Monday, 28 March 2016

Rowling's Rejections

On 25th March, JK Rowling tweeted a photo of two rejections she received , when writing as Robert Galbraith. She’d already had her Harry Potter success, so this was her starting again from scratch, in a completely different market. (As she mentions in her tweet, she’s removed the names from the letters to save embarrassment, and because she’s not publishing them for revenge, but to answer a request from a writer asking to see some of her rejection letters

Did she give up after those rejections? No. She could have done. Let’s face it, financially she did not to need to write any more. But she continued submitting. And eventually, she was published as Robert Galbraith. (It wasn’t until after it was published that news broke who Robert Galbraith really was.)

I know from my own chats with agents and editors, that it can be immensely frustrating being a writer. It might seem such a straightforward question a writer can ask: “What, exactly, are you looking for at the moment?” To which most editors and agents reply, “I don’t know, but I’ll know when I see it.”

As someone who enjoys photography, I do understand this concept. I frequently stare at a landscape view and think there’s a nice photograph there somewhere, but I can’t quite see it at the moment. My mind’s eye is surveying the whole scene, trying to identify what it is that will make me get my camera out and take the photo. Often, I’ll stand there for a while, looking. I’m hopeful there’s a decent image there somewhere, but I can’t quite determine it. If anyone were to ask me what exactly I’m looking for from that image I couldn’t tell them. But, when I do eventually find it, I know it!

The rejection letters Rowling/Galbraith received show that her books were not what those particular publishers were looking for. (Or perhaps they didn’t realise that that was what they were supposed to be looking for, and that in itself is an interesting point.) When it comes to fiction, and in some cases non-fiction too, nobody knows what’s going to be the next Big Thing. (Yes, it is frustrating that whatever happens next, it has to be Big, as far as publishers are concerned. But then, it is the Big stuff that generates the profits that enables publishers to take a risk on debut writers.)

Last week, I had my royalty statement from Hodder & Stoughton for my book One Hundred Ways For A Dog To Train Its Human. First published in September 2003, lifetime sales (to 31st December 2015) now stand at 250,996, with an additional 5,000 copies for a special print run, and Hodder are currently processing another order for 3,000 copies for another specialist supplier. (And those figures don’t include eBook sales, either.) It’s times like this I appreciate not giving up when I received my rejections for this book. I certainly never dreamt it will still be selling as it does nearly 13 years later. 

So don’t let rejection get you down. Be proud that you have something to offer publishers in the first place. And keep plugging away. JK Rowling has proved not once, but twice, that writers should never give up.

Good luck. 


Monday, 21 March 2016

Everyone's A Loser

Alex Gazzola’s excellent Mistakes Writers Make blog commented last week about a competition Vogue are running, for journalists under 25. And the classic copyright clause that all writers should be aware of pops up in the terms and conditions. Rule 3 states “Copyright of all entries belongs to Conde Nast Publications Ltd.”

Chatting about this to writer friends the other day, one of them commented, “Yes, but the winner gets £1,000 and the runner up wins £500.” This is correct. They do. And if you’re happy to sell the copyright in the two 800-word articles and three 200-word pitches you have to produce for that much money, then that’s your decision.

However, the rule wasn’t saying that the winners would be selling their copyright. The rule says that the copyright in EVERY entry rests with Conde Nast Publications Ltd, not just the top two. So, by simply entering this competition you are handing over the copyright in your 800-word articles and 200-word pitches to Conde Nast. You don’t have to win to lose your copyright. You just have to enter. 

Once you’ve submitted your entry you won’t be able to do anything else with it without getting permission from the copyright holder: Conde Nast. You can’t send them to any other publications. You can’t even put them on your own blog or website.

This is why it is so important to read all the rules of a competition. Competition rules are a contract, so it’s vital that you understand their implications. If there are any terms or conditions you don’t understand then get in touch with the competition organisers. Seek clarification. A competition organiser can impose whatever terms and conditions they like - it’s their competition, after all. (Whether Vogue really need copyright in every entry is another matter.) But it is the entrant’s responsibility to ensure they are fully aware of the rights they are granting when submitting an entry into a competition.

Good luck.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Testing, Testing, 1 ... 2 ... 3 ...

Good morning, everyone. I do hope you can hear me okay. Yes, you read that correctly. I am talking to you. Or rather, I am sitting here at my desk talking to my computer. (The best thing about this is it doesn't answer me back!) And, I have to say, I am impressed by the accuracy of the dictation software.

