Monday, 29 August 2011

Going, going, gone .....

I'd like to thank all my followers on Article Antics for their support and interest over the year and a bit this blog has been going. But, unfortunately from the 1st September 2011 I will be closing this particular blog down. I will still be blogging at http://jlpwritersquest.blogspot.com so you are very welcome to join me there where I will be blogging about all things writing: articles, short stories, novels and poems, etc.

The reasons for closing this blog down is because I'm finding it increasingly difficult to devote as much time as I'd like to both blogs so one had to give! I also want to concentrate more on my actual writing.

So thank you, once again,

Happy writing

Julie xx

Blowing Bubbles

Well, for some of us the summer holidays are almost over. It's one week until the kids return to school here and the seven weeks they've had off has just flown by.I haven't done as much writing as I'd planned or would have liked to have, but that was my choice. And now that the Autumn term is about to start, I'm quite excited by the increase in my writing time this means. It's bad enough to stay motivated and hide in my office when my husband's on his days off from work, but it's nigh on impossible when our daughter is off school and she and her friends are charging around, shrieking 'Justin Beiber' at the top of their voices!  So getting back to some 'normality' will be refreshing (and I get to listen to Justin Beiber's CD all by myself - only joking <cough>)

As you might well know, I've been trying, recently, to broaden my horizons on the article writing front and pitch to magazines I haven't targeted before. It's a bit hit and miss - some editors have ignored me, some have said an outright no, and some have said pitch again in a few months. But I'm working on an article for the one editor that has said yes. It's been fun researching for it and has given me the impetus to keep pushing forward with article writing. A lot of the pitches and articles I'm doing now can also be used for the journalism course I'm still doing, so I'm hoping to kill two birds with one stone.

I'm a positive person, but , just like everyone else, I do have setbacks and it can be hard sometimes to see the point in carrying on with writing, especially when the media reports suggest that publishing is in decline and being affected by the recession. I had a recent experience that didn't help this mood either. I won't go into too much detail as I don't wish to dwell on it. But it involved an article I had accepted for publication a couple of years ago by a magazine. I hadn't heard anything despite my trying to contact the editor on several occasions. Anyway, I heard recently that the editor who had accepted my article had left and although the new editor was interested in it and some other ideas I'd pitched to them,  they weren't prepared to pay for it - when the ex-editor was!

Yes, it's annoying and frustrating, but these things happen and it hasn't put me off pitching elsewhere. Better communication on the part of the outgoing editor might have helped here - I did try! I have written pieces for free before and I dare say I will again but I don't see why writers should forfeit payment to glossy magazines who have a cover price and get a large proportion of their income from plush advertising. Writing is a business, just as much as the magazines are.

We had a lively debate recently on Facebook about when, if ever, it was acceptable to write for free - and it obviously stirred up strong opinions and emotions on the subject ranging from those who were dead set against it and didn't take too kindly to those who did write for free, or who weren't prepared to haggle for a higher fee, to those who could see the value of writing for free - for them it wasn't always about the money.

I think that as writers we should be blowing as many  pitching bubbles as we can and see how far they float.  A lot of the time, yes, you might not get a reply from the editors you target, but sometimes you will. Editors will always need good copy for their magazines and why shouldn't it be you who provides that? The only question is whether the editors are prepared to pay for your copy or not,and if they are, how much? And what will your reaction be to the editors who like your ideas but aren't prepared to pay for them?

On this occasion I walked away as I know there are editors who are prepared to pay for my work. As a writer I supply a product, rather in the same way as a teacher provides their teaching skills to the school that employs them, or a nurse provides their skills to the hospital that employs them, or a plumber repairs a leak or fits a new bathroom for a customer. They expect to be paid for the work they do and so should writers  - you.

I do a lot of volunteer work for which I receive no monetary payment but the rewards I do get: sense of purpose, sense of giving something back to society and helping young people to achieve what they want from life are priceless. But writing is my main business and I have to make money from it to keep my business going. Everyone has to make money to survive in this society, so I see my volunteering and writing as two separate things.

There are only two occasions when I would consider writing for free: if it was for a non-profit making charity and all its fundraising goes towards the people it helps, or if I was running low on examples for my portfolio - and then it would only be for 'free' magazines or ones I know don't make high profits and honestly can't afford writer's fees. But we're all different, and I certainly wouldn't pass judgement on any writer who does or doesn't write for free.

So, don't be afraid to blow your pitching bubbles and see where they land - you have nothing to lose and you might just get your work in a new publication. Think about what you expect to gain from your writing too: pleasure, money, publication, or a combination of all three?

Happy writing

Julie xx

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Nothing ventured ..........

I followed  a bit of my own advice recently abd it's actually starting to pay off. I rell must start listening to myself more often! I know I've mentioned before in this blog the importance of trying new markets and this was brought home to me recentlky when a potenial market I'd had an article publishd in and a further one accepted had a change of editor meaning that my accepoted article became unavvepted and there ws no sale. And to further rub salt in the wound when I tried to pitch to the new editor, the reply was that they liked my ides but weren't preparedto pay freelance writers at the moment! Had I have been a more sensitive soul I might have given up there and then. But I didn't. I politely declined and moved on. Then a market I've had a few articles in isn't taking subs for a couple of months, so that was another potential setback.

It's a tough old job this freeelance writing lark and you have to develop a tough skin to survive it. If one magazine editor's door is closed to you, try knocking on someone else's. I've done just this recently and it's starting to pay off. I've had a pitch accepted in principle by a magazine I've never pitched or subbed to before which is great progress. But I've also had pitches ignored by other magazines I've just started pitching to - you win some, you lose some! But thus stunned silence from these editors will not stop me from trying them again or approaching others. And if it happens to you, it shouldn't stop you either. It's how the game goes: you find a potential market, you study that market, you pitch to the editor, editor says  yay or nay and you either write the article or you pitch it elsewhere! And if you're approaching the right markets that pay - which you should be if you're a professional writer - you get money for it too!

So go on, give it a go. You've got nothing to lose.

Happy writing

Julie xx

Friday, 19 August 2011

This and That

One of the things that I love about writing articles is that you never quite know what you're going to write about or the people you will meet and interview in the course of your writing life. I've been very lucky so far as I've written about some pretty interesting and quirky topics as well as meeting some lovely, and if one can say so without coming across as rude, slightly unhinged, or eccentric people (it does take one to know one).

Writing articles is the ideal job for me as I don't see it as work. Yes it's hard going sometimes and you do have to sit down and write if you want to see results, but it's something I love doing: I have an inquisitive (nosy) mind - I love finding out stuff - it doesn't matter what that stuff is. I have a very open mind and welcome new opportunities -  you have to as a writer.

So open your mind and get out there and talk to people -you never know what you might find yourself writing about next!

Happy writing!

Julie xx

Monday, 15 August 2011

You put your left leg in

What are you writing about at the moment? Is it something you know a lot about? Or a subject you know little of? I'm all for writing about what you know, but I do like to go off roading every now and then - it's good for the soul and sanity. It does a writer a good to try something new, gain new skills and experiences. So what are you going to learn next? And, more importantly, what are you going to write about it?

There is an article in anything and articles are everywhere, if you look hard enough. Sometimes the perfect subject is sitting right under our noses - we just don't realise it. Your subject doesn't have to be huge or exciting - the best articles often come out of the mundane and the common. But it's how you handle the topic that counts: get the unusual angle from the usual - make the ordinary the extraordinary.

Whatever you're doing, wherever you're going, make like Worzel Gummidge and put your writing head on; can what you are going to do or where you are going be turned into an article or three? The answer here should always be a resounding YES! If it's a no, you're in the wrong job and you should take another look until you can say yes.

Happy writing

Julie xx

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Batten Down the Hatches

I love summer storms. I love the tension as it builds, the heaviness of the air, the electricity buzzing above my head, the deepening and darkening of the skies, the sense of anticipation and the prickle of what is to come. There's a moment, just before the storm breaks, when the heat and humidity is almost too much to bear that makes me feel as though my head is about to explode! It's a bit like that with my writing. I um and ah for what seems like days (sometimes it is, lol!), grumbling away like the beginnings of a storm - I become irritable and can't think straight: I want to write but I just don't know what!

But then comes that first splat of rain, that first clap of thunder and flash of lightening that fractures the sky. Oh the relief! The first word is typed out, followed by another and another and before you know it that first sentence is complete followed by the first paragraph. You have the beginnings of your article! Now it really wasn't that bad was it? All that frustration and irritation over nothing ;0)

So, instead of waiting for your literary thunderstorm to break - pre-empt it and set the thunder rolling before the first flash of lightening. You won't get the words out if you don't sit down with your pen and paper/computer. And you won't get the commissions from editors if you don't pitch them - don't be shy and don't think that you can't do it or there's someone else who can do it better than you. The only person who can stop you from getting that commission is you. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to take my own advice and pull myself together and bally well go and write something!

