Monday, 26 October 2015

Your First Three Months for Free!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Last Saturday, the writers group I go to organised a couple of workshops for the local literary festival, and one of our guest speakers was journalist Nick Fletcher. Nick has worked for several of the UK’s national newspapers and continues to write for them and many magazines on a freelance basis.

He was passing on his hints and tips for writing articles, and he made an interesting suggestion, one that some might find a little controversial. If you want a regular column, offer to write it for free. Or rather, offer to supply a column and give the editor the first three or six pieces on a free trial basis (three pieces for a monthly publication and six for a weekly publication). Once the free trial was over, Nick would then ask the editor if they’d like him to continue with his column, but now pay him for each subsequent piece.

He’d discovered this technique was successful, but added some important caveats:

  • His column filled an existing void in the magazine - his column ideas met the needs of the magazine’s readers that weren’t currently being met by the magazine.
  • His subject matter (motoring) often helped the magazines bring in more advertising … which is why the editors were keen to continue the column and, more importantly, start paying for his contributions.
  • The free pieces he offered were reworked articles he’d already sold, so he wasn’t wasting a lot of time on this exercise, in case the outcome wasn’t what he wanted.

Nick was treating the writing-for-free element of this exercise as an investment, much like many special offers try to entice customers into using new services. He couldn’t guarantee that it would work every time, but as long as he was offering a service that met a need, he stood a chance of being rewarded for his efforts. And by the time Nick’s ‘free trial’ offer ended he discovered that many editors had received readers’ letters generated by his pieces, so he knew readers were engaging with what he was supplying. That also makes it harder for editors to stop using material that readers are engaging with!

So, if you’re looking to become a regular columnist, this could be one way of doing it. But you need to offer the right material to the right readership, and be sure you can do it on a regular basis for some time to come.

Good luck.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Very Good Lives

I’ve just read a book by J K Rowling. No. Not a Harry Potter novel. Nor was it one of her Robert Galbraith novels either. It’s a title called Very Good Lives, and it is a book version of the graduation day speech she gave to the students at Harvard University in 2008. It is subtitled The fringe benefits of failure and the importance of imagination

In her speech she talks about the fear of failure being the driving force that spurs many people on to succeed. However, she also explains that those people who have failed have learned something … often about themselves … and often something that no university can teach them. It’s this knowledge that then propels them to success, not the fear of failing again.

As writers it is easy to assume that success is whatever outcome we dream of for the current project on which we are working … and any other outcome is therefore a failure. But there is success in everything we do. If an article or short story gets rejected then it’s perceived as a failure: the end result was not what we dreamed of. But we have succeeded at something, because we still have something to submit or something to rewrite before resubmitting. It’s more than the blank page that the person who was too scared of failure ended up producing.

Marlon James has been in the news last week, as the winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize. And one thing the media has picked up on is his story about how his first novel was rejected by 78 publishers. He even considered giving up writing. But he didn’t. Those 78 rejections probably felt like huge failures at the time. But he didn’t give up. Those failures did not stop him becoming a Man Booker Prize-winning novelists, did they?

As Rowling says in her speech, “It is impossible to live without failing at something.” We’re all failures. But failing is a success, because it means we’re attempting to do something. We’re taking a risk. And every time we fail we learn a little bit more about ourselves and our project.

So don’t let the fear of failure stop you from tackling a writing project. A writer is someone who writes, not someone who gets every word they ever write published. As Thomas Edison once said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.

So if you have an idea for a project then pursue it. You never know what the outcome might be. Marlon James probably didn’t envisage his first novel being rejected 78 times, and therefore feeling a failure 78 times over. But he probably didn’t feel a failure when he collected his cheque for £50,000.

Good luck.

Very Good Lives by J K Rowling
RRP: £9.99

Sales of very Good Lives benefits Lumos, an international charity founded by J K Rowling that works to end the institutionalism of children around the world.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Experience Constipation

Experience constipation. There’s a lovely thought for a Monday morning! It’s a phrase used by Getting Things Done guru David Allen in his latest newsletter, and it’s something I think we writers should consider. It happens, he says, when we stop doing things because of past experience. It’s as if we’re afraid to make mistakes. We want to know that everything is going to work out right, before we even make a start on our projects. If we don’t know, or can’t be certain, then we don’t take the risk and start.

