Tuesday, 3 January 2017

New ebook: 50 More Mistakes Beginner Writers Make

I'll keep this one brief: the second in my planned series of Mistakes Writers Make ebooks is released today, and is called 50 More Mistakes Beginner Writers Make.

As I say in the blurb, its aim is to progress the aspiring writing of articles and non-fiction to the next level, expanding on some of the core basics covered in the first book. 

That means more - much more - on generating ideas for magazines and newspapers, for instance, as well as on the business of writing (contracts, copyright, money), dealing professionally with editors, improving your editing skills and a lot more besides. Other mistakes cover readers letters, interviewing and research, dealing with rejection ... and dealing with acceptance too!

Big thanks to Simon Whaley for casting his expert eye over the MS and giving reassuring and helpful feedback. I deny all charges that I only did so in order to shift the blame for any mistakes on him ... :)

If you've not read its predecessor - 50 Mistakes Beginner Writers Make - and would like to, then for a limited time it's available for 99p / 99c. It's January sale season, after all, and I'd hope you might consider this a better bargain than the discount mince pies cluttering up the bargain bins ... 

50 More Mistakes Beginner Writers Make is available as a Kindle ebook, for £1.99 / $2.99. 

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Guest Mistake No. 2: Crossed Wires, by Susie Kearley

Communication - you'd think it would be the most natural skill for any writer. I mean it's what we do, isn't it? But even writers have communication breakdowns at times. 

Picture this: while you're sitting at home quietly working on writing assignments, your magazine or newspaper editor is working in a hectic office, getting hundreds of emails every day and feeling as if there's never enough time to get everything done. You're there to help, right? But sometimes stuff happens... such as an interviewee jacks in her job and goes off to travel the world. 

This happened to me, and then the magazine editor called up with extra questions... 

"How old is Helen?" she asked. 

"About 50?" I guessed. "She's gone off travelling round the world, so I can't ask, sorry," I explained. I wished I'd asked her before she left, obviously. 

"Oh. So you don't have her new contact details then? We'd like to read the final version of the story to her." 

"No, sorry, but she was fine about what I sent you, so as long as it hasn't changed too much, I'm sure it'll be OK." 

A few other things had happened in the intervening period however, which meant one of the photos was out of date too. None of this changed my interviewee's story, so I didn't think it was important. But it seems I should have mentioned it, as the editor decided to add a footnote to the story, while grumbling that I should have told her earlier. A lesson has been learnt. 


It's easy to think that when writers are enthusiastic about appearing in a magazine article, they're happy enough for you to use the same material in a book. But for my new book, The Little Book of Freelance Writing (reviewed by Mistakes Writers Make here) one interviewee said no, and her piece was pulled from my manuscript at the eleventh hour. It's good to check! 

Get the terms in writing 

Quite recently I started work on a new writing project for an editor I've worked for before. He asked me to do some background work for a new article and get the ball rolling with an interviewee. I assumed that the length and fee would be the same as before, but queried anyway, as it's good to have all this confirmed. The editor didn't respond, however, and after asking several times I started to wonder whether they'd had budget cuts and didn't expect to pay me at all! It was awkward, because by then, I had an enthusiastic interviewee in the loop. 

It was the following week when the editor finally confirmed the terms, and they were fine. But the lesson is, always get these essential details in writing BEFORE you start work! 

Make sure you understand the assignment 

On another occasion, I was asked to write up a short travel article and add a walk... at least that's how I understood it. After I'd submitted my work, it turned out they wanted a mapped and detailed walking route INSTEAD of the travel article that I'd pitched to them. I hadn't even done a walk when I visited the location, so I didn't feel qualified to write about the walk in any detail. 

In the end, they used what I'd written and added a walk. But next time, I know that if they say they want a walk, I need to clarify the format from the outset. 

The lesson: make sure you understand instructions - it's sometimes better to ask questions than to do the wrong thing! 

Susie Kearley works for magazines and newspapers around the world. Read more about the ups and downs of freelance writing in her new book, The Little Book of Freelance Writing, available in paperback or ebook. It includes inspiration and ideas, identifies opportunities for writers, includes interviews with other successful writers, and it helps you understand rights and contracts. She is also the author of Freelance Writing: Aim Higher, Earn More, and of Freelance Writing on Health, Food and Gardens. You can buy and view all her books via Amazon.

