Monday, 13 February 2017

All Change ... to The Business of Writing

It's all change at Simon Says! After 526 posts (blimey, have I really written that much!) I shall no longer be posting here on Simon Says. But don't panic. You can't get rid of me that easily.

My new blog is already up and running, and is called The Business of Writing, tying in with my column in Writing Magazine (and also my new book, hint, hint).

To stay up to date, please sign up to its regular updates in the Subscribe box (just above my ugly mugshot on the right hand side of the page: ). And just in case you need a bit of an incentive, everyone who subscribes before 28th February will go into a draw to win a free copy of my latest book The Business of Writing.

Do check out the new blog, because there's lots of useful information on there, including a selection of free downloads:

Thank you to everyone who's followed me via Simon Says. Who'd have thought that first post on 29th November 2007 would have led this far? Still, I think it emphasises the point I often make:  if you write a little on a regular basis it's amazing how it grows into something substantial.

Let's see where this journey goes!

Good luck.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Creative Equilibrium

I’ve just come back from a week’s break in the Lake District, and now I’m raring to go (which is good, because I’ve lots to do). But it reminded me of a comment I heard in a podcast by author Joanna Penn, who spoke about Creative Equilibrium.
The idea behind it is a simple one: balance. 
As writers we need to be creative. It’s only by being creative that we can write. But if we wrote … and wrote … and wrote … and wrote, eventually we would use up all the creativity in our well. Once our well is dry then the dreaded block arrives. We need to refill that well, and that means going off and doing something that isn’t writing.
Of course, going off and doing something that isn’t writing can be fun - some might say much more fun that writing. And so if that’s all you do … go off and do fun things, then you won’t have time for being creative. The swing, or seesaw, has swung too far the other way. 
To be most productive, it’s therefore a good idea to go off and do something that isn’t connected with writing, for a short while, to restore your creative well. Once your creativity has been restored, then you need to sit down and draw upon it: write. But never write so much that that you drain your creative well. Draw as much as you can from it, without causing it to run dry, before going off and doing something completely different that helps to restore those creativity levels.
Keep your creative well topped up regularly, and you’ll have plenty of creativity to draw upon and write. Write a bit. Do something else. Write a bit. Do something else. Continue in this pattern and your creativity will be equilibrium: nicely balanced.
This balance can work on several different levels. If you’ve spent three hours working on a project, then reward yourself by taking a break. Don’t think of it as stopping writing, but as rebalancing your creative equilibrium. Give yourself an hour off to do something different. Go for a walk. Go shopping. Go to the cinema.
Likewise, if you’ve been writing all week, then take the weekend off. Go and visit friends. Visit a new place - be a tourist. Soak up some new atmosphere.
Or if you've been working on a project for several months, give yourself a week off. Go away. Recharge those batteries, by restoring your creativity.
For some people, research can be a great creativity restorer. We need to find out information from which to gain inspiration. However, there are many writers who spend too long on it, and it simply eats into their writing time. It stops them from writing. They might think that research is writing, but it isn’t. It’s writing-related, but it isn’t writing. Instead, think of research as part of the creative equilibrium - it helps to redress the balance, but only if you stop it at some point and start writing.
So the next time you feel stuck, blocked, or unable to write something, consider your creative equilibrium. Perhaps you’ve been writing too much recently, and you need to do something different. Go off and explore. Find something new to write about. Refill your well of creativity. Bring it back into equilibrium.
Good luck.

Monday, 30 January 2017

The Geology of Writing

What’s writing got to do with geology? Well, it’s all to do with prioritisation and focus.

I did this as an exercise, last week, at one of the writers’ groups I go to, and it’s a great way of showing how important it is having your writing projects correctly prioritised.

First you have time, represented by this jar:

Time is fixed. We all have the same amount of time. Nobody has any more time than anyone else. Those who achieve more simply use it more efficiently.

When it comes to writing, many of us have lots of plans and goals we’d like to achieve. Some of us want to write novels, or non-fiction books. We also want to write articles and stories. Perhaps you want to put together a poetry collection this year. And then there’s all the other writing-related stuff, like social media (because publishers are always banging on about how writers MUST have a social media presence). So we need to have author pages on Facebook, and we must interact with our readers, tweet them with our latest news, as well as all the other admin stuff of dealing with emails, sending out invoices, writing pitches, etc, etc, etc. Sometimes there just doesn’t seem to be enough time.

