Saturday, 9 January 2021


I'm delighted to announce it's PUBLICATION WEEK! 

My debut novel, Pestilence, has just been published, and if you enjoy 'end of the world' thrillers, it might be just up your street!

The story behind this book is a long one, but I'll give you the short version. When I was about 15, I discovered James Herbert, and was smitten by his books and inspired to emulate him. So at the age of 16, I started writing the first draft of a story about a deadly fungus, which would bring about the end of the world. James Herbert's Rats had made him famous, and Shaun Hutson's Slugs did pretty well too. This was my attempt at a similar idea.

I had character profiles and a few plot ideas, but most of it, I worked out as I went along. The problem was, I got stuck. I never worked out the ending. The novel got shelved for 20 years.

I'd hoped to become a full-time writer when I left school, but it was the 1990 recession and faced with an unsympathetic father, who thought I was incompetent and deluded, being a novelist was not an option. A series of shitty office jobs ensued.

20 years on, at the age of 36, I took redundancy and decided to become a freelance writer. By this time, the man in my life was much more supportive, and I was allowed to carve out a writing career over the course of a year.

I used National Novel Writing Month to finish the novel and get the ending done. I took out a lot of the horror content, deciding it would reach more readers as a thriller instead. Then it got virtually shelved again for the best part of ten years, as I concentrated on the paid journalism and photography jobs, which were much more lucrative.

Eventually I took two months off in 2019 to edit and hone the novel, getting feedback, and doing further revisions. In 2020 I submitted to agents, hoping to get a big publishing deal, but as Covid-19 struck, it turned out, everyone else was doing the same. It wasn't a good time.

So at the turn of 2021, with a collection of rejection emails and stony silences under my belt, I decided to self publish the novel that had taken over 30 years from conception to publication. This might be a record, but I doubt it.

I'm hoping to sell 1000 copies - partly to generate a decent income for all the time I've invested in the project, and partly to show dad that my ideas had potential after all! Not that he's bothered. But it would be a nice ending to a very long story, before I move on to my next project!

Saturday, 6 June 2020

My New eBook! A Grand Tour of Scotland in a Freedom Caravan.

Hello All, Well haven't the last few months been weird. I was very stressed when it all started, but I got out into the countryside and got into the swing of things, so the anxiety levels subsided quite nicely.

I managed to keep some work coming in for quite a while, but seem to have hit a new low point this week. So it seemed like a good time to work on an ebook that's been on the back burner for a long time. It's about our touring holiday of Scotland in 2014, with nice photos of the highlights across the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

I won't repeat the blurb, but it was a lively experience, with lots of historical sights, lots of glorious wildlife, some serious weather including the tail end of Hurricane Bertha, and lots of amazing views. So if you fancy a peek, 'look inside' on Amazon, and if you're still intrigued, why not treat yourself? Go on a virtual tour of Scotland, which might inspire your next getaway after lockdown.

Find out more here:

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Coronavirus - a strange new world

Well it's a strange new world and it seemed like a good time to write a blog.

I was on holiday (at home) last week while the country went into lockdown. We cancelled our week in Dorset, after the PM said no travel, and committed to enjoying the time locally exploring the countryside instead. We've been out every day for our permitted exercise and discovered some great local places that we didn't know existed.

This weekend I've been preparing for the working week ahead, trying to think of Coronavirus stories that might keep me working over the coming months! I'm not even sure whether editors will be commissioning - I've heard some are making cut backs, while others are taking a break from publishing until things return to a semblence of normality.

My husband and I have been virtually self-isolating for three weeks, because my husband has asthma, so we're not taking any chances. I've gone through feeling very low, passed through the feeling that we're up shit creek because the supermarket shelves are empty and we live on vegetables, and now I'm finally feeling like it's OK.

Nothing's really changed here. I worked at home anyway. Now I have company, as my husband does the same. I always used to go for a daily walk, so the only difference now, is that I don't call into the shops on the way home. Seeing my parents is forbidden, so we just wave through the window on the way past, and phone up more.

