Monday, 26 December 2016

Were You On The List?

Have you been good this year? Were you on ‘the list’? No, I’m not talking about Santa’s list of good little children, but of Take A Break’s list of preferred good fiction writers?

Last Thursday some of us received an email advising us of changes being made at TAB Towers, where Fiction Feast is put together. There were two different emails issued, depending upon which list you were on: one to those who were lucky enough to be on TAB’s list of preferred fiction writers, and those, like me, who were not.

In the future, only those who are on that preferred list can submit short stories for consideration. The rest of us can go elsewhere. 

Unsurprisingly, social media and facebook groups erupted with dismay. It wasn’t great news for those of us who are not 'preferred'. Especially coming three days before Christmas.

I’ve also seen the email that the ‘preferred’ writers got, and it’s clear from that that there are staff changes at TAB Towers too, with the existing staff being ‘wished well’ for the future. Make what you will of that euphemism.

But this is the business of writing. Publishing fiction in magazines is expensive. Due to the volume of submissions received it is a labour intensive process. Magazine circulations are falling, advertising revenue is falling, magazines need to cut costs.

It’s clear that the preferred writers are those who’ve had numerous stories published in Fiction Feast in 2015 and 2016. I’ve had a few, but clearly not enough. Perhaps that was my fault for not targeting (or even writing more stories for) this publication.

It's frustrating that I've had a market taken away from me. But the future depends upon the actions I take in the future.

So there are two choices here: moan about how unfair the world is, or do something about it. Find a new market. Explore a new genre. (Who knows, you might find you enjoy writing non-fiction.) I know what I'm going to do.

Every so often in the publishing world there are reverberations from the slamming shut of the doors of opportunity (many of the women’s magazine’s have dropped their fiction slots, and My Weekly only uses previously published writers). These are all things we have no control over. So rather than waste energy trying to fight such decisions it is much better to channel that energy into things that you can change. (Perhaps now is the time to self-publish your short story anthology on Amazon?)

Congratulations to those on the preferred list. (And they have worked hard to get there through regular submissions - and only by doing that were they able to achieve regular acceptances - something they did without the knowledge of what was going to pass.)

Next week is a new year. For those of you disappointed by this decision - put it behind you. Enter more short story competitions instead. Start writing longer fiction. Take a moment to consider the opportunities.

Make 2017 a great creative year.

Good luck.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Don't Expect A Marriage Proposal

“When the bell rings, that’s the start of your ten minute time slot. You must go to where your booked agent is sitting. If the last person is still sitting in your seat you must evict them from it. Pull them off the chair, pull the chair from underneath them, or simply sit on their lap, the choice is yours. Whatever you do, do not let them finish their conversation, because they are eating into your ten-minute time slot. Got that?”
What had I let myself in for? I thought this was some civilised event at a writers’ conference where I would get the chance to chat to a top London agent and perhaps get some feedback or guidance on my novel. Instead, I seemed to have stumbled across some sort of writers’ Game of Thrones event. Were we expected to fight one another to the death?
That’s the opening to my article, called Agent Speed Dating, found in the January 2017 issue of Writers’ Forum magazine. If you’ve never done it, and you’re trying to attract a literary agent, it’s certainly an eye-opening exercise. It’s also a rewarding exercise … even if you don’t secure an agent as a result.
And that’s why I wrote the article, because writers often expect too much from these events. That’s not just my opinion, but the opinion too of the the two literary agents who gave me their views on the exercise.
It’s easy to think that if you pay (and yes, these ten-minute one-to-one sessions cost money) to chat with an agent, that you’ll get signed up there and then. You won’t. 
Firstly, most of these sessions ask you to submit the first few pages of your novel - and when I say few, I really do mean a few - five, sometimes ten, at the most. You’ll also be asked to submit a short (half a page) synopsis of your novel (good luck with that!) and then a half-page biography. That’s not enough for an agent to make a decision about whether to take someone on. (And remember, some agent-writer relationships have outlasted many marriages.)
However, what you will learn from these sessions includes:
- what the current trends are in the genre in which you are writing,
- any potential pitfalls to avoid with your novel,
- how to strengthen it, or identify potential weaknesses in your novel (plotline, characterisation, dialogue - and, yes - the agent can detect this from the few pages you’ll have submitted)
- ideas on how to develop your story further.
If the session goes well, the agent might ask to see the entire typescript. Or they might say that they don’t like this particular storyline, but they might be willing to read your next. Always follow up with any offer they make, even if it might not be for a couple of years.
Some writers have been taken on by agents as a result of these sessions (read what John Jarrold has to say in my article), so these sessions can be the start of a long-term relationship. But always accept that these ten-minute one-to-one sessions are a like a first date. You might fall in love with each other at first sight, you might find you can’t stand one another, or you might think that this relationship has potential, so you agreed to a couple more get togethers to see how things pan out. But don’t expect a marriage proposal there and then.
So, if you’re in the market for a literary agent, why not check out some of the writers’ conferences taking place next year, where you can meet some literary agents face to face? (See below for links.)
Good luck.

