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