Happy writing

Julie xx

Monday, 8 August 2011

Stumbling Blocks

If you're anything like me at the moment, and like a lot of people out there, you might be a bit short of cash. This can spell trouble for a writer, particularly when they need to buy magazines and analyse them to be able to pitch ideas to the editor. Magazines can be expensive, but they are worth the investment. But having no spare cash to buy them can be a huge stumbling block - an article writer needs access to magazines if they are to keep their writing business afloat. I would say they they are as essential to a writer as a notebook and pen or a computer.  It is only by reading several back copies and a recent copy of a magazine that you can truly get the flavour of it and be able to pitch your ideas appropriately. So what do you do if you can't afford to buy magazines?

* Share: get a couple of your writing friends together and each of you buys a different magazine, analyses it and then you swap over.

* Shelf surf: go into a large newsagents with a note book, or use your voice recorder or recording device in your mobile phone and flick through a couple of magazines noting down pertinent points that will enable you to hone your ideas and construct the perfect pitch.

* Dead time: sitting in your doctor's or dentist's waiting room is dead time - nothing happens. It's such a waste - but it needn't be. Take advantage of the time and read the magazines on the table. Now, I know they may not be in date, but sometimes they are only a couple of months old and they can be a goldmine of information for you. Even the older ones will give you a sense of what has been published before and you may be able to update the articles - rewrite them and make them your own to pitch. It's recycling at its best!

* Be cheeky: ring up the mag and ask for a back copy or two. You may even get them for free!

* Look out at car boot sales,  jumble/attic sales or charity shops. They sometimes have piles of magazines and some of them aren't that old!

*See Simon Whaley's blog posting on a couple of Internet sites where you can buy single copies of magazines rather than go for the full subscription.

* Ask friends, colleagues or family to pass on their old magazines to you when they've finished with them.

Buying magazines is not a luxury for a writer, it is a necessity. But there is more than one way to get hold of them without forking out a small fortune.

Happy writing

Julie xx

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Who you gonna call?

When your looking for something to write about for your articles and you maybe want to include some quotes in it, who do you call? Attracting the right person to want to be in your article can be quite difficult. There's how to get hold of them for starters. Then there's the dilemma of how to approach them. Do you go for their web site and click on contact? Or do you search for their agent or publisher (if they are a writer or celeb.) If it's a local person, or someone with the experience or knowledge in the subject you want to write about, say, for example, wood turning, do you ring them, or turn up on their doorstep, or chase them round the supermarket ;0).

The best thing to do, if you're unsure, is to find out if they have a PR or media department and contact them first. If they don't, I would advise contacting them via their agent or publisher or on-line, via their blog or web site. With a local person, if you can find out their company's web site or their own personal e-mail address/ phone number, I would try and make contact that way. Writers and other such people will almost certainly state how they want to be contacted (if at all) so it's best to follow their instructions.

Don't be shy, either! Don't not contact them because you think they'll say no - they may well say no, but they might just say yes instead. Be brave and bold but polite. If they say no, it means no and don't badger them - no-one likes a stalker! Treat them with respect and they'll return it.

Happy interviewing

Julie xx

Saturday, 30 July 2011

You can do it

When I look back to when I first started writing, I can't believe just how much I have achieved. Now, this isn't a boastful blog, far from it. I just want to show those of us who are just starting out, or are struggling, reeling from rejections what they can achieve if they stick with it.

I started out writing letters to magazines and newspapers. When I'd had a fair bit of success with those (they also served as a form of stress relief, getting stuff that annoyed me off my chest, LOL!) I gained in confidence and moved onto writing articles for NAWG (National Association of Writers' Groups). When they published my articles, I started this blog and a fellow writer suggested that I might edit some of my blog postings and expand on them, maybe adding some quotes in. I was a little reluctant at first, but I did it, and I got published in magazines that paid me for my writing!

But when you're struggling, and attracting rejections like a magnet, it can be difficult to brush them off and carry on writing and submitting. But carry on is what you much do! If you want to be published and get paid for your writing you have to be determined, But it's not just a case of keeping at it blindly, you have to research your market and target it in the right way - you have to learn to evolve and try new markets. I am the first person to admit that in the past I was reluctant to try new markets, but not any more. You have to be versatile and be able to adapt your writing style to be a successful writer. Don't just write about what you like to write about. Come out of your comfort zone and try something new. It isn't easy but the rewards are many: the satisfaction that you've broken into a new market, another string to your writing bow and something extra to put on your writing CV, learning a new skill, or knowledge.

Happy searching for your next writing project - make sure it's something you haven't considered before!

Julie xx

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

We're all going on a summer holiday ......

Feel free to sing along if you feel the need! Many of you will be jetting off on your summer holidays soon and some of you will have already arrived at your destination, or maybe you're having a staycation. Whatever you're up to over the summer months, don't forget to pack your notebook, pen and camera. No matter where you are going there will almost certainly be a writing opportunity to be had. It doesn't matter where your destination is or the journey - what matters is what you note down and take photos of. Even the most mundane of details can be important when you get home and start writing.

Okay, so maybe the place you're staying in has been written about to death before, but while you're staying there you are the mini expert. You are the person experiencing where you are, and that gives you a unique point of view. No-one can write about where you are better than you can. Writing in a different place can do wonders for your creativity too.

Happy holidays and happy writing

Julie xx

Friday, 22 July 2011

Bits and Pieces

I had some great news yesterday in that one of my articles that I based on a recent workshop I did for my writers' groups has been accepted for publication! I'd been thinking about offering to do a workshop for a while but I put it off until I was asked if I wanted to do something - I jumped at the chance! It was a wonderful experience and I got an article out of it.

Have you ever thought of doing a workshop? It doesn't have to be for your writing group - you might not belong to one - but you could do it for it for other groups, or get a group of fellow writers together and give it a go. It was such a positive experience for me and the group got a lot of it too. It was a feel-the-fear-and-do-it-anyway- moment for me and was such a confidence boost. We had a lot of fun and it's given me the motivation to do more.

Have a think about what you could do for your writing group or a group of writers, do it and then write about it. You might think that you can't do it or won't be able to do it well, but you can! And it will help with your writing as well. If you can stand up in front of a group of people and do a workshop, it will give you the confidence to broaden your horizons and improve your writing.

Before you give a talk/do a workshop go to a few yourself and learn what works and what doesn't. Make sure that you have researched what you are going to talk about/do and have prepared thoroughly - there's nothing worse than arriving at a workshop you are doing and you don't know what your going to do!

It's definitely worth considering.

Happy writing

Julie xx

Monday, 18 July 2011

It ain't over till the last editor sings!

Excellent post over on Simon Says about how he had pitched an idea to an editor, the editor asked him to revise it, which Simon did and he got the commission! There's dedication for you. The thing is, though, earlier that day, before I read his post, I had a similar situation with an editor and I revised my pitch and got the commission too! There's spooky!

It also taught me a valuable lesson. The editor said that my pitch was too vague and the article would have had too much breadth with not enough depth. The editor was quite right. So what am I going to do about that in future? I'm going to sharpen my pitches and be more specific and clear in them. One article = one topic/theme.

Happy writing

Julie xx

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Write what you know ...... and what you think you don't know.

Every one of us has experience. All our experiences will be unique and different, although there will be a common thread in situations that most of us are familiar with: weddings, births, shopping, eating etc, how we view the world and what happens to us in our world will be similar, but no-one can truly know how someone else feels or what they perceive from the world as we have our own unique view.

So what has this got to do with writing? Well, we are always being advised to write what we know - this is great advice as an expert in your own field you are the best person to write about it. You live it so you know it. But someone else writing about the same topic who is also an expert in that field will write a totally different article to you. It's all down to individual view point and life experience. So don't think that because there are hundreds, possibly thousands of people who could write about what you want to write about that there is no point in you bothering - there is - editors want your unique view point.

You don't even have to restrict it to writing about what you know. Writing about something you don't know much about will broaden your writing repertoire as well as giving you new interests and refining your research skills. So next time you're deliberating about what to write about, think about your unique life experience, find a common thread to resonate with readers and use your individual insight to make it come alive.

Happy writing!

Julie xx

Sunday, 10 July 2011

You Don't Know Til You Try

When I first started writing in 2007 I had no idea what I was doing. I knew I wanted to write but I didn't know what or how. I did a writing course which set me on the right track but it wasn't enough for me. So I joined a writing group which did the trick. I gained support and valuable advice from the other members of the group which gave me the confidence as well as the know-how on how to write, pitch and get my work published. I will be eternally grateful to them as well as to my blogging friends.