It depends. There is, if you get the geology right.

Think of your top priority projects as BIG ROCKS. Need to get that first draft of a novel written this year? BIG ROCK project. Want to enter six short story competitions this year? BIG ROCK project.

Then there are the other projects, which are still important, but perhaps not as high a priority: articles to write, poems to create, those story ideas that you want to develop. These are your little rock projects.

And then there’s all the extra, low-priority stuff. You know you need to create an author page on facebook. Well, how do you do that? You’ll need to sit down at some point and research that, read up about it first and then sort it out. And then there’s all those emails to process, and Twitter messages to respond to … This is SAND stuff.

The problem many writers face is that they have all of these dreams and goals, but they forget to prioritise them. So if you have two hours of writing time today, you might just check your Twitter feed first. Or perhaps you’ll answer a few emails. You’re starting with the SAND projects. You’ve focussed on the low priority stuff first. That's understandable, because it's also the easiest stuff to do.

And there’s a problem with this. It’s the sort of stuff that easily distracts you …

Before you realise it, you’re spending more and more of your writing time on this. And suddenly, you realise you’ve spent over an hour and a half of your two hours of writing time on the SAND stuff.

So you panic. I must get some proper writing done! But, instead of tackling the bigger projects, you go for the less-difficult ones - the LITTLE ROCK projects. These aren’t so daunting.

And then, having slipped into a more productive frame of mind, you begin to think about those BIG ROCK projects. But, guess what? You’ve run out of time! They don’t fit.

No matter how hard you try, you can’t get the lid on.

Instead, you need to think differently. If you devote more of your time to your BIG ROCK projects, you’ll find that, over the course of the year, there’s time to fit them in.

And then you’ll see that there’s even enough time to fit in all of those LITTLE ROCK projects too.

And that’s not all. By prioritising this way, focussing on the important stuff first, there’s even time to deal with all of that SAND stuff that we know we should be doing, but never seem to find the time to do. In fact, stay focussed like this and you might surprise yourself about how must SAND stuff you can fit into your writing day...

(And before you ask - yes - the quantities of BIG ROCKS, LITTLE ROCKS and SAND was the same in both illustrated examples.)

I’m sure many of you will have seen this before. It’s a popular way of illustrating the benefits of correct prioritisation, which works best when ‘seen in the flesh’, which it was when I delivered it as part of a workshop at the writers’ group. I did question my sanity of doing this though, as I’m still One-Working-Eye Whaley at the moment, so pouring sand into a small container wasn’t the brightest of ideas. (Some of it did escape during the workshop.)

But the most useful aspect of this, I’ve found, is not the realisation that you need to focus on the BIG ROCK, high priority stuff first. It’s the sitting down and breaking down your writing time down into BIG ROCK, LITTLE ROCK, and SAND slots.

So, for example, imagine you have three hours a day in which to write. You could allocate 90 minutes of that to BIG ROCK projects, 60 minutes to LITTLE ROCK projects, leaving the remaining 30 minutes for SAND projects.

Then, with your time allocated like this, all you need to do is identify the geological type (priority) of each of your writing projects. 

If you only work on BIG ROCK projects during BIG ROCK time, and LITTLE ROCK projects during LITTLE ROCK time, you will achieve your most important writing priorities. Not only that, but you’ll also have time for the less important (and quite often) fun stuff too.

This focus, knowing that you have time allocated for various projects can help you to keep on track. Remember the 30 minute LITTLE ROCK time mentioned above? Well, if you finish a LITTLE ROCK project in 20 minutes, you still have 10 minutes of LITTLE ROCK time left. So start the next LITTLE ROCK project. Yes, you only have 10 minutes, but you can still make a start. YOU CAN STILL MOVE THAT PROJECT FORWARD.

You’ll be surprised what you can achieve in that time. Last week, I had 10 minutes left of LITTLE ROCK time, and in those 10 minutes I found an editor’s email address, and I bullet pointed the idea I wanted to pitch to him. I didn’t have time to finish the pitch, but it didn’t matter, because the following day when I moved onto my LITTLE ROCK projects, it was easy to do because I’d already started it. I finished off that pitch and then started working on my next LITTLE ROCK project.

So, understand the geology of writing, and you’ll give yourself a solid foundation from which to get lots of writing done.

Good luck!