Friday, 2 December 2016

The Little Book of Freelance Writing by Susie Kearley

It's not often that you turn the page of a book to be met with a friendly picture of a good mate - but that's exactly what happened to me reading Susie Kearley's The Little Book of Freelance Writing ...

Ruth Holroyd is the friend. We are both allergy bloggers - she at What Allergy, I at Allergy Insight - and we work together occasionally on Awards in the 'free from' and allergy sector, including the FreeFrom Skincare Awards, which I conceived and co-founded, and for which Ruth is a regular judge. It was a pleasure to read an extended interview with Ruth about how she makes a living from her blog, and also tackles the trickier aspects - such as where to draw the line on the issue of product reviews or advertising, and dealing with spam and malicious web attacks.

In fact, the interviews with a variety of writers in Susie's book are all very much worth a look. They give you a true feel for the sheer variety of what a career in writing can involve, and also the diversity of opportunities that potentially lie ahead for the writer just starting out on the often crazy journey that is working with words. You don't know where you may be going, but there are lots of directions open to you, and many of them are worth pursuing.

I'm an established writer who gives writing advice, and so you might imagine reading a book by another established writer who gives writing advice may be a wasted exercise, simply because I'm not the target reader. I've never found this to be the case, and it isn't the case here. Obviously I knew a lot of the sound advice Susie dispenses, but I still picked up some good tips - such as asking yourself why an editor should really care about your pitch - and other suggestions gave me more to think about. A book blog tour? Never considered that before!

Reading writing books is advice given early on - and I would agree with it. I do think it's possible to read too many, but you should read a fair few. I still have some I first bought twenty years ago. Both new and old books are worth rooting out: the advice being given today is obviously topical and up-to-date, but the classic book advisors also give universal tips that do not go out of fashion. Besides, different writers have different experiences. It's not about sticking to every word they suggest to the letter, but about getting ideas, applying some that you like the sound of, experimenting and being motivated by the positivity which successful writers impart.

Finding a good writing group, getting inspiration from the classics (a great tip), looking into social community journalism ... there are lots of ideas here. Earlier I used the word 'feel' and it applies again to this handy little guide - The Little Book of Freelance Writing really gives the beginner or aspiring writer a real feel for what the job involves, and if that's what you're looking for, it's the ideal book for you.

The Little Book of Freelance Writing by Susie Kearley is available for Kindle (£1.99, $2.99) and in CreateSpace paperback (£4.99, $5.99)

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Reverse dictionary

I don't know why I've not written about reverse dictionaries before. The subject sprung to mind yesterday evening during the weekly Twitter #writingchat - which turned out to be about gifts for writers. Coincidentally, only a few days ago I collected some fun examples and silly suggestions in my annual Christmas Gifts for Writers post, but as that was a book-free collection, it is perhaps fitting that I dedicate a special one to not only why I think a reverse dictionary might make a great gift - but why one should be on every writer's bookshelf too.

Few writers seem to have a reverse dictionary, and, as I found out last night, some writers haven't even heard of them. Browsing on Amazon, it seems that they don't seem to get printed any longer (none that I can find after 2002), so perhaps they're out of vogue, or just stopped selling, which seems a shame.

Dictionaries tell you the meaning of a word you know, while reverse dictionaries help you find words you know, but which you have either forgotten, or which will not leave the tip of your tongue. They also guide you to words which might serve you well for writing on particular subjects. They do help with synonyms, but a reverse dictionary is far more than just a thesaurus. Browsing them is fun; they boost your word power. They teach you words you didn't know you didn't know.

Mine is this striking pink, orange and red Reader's Digest Reverse Dictionary from 1989 - which looks to be the same as this one, in terms of content if not cover, but I can't be certain, and which may have been updated almost a decade later as this Illustrated Reverse Dictionary, but again I'm unsure.

I first found my brightly coloured breezeblock of a book (it weighs 2kg) at a charity shop years ago, and due to its clashing colour combo is easy to spot at jumble sales and anywhere there are second hand books for sale. I have never left a copy I've spotted on the shelf, having given a few to friends and my sister (a translator) over the years. There are lists, there are labelled diagrams, there are words and words and more words.