But it doesn't matter how many times someone tells you that you should send your work off, if you don't have the confidence to do it, they will have been wasting their breath. At some point, though, you have to just grab the bull by the horns and send your work off. If you don't, you'll never know if your work is good enough to be published.

It's not easy getting published, especially with the market as it is now with magazines disappearing. I didn't think that I'd ever do it. But there must have been something inside me that made me persevere, regardless of how many rejections I got - and I've had more than a few! You can't think too much about the diminishing market as magazines will always need content and why shouldn't it be you who supplies it? You just have to:

1. Research the market.
2. Don't give up
3. Follow the house style of the magazine you want to pitch/submit to.
4. Find out the submission guidelines and stick to them.
5. Don't give up.
6. Find different angles for your pitch that will catch the editor's eye.
7. Don't make promises/claims that you might not be able to keep - it marks you out as unprofessional and if you can't deliver what you promised you might not get a second chance.
8. Don't give up.
9.Be professional.
10.Don't give up.

There's a lot of don't give up in there as I feel that that is the most important piece of advice! If you give up because you keep getting rejections, you will never know if the next piece you would have written would have been the one to get published. And if you're reluctant to try new markets because you think they won't be interested in what you have to write - do it anyway - you won't know until you try. Let the editor be the judge of whether they'll be interested or not. And if you've done your research properly you shouldn't be too far off the mark.

Happy writing
Julie xx

Friday, 8 July 2011

Patience is a virtue .... It's also frustrating!

There's a saying that goes something like 'good things come to those who wait.' There's also the phrase 'she has the patience of a saint.' We spend a large proportion of our lives just waiting: post office queue, doctor's waiting room, phone queues, check outs, you name it we wait for it. But one of the most frustrating kinds of waiting is the waiting we writers do for news about our submissions.

We get anxious and confused about how long we should wait, too, and what to do when we feel we've waited long enough. But it's nothing to worry about, really. There's no point in, for instance, trying to contact an editor a week after you've submitted something to them if their guidelines state they take 8 - 12 weeks to reply. I know it's tempting to try and find out earlier but all you'll end up doing is irritate the editor! If the magazine you're pitching/subbing to gives a time scale for responses then that's brilliant as you know what to expect. It's also easier, after that time has elapsed to contact the editor then, making inquiries as to the fate of your work because you can say you've waited the 12 weeks and heard nothing.

I know it's annoying when you're desperate to find out if an editor is going to take and publish your work, but it's part of a writers' lot. And we haven't even got to the wait between an editor accepting your work and then actually publishing it. The longest I've waited so far (and I'm still waiting) is two years, But I know of other writers who've waited a lot longer! 

I also used to worry about sending my work to a magazine and that editor rejecting it after a long wait and opening up another magazine (the one I was going to send it to next) and seeing a similar article to mine in it. But I don't worry so much now. It's an occupational hazard and you can't really do much about it, other than revamp your version of the article (there's always a different angle) and send it out to the third or fourth magazine on your list. Where there's a will there's a way.

While you're waiting, it's a great opportunity to crack on with your next piece of writing.

Happy waiting and writing

Julie xx

Monday, 4 July 2011

Don't just think it .....

Everyone knows what thought did. So I think it's important to act on your thoughts as soon as you can. Write them down for a rainy day - you'll be amazed at how fast thoughts and ideas for your writing will just disappear if you don't hold on to them and physically write them down. I've lost count of the ideas that have come to me in my sleep and because I've been too drowsy and lazy to turn my torch on and scribble them down, I've forgotten them by morning. It's very frustrating to wake up knowing you had a fantastic idea for an article last night but you can't for the life of you recall any details.


Some times, if I'm lucky, bits of the idea come back to me in fits and starts throughout the day - but the essence is always missing. I can get the gist but that killer line, that hook that was so obvious to me in my sleep has gone.

We are all guilty of procrastination -I hold my hand up to it. Guilty as charged. But it always ends up costing me in the end: a pitch that didn't get there in time and I was pipped to the post by another writer, an article I've had simmering in the back of my mind for weeks turns up written by another author in a magazine.  Frustrating, but probably avoidable if I'd have pulled my finger out and got that pitch or article subbed. I only have myself to blame.

Don't leave it for someone else to have those pages in that magazine that could have been yours! Get writing and get it subbed! I think we're all going to have a busy writing week.

Happy writing

Julie xx

Friday, 1 July 2011

Lead-in time

We all know that magazines are published to a regular schedule. Some are weekly, some are monthly, some quarterly. It's important that as writers we know when the magazines we are targeting are published because we don't want to send our pitches or manuscripts too late, particularly if our pitches are seasonal, eg, Christmas or Easter related.

Magazines have their own, what they call, lead-in periods from when an article is accepted to when it will be published, or from when articles need to be submitted in order to be accepted for a certain issue. Recently, I submitted an article to a magazine knowing that it wouldn't be used until November as the editor had already told me this.They also will tell when you need to get your submissions in, ie 4-6 months before the event.  But if you want to make sure you get your pitches and manuscripts in at the right time, so as to not miss the magazine's lead-in time you need to either look at the magazine's own submission guidelines which will tell you how many weeks/months their lead-in time is, or contact the editor themselves.

It would be a shame to miss your cue!

Happy writing

Julie xx

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

One step at a time

I've finally done it. Well, my husband did, if I'm honest. I sent him out an a magazine hunt at Tescos last night: his mission (if he chose to accept it) was to find me two magazines to pitch articles to. Now, I sent him out, not because I was feeling particularly lazy and just couldn't be bothered, but because he doesn't know anything about the topics I like to write about or which magazines I'd like to write for. So by getting him to choose the magazines he might well have chosen magazines I wouldn't have dared to approach before! I also can't deploy any bias or prejudice to my options or just go for what I consider to be easy markets.

You see, there is method in my madness. I now have two magazines that I don't normally buy to peruse and pitch to. If I send him out each week doing this, I'll end up with a possible 8 new potential markets to target each month. The possibilities are endless.

I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Happy writing

Julie xx

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Selfish time thieves.

I have a busy life. I'm sure that's true of most of us! There are some weeks when I get very little writing done at all, but other weeks I seem to have more time than I've ever dreamed possible to write. I know I've blogged about taking time out of your busy life to dedicate to your writing before and I've also said it's easier said than done,but it's such an important point that I'm revisiting the issue here.

When I went to an Open University workshop in Birmingham a couple of years back, the tutor listened to all of our writing achievements and aspirations. When we'd been round the room, she made the comment that you needed drive and the ability to be selfish if you wanted to be a successful writer and she said that she wasn't sure that any of us had it! Gasps hissed around the room followed by an awkward silence. At the time I thought the tutor was just very rude and not in the least bit inspiring. Instead of encouraging and nurturing we fledgling writers, she seemed to want to suck the life force out of us. But looking back, I think she was right.

Her words were like a red rag to a bull for me. How dare she say I haven't got drive, that I just haven't got what it takes to succeed as a writer. It just made me me more determined to be published so I could prove her wrong! But it was her comment about being selfish that became my sticking point. I'm one of the most unselfish people I know: I do volunteer work. I put myself out for people. And therein lies the rub. Quite often I'm very aware of the fact that I will put other people and other things in front of my writing. And that's not good for a writer.

I can never see myself becoming totally selfish and putting my writing first. To be selfish is not in my nature. But I am taken advantage of by time thieves quite often. It's my own fault. I need to say no more. There has to be a balance. It's okay to be selfish about your writing sometimes. If you want to be a professional and success writer you have to steal some of your time back and say no to those who try and monopolise your time. Stop feeling guilty and you'll be a happier writer.

Happy writing

Julie xx

Friday, 24 June 2011

It's all about you.

If you want to be taken seriously in this game you have to think and act seriously. If you can look and act like a professional writer then people are more likely to take your writing seriously. If you don't take yourself seriously, how can you expect anyone else to?

This may be pertinent advise, but what does a professional writer look like? There are a lot of them about as diverse as JK Rowling, Val McDermid (sp.), Terry Pratchett, Celia Ahern  -  like chalk and cheese, all of them. I think you have to find a level of professionalism that sits easily with you. We are all different in appearance, dress sense and personality. It's not good pretending to be someone that we are not as we will soon become uncomfortable and someone will catch us out! We don't want to be someone else but but want to try and take on board some of the writers' that we admire good qualities. What is about successful writers that makes them that way? What can we learn from them? What can we use from what we've learnt to enhance our own writing and professionalism?

It's a lot to think about but something that deserves our attention if we are keen to increase our chances of publication.

Happy writing

Julie xx

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Don't Be Shy!