I've struggled to focus since coronavirus became the only story in the news, but I've managed to sell a few stories on self-isolation tips, and opportunities to enjoy your local environment. I'm not sure whether I'm going to be able to keep the ideas coming, in this weird climate. It rules out all the normal things I usually write about - like travel and people doing great things in social groups!

As for the government bailout for the self-employed, I'm not sure whether I'd be eligible. I get paid months, even years, after I've done the work, due to 'payment on publication' policies. My income next month probably won't be any reflection of the work I do next month. Two recent commissions have been put back until this is all over. I'm hoping I can just keep the work coming in. I'd rather keep working.

So here's to a brave new world. Follow me on Twitter @susiekearley for regular updates on how I'm getting on. Stay safe and stay indoors!

I hope everyone else is doing OK!

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Writing for foreign markets

Here I have a Q&A on writing for foreign markets. I responded to the questions with answers below.

1. How do you find potential foreign markets?

I use Writer's Market to find US clients, and work through it from A-Z in the magazine section. The Australian Writer's Marketplace lists all Australian titles, but so far, I've found Australian magazines just by searching Google: "Australian magazine *insert topic*". This has the added benefit of bringing up magazines that aren't always listed in writers' yearbooks.

2. What steps do you take to get to know that market?

I look at articles printed on the magazine's website. I don't usually try to get physical copies. I have occasionally asked for a sample article to help me get the style right. The editors have then sent me a copy of the magazine or a PDF of a similar article.

3. Do you resell pieces you've already sold in the UK, or do you write slightly differently angled material for the foreign readerships?

I try to resell British articles, but almost invariably find that the foreign markets want something slightly different. They also want first world rights.
I write a fair bit about food and you have to be aware that in foreign countries, food preferences differ, the names of some foods differ, and what's popular and in season differs too. I've had to make considerable adjustments to British health articles, modified for the Australian market, to take account of climate differences and dietary differences. I've had to research which vegetables grow well in Australian gardens at different times of year. You can't assume the same vegetables that are popular among British gardeners are popular in Australia too. I've also used different research studies to illustrate my points and make my work more relevant to Australian readers.

4. What difficulties have you encountered with foreign markets? Have you had problems getting paid, or finding out when a piece has been published?

Yes. One of my first pieces published in the USA was in Auto Week, who commissioned a time-sensitive piece and then had some editorial changes. My emails got lost. No one replied. I didn't know if my piece had been published. I certainly hadn't been paid. I finally managed to get hold of someone, nearly a year later, only to find out about the editorial changes. They did however, use my piece (updated) and paid me. But I never got to see a copy, either electronically or in print. I gave up at that point, just happy to have been paid!

5. What advice would you give to writers considering approaching a foreign market for the first time?

Make sure you tailor your pitch to their domestic market. Use information relevant and topical to the country, and know the language differences. So try to write in American English if you're approaching the American markets, for example.

My book, Freelance Writing: Aim Higher, Earn More, has a chapter on writing for overseas markets.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Turning rejection into acceptance

I had a couple of articles rejected recently. That hasn't happened in a long while, and frankly, I wasn't very impressed because it took the editor 7 months to let me know, and the reason for one of them, was simply that he'd totally changed his mind about the brief. He wanted something completely different. Was a kill fee available? No. But if I wanted rewrite them both, taking into account his extensive criticisms, then he'd reconsider his position.

Now I have to admit, I was fed up. I mean, he might have mentioned that there was a problem after I submitted the first article back in September. I'd have thought twice about offering him the second! So I pondered the opportunity to 'rewrite them both' while I got on with some guaranteed paid work. A few weeks later, I decided to have another go at these two articles.

I trawled through the demoralising emails, taking in the criticisms, and then looked for the positives - what could I do to salvage the situation? I asked more questions of my interviewees, but the answers weren't what the editor wanted to hear. No, they're not filthy rich. No, they're not famous. No, they haven't become a publishing sensation from contributing to an anthology. But it wasn't supposed to be about that. It was about personal satisfaction, raising money for charity, achieving personal goals, etc.