I have always known that my computer has dictation software pre-installed, but I have never had a need to use it. However, after reading an article on how easy it is to use, I thought I would give it to go. This software included as part of the operating software for my computer. It is possible to buy dictation software created by other companies for use on both Apple and Windows computers, and Dragon dictation software is probably the most well-known. 

If you live somewhere with a fantastic mobile phone signal (which is a bit hit and miss where I live) then you may be used to talking to your phone and asking it what the weather is like in Japan today, or where the nearest cafe is that sells iced doughnuts topped with hundreds and thousands. The mobile phone connection is needed because your speech instructions are received by your phone, transmitted via the internet to Apple’s/Microsoft’s/Google’s servers in America, interpreted, the results identified and then sent back to your phone for it to speak back to you.

Dictation software is different. It sits on your computer (although some offer the option of using the Internet for processing). And it is incredibly easy to use. Once activated, all you have to do is start talking. You do need to think about punctuation, though. And that means stating the punctuation mark that you require. So when I want a full stop, I simply say, “full stop”. 

Because of this, I found myself thinking carefully about what it is I wanted to say first, before actually saying it. It forced me to consider my sentence structure and my choice of words. You may notice that I have not used many contractions in this piece. That is because I have found the software to be more accurate without them. Of course, the longer you use such software the better trained at recognising the words you say it becomes. I have only been playing with this for about a quarter of an hour. Interestingly, I have spoken over 600 words in that time frame. Now, not all of these words are perfect, but at least I have a really good first draft from which to work.

It goes without saying, that this software works best when you are in a room on your own with no other noises or distractions to confuse it. This also means you will not be embarrassed talking to your computer screen! So if you find staring at a blank computer screen off-putting, then why not start talking to one? It can be quite surprising how quickly the words fly onto the screen. Indeed, you may find the ease with which they appear there encourages you to continue talking. And, who knows? Instead of writing your next piece you may find dictating it easier. Once you realise how quickly you can dictate these first drafts, talking to yourself becomes less embarrassing!

One occasion when I will really find this useful is when it comes to typing up handwritten work. I often write fiction first drafts in my notebooks. Instead of typing up the text, I’m going to try dictating it instead.

So why not give dictation a go? It could open up a whole new way of working to you.

Good luck. Or should that be, “Over and out?”

Monday, 7 March 2016

Up and Down

Last week, word quickly spread across social media that the ALCS statements were up … and within minutes the ALCS statement systemwas down. That’s what happens when you offer writers free money.

If you’ve had work published in UK magazines and you’re not registered for ALCS you should be. ALCS is the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (and yes, if you’re an author too, with a book that has an ISBN, you need to be registered with them too). 

ALCS collects money for secondary rights. What this means is that large organisations such as educational establishments (universities and colleges), the NHS, and even businesses when they rent photocopiers, all pay money into a pot administered by ALCS. (Actually, every time you buy a new printer/scanner, a small portion of what you pay gets funnelled into the ALCS pot too.) Because, if you’ve had something published, then that piece is available for photocopying. Remember all those photocopied handouts you got given at school, or on that training day for your employer? Well, if they were taken from a publication, then it’s only right that those people making use of the writers’ work should make some sort of financial contribution for using it.

Once a year (actually, ALCS make two payments year, but the second payment is generally for other things, not published articles), ALCS divvies the money out to all the writers who are registered with them, and who had told them about every piece of work they’ve had published in a UK magazine that (and this is the important bit) has an ISSN (International Standard Serial Number). It doesn’t matter whether your piece was an article, or a story, as long as it has been published, and you can quotes the publications ISSN, you can register your work.

The ISSN is usually quoted in the magazine (but not always) in a font size that requires several magnifying glasses. 

It also appears on the bar code, although the last digit is sometimes different, and so this isn't the correct number to use when quoting the ISSN. 

But if this sounds too complicated, don’t panic. When you’re registered and ready to record a published piece of work they have a “Look Up’ facility, where you can type the name of the magazine and search their database for the right ISSN.

It costs £36 to join ALCS, but you don’t pay anything upfront - the fee is taken from your first payment. And you can currently register any published articles/short stories you’ve had published since January 2013.

It’s worth bearing in mind that if you receive a payment, that doesn’t mean your work has definitely been photocopied somewhere. But having something published means your work is available for photocopying.

Generating an income from writing has its challenges, but this is one way of maximising your writing income. And as your portfolio of work builds, it can become a significant payment.

The ALCS has an excellent handbook which you can download in PDF format that answers most questions.

And for those of us who’re due a payment this year, keep an eye on your bank account from 18th March. (And don’t spend it all at once!)

Good luck!