Is anyone squeamish? Do you balk at making first contact with an editor? It has to be said that it can be daunting when you send your first pitch off to a new editor. You have no track record with them. They don't know you from Adam and have no idea how good (or bad) your work might be. You don't really know how they prefer to be approached, what their likes and dislikes are, or whether you're the fiftieth freelance writer they have to deal with today, it's the end of the day and they're frazzled and aren't in the mood for another newbie.

So what do you do? Do you leave it and leave it until you either gather up momentum and courage to actually send that pitch? Do you forget it completely as they won't want to read the drivel you've written anyway? Or do you take the bull by the horns, take time to create a professional pitch, find out the name of the appropriate editor and how they like to be pitched to and just do it? I'd go for the last option as it's the one mostly likely to make the editor sit up and notice. Think polite, professional and purposeful and you won't go far wrong.

I've been struggling with my own demons on this one. It's not easy to approach a new editor, one that has the power to commission you or reject your work, and first impressions do count. Get that first pitch wrong and you're facing an uphill struggle - the editor may never commission you. But get it right and you could be onto a winner. Your pitch and manner has to sparkle to stand out from the other pitches hundreds of writers like you are sending in. Give them something irresistible and don't give them any excuse to say no.

Try it and see. You won't know until you try and I'm sure you don't want to one day be reading a magazine you wanted to pitch an idea to but didn't and see a similar article to your own idea written by someone else! I don't want to hear that, 'I could have written that. It could have been!'

Happy writing

Julie xx

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Out of the Doldrums

Like a lot of writers, well anyone in any profession, really, we are all feeling the squeeze of the government cuts. With magazines going under, and many others restricting their pages to in-house contributions - effectively freezing out the free lance writer, you would be forgiven for thinking of jacking it all in yourself. With the threat of redundancies also looming amongst staff writers, it's easy to start rethinking your own writing career. Those staff writers who lose their jobs may well become free lance writers themselves, meaning more competition for less markets. It's enough to put anyone off!

To a certain extent I've thought of giving up too. I'd got myself into that negative and very dangerous mindset of not wanting to bother to pitch or write articles. 'Well what's the point?' my inner critic bellowed at me. 'When there are far better writers out there with far more experience than you.'

If you start thinking like that you're not going to get anywhere. Yes things are tight at the moment, but that doesn't mean you can't get published and get paid for it. There are still plenty of writing opportunities out there if you look hard enough and are prepared to adapt and diversify.

So, having given myself a stern talking to, the NAWG  (National Association of Writing Groups) magazine plopped on my mat this morning and it was a timely extra kick that I needed. Having flicked though the magazine I have ended up with some article ideas that I intend to follow up on. I am also going to pitch some ideas to magazines I haven't tried before  -  which will also be handy for the journalism course I'm trying to finish!

I had let my negativity cloud my ability to pitch and write articles and that's not a good place for a free lance writer to be! I've realised that if you don't try, you won't know. If an editor says no then you move on to the next editor with your idea and keep going. Try pitching at least two new ideas to a new editor each week and see what happens. It's worth a go!

Happy pitching

Julie xx

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Looking for new markets

Having spent a great deal of my time concentrating on writing short stories, I've spent a little time this afternoon surfing the Internet for magazines that might be potential markets for my articles. Some of the magazine websites are excellent and give you the editor's name and contact details but they don't always indicate whether they take submissions from freelance writers. Other magazine websites don't give very much away at all! So I intend to go browsing at my local newsagents tomorrow to see if I can get a better idea from the actual magazine.

Generally, the rule of thumb seems to be that if you see articles by lots of different people in the magazine then they more often than not are the ones who will accept freelance submissions. I intend to e-mail some of the editors tomorrow to test the water and see how open they are to pitches/submissions at the moment.

I've grouped my research into several sections and categories of magazines so I can write a list of possible article ideas under each heading. I will be sending pitches to three or four magazines in different categories in the hope that I'll get at least one editor interested and it means I won't be sitting round with no pitches out there when one comes back declined!

With pitching to magazines I've found the best way to go about it for me is to keep sending pitches out each day. Don't just send one and hope for the best  - you have to be aggressive in your approach (not aggressive as in terrorising the poor editors, but in how many pitches you send out each week!) If an editor says no then pass your pitch on to the next editor in your list - don't stop until you've exhausted all appropriate markets!

Happy pitching!

Julie xx

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Find Your Focus

When you get an idea for an article, what do you do? I suspect a lot of you will scribble the idea down along with your thoughts on how the article might be structured and what it's content might be. You may well also, like me, write your idea under headings and note down any side bar info, ie, top five tips, etc, that will pop out of the main article. I tend to have a market or two in mind at this stage too, purely so I can get my brain in gear to write in the style and tone/word length/ layout that particular publication favours.

The most important thing, I think, when you get your initial idea is to find your focus, or the angle the article is going to take. It hasn't got to be set in stone at this early stage as the more you think bout the article idea the more off shoots you might get that will change your focus. This is fine as this is how you get several articles from one idea. Like a wheel or a pizza you turn your focus a few degrees until you hit on a different angle.

It can be tempting, however, to try and cram in as many different angles that pop into your head into one article that you can,  but this will result in a confused, wishy- washy, all over the place, over stuffed article. One angle/focus per article is generally enough to explore the topic sufficiently. But do write things down associated with that topic as they occur to you. Nothing is ever wasted and you will use your other angles at a later date.

So get your compass out and get finding your angles - but don't lose your focus - act like a photographer and choose the right lens to frame the picture.

Happy writing!

Julie xx

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Have you any idea?

I'm on the idea trail this week. I've got my next two assignment briefs for the journalism course I'm doing which involves researching markets I haven't considered before and coming up with ideas for articles that would suit these markets. As I love reading magazines this is no hardship for me! So I have been sitting down, pen and paper in hand, noting down the subjects I know stuff about and could write, relatively easily about. I highly recommend that you do this as it can save a lot of trouble, work and heartache later. Why make coming up with ideas, pitching, and article writing any harder than it already is when you can write about what you know and then move on to the other stuff you have to research later.

I did it by making a chart and writing down the subjects I know I can write about as I either have first hand experience in it and/or am qualified in it, or I  know someone else with first hand experience and/or qualifications in it. Here's what I came up with:

Nursing (I was a nurse for 15 years and although not currently practicing I know lots of nurses that are).
Parenting ( I am a mother and I know lots of other mums and dads.)
Gardening (I run a school gardening club and grow fruit and veg at home myself (my potatoes, tomatoes, strawberries, leeks, peas, sweetpeas, beans and peppers are coming along nicely, thank you.)
School governing (I am a school governor and know lots of other school governors.)
Baking (I make a mean sponge! They only explode in the oven occasionally.)
Writing (I write and know a lot of people who also write.)
Lobbying councils/councillors I recently led a campaign to get the council to implement road changes to make a safer route to school (nearly turned me grey that one! It's not for the feint hearted I can tell you - residents, drivers and some other parents will hate you and the council/councillors and police will avoid you!) I think they learned that the only way to shut me up was to change the flippin' road system! But that's another story.
Schools/education  I volunteer in schools and have a teaching assistant qualification.

Once I'd got my list I then brainstormed each heading on a separate sheet of paper so I ended up with several different ideas for each heading - all of which I shall turn into pitches and aim at the most appropriate magazines. What I intend to do for the rest of the week is go on-line and search for magazines that might be interested in my articles and look at my local newsagent shelves for potential contenders too.

Have a go at making your own list and see where it takes you.

Happy list making!

Julie xx

Sunday, 22 May 2011

So How is it Going?

I'm always telling you all about my intrepid adventures in the world of article writing, so I thought it was about time we had a chat about you instead! We're about half way through the year now and it's at this point that I like to take stock of my writing journey and plan where the next six months might take me.
So how is your writing journey going? Have you had as much success as you expected or more? What can you change to take your writing up to the next level? These are all questions I ask myself regularly. Sometimes I don't like the answers but I know that if I am to progress with my writing I need to answer them honestly and so should you.
Two of the things I'm doing to improve is to finish the journalism course I'm on and look at starting a photography course. What are you going to do?
What I'd like is for everyone who wishes to take part to tell us the one thing that has kept them going with their writing. I'm still looking to set up a resource of a list of magazines that take freelance work so let us know if you've come across any of interest.
I'll start the ball rolling with one of my reasons I'm still writing:

1. Being able to meet interesting people and go to interesting places and showcase them through my writing.
Let us know your thoughts.

Happy writing
Julie xx

Friday, 20 May 2011

Building resources

I'm hoping that through this blog we can build a resource together that can help us when we are researching markets to pitch to. If you know of any magazines out there who take work from freelancers and you are willing to share details then please let us know so I can add it to a side bar here.

Happy writing

Julie xx

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Versatile!