Anyway, I know this all sounds like a dead loss, but a couple of days ago, I got an acceptance! Somehow, by rejigging the content, bringing something from the back to the front, adding a few more comments from my own personal experience, and answering some of the questions, it worked. I honestly didn't think that article would be accepted but it just was!

The second article was more of an extensive rewrite due to the dramatically different brief, but I had a go at that one too, and remarkably, a week or so later, it was accepted too!

Now, usually if an editor has their own ideas about how an article will take shape, I get a clear brief at the point of commission. Otherwise I just make sure I cover everything that I've suggested in my pitch. It can be a different ball game if you submit work 'on spec', but I work to commission most of the time.

So do remember that however bleak things may appear, if an editor thinks your work has potential, it's probably worth putting in that extra work, because you never quite know when you can turn a rejection into an acceptance. You might surprise yourself.

Good luck!

Sunday, 21 January 2018

2017-2018 What next?

I thought for the first blog of 2018 I should look back at 2017 and forward to the year ahead.

Now you may recall that after failing to hit most of my targets in 2016, I didn't have a plan for 2017: it was a bit like Brexit. But I subscribed to some magazines and a website to help me find work. All those subscriptions have now lapsed and I've reverted to the old fashioned way of doing things - just approaching editors. It works best for me.

I did get a job from the freelance writing website, but it was working for an individual who didn't understand professional ethics and after declaring that she loved the work I'd done for her, she then changed her mind and refused to pay her second invoice. We parted company and I decided I prefered to work for professional publishers, not entrepreneurs with funny ideas and a propensity to change their minds.

So, apart from that, 2017 was a year of writing about weird and wonderful things, from exorcisms to pets. I was working for existing clients on spiritual, travel, gardening and health titles. New clients last year included a poultry magazine, a travel magazine, an insurance company, and a esoteric publication.

I've been covering diverse topics from salmonella in poultry to the glorious sights of the Lake District. I've written about pet modelling agencies, puppy smuggling, the summer solstice, and the Naked Bike Ride.

2018 will present new challenges, as the publishing industry is under pressure and freelancers are leaving in droves for secure jobs in PR (according to stats anyway)! I won't be joining them. Just hoping to pick up more new clients in 2018, and keep plugging away, doing what I do best.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Inner Ear Damage, Glue Ear, and Crap Foam Earplugs

Nearly four years ago, I was covering a music weekend for a magazine article. The editor said I should get great photos - the whole commission depended on that. I thought foam ear plugs would be sufficient to protect my ears and I went down the front to get the best shots. The event was an absolute blast. I loved it. But half way through, I became aware of a horrible pressure building up behind my ear drums. I went to buy new ear plugs, but they were worse than the ones I'd bought with me, so I fitted them as tightly as I could and carried on.

In hindsight, I wish I'd just left at that point, but I hoped the feeling would pass, like the ringing in your ears passes following a concert. It didn't. So I'm writing this blog to warn people about the risks of relying on foam ear plugs at concerts, and the little known symptoms of permanent ear damage to watch out for.

When I returned home after the music weekend, I hoped the problem would pass, but it didn't so a few weeks later, I went to see the local practice nurse (there were no doctor's appointment's available). She said I had a blocked eustacian tube - fluid in the ear, putting pressure on the ear drum. A bit of web researched revealed that this is called Glue Ear. I was told to steam my ears, so I did it obsessively, every day, and it helped a bit. Six months of steaming later, my symptoms were still troubling me, so I tried to get a referral to a specialist. The doctor wouldn't refer me until I'd tried a load of drugs: antihistamines, decongestants, steroids, etc etc. All designed to eliminate glue ear, while at the same time, they now insisted that I didn't have glue ear.

To cut a long story short, it actually took three-and-a-half years to get an appointment with an ENT specialist. He said I have inner ear damage. It's not hearing loss, although sounds are muffled, but the feeling of pressure behind the ear drum drives me crazy. And there's a humming that's pretty awful too. Had I known that ear pressure was a sign of permanent damange, I'd have left the music weekend as soon the problem became apparent.