Meeting Agents
The London Book Fair: [] (April 2017)
Winchester Writers’ Festival: [] (June 2017)
York Festival of Writing: [] (Sept 2017).
Specialist genre organisations, such as the Romantic Novelists’ Association ([]) the Historical Novelists Association ([]) offer one-to-one sessions at their annual conferences.

Monday, 12 December 2016


Two weeks ago I mentioned that the follow up to my short story collection (Ten Teatime Tales) was in production, now that some of the stories I wanted to include in it are now out of their exclusivity period. Well, I’m pleased to say that Ten Teatime Tales 2 (it took me months to come up with that title) is now available. (Just in time for all of those new electronic reading devices that will be unwrapped in a couple of weeks time.)
As writers, we tend not to think of our scribblings as products. But if you’re hoping to generate an income from your creativity it’s important to think about the different formats you can exploit in your work.
Let me give you an example. Ten Teatime Tales is a collection of ten of my previously published short stories. They’ve all appeared in magazines, or been placed in competitions, so they’ve already earned me some money. And now they’re generating another income stream appearing in this collection.
Ten Teatime Tales 2 is a collection of ten further stories, which have already appeared in print (and been paid for). From an ebook perspective it is simple enough to create a box set - one file that comprises both volumes. So, I’ve also launched Teatime Tales - The Box Set. And I’ve priced the box set accordingly, so it’s cheaper than buying the two volumes separately.
It also offers further flexibility, because when the next volume (Ten Teatime Tales 3 … I’m on a roll now with these titles) is released, it’ll be easy enough to update the box set again.
This is not just something for fiction writers to consider. The same process can be applied to non-fiction too. If you’ve written a collection of articles, all linked by a common theme, why not bring them together into an anthology: both in print and digital format?
Many of you will know that I write the Business of Writing column in Writing Magazine. I’m just in the final stages of bringing together some of these articles into book format: the ones I think will be of most interest to budding and newly published writers. The ebook version may be ready before Christmas, but I’m hoping to produce a print version in the New Year too.
All of these different products are possible because I still retain the necessary rights that allow me to exploit these opportunities in my work.
So as this year draws to a close, why not take a step back and review what you’ve produced over the last year or two? Perhaps you have a body of work that could become a new product for you: a collection of stories, an anthology or articles, or what about a book of blog posts?
Good luck.

Monday, 5 December 2016


Sometimes, things don't always go to plan. Last week, having been on a press trip for a magazine on the Saturday, I had planned on spending the week writing up my notes and transcribing the audio interview, as well as processing the photos and creating the first draft of the article. But that's not quite how things panned out ...

My left eye didn't feel quite right on Monday morning, so I saw my GP. He referred me to an optician, who I saw on Tuesday morning. The optician wasn't sure if anything was wrong, but decided to send me to A&E that Tuesday evening to double-check.

I’m pleased he did. Twenty-four hours later, I was undergoing an urgent eye-operation to repair two small tears in the retina of my left eye (under a local anaesthetic- eek!). 

I was discharged on Thursday afternoon and am now on a regime of eye-drops and check-up appointments. Part of the surgery included the injection of a gas bubble into my left eye, which will slowly dissipate over the coming weeks. In the meantime, the vision through my left eye is like looking through swimming goggles that are half full of water. Every time I move my head the bubble wobbles.

So, none of this is quite what I had planned. And working at the computer isn’t easy. Life throws us these curveballs from time to time, and while it was worrying, especially as I'm a self-employed writer, I took a lot of comfort from some of the steps I'd taken for such an eventuality like this. It's always worth being prepared for life's curveballs.

