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

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Who's really taking liberties in Ireland? Part II

Several days have passed ... the debate has rumbled on - a lot of it on Twitter, under the hashtag #libertiespress.

A tweet from writer David Gaughran gave me pause to reconsider my earlier post on this subject.

And it was such a good, succinct point, that I've since been pulled the other way a bit. While I'd still in principle defend the right of a business to run its business the way it chooses, I think I would now more strongly recommend against using this service - and suggest that if a new writer did want to receive a critique, an independent and experienced editor or MS critic would be the far better way to go. Is it against the spirit of publishing? I'm leaning towards yes, but I'm still uncertain.

Anyway, The Irish Times have reported on the brouhaha that has followed, including in their report the tweet from the Irish Writers Union criticising the Liberties Press move which I pasted into my previous post.

However, The Irish Writers Union also criticised The Irish Times for their rights-demanding writing competition which I also blogged on several days ago.

... and I doubt we'll be seeing coverage of that in the paper, will we? 

Why is nobody making a fuss over the Irish Times, but plenty over Liberties Press? I'll leave you with the thoughts of Gaughran again, which I'm inclined to agree with.

Depressing, isn't it? 

Friday, 7 October 2016

Who's really taking liberties in Ireland?

The news that an Irish publisher has begun to charge 100 Euro for any unagented submission of a manuscript for potential publication has been met with anger among some writers and writing groups.

Writer Susan Tomaselli, editor of Gorse Journal, suggested it was "taking the piss". A Twitter exchange initiated by Author Oisin McGann revealed a number of deeply unimpressed writers - with one declaring it a "racket". The Indie Authors' Alliance called it a "seriously worrying departure from publishing norms". This was the Irish Writers' Union response:

This all happened in the summer - but the Irish Times has only just reported it, it seems, bringing it to wider attention, including my own.

There is an irony, for me, that it was the IT who have belatedly 'broken' this story, given that they have just run a travel writing competition demanding all rights in submitted entries - yes, even losing ones - something I drew attention to on Twitter a few weeks ago, which my colleague Simon Whaley blogged on, and which was picked up by the brilliant writers' campaign group Artists Rights, who itemised each deeply unfair term on their website.

Although the Irish Writers' Union also criticised the IT, I saw little further frustration from the writing community about this appalling lack of respect for creators' rights - which is simply incomparable to what Liberties Press are doing, in my view.

At least LP are being transparent, and writers know what they're getting - a one-page critique, according to LP's submissions page, "providing a critical assessment of the MS, comments on commercial possibilities, and suggestions for next steps ... Further comment from the author will also be responded to".

Is this so bad? It sounds like a manuscript critique service, and an averagely priced one at that. The value of 100 Euro is known and understood - and the policy is explicit. You know what you are parting with, what you are getting, and there is no further price to pay. Choose to, or choose not to.

Meanwhile, the value of copyright in a piece of speculative work is not widely understood - and not actually knowable at the time of submission. Perhaps it's worthless; perhaps it's highly lucrative. The Irish Times have declared their rights-seizing demands in their T&Cs, but tucked away in a place many writers are too careless to check, and expressed in a manner many beginner writers are too green to understand.

While it's not unreasonable to get occasionally upset at the various changes happening in the publishing industry, is this all so different to a standard writing competition? You pay an entry fee, you win or (statistically more likely) you lose, and you may or (statistically more likely) you may not get any feedback. Is it fair, for instance, for poetry competition organisers to take (admittedly small) entry fees from entrants who have zero clue what poetry is - and probably offer nothing in return? Writing competitions, I fear, often make their money from no-hope entrants, and there has been little scrutiny of them, to my mind.

Everyone wants to be a writer these days, and I can imagine how bombarded those in the publishing business (for it is a business, the romantics would do well to remember) are with aspiring writers' precious works. As LP say, it will be "no bad thing" for them if they see fewer manuscripts, and while I tend to disagree with them that their policy will be routine in years to come, I feel the anger against them is not entirely justified, and wish far more were directed at those who show disrespect towards matters copyright, such as the Irish Times.

11th October. Edited to add: For further thoughts on this subject see Who's really taking liberties in Ireland? Part II.