Most people know that noise can damage your hearing, but they probably reckon foam ear plugs offer sufficient protection. With hindsight, I can only suggest people exposed to loud noise invest in metal earplugs, try wax earplugs, or get professional musician's ear plugs. Better still, get industrial ear defenders. I wish I had.

What about the article covering that music weekend? Well I did get amazing photographs! But the editor who commissioned the article never published it. A cut of the original piece was sold to another publisher a few years later and was published last year. Was it worth it? Aboslutely not.

So for people searching Google for Glue Ear - like I was for years - trying different treatments, but finding nothing works, perhaps that pressure is caused by inner ear damage. I hate to say it, but there's little medics can do about that. My GP says, at some point in the future, it may be worth trying a low-dose of a drug to reduce the unpleasant sensation behind the ears.

If anyone stumbles across this blog and has any experience or advice on how to improve this situation, do leave a comment below. Thank you.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

This year has been stressful. They're building 70 flats on the plot next door.

This year has been stressful. They're building 70 flats on the plot next door. Our house forms the boundary wall. I've had 18 months of noise and vibrations. The whole house shakes daily, and last week they piled soil up against the wall of our house, with no consultation. Then they had diggers collecting the soil from the wall of our house, and ignored my attempts to communicate with them. I wanted to say, "Be careful - that's a load-bearing wall! It would have been nice to be consulted about this! And what about damp?"

But none of the workers speak English, making it impossible to effectively communicate with them directly, and the management's communication is awful. So I threw my toys out the pram (metaphorically speaking). I'm now expecting a call from a surveyor next week... because they're also planning to plant a privet hedge next to our wall, with the potential to grow to 12ft. This would block access to the wall for maintenance, prevent the wall from drying out after heavy rain (we've had damp problems there, rectified them for now, but need to keep an eye on it). And there's a threat to the foundations of our house from 40 x 12' trees.

It's stressful and I feel I need to get away from this environment, so we've had lots of holidays this year. Now the holiday season is ending, I've decided to start going down to the library more often. I can use the desk space and their amazing wifi. Last time I hot-desked at the library (due to our internet being down), there were 30 kids singing in the kids' section, so it's not always great for concentrating, but it's got to be worth a try? Perhaps I'll write another blog in a few weeks to let you all know how I'm getting on!

Sunday, 9 July 2017

How to sell your feature ideas to a magazine

I recently received an email from a lady who'd read my book, "Freelance Writing: Aim Higher Earn More". She asked, "My question is, how do I pitch? Do I write a story then think what magazine to send it to or do I write to the magazine asking for a page for a story?"

I did write a small section in the book on this, but it doesn't go into much detail on pitching because it's aimed at people who've got the basics covered and are now looking for new markets and new sources of inspiration. So... how to pitch?

You need to write to the magazine outlining your idea, why you're the best person to write it, and why you think it would suit their magazine. Be aware that many publications have six month lead times, so you need to be thinking aboug new year features now, in July. Weeklies have a shorter lead time. It varies between publications.

So to pitch, email the features editor / commissioning editor / managing editor and explain in one or two paragraphs what your feature idea is, why you're the best person to write the article, why the publication's readers would enjoy it, and provide a 'hook' - a link to an upcoming event, season, or newsy topic, to make it current and newsworthy. Make the idea really compelling, be able to provide pictures if you can, and with any luck, you'll get a commission if you keep doing this repeatedly, and for long enough!

When I write a pitch, I keep a copy of it and record who I've sent it to, so that when I'm uninspired, I can return to my previous ideas and see if I can use them to generate more work. I have hundreds of pages of ideas that I recycle with every new season.

In terms of sending completed articles on spec, there are a handful of magazines who ask for articles to be submitted in full, on spec. A case in point is 'The Oldie'. Look online for submission guidelines for the publication you want to write for, and they may have specific advice on this. If they don't specifically ask for articles on spec, then the rule of thumb is to send the idea only, and not write the article until you receive a commission. The Oldie's submission guidelines are here:

Good luck!