1. Every so often I review the current projects I'm working on and update my list of contact details. It's an A4 sheet of paper listing the email addresses and telephone numbers of all those key people who may need to be notified in an emergency. It's kept beside my desk, which means anyone can find it. I know that if something puts me out of action for several weeks I can ask a relative to get in touch with everyone on that list and put them in the picture of what is going on.
2. Bring your deadlines forward. Every project I have has a deadline, often set by the editor. I always set my deadline a couple of weeks before this. This gives me a good 'buffer zone' for something like this.
3. Remember the old methods: pen and paper. I still managed to draft the shitty first draft of the article I was meant to be working on, albeit in a notebook with a pen. I've said before that to feel as though we're making progress on a project we need to take small steps. Even though I'll probably end up completely rewriting this shitty first draft, I still produced something. My project moved forward from having no draft to having a shitty first draft. Despite the medical setback I was still making progress with my work.
4. Make efficient use of your time. All new reading material gets chucked to one side for reading when I have time. Well, this last week has given me plenty of time to catch up with my reading ... which has also given me some new ideas to work on.

So, fingers crossed, thanks to the prompt and fantastic action of the NHS, I should be back up to speed in a couple of weeks. But having been (sort of) prepared for something like this means last week wasn't a completely unproductive week either. 

Those few minutes, every so often, of preparing for life's curveballs paid off. 

Good luck.   

Monday, 28 November 2016

What's Mine Is Mine

Sometimes, it’s not until you build up a body of work that you really appreciate what you have created. And that’s when the consequences of being a little slap dash with the rights you grant others in your work becomes apparent.
When you’re starting out, it’s easy to be swayed into granting more rights in a piece of your work than you’d like. You know you really ought not give a publisher copyright in your article, but they are going to publish it (which is what you really want) and, let’s face it, who is going to turn Ten Alternative Uses Of A Nose-Hair Clipper into a movie?
While I will say that there can be a time and a place for assigning copyright, retaining as many rights as you can is important because you never know what opportunities may arise in the future. More opportunities can arise as your body of work builds up over time.
Freelance writer Susie Kearley has just published The Little Book of Freelance Writing. The book draws upon material and quotes she initially gathered for many of her articles. Had she sold the copyright (or granted a magazine All Rights, which is, effectively, the same thing) then she would have found producing such a book much more difficult.
So it’s because she’s been careful with the rights she’s granted in her work that she’s been able to exploit this opportunity. Having written so much, she now has a wealth of material from which to draw, something that probably didn’t cross her mind when she wrote her first article.
Some of you may know that a few years ago I collected together some of my short stories that had been published in women’s magazines, and I repackaged them into my own anthology of stories: Ten Teatime Tales. This collection continues to sell today: an opportunity I couldn’t exploit had I sold the copyright in those stories as one womag market demands.

Yes, the rights the womag markets seek these days are different than those of a few years ago, but in many cases it’s a limited exclusivity period they seek, rather than a more detrimental All Rights or Copyright clause. And although this impacts upon what else I can do with my material (which is why Ten Teatime Tales 2 has been a little while longer in coming out than I first anticipated, but it will be out soon) those limited exclusivity rights haven’t stopped me from exploiting my body of work further in in the end. So Ten Teatime Tales 2 can happen because I’ve been careful as to whom I submitted my material and, therefore, which rights in my work I’ve granted.
I know from my own experience that when you sit down and write something that you hope will become your first published piece you don’t think about how many more pieces you will write, let alone might be published. But if you are a writer, and you write on a regular basis, you will build up a body of work. And sometimes new opportunities will arise enabling you to exploit that work further. But those opportunities can only be exploited if you’re careful as to which rights you grant to a magazine or publisher in the first place. And that includes those first early pieces that you successfully get published and push you down the road to writing even more material.
Good luck.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Publishing Dilemmas

Last week I was approached by two different writers, each with their own publishing dilemma. I hope they found my comments useful, but what the queries demonstrated was that when it comes to publishing your book you need to be clear what your dream is. Only then can you decide what is right for you.

The first writer had made the decision to self-publish her novel, having spent many years writing it and then even more time trying to interest a traditional publisher. She’d come to accept that to get what she wanted - a print book she could encourage retailers to take - then self-publishing, or independent publishing, was the way forward for her. It would cost her money, but it was what she wanted.

And then, out of the blue, an American publisher got in touch to say that they liked her novel and would like to publish it in eBook format, and possibly also in print format, albeit as print-on-demand.

Now she found herself in a dilemma: self-publish the book in print format and work to get it into the shops she wanted, or have a publisher pay to have the book published in eBook format, and made available as print-on-demand (in other words, sold via online retailers only).

The second writer had been trying to get her highly-illustrated children’s book published, and finally received interest from a publisher listed in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook.

However, after reading the contract it became clear that the publisher was seeking a financial contribution from her, because of the highly-illustrated element of her idea.