Monday, 23 January 2017

DACS Detail

You may remember that at the start of the year I posted about the upcoming changes at DACS and ALCS regarding the way we can claim secondary rights for any images used in our work. 
For those who don’t know, when our work is published it becomes available for photocopying. The Copyright Licensing Agency collects money from various sources (organisations such as schools, universities, public sector organisations, etc), and they redistribute that money to writers and illustrators, via a couple of distribution agencies. To receive a share of the cash you need to be a member of the relevant distribution agencies: ALCS and DACS. (I should point out that it’s not just photocopying money that is redistributed by these organisations, but it’s one of main sources of their income.)
Historically, if you’ve had words published then you registered your published article with ALCS and claimed from them. And if you’ve had photographs published then you registered and claimed for them via DACS. Therefore, if you had a travel article published in a magazine, and a few of your photos (photos that you took on your camera) were used to illustrate the article, then you were entitled to make claims to both ALCS and DACS (ALCS for the words in your article and DACS for the photos accompanying your article.)
This year changes are taking place, which will make claiming much easier for some of you. It seems that following a review in 2015, the CLA increased the proportion of the photocopying pot of money that went to visual artists (ie, photographers). 
Reading between the lines (and please remember, I’m still One-Working-Eye Whaley undergoing treatment for the retina problems in my left eye … so not everything is as clear as it could be), there was some ‘discussion’ between several of these distribution agencies about how, and who, was best placed to distribute this dosh to visual artists. It must have been a heated discussion for what we’re dealing with now is the result of mediation.
If you are a member of DACS, then you can’t use the ALCS service (which makes sense, because they don’t want you claiming twice!). You should continue to claim your share of the pot for illustrations via DACS.
However, if you’ve never claimed for photos before, and you think you might be eligible, then you might want to consider making your claim via ALCS. Remember, with ALCS you can only claim for photographic uses in magazines in books. If your photos may have appeared elsewhere (such as on television), then you should consider claiming via DACS.
Both ALCS and DACS are accepting claims for images published before 31st December 2016. If claiming via ALCS you need to do this by 10th February 2017. If you’re claiming via DACS then your ‘traditional’ claim needs to be submitted by 1st May 2017.
If you’ve claimed via DACS before you’ll see they’re now starting to collect more detailed data than they have in the past. This is not a bad thing, in my opinion. This is a requirement following the mediation between all of the agencies. 
What information do they want? ISSN of magazine, magazine title and the number of times your photos have appeared in each publication. Optionally, you can also include a description of the image used.
This detailed claim needs to be submitted by 17th February 2017, (so before your usual DACS claim, but there’s nothing stopping you submitting both before this date).
Over time, DACS wants to collect a lot more of this historical detail, so to encourage you to do this, 10% of this year's distribution pot will be set aside and dished out only to those who provide this extra detail. This percentage will increase over the next few years, for those who include this extra information in their claims, until 2021.
So, when will you receive your royalties? Hopefully, before the end of the year.
If you’d like to know more about why this has all happened, and what might happen in the future, then check out the FAQ page on the DACS website. (But you might want to put a towel over your head and go into a darkened room before hand.) 
How this will affect claims is yet to be seen. But it’s clear, if you have this information to hand then make your claim so you share in the extra 10% pot. And if you don’t, then start collecting this information now for future claims.
Good luck.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Advice From More Than 50 Writers

Regular followers will know that I often comment how small steps lead to bigger journeys. Write 500 words every day and in 200 days you have a 100,000-word novel. (Well, the first draft, anyway!) 
Several years ago I had my first article published in Writing Magazine, and then another, and another, and then in 2014 the editor asked me to contribute on a regular basis. The Business of Writing column was born. 
For these articles, I often chat to other writers about how they deal with various elements of their writing business, and it struck me that, over the course of the column so far, I’ve gathered a wealth of information from these people. It seemed right to gather together some of these pieces and put them in book format.
So, guess what?
Packed with advice from over 50 writers (58 to be precise), some of whom have been on the UK bestseller lists, or the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists, The Business of Writing - Volume 1 answers some of those important questions writers find themselves asking at various stages of their writing career:
  • when should I use a pseudonym?
  • how do I become more productive?
  • what records do I need to keep?
  • which laws affect me as a writer?
  • which rights should I sell, which should I retain?
  • what do I do when I get a book contract?
  • how do others cope with that crisis of confidence (which we ALL get)?
  • how to cope with rejection?
It’s available in Amazon Kindle format now (£2.99), with other ebook devices becoming available over the next few days. And there’ll also be a print version in the next few weeks too.
Never did I think, when I sold my first article to Writing Magazine all those years ago, that I would go on to create all of this material (or have the opportunity to chat to some amazing writers). But it just shows you how, by taking those small steps on a regular basis, you can create a body of work.
The next time you feel stuck on a writing project, don’t think about trying to complete it. Take a smaller step instead. Think about writing the next sentence. That’s all you need. For now. (Alternatively, you could just buy my book and let 58 other writers inspire you to get going again!)
Good luck!

