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.

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!