With such an explosion in self-publishing, more and more writers are willing to pay to get their books to market. And that’s not necessarily wrong, as long as you know what you’re getting for your money. After all, if you’re paying then you should be calling all of the shots. For many writers, that’s the beauty of independent publishing: being in complete control.

However, as I looked through the contract this second writer had been given, it became clear they weren’t getting what they were expecting for their money. And although she was prepared to make a financial contribution to this book, what the publisher was offering for that money didn’t give her what she wanted.

Meanwhile, the first writer was still mulling over her decision, but leaning towards her initial plan of going down the independent route.

I’ve commented on this blog, and in my Business of Writing articles in Writing Magazine, that whenever you get a contract, whatever it is for, you must make sure you understand it. That’s not just because it’s vital you clearly understand the implications of any rights you’re licensing to the publisher, but it’s also important that you fully appreciate what the publisher will and won’t do, and whether that’s what you want. Does it take you closer to your dream?

For some people, their dream is to see their novel sitting on a shelf in their local independent bookshop, or on a table in Waterstones. For others, they want to see their books in libraries, or in the hands of thousands of readers via their Kindle, Kobo or Nook reading devices.

Whatever your dream is, be clear about it. Only then can you decide whether the route to publication on offer to you will help you achieve that dream and whether it’s a price worth paying. Even authors who are traditionally published are making some sort of financial sacrifice - they may not be paying any money upfront (indeed, they may be getting an advance from the publisher), but they lose control of some vital decisions over their book’s progress (such as jacket cover, and how it will be marketed). They may also have to grant the publisher more rights than they’d like, for a longer period than they’d like, as well as negotiate that all-important royalty rate. (The author who accepts a 10% royalty rate is, therefore, granting the publisher a 90% royalty rate. A traditional publisher is, though, looking to recoup their upfront investment and costs that the author hasn’t had to stump up.)

Yes, the publishing world is changing. In the old days you were either traditionally published, or you succumbed to the charms of a vanity publisher. But these days it’s a lot more complicated than that.

And what is right for one author isn’t necessarily right for another. Indeed, I am both traditionally published and self-published. I make a decision on a per-project basis now. But I base that decision upon what I want from that particular project.

So the better understanding you have of your dream, the better placed you are to assess any publishing opportunities that come your way.

Good luck.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Press Trip Preparations

About ten days ago, I was on the outskirts of the small Welsh village of Garnant, at the foot of the Brecon Beacons, visiting the animal charity Greyhound Rescue Wales. The People’s Friend asked me to go out and pay them a visit.
Although only 100 miles away, Welsh roads are not known for their straightness or speed, so when Google and the AA suggested the journey would take me 3 hours, each way (and, as it turned out, they were right), I wondered whether this was do-able in a day. Then I realised the sanctuary was merely 30 miles from where I was staying with friends for the weekend earlier this month. Thankfully, windows fell into alignment that enabled all parties to meet on the same day as my already planned travels to Wales.
Every interview/press trip experience offers a learning opportunity, and this trip was no different. No matter how much preparation you do beforehand something will always go awry. But here are my top tips when planning interviews.
  • If you’re travelling a long way to interview someone, allow plenty of time for travelling, and factor in some comfort breaks. Ideally, find a comfort break about 15 minutes away from your final destination. That way, when you arrive, you’re already refreshed and raring to go. I find supermarkets useful here. the parking is easy, most have customer toilets and many have cafes too. Never rely on there being facilities at every venue you attend.
  • Perhaps avoid topping up with petrol, as I did, especially if it’s at one of those self-service-pay-by-credit-card stations. I don’t know what the customer before me had been up to, but the petrol pump I selected was covered in petrol. And there was no where to clean my hands. Upon arriving at the greyhound sanctuary I had to ask to wash my petrol-covered hands, because I didn’t want greyhounds licking them!
  • Use Google Street View to clarify where you need to go for the final part of your journey. I don’t use SatNavs. I’ve heard too many horror stories. But Google Street view is perfect to pick up local landmarks to look out for, especially if you’re using single-track lanes!