Thank you to Sally Jenkins for giving me a Versatile Blogger award! I am very appreciative. So I have to tell you seven things about myself and pass the award on. Here goes:

1. I hate wasps. I don't mind bees as they are sort of cute and fluffy, whereas wasps are, well, waspish. Bees don't single you out and chase you like an assassin as wasps do, either. They are out to get me!

2. I love fresh raspberries, rasberry jam and rasberry flavoured things but I hate tinned raspeberries. I love fresh bananas, but I'm not keen on banana flavoured things. I love fresh cherries, tinned cherries, cherry jam and cherry flavoured things but I hate glace cherries. I love fresh strawberries and strawberry flavoured things but detest strawberry jam and tinned strawberries - all strange but true!

3. I was once a life model for a college in Hereford (in my much, much, younger and fitter, slimmer days.)

4. I love to dance but not in public - which is why I love zumba so much as it's dance based exercise.

5. I used to sing a lot too, in public. I was in my secondary school choir and my local church choir, but I rarely sing now.

6. I'm not related to anyone remotely exciting or famous but I do have an American cousin  who is a heart Dr/Surgeon.

7. I can't stand all these reality type shows on TV! But I'm a CSI (original, Miami and New York) addict. And I love all the Patricia Cornwell books that feature Kay Scarpetta. Some may say that I'm learning how to plan the perfect murder ..........

So there we are. Nothing particularly spectacular there but a girls got to have some secrets, eh?

I would like to pass on the award to:

1. Jan Mader

2. Mythological Mike

3. Olivia Ryan.

4. Sally Zigmond

5. The Scribbling Sea Serpent


6. The Write Idea


7.Working 2 Write








Friday, 6 May 2011

And We're Off

It's been an interesting and industrious week, article writing, for me. You may recall that just before Easter I'd submitted two assignments for the Journalism course I'm doing with the Writers' Bureau. Well I got them back today with lots of encouraging comments from my tutor and some good advice on how I can improve.

I feel like I've turned a corner on the course, as I hadn't sent any assignments in for some time (to my shame!) But I'm determined to get the course finished this year, and having such great feedback has ignited my fire again. One thing I will say for the course is that it has certainly made me think more about the magazines I can target and how to give my pitches and articles the best chance I can. So if you're struggling a bit with your article writing and want to improve your skills, or are starting from scratch and want to learn how to do it, a course might be the way to go for you. It's certainly helped me.

Another thing of interest to article writers that I've come across today is an article in the current issue of Writing Magazine by Rebecca Lees, a freelance writer, who talks about getting paid for your work and how to ensure you get the cash owed to you for your writing. It's an informative article, so get a copy if you can. It will come in very useful.

In the article she also looks at the pros and cons of writing for free and the question of whether writers should write for free or not. She holds an interesting argument and says that we, as writers, need to value our work. She's not a fan of writing for free except in exceptional circumstances. I have to say that neither am I, although I have done a few pieces for the local paper for free. But to me that writing for free has allowed me to hone my skills and as they were short pieces, I can now expand them to form longer articles that I can send out to paying markets. All the research and photographs are there and ready for me to use. I can get at least three articles out of those initial ideas!

Sometimes writing for free has its advantages: highlighting local issues and community projects is a favourite for me. I understand the other side of the argument too from writers who say it's exploitation and if writers will write for free they undermine the position of professional writers trying to earn a living from their writing. Why should editors pay a writer for their work if they know someone else will do it for free? It's a complex issue. Which side of the fence do you fall?

I'm looking forward to tackling my next assignment for the Journalism course and pinging my next batch of pitches off. How is the challenge I set going on? Has anyone had any success yet?

Happy writing!

Julie xx

Saturday, 30 April 2011

How Very Dare You!

I've got a challenge for you. When I first started thinking about writing articles I had this nagging thought in the back of my mind that no-one would want to read the drivel I wrote. It put me off submitting anything for months. That was until I started this blog and a fellow blogger suggested that I edit a couple of my blog postings and sent them off to a writing magazine. I thought my fellow blogger was out of his mind, but I did as I was told and, what do you know, they got published and someone even parted with their well earned cash for them! I couldn't believe my luck.

Now I realise that it's not down to luck at all. It's down to a lot of hard work and research and having the balls to actually submit your pitches/articles in the first place. You can't be a shrinking violet in this game. So here is my challenge to you (and myself.) I declare May 'I Very Dare You,' month:

1. Go to a newsagent you don't normally frequent.
2. Browse the shelves of the newsagent and look at two magazines you don't normally buy.
3. Does it look like they use contributions from freelance writers? If they do, purchase the magazines. If they don't, look at more magazines until you find two that do and buy them.
4. When you get home, look through the magazines very carefully, taking note of who their readership is, the style/tone of the articles, the adverts, reader letter page - everything.
5. Pick out a word that you think describes each magazine (theme) and write it down in the middle of a big piece of paper.
6. Make  a spidergram (ideas shooting off from the main word) of ideas for articles you could write for each of those magazines.
7. Choose the best ideas you come up with and pitch them to the appropriate editor of those magazines.
8.If you get a positive response - hurrah! - well done you and get researching/writing the article.
9.If you get a negative response - boo - never mind and try other ideas you came up with.
10, Repeat the journey to the newsagents at least twice in the month of May and repeat steps 2 - 10 until you are published!

Go on  - I very dare you!
And don't forget to let us know how you get on!

Julie xx

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Don't I Know You?

What do you think about before you start writing an article? Do you read the magazine you're targeting first before you even consider a subject to write about? Or do you get out there and do some research first? I suppose I use a combination of these methods. Sometimes, if I'm out and about, I take my notebook, pen and camera and a chance meeting or sighting will result in the idea for an article. I might even approach people I think have an interesting story to tell and arrange an interview for a later date.

But more recently I've found my inspiration for articles by scouring the pages of magazines and writing similar articles but from a different angle. I find that by reading the magazines I can better target my articles. I can see from the adverts, tone and style of the articles in the magazines and the reader letters page what the readers are interested in. Because, whatever it is that the readers are interested in, as a writer, I'm interested in to. If I can get under the skin of what makes readers tick then I'm a lot closer to knowing what it is the editor is after and, therefore, a potential commission.

I find other people fascinating and there are stories to be found and told whichever direction you look in so we really have no excuse for not having material to write about! My writing goes in phases and I've just had a big short story push but I haven't forgotten about my article writing as I slotted some article writing into my schedule whilst concentrating on articles. I think this helps me to stop becoming bored and keeps my writing fresh: if I get fed up with a short story - it's just not flowing - I switch to writing an article and vice versa

I hope that whether you are knew to article writing or have been doing it for years that you enjoy the process  and are constantly finding ways to reinvent your writing.

Happy writing

Julie

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Going Digital

It's been an interesting week for me, writing wise. I've been out and about again, after a bit of a hiatus, interviewing people. This time it was to a local community centre where Age UK hold dance sessions for the over 60's. They had the Rambert dance company in doing a dance workshop and it was great fun. I managed to interview the woman from the dance company and three of the ladies who took part. I think I had as much fun interviewing them and watching them dance as they did dancing.

I've had my digital Voice Recorder for some time now and it's an essential bit of kit for me. Whereas before I would be scribbling what my interviewee was saying into a notebook (I don't do short hand and would have to try and decipher my illegible scrawl after the interview) now I just press a button and the hard work is done for me. Not only does it save me a headache and time, it also serves as evidence should I be accused of writing something that an interviewee said but then claim they didn't say  -  it's all in my magic digital box. It's something all writers need to be aware of. I tend to keep my recordings on there for some time after the article has been published, just in case there's a complaint and I need to check.

But using a voice recorder also protects the interviewee, and using one comes with certain responsibilities. I always, for instance, tell the interviewee that I have a voice recorder and I ask their permission before using it. Once I explain why I prefer to use it, ie, the interview will take twice as long without it and using it will prevent me from getting facts wrong as I can refer to it later on. But, if they don't like it, I don't use it. It's a pain without it but you have to respect people's wishes.

I've just finished transcribing the interviews I did from Thursday at the community centre and I also went back to an interview I did last year with one of the Morris dancers as I hadn't had the time to do that one yet and it brought back some lovely memories of when I was with them - they are so funny! It spurred me on to get back on the article writing wheel and get going with those articles I promised myself I would pitch and write but hadn't got round to yet. If I've taken the time and effort to go and interview people the least I can do is get down to writing about them!

So that's my writing goal of the week - to get the articles pitched and written so I can out there and get interviewing again. There's always stuff out there to write about if you can be bothered to look closely enough.

Happy writing
Julie

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Have You Got That Freelance Feeling?

