’t expect to master Scrivener in a week. I’m still learning several years on! There’s also a fantastic forum where many devotees will try to answer any queries you have. (I’ve used them a couple of times and have always had problems solved.)

So, if you want to know more about the software click on the links, and make the most of the tutorial videos. The software won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it might just help you feel more in control of your writing.

Good luck! 

PS - no I'm not being paid by Scrivener to say any of this. I just like using the software!