  • Check your equipment 48 (not 24) hours before you need it. I knew I’d need to take photos so I charged my camera’s battery and spare. But when I checked my dictaphone’s batteries they were dead, and I didn’t have any spares. Having checked this 48 hours beforehand, I still had time to buy new ones (and spares). It was a good job I did put new batteries in my dictaphone. It hadn’t crossed my mind that a dog sanctuary would play Classic FM through loudspeakers to keep the greyhounds calm and relaxed. (It works brilliantly, by the way.) Thankfully, my dictaphone still had enough power to filter out some of this background noise!
  • Put your subject’s contact details into your phone, AND WRITE THEM DOWN ON A SEPARATE PIECE OF PAPER. It’s not happened to me, but I know of one person whose car broke down, and when they went to call their interviewee they then discovered their phone was dead too! A passerby offered her his phone to call the breakdown recovery people, but the only place she had her interviewee’s contact details were on her phone … her dead phone.
  • Do some research before your trip. Find out as much as you can about your venue/interviewee. Not all the information may be correct, so it’s an opportunity for you to clarify this with the expert. It’s always useful having some questions planned in advance, to help get the conversation started.
  • If you use a dictaphone, type up your notes as soon as you can after your interview - while things are still fresh in your mind. Allow plenty of time to do this too. Once people start talking, it’s amazing how much information you’ll be given.
  • Thank your subject, and anyone else who helped set up the interview, for their time. Doing it again via social media can also help promote them to your follows. (I also took a bagful of old towels with me, which the sanctuary really appreciated - as anyone who’s ever had dogs will understand!)

  • Send a copy of the published piece to your interviewees, (and anyone else who helped you to arrange the chat). It’s another opportunity for you to thank them for their time and help.
  • But above all, enjoy it! That’s what makes this job fun - being able to chat to some really interesting people.

Good luck!

Monday, 31 October 2016

Submission Agreements

There’s a new contract in town. One you have to sign BEFORE a publisher will even look at your submission. It’s called a submission agreement. But should you sign it?
I came across this a couple of weeks ago, when I was about to submit a non-fiction book proposal to Frances Lincoln. There have been a few changes at the company since the last book of mine they published (Best Walks in the Welsh Borders). They’ve been taken over by an American publisher called Quarto.
Many publishers offer some guidance to potential non-fiction authors about what they like to see in a book proposal, and Quarto helpfully point out on their website the key ingredients they require. But at the bottom of the page they state that all proposals need to be accompanied by a signed submission agreement. You can view that agreement here.
I had no real concerns about the first paragraph. It basically states that you have no claim on any projects that might currently be in the pipeline, or might be developed in the future, by the publisher, which may be similar to the proposal you’re going to submit. 
Writers have similar ideas all of the time. It is possible for two writers to submit similar ideas at the same time - it happens. I’ve experienced this myself. So this clause basically means you can’t get upset if your proposal gets rejected, but another writer’s proposal (which happens to be very similar to yours) is accepted.
But the second paragraph worried me. Firstly, I wasn’t sure I fully understood it. And that should always set the alarm bells ringing. What concerned me though, if my understanding was correct, was that they were claiming I had no claim to any new ideas that may have arisen following any discussions I had with the publishers regarding my proposal. 
Now again, it’s not uncommon for a writer to pitch an idea only to have it rejected by a publisher, but during a discussion between both parties a new idea might emerge which is of interest to them. Sometimes ideas need further development. But what worried me was that the clause seemed to suggest that the publisher could take my idea, tweak it slightly, and develop it without any further credit, or recompense, to me.
So I did what all writers should do: seek help. I contacted the Society of Authors. As a member I’m entitled to use their free contract vetting service. 
You can imagine my shock when Nicola Solomon, Chief Executive of the Society, got in touch directly and advised me not to sign the agreement as it stood. My fears were correct. Apparently, this is a common clause in the American movie world (and remember, Frances Lincoln is now owned by an American company). However, the Society have never seen this used in conjunction with book publishers. They felt this was an extremely troubling development. 
Nicola did make a valid suggestion though: that I contact the publisher, explain my reservations about the second clause and ask if they would still consider my book proposal if I signed the agreement but struck out the second paragraph.
Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. So I did. 
Now the Frances Lincoln website has an error on it, which I didn’t spot at first. When I clicked on the UK email address for book proposal submissions, it actually inserts the email address for the US publisher, not the UK one, into the email message. So my query went to the US publisher not the UK one, as I originally thought.
It was only when the US publisher replied about half an hour later that I realised what had happened! And their response? Well, to paraphrase it, they said that so many writers were querying the clause because they didn’t understand it they were looking at proposals that didn’t have the signed submission agreement. The US publisher then gave me the UK email address in case I wanted to try them! (Which is when I discovered the website’s error.)
So I emailed the UK publishers with the same query. Again, within about an hour I had a reply. They said I could make a submission and strike out the second paragraph in the agreement, and they might look at my proposal.
Not as clear cut as the American publishers, admittedly. But it does clearly illustrate a point: if you don’t understand a contract, or don’t like something in it, then there’s no harm in asking to change it.
As a result of me making my query, the Society of Authors are now looking into this matter further, with their American counterparts. It’ll be interesting to see what transpires.
If the publisher had insisted I signed their original submission agreement as it stood then I wouldn’t have submitted my proposal to them. (Perhaps that’s their intention: to dissuade writers from flooding their inboxes with non-fiction book proposals. Who knows?)
But by getting the contract clarified, and asking for it to be tweaked, I’m now in the position where instead of dismissing this potential publisher because I didn’t like their submission agreement, I can now submit my proposal on terms that I find more acceptable.
It’s a useful reminder that we shouldn’t sign anything we don’t understand. Nor should we assume that an agreement is written in stone. If you don’t like a particular clause … start negotiating.
Good luck.