In Anne Lamont’s Bird by Bird she tells readers it’s okay to write “shitty first drafts.” In other words, it’s okay to make a mistake. That’s the whole point of first drafts. How many times have we been told that writing is all about rewriting? Editing is where it all happens. When you write something you have something to edit. When you have something to edit you have something to polish.

As a businessman David Allen knows the importance of good ideas. As writers we need ideas. And Allen’s advice to business entrepreneurs is just as valid to us: “The best way to have a good idea is to have plenty of bad ones.” In other words, bad ideas are okay … as long as you later realise it’s a bad idea, but understand that it helped you to progress to a good idea. In Allen’s experience, many business people fail to have good ideas, because their experience constipation stops them from having ideas. They’ve experienced bad ideas and don’t want another one.

I remember watching a documentary about the businessman Richard Branson where he discussed the benefits of failure. Some of the best business people in the world have been some of the biggest failures. But they’ve learned from those failures. They wouldn’t have developed into the successful business people they have without first being a failure. Those failures were of use to them.

So, write down all of those ideas. Don’t dismiss them now. Judge them later. Write them down. Doing so frees up your brain to have another idea. Likewise, don’t stare at a blank page dismissing out of hand every first sentence you come up with because it isn’t good enough. Stop judging. Just write it down. You can edit it later, when you’ve finally got rid of the naff first line from your brain, giving it the space to think of something better at some point in the future.

If you want to write something, write it. If it turns out to be complete cack - so what? Who cares? You don’t have to show it to anybody. But once you’ve written it, you might find that there’s something there after all. Those initial mistakes - the wrong choice of words, the erroneous starting point, the inappropriate point of view - they can all be rectified.

So don’t suffer from experience constipation. Have a good clear out and just get writing. (Sorry!) 

Good luck. 

Monday, 5 October 2015

If It's Good Enough For The Scottish Rugby World Cup Team ...

Last weekend I was running my The Complete Article Writer course in Leeds, on behalf of Relax and Write (who do a wide range of great courses). When I arrived I discovered the hotel and conference centre was also the official venue for the Scottish Rugby World Cup Team. Not only that, but to get to our workshop rooms we had to walk through their designated area of the conference centre.

I must admit to being a little nervous. There were No Media Beyond This Point signs everywhere and security guards checking passes and stopping any unauthorised access … and my press pass was sitting tightly in my wallet.

During the course of the weekend I saw snippets of how the Scottish Rugby Team were preparing for this event and realised that as writers, we can learn from them too. (So could the English Rugby Team, but this is not the place for that discussion!)

1) Respecting Our Bodies
On Saturday morning all so the coffee machines in the conference centre had signs stuck to them. The team’s next game was Sunday afternoon, so their caffeine intake was restricted and then prohibited completely after 3pm on Saturday afternoon.

Now, I know many writers swear by their caffeine intake, particularly when there’s a deadline looming. But rather than need three cups of coffee in order to get going in the morning, or six more cups to keep going into the early hours of the next morning, it’s much better to have a naturally clear head. So, if you’re finding it difficult to think, don’t force it. Don’t turn to the caffeine in the hope that it’ll help you to produce something, because it may not. And even if it does it may not produce the quality you’re after. The Scottish Rugby Team respected their bodies. They know they get better results without the artificial stimulants.

2. Watch Our Competitiors
On Saturday afternoon they had all piled into one of the larger conference rooms to watch Wales playing England. They were scrutinising the competition to see how they were playing, and what tactics they were using.

Writers need to do the same. Read widely. Read what your direct competitors are writing. What are fellow article writers discussing? What sort of storylines are fellow short story writers coming up with? We learn from each other, so what can yo learn from other writers?

3. Do Something Completely Different
The Scottish Rugby Team weren’t always practising and training. They were chilling out. A change is as good as a rest. Some were playing games on their smartphones and tablets. Others were reading. Some were pretty good with a guitar, too.

Stepping away from our writing is just as important for us. Writing in our garrets shuts us off from the real world, which means we need to make time to re-engage with it. Step away from your writing desk on a regular basis - it doesn’t matter whether you write full-time or part-time - we all need that break, because it helps keep our minds fresh and receptive to new ideas.

Good luck.