If you're interested in my books, you can view them here.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Writing, the environment, and story inspiration!

I wrote this RANT for The Oldie, who duly ignored it, so I thought I'd post it on here! I work from home and can concentrate better in a quiet environment. Next door, 70 flats are going up. It's been like working in an earthquake zone for 18 months, with all the noise and vibrations. But on the upside, my noisy, polluting builder buddies have been the subject of a couple of features I've sold to magazines! I'm sure they'd be delighted if they knew. Here's the RANT!

The builders idle outside my house, pumping fumes from their stationary vans, polluting the air, creating noise and a nuisance. It irritates me, so I ask them to stop and they look at me, like I'm mad. I explain that unnecessary stationary idling is illegal, that we have a pollution problem in the UK, and they should turn their engines off when stationary. They're standing on the pavement with the doors wide open. It's not like it's even keeping the van warm!

They're part of the Considerate Constructors scheme, so they apologise, turn their engines off, and all is well... until it happens again later, or the next day. Some sit there for half an hour or more pumping fumes unless I intervene.

This building work will take 18 months and they're already clogging up our road with their vehicles. So I now have a sign outside my house, provided by the site manager, asking the builders to turn their engines off when stationary. Some idle in front of the sign until I go outside and ask them not to. One repeat offender has vanished altogether since the site manager 'had a chat' with him, and promised me it wouldn't happen again.

But the thing is, it's not just the builders. I walk into our little town, and all along the high street people are idling in their cars - young and old alike. No-one seems to care about pollution or the environment. I've asked a few people to turn off. My husband thinks one day I'll get beaten up. But all this idling, all this pointless pollution, is really irritating me. Does no-one care about our health, or the planet?

Some of the London Borough councils now hold anti-idling days. They enforce the law and issue £20 fines to anyone who refuses to turn their engine off when stationary. It's progress, but it's not solving the problem across the country.

Leaving your car idling for more than about 30 seconds uses more fuel than switching off. It's in breach of road traffic regulations (see Highway Code section 123) and it can incur a £20 fine. Some Boroughs say you can keep the car warm by cutting the engine and leaving the fan on. There is no excuse. I'm glad some councils are now taking enforcement action, but sadly, they're not in my area.

We know air pollution is bad for our health; we know it's bad for the environment. We know it contributes to thousands of premature deaths every year. So why idle? Just turn off! If you're an idler, save yourself a few quid in fuel too. Let's all be responsible and stop the pointless pollution.

I sold two articles about the idling issue, with the builders playing the starring role. Is someone irritating you? Perhaps they could be the source of a short story or article!

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

My plan for 2017 is a bit like the plan for Brexit

My plan for 2017 is a bit like the plan for Brexit. There isn't one. And I think I need one. I started off on day one, after the new year bank holiday, finishing off a couple of jobs left from last year and by 10.30am, it was like, "What now?"

Having spent a lot of time in December pitching to my 'hottest prospects' list, I decided to try a different approach and coughed up £9 for membership of a writing website for three months. It highlights jobs and freelance opportunities in publishing. It goes against the grain to pay for these things, but it came recommended by someone who'd got work from it, so I thought it was worth a punt. First impressions: disappointment. It's a list of publications with links to their writers' guidelines - and they're all in the USA, which is less than ideal for the regional publications who only want regional articles (in the USA). I've already got The Writers' Market (the US equivalent to the W&A Yearbook), so it's mostly duplicating that. But hey, it's a new way of looking at the opportunities, and it's making me think again. So I pitched to two of the publications listed, and I'll keep an eye on it, because I think it might turn out to be more useful than my first impressions suggest.

Anyway, I didn't stay on that website for more than an hour or so, because some good news arrived in my inbox... Before Christmas one of my old clients said he wanted a series of articles written for 2017. I'd pondered his comments over the Christmas break and sent him some ideas. He came back to me in the new year, saying he liked them all... and had some ideas of his own. By the end of the day I'd secured 11 assignments, which should keep me going for the next couple of weeks.