Monday, 24 October 2016

How Many Copies For A Bestseller?

Last weekend I was running a series of workshops on behalf of Relax & Write about writing a bestselling non-fiction book. 
Naturally, the question arose about how many copies do you have to sell until you can claim you have a bestseller?
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t straight forward. It all depends … upon how many otherbooks are being bought at the same time. 
Book sales data is collected by Nielson Bookscan who compile their own bestseller lists, which many of our newspapers then reproduce on their book pages. Data is collected from till points across the UK, including most bookshops and many online stores, although they don’t collect sales data from every retailer with a book offering (think of the garden centres, tourist gift shops and even card retailers who sell books). However, they certainly collect a vast amount of data from a wide variety of sources, so their data is a fantastic indicator.
To be on the bestseller lists a book needs to perform well compared with other books out there in the market. What this means is that what might be a good sales performance one week is not enough for the following week.
In December 2003 my book, One Hundred Ways For A Dog To Train Its Human reached number 7 in the top ten non-fiction paperback bestseller lists. To reach that position on that particular week it had sold 5,335 copies. The book in the number 10 slot had sold just over 4,600 copies during the same week. (Number 1 was Stupid White Men by Michael Moore, which sold 11,479.)
The following week my book reached number 3 (I did the happy dance that week, I can tell you!), because it had sold 9,445 copies in the previous seven days.
However, whereas in the previous week it was necessary to sell just over 4,600 copies to make the number 10 position, in this week the book in tenth place had sold just over 6,000 copies. So, in the previous week sales of 4,600 saw the author on the bestseller lists, but the following week 4,600 sales wasn’t enough to claim bestsellerdom.
In the third week of December I reached number 2 of the non-fiction paperback bestseller lists (Yay!), having sold 12,815 copies. Tenth place was taken by a book that had sold 7,310 copies: nearly 3,000 more copies than the tenth placed book two weeks previously. (And for those who want to know, because I know you will, first place on this particular week went to Michael Moore, again, who’d sold 17,262 copies.)
So it’s all a question of relativity. And remember, the examples I’ve given here are for the run up to Christmas, the peak sales period for books. The book at the tenth position on last week’s non-fiction paperback bestseller lists had sold 2,698 copies.
As you can see, having a bestselling book is not just about how good your product is, but also about how well everyone else’s books are selling in comparison to yours, and what the overall demand for books is generally.
Of course, you can’t have a bestseller until you’ve written a book. And no author sits down to write a bestseller. Because no-one knows that magic ingredient that will make a book a bestseller. But what every bestselling author does is sit down to write a book. So if you’re gearing up for NaNoWriMo on 1st November, don’t think about bestsellerdom. Just concentrate on getting the book written first.
Good luck!

Monday, 17 October 2016

Be Explicit!

There’s an excellent article in the Autumn 2016 issue of The Author - the journal for members of the Society of Authors. Called Pulped, it is written by Guy Walters, a journalist and historian, who bravely recounts events that led to one of his books being pulped on the very weekend it was due to be published.

The reason for pulping? Copyright infringement.

However, this was not some underhand or blatant attempt to infringe copyright. Walters had been in contact with the copyright holder. He even provided his publishers with copies of the emails he’d sent to the copyright holder, explaining which passages he was planning to use in his book, and how it would help. (This is one of the reasons why his publisher stood by him, because he could demonstrate that he’d made contact with the copyright holder and explained what he was up to.)

You see, the problem was that even though Walters was in correspondence with the copyright holder, he hadn’t actually, explicitly, requested permission to use the copyright material.