I recently received my ID badge from The Association of Freelance Writers and because I'd had my hair cut in a different style since the last card, I had to get new photos done. If you are serious about your freelance article writing, and you're not a member of any official group, then I'd highly recommend that you join one. Why? Well being a member of one of the groups out there helps you to mark yourself as a professional and not just an amateur playing at being a writer. I didn't take myself seriously as a writer until I joined such a group. I'd feel nervous about interviewing people and even approaching people to write about. But with my ID card that nervousness left me and I have no qualms about talking to people I might potentially write about.

I am pretty sure that the card has given me confidence and this has shown through to the people I've talked to and given me the credibility I needed. Because I'm freelance, and I'm sure a lot of freelance writers must experience this, when the people I approach ask me who I write for, it's incredibly difficult to give them a straight answer! Fortunately, the last couple of article ideas I've pitched have been accepted and I've been able to tell my potential interviewees where their comments and photos might end up. If people have an idea of where their words will end up, they are generally more willing to talk to you.

Sometimes, I do approach some people I'd like to write about without getting the article commissioned first. I then just let them know the general market I'm aiming for. I show them articles I've had published in the market before to prove to them that I have done it before and that they are safe in my hands. This may seem a topsy-turvy way to do it, but sometimes it's not until I 'm half way through the interviewing and research process that something I hadn't thought of comes up and I use that as the basis for the article instead, (I love it when that happens!) Plus sometimes it's a chance meeting and I might not be able to interview that person again so I do it while I can. But generally, now, I pitch first and interview once I've been commissioned. But, as a good freelance writer knows, you don't always know where you're going to find something to write about until it hits you in the face! The old saying 'Be Prepared' really comes into it's own here. No matter where you go or what you're doing always take your notebook, pen and camera and Dictaphone (if you have one) with you. You never know when inspiration will strike!

This week I'm going back to editing some short stories again as I want to get my subbed story count up. I subbed two articles this week and have another to write when I've finished all the research for it. I should have plenty of time over the Easter holidays to fit it all in (I hope!)

Please consider joining one of the associations geared up for freelance writers - not only will it help you get interviews, and it's useful to put .....member of the association of ...... at the bottom of your pitch, so it shows the editor you are a serious writer - they might, if it's including in your membership, help you out with legal matters should you find yourself in dispute.

A selection of other unions/associations to look at: National Association of Journalists.  British Association of Journalists. I know that there are lots more out there so if you belong to any of them, or know people that do, then please let us know your verdict on them and why you joined.


Happy freelancing!

Julie

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Ready For Anything!

If you are a writer it's important to be prepared. This was highlighted for me yesterday when I went to an interview in my local area. I dropped my daughter off at school and walked down to the venue. I took a photo of the building and walked in where I was greeted by the young lady who I had been told would be answering my questions.

It all went rather well as she gave me a tour and I took few more photographs. Then she mentioned that a couple more people would be coming to talk to me too. I thought they might be service users so imagine my surprise when three directors from the project walked in!  I was a bit taken aback but it was a fantastic experience and I enjoyed every minute of it. But up until now, I've been more used to interviewing local people from local groups  -  the grass roots people  and not the people who help shape the local communities.

The lesson here is that if you want to be a freelance writer you have to look and think like one. Preparation and how you present yourself to the people you are interviewing or approaching for information is crucial. It's no use going into it half-heartedly or you will run the risk of not only editors or potential interviewees not taking you seriously, but also yourself not taking you seriously. If you don't believe in yourself and your freelance writing abilities no-one else will.

Okay, I wasn't expecting what I walked into yesterday, but at least I'd prepared for it: I'd dressed smartly, taken all my equipment - camera, dictaphone, notebook and pen - read up about the place I was going to and, most importantly, even though I was a little nervous, I kept calm and concentrated on the job in hand. As a result I got the information and photos I needed and it was an enjoyable experience for all those concerned.

So get out there and get interviewing! But don't forget to be ready for anything

Julie



Friday, 1 April 2011

The Tables Were Turned..........

Today, myself and a few other Wrekin Writers got papped for the local paper. I'd written a couple of articles for the paper's supplements and, after they'd read my blog, they asked me to do a piece on Wrekin Writers. So I keenly obliged. It's also proof of what a good blog can do for your writing. Editors can check you out.

It was an interesting experience for me as it's usually me taking the photos and interviewing people. The tables were definitely turned. I'm not a huge fan of having my photograph taken. I'd rather be the interviewer that the interviewee,  but the photographer was very good (and extremely brave, bless him!) Unless you are a Wrekin Writer or have seen Wrekin Writers out on their jollies, you don't know what we Wrekin Writers are like when we get together - we behaved ourselves impeccably, though. We had to: our good reputation was at stake!

I was fascinated by the photographer's camera, lenses and other gadgetry he had with him. I definitely had lens envy! His camera and lens was bigger than mine. I yearn for the day when I can afford to buy some decent photography equipment and learn how to use it, <sighs wistfully>.

It's always worth checking out writing opportunities with your local papers and magazines. They might not pay much, if anything at all, but it's good writing experience and great PR. It's where I started and it's great to have the opportunity to do it again. I'm not a great advocate for writers writing for free - you wouldn't expect a plumber to refit your bathroom for free, after all. And writing is a trade just as plumbing is. They deal with ball cocks and washers and we deal with words. But, I see the benefits of sometimes writing for free and it can lead to other things.

Happy writing!

Julie xx

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Like Buses

I'm having a flurry of article ideas come to me at the moment. I find that article ideas are a lot like buses; I don't see one for ages and then three arrive all at once - leaving me bewildered as to where the hell they came from and which one I should jump on to take me to my desired destination. I even bought a folder (buy one get one free!) from Staples on Friday to accommodate my research so I don't get the information for each article mixed up. It pays to be organised in this game.

I find sending out pitches for articles regularly has always worked for me. I'm also trying to widen my net and pitch to magazines I haven't considered before. Sometimes the pitches work and I can get cracking on writing the article, sometimes it's a no from the editor and sometimes, frustratingly, you hear nothing. But I soldier on! What I don't do now, something I did in the early years, is write the whole article before I've had the pitch accepted by an editor. I might gather some research but I don't waste my writing time writing the complete article until I know the editor is interested in it. There's a future 'Mistake Writer's Make for you Alex! Unless you've done that one before.

I suppose the theme of this post is don't waste your time writing articles you don't have an editor interested in. Put your efforts in writing well the ones you know you have a chance of getting published. By all means I would make enquiries with editors as to whether they want articles on whatever it is you want to write, but don't write them and then try and market them. Even with magazines that accept fully formed articles without the pitch, it's still worth testing the water by contacting the editor on the likelihood that they would be willing to read it.

Being a published writer is a business and you wouldn't find a plumber (also a business) fitting a new bathroom for someone without knowing if it's something the person would like and whether they were getting paid for it or not! Be kind to yourself and your writing.

Happy writing
Julie xx

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Sweaty Palms and a Dry Mouth

Normally, If anyone were to ask me to stand up in front of an audience and speak I would probably do it but it wouldn't be a comfortable experience for me. But as a writer, who hopes to have a book or two published one day, in this modern world authors are expected to give talks and meet and greet their readers as well as advertising and market their work. So I sought the opinions of other writers and a Business and Culture Change Motivational Speaker who have given talks in how they prepare for their talk and how they got over their nerves.

The resulting article has just been published in the May Issue of Writers' Forum. So if you don't like giving author talks because your nerves get the better of you, or  you've done a few and want to improve your technique, have a read of the article. I wrote it a while back and the funny thing is that as I was researching and writing it I found a new confidence in speaking - so much so that last Saturday I plucked up the courage to do a workshop for the writers' group I belong to and I wasn't nervous at all! I should listen to my own advice and that of other writers more often! I'd definitely recommend feeling the fear and doing it any way. I and the group had a wonderful time - such fun!

Happy writing and speaking

Julie xx

Monday, 21 March 2011

Forward momemtum

I've almost finished assignment four of the writing bureau journalism course and half way through assignment five too. I'm determined to get the course finished this year as I've been rather slack with it. There are no deadlines and that's part of the problem. I do one or two assignments in a flurry of enthusiasm and then life gets in the way and I get distracted. I put the course folder away and promptly forget about it, only to pull it out of my cupboard a few months down the line and sigh, 'oh yeah, I'd forgotten I was doing that!'. No more! Now I have my writing room I have the folder sitting on my table so I cannot fail to notice it. Hah! I will remember!

I've been in a bit of a thick, lingering fog over my article writing the past few months and haven't been able to see the wood for the trees. My last post about finding writing opportunities  everywhere and casting your writing themes and topics net wider was all part of my attempt to kick myself and those other writers who are similarly stuck in this fog too into action. I'm pleased to say it's helped me. I still have the occasional wobble and will sit there wailing, 'I've nothing to write about and any ideas I get are rubbish and no editor will ever want an article off me again!' But I'm managing to blot those thoughts out as it's my own lack of self confidence that was talking rubbish and not my article ideas!