(For a detailed breakdown of the articles included in the book, visit:

Monday, 9 January 2017

More Mistakes

He’s at it again. No, not making mistakes, but helping stop newbie writers from making them. Alex Gazzola’s latest ebook in his Mistakes Writers Make series is now available, and this one looks more at the practical side of things when starting out on the road to publication.
50 More Mistakes Beginner Writers Make takes a closer look at targeting readers’ letter pages (something I still do - I have the star letter in January’s Garden Answers magazine, and am looking forward to receiving my star prize), as well as generating ideas for articles, pitching them to editors, and crafting an article.
Drawing upon some of the real mistakes he’s seen some of his students make, as well as those made by other writers contacting him in his capacity as an editor, Alex’s book stops you following in those amateurish footsteps, and gets you on the professional road quickly. 
We all make mistakes, and there’s nothing wrong with that - as long as we learn from them. But it also makes sense to learn from others’ mistakes so you don’t have to make them in the first place.
This book, like the first in the series, explains the craft in an easy-to-read, practical manner. And if you haven’t bought the first in the series, then you’re missing out. (So why not get a copy here: 50 Mistakes Writers Make.)
Good luck.

Monday, 2 January 2017

DACS Changes

It’s all change at DACS. There are two dates you need to put into your shiny new 2017 calendar:
  • 16th January 2017
  • 17th February 2017
The first date is when the DACS Payback Scheme opens for your 2016 claim, which is much earlier than usual (traditionally, it’s opened in August). The second deadline is the cut-off date for claims.
For those of you who don’t know, the DACS Payback scheme is the system photographers use for claiming money they're entitled to for any secondary uses of their work (the most common example of which is photocopying: a magazine might pay you for using your photo in their publication, but if someone else then photocopies that magazine article you’re entitled to be paid for that use too). It’s similar to the ALCS system for words.
Historically, I felt the system worked well. Claims for words was made via ALCS and claims for photos via DACS. Now, it’s all changing, following some ‘interesting’ discussions between several organisations that deal with the income derived from secondary rights. Some of these changes will make things easier for some people, but not everyone.
For example, ALCS recently surveyed writers, asking if they would be interested in claiming for photos at the same time. For some writers this makes sense. If your photos have only ever appeared alongside your articles, such as travel pieces, then being able to make one claim will probably be easier for you. (I’m not sure if ALCS plan on introducing this for this year, but it’s obviously something they’re exploring.)
However, for someone like me, whose photos appear in books and on television (I’m BBC WeatherWatcher Snapper Simon, if you didn’t know), I can’t claim for all of my photograph uses via an organisation like ALCS. (Indeed, just to complicate matters further, photographic agency websites like Alamy offer a service to collect DACS funds on your behalf - fine if you only sell images via Alamy, though). I shall still need to submit a separate DACS claim, as well as an ALCS claim.
Because of these changes, DACS need to collect a lot more information from photographers - similar to the level of detail that ALCS collects from writers (ISSN/ISBN of every market every photograph has ever appeared in). Historically, for DACS, we’ve only had to account for three detailed uses of our photographic uses, for auditing purposes. From now on DACS will need this level of detail for EVERY image (and quite right too, in my opinion).
They accept that this will mean a lot of work for some people. (Thankfully, I’ve always collected all of this extra information, so it’s not too difficult for me), but the important point to note is that changes are taking place, so make sure you read carefully any information DACS or ALCS offer for future claims. 
DACS will put more information online nearer the time, although they’ve attempted to answer some of the most common questions here:
Whatever you do, make sure you claim what you’re entitled to claim. These secondary rights payments are important to us.
Good luck.