Reverse dictionaries are surely due a renaissance ...

The simple two-page intro to mine explains the 'several angles of attack' you can use to find the word that eludes you. To find the forgettable word 'caryatid' - the female sculpture serving as a column to support a roof in ancient Greece, you could look up 'column', 'woman' or 'sculpture' - and see it listed.

As the editors say, "most target words can be approached from several directions ... The linguistic side of the human mind works by lateral thinking as well as straight-line logical thinking" ... meaning if you're scratching your head for a word which is often partnered with a word you do remember, you can look up that one instead. So try 'butter' to find 'rancid', or 'job' to find 'sedentary'. Looking up the opposite of a word can be fruitful - see 'serious' and you'll find 'levity'.

This is merely scratching the surface of the delights reverse dictionaries have to offer. There are entertaining words and fanciful words, and there are prefixes and suffixes galore so you can have fun inventing your own words. Look up 'mistake' (above right) and you find 'lapsus linguae' - Latin for 'slip of the tongue' - which is my new favourite discovery ...

Ultimately, I'd say it's a book for word nerds.

Unless they're called something else these days, the most recently released reverse dictionary I can see is The Oxford Reverse Dictionary - for which Amazon offers a "Look Inside" - but I have to say it doesn't look a patch on my Reader's Digest version. Maybe we should petition the RD to update and reprint? Now that's an idea ...

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Christmas gifts for writers

Looking for gift ideas for writers? Of course we all love books. But all writers get given books at Christmas, and sometimes we want both to receive - and give, to writing buddies - something different.

Here's a round-up of alternatives and online stores if you're stuck for the scribe in your life this year ...

If like me you get your best ideas when in water, then these Aqua Notes are a great solution for the writer whose brainwaves arrive when in the bath or shower. I get mine swimming, so I'll await the invention of the voice recorder-enabled goggles some time in 2017...

This Soap for Writer's Block by Whiskey River Soap Co. (left) is nicely irreverent, and perfect for your idea-generating shower time. Who can argue with a soap that 'smells of regurgitated ideas'? Perhaps one for the writer who doesn't take himself too seriously?

I'm cheating slightly, as this does contain a book of sorts, but The Writer's Toolbox, as its full title says, promises "creative games and exercises for inspiring the 'write' side of your brain". As one reviewer says, "this toolbox helps jumpstart the writing process by focusing on three different useful and unique approaches to building a story: sentence sticks, sixth-sense cards, and story wheel palettes".

I'm quite liking this CafePress Writers' WallClock - but Margarita o'clock does seem perhaps a little premature and Chocolate hour rather a long wait ... Can we not swap them around?

Neighbours keep knocking on your door? Flatmates keep bothering you to go down the pub? You'll be wanting to put this Writer at Work Door Sign to good use then - and on your Wish List ...

Every writer loves to mull, ponder and plot over tea (or stronger), and there are some great mugs with a writerly twist. This Great First Lines Literature Coffee Mug (left) and this Banned Book Mug are both fun - while this Please Do Not Annoy the Writer mug might be just the thing for a murder mystery writer whose Writer at Work Door Sign may prove insufficient. And if you're as maddened by lose / loose confusion as I am, then this is the mug for you.

What else? I liked the spirit behind this Put Your Buttocks in That Chair motivational poster (right).

Here's an affordable and simple 'Word Warrior' key chain.

A 'Write Drunk Edit Sober' notebook might be a better alternative to a mug for the writer who turns up his nose at tea.

And if anyone wants to buy me a 'Best Writer in the Galaxy' T shirt I'm happy to confirm I'm a size M.

For something a bit more classy, there's this True Grace Library Scented Candle - how can the fragrance of old books fail to inspire you to write? Not for you? How about the New Books Scented Candle instead?

I am not sure whether either of those candles will fit in this Bathroom Bath Tub Caddy with Wine, Candle and Book Holder (left) but frankly, who cares? Your wine glass will fit, which is all that really matters when you want to relax, read a darned good book and forget all about filling in those waterproof Aqua Notes ...

More Places for Browsing...

Amazon's Gifts for Writers
The Literary Gift Company's Gifts for Writers
Etsy's Gifts for Writers
Not On the High Street's Gifts for Writers and Book Lovers