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.