So don't listen to that naughty devil sitting on your shoulder belittling your efforts. Listen, instead, to your encouraging angel. Remember it's determination and perseverance that will help you through.

Happy writing!

Julie xx

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Nothing to write about?

I went through a phase about a year ago where I managed to convince myself that I had absolutely nothing to write about. And then, even if by some miracle I did have an idea, I told myself that no-one would want to read it if it was written by me as I didn't have any qualifications in that area and I didn't know a lot about the subject. Then I had a more positive thought: do you really have to be qualified in or know a lot about the subject you are writing about? Well, it can give your writing more credence if you tell the reader all your relevant credentials and experience in the field you're writing about but it won't stop you from getting published if you're not the expert. You can, of course, always get quotes from experts to put into your piece to give it some oomph and give your writing some authority.

Take the example of the the archery article I researched, wrote and got published (twice!)  Did I know a lot about archery before I wrote it? No. Was archery a hobby of mine or did I compete? No. But I knew of people out there who did so I asked them. I also did a lot of reading up on the subject on the Internet and watched programmes on the TV about it. There really is more than one way to skin a cat (hate that expression but you know what I mean.)

So, if you're stuck for writing material or want to expand your repertoire then don't be afraid to try something new. Choose a subject that interests you but you know little about and explore that. You don't have to restrict yourself to a couple of subjects you always write about. In fact, doing that can spell disaster for the writer as publications go bust or you run out of things to say on those subjects - unless you can go at the subjects from  a different angle.  Cast your nets wider and see what you catch.

Happy writing

Julie xx

Saturday, 5 March 2011

It's work really ........ honest!

It's the perfect excuse. I get to sit on the sofa drinking coffee while perusing a variety of lovely magazines and it's all in the name of research! It's amazing what you can learn about the types of features and articles the magazine editors want simply by reading from cover to cover the magazine they edit. I've already been inspired and have come up with several ideas I'm going to pitch to the editors next week.

It's raining outside, my new writing room is finished and I'm all set up in there. What could be better? Well, a publishing deal would be great thank you very much, but until that happens (if it happens,) I'm content on working hard towards my writing goals and having a lot of fun on the way. I'm not sure where my new found confidence and renewed energy has come from: turning 40? A couple of events that have happened to me over the last week that have opened my eyes and made me change direction? The Spring air? I don't know. But I'm determined to utilise my increased enthusiasm while it lasts. Make hay while the sun shines as they say.

I hope you're busy making hay too.

Julie xx

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Good Things Come To Those Who Wait

I haven't had much luck on the article front recently, but that's because I've been focusing on my short stories. Today, however, I had a lovely surprise when the postman delivered a brown envelope with a copy of This England with one of my articles in it (archery) and a cheque! Now, I sent this article in a couple of years ago and had forgotten about it  -  so it was great to see it in this magazine. It was extra special as I have now sold, and had published two articles out of the one subject.

Lesson learned? Don't give up on your past submissions  -  sometimes it just takes a little (or a lot) of time for them to get to publication! It's also spurred me on to get cracking with more article pitches.

Happy writing

Julie xx

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Back On Track

After a hiatus on the journalism course front I have finally taken up the challenge and almost finished assignment four. To my shame, I haven't even looked at the course since August 2010 (cough, splutter, reddening of cheeks,) so I thought it was high time I began again. It got me thinking as to what obstacles stop me from writing and what I can do about them.

Some obstacles are there that are not of my making and there's very little I can do about those. But there are obstacles that are of my own making that I certainly can do something about. If you're in a rut with your article writing as I have been, looking at why you are in that rut, and what you can do to dig yourself out is the first step to getting yourself back on track. Here are my obstacles and what I intend to do about them. I hope it will help you to:

* Lack of time  -  This is both of my own making and due to other commitments that I have little control over, or do I? If I want to be taken seriously as an article writer I have to take myself seriously and be ruthless with my time. Not a minute of valuable writing time should ever be wasted, so I have looked through my diary and highlighted activities that take too much of my precious time that I can offload. I have written a time table of when I can write and I'm going to hold myself to that.

* Doing other, less important things  -  I am terrible for this. I will often do anything else but write and that is not the way for a professional writer to go. I should have a sign over my door with Procrastination 'R' us on it! Once I put my mind to it, though, I can write for England. So I intend to harness that 'putting my mind to it' and keep the momentum going.

*Worrying about the competition  -  Yes, there are other, more able and more prolific writers out there than me. But there are also less able and less prolific writers out there than me. So I'm concentrating on improving my writing skills and daring to put more pitches out there. I know I can write well and am perfectly capable of getting published  - I've done it many times and will do it many times more, and so can you.

*Letting self doubt cloud my judgment  -  There's no time or place for a writer to let a lack of self confidence stop them from writing and sending their work out there.  When I first started out I suffered from this terribly, but  as I gained more experience and had more published my confidence grew. You just have to push your inner critic away and get on with it.

From just one afternoon's work I've almost finished asssignment four and will have finished assignment five by the end of the week. Just shows you what can be done if you put your mind to it. The whole point of me doing the journalism course was to help me improve my writing and my chances of publication. I think it is doing exactly what it says on the tin and I'm looking forward to submitting the articles that the course generates.

I turn f***y  (thirty-ten) next week and for my present I'm having my spare bedroom turned into an office. This will help me, I hope, harness the time I have to write and allow me to get away from the distractions that stop me from writing. My own little writing space.

Happy writing

Julie xx

Saturday, 12 February 2011

All is Not Lost.......

With all the government cuts hanging over us, does it spell disaster for freelance writers? Will more and more magazines fold or will those that survive be more inclined to do everything in-house? Those are questions I can't answer, so I guess we will all find out sooner or later when more of us are chasing fewer and fewer markets. I refuse to believe that it will all be doom and gloom, though, and I think maintaining a positive attitude with a healthy dose of reality will stand me in good stead when I'm thinking up my next batch of pitches to send out.

So how can we, as freelance writers, survive?

What You Can't Do:

* Accurately predict exactly what an editor wants. Sometimes they just don't know what they want until they see it. But you can take steps to keep yourself close to the mark.

*Predict what every other writer is subbing. It's just bad luck if an editor rejects your pitch/article because they've just accepted a similar piece by another writer. But at least the knowledge that you were on the right track will take the sting out of that rejection.

*Do anything about the current or future economic climate. If the magazine does everything in-house you will only be wasting your time and theirs by subbing to them  -  redirect your energy to subbing to those magazines who still take from freelance writers.

What You Can Do:

* Keep researching the market: if you can get the tone, style and layout of your pitch/article right, you give yourself an advantage and  increase your chances of acceptance over the competition.

*Present your work, and deal with editors in a professional manner. Follow the magazine's subbing guidelines to the letter  and always be polite. Make yourself a pleasure to work with and you won't go far wrong. No editor wants to work with a writer who is too pushy or aggressive or precious about their work.

* Keep writing! If you don't write because you think it's not worth the bother in the present economic problem you'll never know if you would have been one of the few who got through and got published. So don't give up  - if one editor says no, another might well say yes.

It's tough out there, but it's not impossible.

Happy writing!

Julie xx

Friday, 4 February 2011

Excellent Article Writing Advice

There's some brilliant article writing advice, amongst other great snippets of information in the March (current) issue of Writing Magazine/Writers' News. So if you don't get this magazine it might be in your writerly interest to do so.

John Wade tells us how to 'Go Global,' and find markets overseas to pitch to. I'd never really considered this, which is daft really as I've had two short stories published in an Australian magazine! So, following John's advice, I'm going to have a stab at it.

The Writers' News part of the magazine has several snippets of information regarding potential magazine markets both in the UK and abroad, so it will be worth your time browsing through it to identify any possible markets that might be right for the articles you write.

Then Diana Cambridge looks at how to write for the 'health' market  -   something I should be giving a go as I come from a nursing background! Her advice is great and has certainly given me some pointers. There is also some fantastic tips from Samantha Brick on how to pitch to the national newspapers  -  something I haven't had the nerve to do but her advice has made me think again.

Liz Gregory talks about writing about your local community  - I had an article about a similar thing: looking through local magazines/papers and writing for them/about your community in Writers' News last year. So I know from experience that what Liz Gregory says is sound!

But that's not the end of all the excellent article writing advice. Oh no! Then we have an article by Deborah Sharpe about how to write  for the education market  -   also something that has potential for me.