I've also subscribed to a writing magazine for the year ahead, so hopefully these things will all pay dividents. After all, it only takes one new client to make an investment worthwhile.

There's still no plan. But I've now got a few more resources to draw from, and I've got work for the next two weeks. After that, I expect something will turn up. It usually does. If not, I usually spend the time pitching relentlessly, until a new job comes in. I do have ambitions to do more fiction in 2017, so perhaps working on that will bear fruit.

On another topic, this vibration from the builders next door is utterly horrendous. Perhaps I should just go on holiday!

Thursday, 29 December 2016

How did I do in 2016?

In January 2016, I published a post identifying some plans for the year ahead. Call them resolutions if you like. How did I do?

1. Juggling workload - keep the balls in the air, and keep the work coming in.

I managed this one, although there's been some emphasis on finding new clients, since some of the old ones have fallen away due to budget cuts, editorial changes, new policies, or big backlogs of commissioned work already on file.

2. Maintain the income. Always a challenge!

The income wasn't so much a problem as the earnings this year. Earnings fell (see problem above). However, the income actually went up, because I'm starting to be paid for some of the things commissioned years ago, that have only just been printed and paid for. Some clients have big backlogs.

3. Write more fiction.

I wrote some fiction. Not sure it was 'more' than previous years, but I'm still struggling with the short story genre and getting it right for the paying markets. I submitted three short stories to My Weekly and they were all rejected. Oh well; we can't all be brilliant at everything.

4. Complete and publish the guinea pig book!

Nope. I completely failed. But I blame the book deal I received in April for stealing my attention. It's ghost written. Don't ask. I also published The Little Book of Freelance Writing under my own name. It's a collection of articles to inspire, inform, and assist aspiring writers. Some chapters were published in magazines last year, others were written especially for the book.

I will have more time to review the situation with the guinea pig book again in 2017. I hear Bloomsbury is doing a good trade in guinea pig books. All I need is a contact in the Bloomsbury guinea pig department!

5. Complete the novel. And find a publisher.

Failed again. See above.

6. Sell more books.

Well I sold more books, but I won't be retiring on the proceeds. Perhaps no. 4 will become a best seller.

7. Have lots of holidays.

I achieved this objective, and visited Glastonbury, Lynmouth, Rutland, Welshpool, Barmouth, Coastal Suffolk, Buxton, and Lincolnshire! Still trying to sell the stories.

8. Find new clients.

I have achieved this one with a number of new magazine clients, one new book publisher, and one in the corporate sector, so I seem to be doing OK on the day-to-day stuff.

9. Develop and improve my photography skills.

I bought a new lens and did some great macro photography with bees. Did I improve? That's a bit subjective, but I like to think I'm always improving.

10. Sell photos independently of my writing work.

I started selling my photos on Alamy in December. When I say 'sell', I actually mean there are some listed for sale.

11. Complete more courses: next up: Commercial Photography, starts 11 Jan. Free! Bargain!

I did about 20 FutureLearn courses before exhausting my list of interests and deciding it was actually taking time away from my writing work. I did sell a few articles about the experiences though!

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

My Weird 'Green' Christmas

Since green lifestyle blogger @greenrosielife challenged us to contribute to her new environmental initiative #GoingGreenLinky, I thought I'd blog about my weird green Christmas and all the ways we try to be environmentally friendly at Christmas time, and all year round!

Christmas gifts
In an effort to be 'green', economical and imaginative at Christmas, many of our presents come from charity shops, often 'like new', but for a fraction of the cost and recycled. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is a good motto to remember.

Christmas deocrations
I was in Esk last weekend - a huge retail warehouse in Eastbourne. The isles and isles of Christmas decorations seemed a bit crazy. At home, our Christmas decorations are 30 years old. They come out every year and will continue to do so. Where's the demand for all these new decorations come from? It seems that many people throw their decorations away every year. What a shame. Ours go back into the loft for next year.