I’m sure many of us would think that if a copyright holder was informed that someone was going to use their protected material they would state if there was a problem with this. Because Walters had explained to the copyright holder of his planned use of the material, and had not been advised that he couldn’t go ahead with this, he’d assumed permission had been granted. Not so, as he found out when the lawyers got involved.

Technically, he’d not specifically requested permission to use the material, so, technically, no permission had been granted to use it, hence the copyright infringement.

Thankfully, for Walters (and because he’d kept all of those emails), his publisher remained committed to the project. He had to rewrite his manuscript, removing all the copyrighted material and any references to it. His book was eventually published two years later.

It’s a compelling reminder that if you want to use someone else’s words in a project of your own, that you intend to publish, you must always seek permission from the copyright holder. If the creator is still alive, or if they died fewer than 70 years ago, the text is still under copyright.

Although copyright law allows for the quoting of some material under ‘fair use’ exceptions, the definitions of ‘fair use’ are not always as clear cut as they could be, which can keep lawyers arguing for some time. The safest solution is always to seek permission (in writing).

There is now a useful website that makes this much easier, if the material you want to quote from is in a book or magazine. Sometimes finding out who the copyright holder is can be challenging. Publishers and imprints gets swallowed up by large conglomerates. Finding the right contact at the permissions department can be difficult. 

Called PLS Clear ( it allows you to search for an ISBN, ISSN, or publication title. The results are returned, from which you can select the relevant organisation, and then proceed to make your request electronically. Most UK publishers are signed up to this scheme, which means the chances of finding the correct rights department to contact are that much greater. If your request is straightforward your permission could be granted within the hour.

The next time you want to quote someone’ else’s work, just stop and think about Guy Walters’ experience. And if that text you want to quote from is in a book or a magazine then check out the PLSClear website. Your permission to quote copyrighted material could be just a few clicks away.

Good luck.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Try, Try, Try Again

On Friday the editor of Outdoor Photography magazine got in touch. He liked one of my photos (attached) and wanted to use it for the Viewpoints section of the magazine in the December issue. As I had already supplied him with the photo, he now needed me to provide the words to accompany the photo. 

It wasn’t until I was adding the acceptance to my database that I realised I’d submitted this particular image for this same section of the magazine a couple of years ago. But on that occasion I was unsuccessful.

See? If at first you don’t succeed …

A rejection from a particular magazine is not necessarily the end of the story for a piece of work. Editors are not just making a decision based upon the quality of the material. They’re also taking into consideration other material that has been submitted, its subject matter, area of coverage, theme, tone and style of the piece. For example, perhaps when I first submitted this image the editor was inundated with other images taken in December in the Lake District. For this particular spread the editor is usually looking for a nice distribution of images from across the UK, so it doesn’t matter how good the images are that have been submitted, if he’s got too many from one particular region, he’s got too many.

Something similar has happened when I’ve submitted short stories and articles. I’ve sold both to the same markets that had previously rejected them. Short stories, in particular, can be rejected simply because an editor has got too many on a similar theme. There are only so many Halloween stories an editor can use at any one time.

The next time a piece of yours is rejected, try not to think the worst. Sometimes all you need to do is try again a bit later.

Good luck. 

Monday, 3 October 2016


Has anyone signed up for NaNoWriMo yet (National Novel Writing Month)? For those of you who don’t know, this is where writers set themselves the challenge of writing 50,000 words of their novel during the month of November. (That’s an average of 1,667 words a day.)

If you’re not used to writing big projects, this can be a great way to get started. Your aim is just to get 50,000 words written. They don’t have to be great words. They’re not perfect words. In fact, you’re not supposed to do any editing at this stage. Just write 50,000 words. At least. 

But that’s quite a challenge: not only are you committing yourself to a big idea (which you hope is big enough to sustain you for at least 50,000 words during November, and then another 20-30,000 words for the rest of the novel), but you’re also committing yourself to writing on a regular basis. Ideally, daily. For some people, especially those not used to writing something every day, NaNoWriMo is two challenges: writing every day and writing 50,000 words.

Which is where my OctoWriMo idea comes in. It’s not about a particular writing project, as such. Or writing as many words as you can. It’s simply about sitting down and writing something EVERY DAY. It’s about creating that daily writing habit.

It can take up to 28 days to form and habit and as today is 3rd October, there are 28 days until 1st November and the start of NaNoWriMo, if you take action tomorrow.

So why not make NaNoWriMo a little easier this year by tackling OctoWriMo? Make October a month of writing. Anything. It doesn’t matter what. Just write. Something. Every day.