It's a bumper article writing bonanza! I can't wait to read through it properly and reap the rewards from all that advice  -  I hope you all find it helpful too. I'm a bit disappointed with my article efforts at the moment (ie, I haven't written any!) When I think to how many articles I pitched, wrote, subbed and had published last year, I'm eager to get going on them again soon. Which I will do as soon as I've subbed my latest batch of short stories.

I hope your writing is going well. Remember: get something on paper  -  anything is better than nothing. At least you can work with rubbish. You can't do anything with nothing!

Happy writing

Julie xx



Wednesday, 26 January 2011

What helps me to write articles

Have a look over on my other blog http://jlpwritersquest.blogspot.com/  for tips on what I find helpful when writing articles. I'll be posting some tips that I find useful when writing short stories over there soon.

I haven't sent may pitches put recently as I've been in short story mode but I'll be continuing with my Writers' Bureau Journalism course shortly and so I've been looking at new ideas for that and it made me think about the advice I've been given and what I've read that's helped me since I started writing articles. I hope it helps you too.

Let me know if you've had any success with your articles or if you have any tips of your own.

Happy writing

Julie xx

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Writing from experience

I've been reading some magazine's recently in the name of research to identify some potential markets for my articles and I noticed that a lot of the magazines like personal accounts of events to fill their pages. Some pay a lot of money for these stories too. Then there are the magazines and newspapers who will pay for your account of your holidays and day trips. It can be quite a lucrative market and a way of getting published. Magazine's like Prima, Essentials, take a break and chat are hungry for real-life accounts and, in some of the magazines, it seems the gorier the stories are the better. You only have to see the headlines and titles of the stories to see the type of story they are after.

But if something dreadful had happened to you, would you want it splashed across the pages of a national magazine? I can see why you might if the money the magazine paid you for your story was for charity, but some of the stories in these magazines leave me thinking why people do it? Well, for the money I guess, or, of course, writing about what happened can work as therapy. It can also serve as a warning to others: this happened to me. Don't let it happen to you. I'm not sure I'd do it, no matter how much they paid. Could I write about something horrific that happened to someone I know, with their consent, either? The answer would probably be no. It takes all kinds of writer to write all kinds of things, maybe you're different and could write a piece like that. It's something to think about.

Personally, I'm quite a private person and I am very selective about what I choose to write about. It could be why I found the Life Writing part of the Creative Writing course I took difficult. I'm not a life writer, but there are plenty out there who have lead fascinating and sometimes tragic lives that they have no qualms about revealing to a wider audience. I've read a few autobiographies in my time and some of them have been great. I am amazed by how candid people are and it makes for interesting reading that made  me think. But we writers do have a nosy streak, it's part of the writers' toolkit, so it's no wonder we find other people's lives fascinating. So if you have a personal story to tell and want a wider , look at some of these magazines and have a go at writing down what happened to you and submit it.

Word of warning: make sure you are absolutely sure you want to share your experiences and are prepared for any potential fallout when it's published. People can be supportive but they can also be cruel. Make sure, if your story involves other people (and especially if it shows them in an unfavourable light) that you tell them what you are going to write about them and your intended market. You might like to take legal advice, as you don't want a libel or slander case to deal with, or having to deal with recriminations.

Good luck with your writing
Julie xx

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Sucking Eggs

I'm not trying to teach my grannie to suck eggs here, but it does no harm to get back to basics with your article writing and it might well help you get that sale. I know you know it and you've heard it a million times before, but I can't champion enough the importance for article writers to research the market, follow the individual editor's/publication's submission guidelines to the letter, address the pitch/article to the name of the current editor of the magazine and not just Sir or Madam. If you're not sure who the editor is, and you should do if you've researched the market thoroughly, then look at a current issue of the magazine to clarify. If it's not clear whether they take pitches from freelance writers then find a phone number/e-mail address for the editor in the magazine and make contact. This is no time to be shy! You won't then waste yours or the editor's time if they don't take freelance contributions, but you might gain a sale if they do.

Most of all, from my own experience, it's important that article writers, (any writer for that matter), keep trying. Keep looking for new magazine's to pitch to as well as pitch to your old favourites and to never give up. If it's a no from the editor this time, it might be a yes next time. There's usually no rhyme or reason to why one pitch makes it through to acceptance whilst another doesn't  -  that doesn't really matter. What matters is you don't let all the 'no thank yous' stop you from trying again. There will be many no thank yous, but there will be some yes pleases too.

 Yes it is hard to get an article published, particularly in the current market. Lots of magazines have gone under, but there are plenty of survivors and new magazines popping up. So go back to basics, widen your net and you might find yourself pitching to and being published in magazines you never thought you would be in!

Happy pitching.

Julie xx

Friday, 14 January 2011

Forget Me Not

I had a lovely writing related surprise this morning when Simon Whaley e-mailed me to say he's just seen one of my articles in The New Writer. He'd also got two articles in the same issue. Both of us had forgotten that we'd subbed the articles! How did that happen?! I was perplexed to start with as I was sure all the articles I'd ever subbed to The New Writer had been rejected. Obviously not. So I am one happy writer as it's not only one I'd forgotten about but it's my first article published in 2011 and it's the first article I've had published in The New Writer. Good things come to those who keep trying and waiting.

The article is about getting the most out of your writing group which is quite apt as it's my writing group's meeting tomorrow!

Happy writing

Julie xx

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Getting to the real story

I love writing about other people. I find their lives fascinating. Just walk down the street and take a look at the diversity of people you see. There will be many different faces, some old, some young, some will look happy, sad, worried, harassed. I often wonder who the people I pass are and where they are going, what their lives are like. On the face of it, they might be very different people to what you can imagine. They might be projecting their 'public' face. The face they are comfortable in letting other people see. But bubbling under the surface they could be a different kettle of fish altogether.That's why I love going out and finding new people to interview and write about. I haven't done much of this recently and I've got itchy feet so, no doubt, I'll be out there again with my trusty digital voice recorder, notebook and pen again soon.

It struck me, though, recently, have I been looking in the right places for subject matter for my articles? I tend to go for people and groups that I have a personal interest in: the local amateur dramatic group because I've seen some of their plays, they rehearse just up the road from me and I know a couple of their members. The archery group because I like to watch archery and had the opportunity, locally, to go and watch them. Local authors Carole Anne Carr and Phyllis Blakemore because, again, I know them both well and I'm interested in their work as writers. The Morris dancers because I like Morris dancing and they are a great group of people.

Why not go further afield and look into groups/people who do things that don't interest me personally but would make great articles? I think that as writers we should be versatile, and  I think I've been playing it a little bit safe. I thought that if I had a real interest in the groups and activities I was writing about this would show through in my writing, and make the piece come alive and be more interesting to the editor and reader. Maybe it does, but that shouldn't prevent me from looking for people/groups that do things I either haven't heard of or experienced before. I think it does writers good to spread their wings and talk to people from all walks of life. I love learning about things and as a writer I have the opportunity to meet such lovely and interesting people and learn about a wide range of subjects. It is the person's/group's passion for what they do that shines through in my articles. A good writer/Interviewer will be able to coax that passion out and use words that convey that passion in the right way in the article.

So go off road with your writing for a while. Look for a group/person/subject you haven't considered writing about before and just do it. Don't be afraid to experiment. You might not come out with what you expected, but that's the beauty of creativity and writing, you never know where it might lead you. Poke around a bit and get a feel for the stories that might be out there. Look deeper than the surface layer. See what you come up with.

Happy digging!
Julie xx

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Read for information and inspiration

It's been the first week back at school today and what with having two weeks off for the holidays, (three if you count the last week of term when I was off with the flu,) and the residual tiredness I have from that I haven't really felt like writing. I'm also at the tail end of a teaching assistant course so a lot of my writing energy has gone into that coursework. I was feeling despondent and wondering if I'd ever have another article idea or the energy to pitch and write it! It's funny what tiredness/illness/holidays can do to you.

But then, when I got home today, there on the mat was the new issue of Writing Magazine. A beacon shining through the fog. It's lifted my spirits and I shall look forward to reading it tonight. I had a quick flick through and it looks great, as does Writers' Forum that came just before Xmas I think. When I read them, I don't just read them for pleasure, or to improve my writing. I also read them for inspiration: I think about which themes and subjects they've had in and what ideas I could pitch to the editors too. I had a couple of articles in Writers' Form last year and one in Writing Magazine as well as one in Writers' News (which is now incorporated in the main Writing Magazine instead of being a separate publication.

I already feel bolstered from just flicking through the magazines and I'm going to make a concerted effort over the weekend to come up with some good ideas and pitch them. I'm also going to pick up a few other magazines that take contributions from freelance writers that I haven't pitched to before (nothing ventured, nothing gained!)

How is everyone else getting on so far this year?

Julie xx