Wrapping paper
It seems wasteful to throw perfectly good wrapping paper away after one use, so our family get recycled presents wrapped in recycled wrapping paper. They're used to it and no-one bats an eyelid! One year, they got presents wrapped in wallpaper samples, because we'd been reviewing our decorative schemes (...I was going to say 'family and friends' and then realised we have no friends. Perhaps this is why).

Left overs
We don't throw away perfectly good food. Leftovers gets frozen, or made into another dish the following day. You'd be amazed what you can freeze!

We mostly send out Christmas newsletters attached to emails instead of cards these days. We only send cards to old folk who seem to value them. Our fun and cheerful newsletter actually takes a lot more effort to write than a Christmas card and it doesn't use much carbon to deliver by email. To us, the effort involved in producing that fully illustrated newsletter is much better than sending a commercial card from a pack of 50 anyway!

We try to keep fuel consumption to a minimum by having the heating on 15 degrees centigrade in the entrance hall. The lounge radiators are bigger, so the lounge heats up nicely, and we have faux fur throws over our legs. Our house is well insulated, we wear thick jumpers and padded jackets, and we only have the heating on for three hours a day! But we do turn the heat up if we have guests! We might go wild and leave the heating on for longer if we're relaxing at home this Christmas Day!

Other ideas for a green Christmas
Shop locally.
Gift a gift to the environment, such as a charitable donation to an environmental cause.
Make gifts at home.
Cut cards up to make gift tags for next year.

Recycle, Reduce and Reuse... everything!

Have a great Christmas! And think green!

Look for more ideas on the Going Green Linky blog

Or write your own!  #GoingGreenLinky

Friday, 25 November 2016

Writing inspiration, last minute changes, and self-publishing

I had a couple of articles published in Writing magazine recently, on the topic of self-publishing. It showed my newest project under production, "The Little Book of Freelance Writing," so I thought I'd better get on with publishing it!

The manuscript had been steadily growing over the course of the past year, while I produced stories, ideas and interviews on writing topics. Some were intended for magazines but never quite made it. Others did, and appeared in Writers' Forum earlier that year. More chapters and sections were written specifically for the new book, plugging gaps in information, providing sources of inspiration, and helping it all hang together.

There were a few ups and downs; a last minute change and a bit of a rewrite at the eleventh hour, but I drew from author interviews and my own experiences to bring stories to life, inspire readers, and show how others have overcome big challenges to succeed in this very competitive industry.

So finally, my newest title, just out, is 'The Little Book of Freelance Writing - writing ideas, opportunities, inspiration, and success stories'. It's a short easy read, designed to inspire, educate and get writers thinking about where to go next.

It includes interviews with authors and comment about the industry. Best selling author Mary Mackie explains how her work was inspired by living in a National Trust house. Comedy writer Jon Rance explains how he got a publishing deal with Hodder and Stoughton after he self-published his hugely successful first novel. Best selling thriller writer, Rachel Abbot, explains how she sold millions of copies of her book by publishing her way.

The book also looks at opportunities for new writers in different commercial markets, how to come up with new ideas, and how to pitch to editors. It covers rights and contracts, and how to find new homes for articles that get rejected. There's a chapter on blogging, a chapter on self-publishing, a piece on website content creation, and lots more. 

It's available as a paperback book here for £4.99 
Or as an ebook for Kindle here for £1.99

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Writing for children: point of view

I'm on a FutureLearn Course, Brand Storytelling, where in week 3, Al MacCuish explains how he overcame his struggles to write a successful children's book. This is a bit of the transcript from the interview. It's a great reminder to get into the head of the child and see the world from their point of view!

"I suddenly understood why I was struggling. I had never once tried to look at the world from a child's point of view. I didn't know, understand, or empathise with my audience. So I went back the one of the very first children's stories ideas that I'd had, and I started again. And this time, the approach was completely different. I was actually looking at the world through my son's eyes. And the key turned out to be making everything about discovery. It was a really simple idea, where basically every letter in the world was alive and worked for a top-secret government department called the Ministry of Letters. Through a kid's eyes, secret worlds are immediately interesting, especially if adults don't know about them. So to reinforce that, on the first page of the book, I wrote, 'The only people who know about this world are one, the queen, two, the prime minister, three, spies, and now you.'" 