Don’t give yourself a word count target. That’s not the point of the exercise. The task is to make sitting down somewhere and doing some writing a daily habit. A habit that will put you in good stead for November. Do that and you’re half way to achieving NaNoWriMo. Then all you need to do is to come up with a good idea for your novel. Easy. See?

Good luck. 

Monday, 26 September 2016

Irish Travel Competition T&Cs

Alex Gazzola ( has spotted that the Irish Times are running a travel writing competition (for writers based in Ireland -, and it’s another classic example of why writers should read the terms and conditions of every competition they enter, just so they know what they’re signing up to. I took a look at them and … well, I just started laughing.

But seriously, it’s another example of why writers should scrutinise the terms and conditions before entering, because they affect not just the winner, but EVERY entrant.

Here are some of the key T&Cs that either frustrated me, or made me laugh with incredulity:

“Entries may be published in The Irish Times or on All entries will become the property of the promoter. The entrant assigns all intellectual property rights in his or her submission to the promoter and waives all moral rights. The entrant confirms that all entries submitted by him or her will not breach the intellectual property rights of any third party and agrees to indemnify The Irish Times in the event of any claim by any third party that his or her intellectual property rights have been breached by the entrant’s submission. The entrant agrees that the entry submitted by him or her will not contain any defamatory material.”

Right. So entries MAY be published in the paper or on its website. Note the word entries. We’re not just talking about the winners, or those shortlisted. Any entrant’s work may be published.

All entries become the property of the promoter. Again, it’s ALL entries. Not just the winner and shortlisted. EVERY SINGLE SUBMISSION. (Note, the competition is being run in conjunction with Travel Department, who, if I understand this correctly, are the promoter of the competition. So entries become the property of Travel Department, rather than the Irish Times.)

The entrant assigns all intellectual property rights in his or her submission to the promoter and waives all moral rights. 

EVERY entrant, not just the winner, hands over their copyright and moral rights in their submission to the promoter.

But it doesn’t get any better for the winner, because further down the list of T&Cs it says:

“As part of the prize the winner will be required to submit a piece for publication in The Irish Times. Publication of this piece is at the discretion of the promoter. The winner assigns all copyright in this piece to the promoter and waives all moral rights. The promoter may amend, modify and alter this piece as it sees fit.”

What does this mean? If your entry wins, you’ll get sent on a trip somewhere, and then you’ll be expected to write it up. The Irish Times might publish your piece about your prize-winning trip … or they might not. It’s at the discretion of the promoter. But you give the promoter the copyright in this piece (as well as the copyright in the piece that won you the opportunity to write this piece). They can do whatever they like with it, without further recompense to you. (As the promoter can with all of the other entrants’ submissions.)

You also waive all moral rights, allowing them to amend it as they see fit. Waiving moral rights means you have no right to object to how your work is used by them in the future. That means they could completely change it … and your name could still appear as the author. 

So, in theory, if you get sent on an exotic prize trip to the Corley Service Station on the M6, and you write up a piece about what a wonderful destination this is, they could change it and say it’s the worst place on the planet … and it could still have your name on it (if they publish it). Even though you know that’s not what you originally wrote, everyone who reads and sees your name by it will think that you did write it. And having waived all moral rights you have no right to challenge this. Moral rights are about protecting the integrity of what you have written.

It doesn’t end there:

“The promoter reserves the right to change any aspect of the prize and amend these terms and conditions without notice,”

This phrase means the prize could be enhanced and improved, as could the terms and conditions. It also means things could go the other way. What it means is the T&Cs could change (either positively or detrimentally) after you've made your submission.

“The prize will be subject to any additional terms and conditions of the suppliers of the prize to the promoter.”

Call me old-fashioned, but if I’m signing up to something I want to know exactly what I’m signing up to. What exactly does the promoter of the prize expect the winner to do? 

“The promoter is excluded from liability for any loss, damage or injury which might occur to the winner arising from his or her acceptance of the prize.”

Okay, now I REALLY AM worried about what the promoter is expecting the prize winner to do! Injury? I don’t like getting hurt!

Of course, no one is forcing you to enter the competition in the first place. But it’s a reminder that you should fully understand what you’re agreeing to, because the Terms and Conditions apply to everyone who enters, not just the prize winners. Most competitions have a rule stating that submitting an entry means you agree to all of the T&Cs. Don’t think it’s only something to worry about should you win. It’s something to worry about before you even consider picking up your pen.

Watch out.