This immediately engaged the children in tests. Then he added an evil moggy to create tension and extra interest. The kids loved it!

Credit: FutureLearn interview on the Brand Storytelling course. Why not sign up? It's free!

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Books for writers - a selection of reads

The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success

I love the approach of this book, which explains in a really honest, no-nonsense way, how the authors succeeded in freelance writing. I enjoyed the style so much, that when I came to write my own book on freelance writing, I endeavoured to emulate their style. It's frank, open, and hilarious in places, about the highs and lows of a writer's life. The challenges of getting paid - I have a vague recollection of the writer camping outside her publisher's offices! It was a while ago that I read it, so I'm not sure if that was just a suggestion or an actual event! It really is ridiculous, but in a fabulous way. It has been criticised for being too American, and that's where I felt that writing something more British, to emulate the style for a British market, was a worthwhile exercise. This book has been superseded by an updated version. If you want to know what it's really like working as a freelance writer, read this book - or even better, buy mine!

 * * *

Be a Travel Writer, Live your Dreams, Sell your Features

I picked up this book because I was curious to find out if I could learn more on the art of travel writing, as a practising professional writer already. It's aimed at beginners and gives some interesting examples of the diversity of travel writing. It includes details of interviews the author has written after meeting people in foreign countries, and how she's sold stories on poverty and abuse that she's witnessed, as well as the beautiful places she's seen. She tells you to look for the unusual element, to make your story stand out, and gives examples. I would have liked to have seen more on the markets for travel destination writing. I know the market is vast and lifestyle publcations often do travel, but I've found a lot of unresponsive or dismissive publishers, often saying they work with a set of preferred travel writers and there are no opportunities for new contributors. So a leg up on the best opportunities for new entrants might have been useful. But then I guess they might be inundated. Interesting read.

 * * *

Telling Life's Tales: A Guide to Writing Life Stories for Print and Publication

I read this book out of curiosity mostly. It's quite thorough, in that it covers how to tell your life story, how to help others tell their life stories, and how to approach these as topics for books, magazines, or other markets. I liked the bits that encourage the reader to think beyond the story itself, to setting the scene and exploring what life was like at that time in history: the music, the style of clothes, the TV shows, games, lifestyles, and little things that people remember. They help bring a period to life. I'm not explaining this as well as Sarah-Beth does, but hopefully you get the gist. She explores how to conduct interviews, and different routes to publication, including self-publishing. 

I didn't feel I learnt a lot, but as a professional writer, I have been telling people's stories professionally for years. For someone starting from scratch, this book could be a really inspiring. For me, the big take away message is to make sure I'm not missing great snippets of information that will help bring a time-period to life. Sometimes the smallest things can be quite impactful. 

On the downside, there were some annoying grammatical errors, that made me wonder what went wrong with the proof reading, but it's difficult to get a book perfect. On balance, it's a good read for someone who's interested in writing biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, real life tales for magazines, or indeed, any other form of life stories! 

 * * *

How to Write and Sell Short Stories 

I started off really enjoying this book, working through it with a notepad, and writing stories with an element of conflict. One turned into an actual whole story, which I submitted for review on a course, and had good feedback, although it needs more work. The book starts off really well and once you've got started, it goes into the nitty gritty a bit with dialogue, characterisation and settings. I enjoyed the first three chapters a lot more than the rest, but then on reflection, it might be the rest that I need to work on, so worth returning to at some point. Overall, it's a well written concise, and very accessible book on writing short stories, and it certainly helped me get inspired with some ideas from the outset, which is half the struggle.

  * * *

Freelance Writing: Aim Higher, Earn More: Build on your successes and take your writing to the next level

This book is my own title. It's designed for people who don't want all the basics explained, but are interested in trying new markets, and want to earn more from their writing. It explains how I started out in 2011 with no contacts in publishing and no experience in journalism. I grew my workload from nothing, to become a full-time freelance writer, with an impressive client list. It looks at how to grow your writing income, how to find new markets for your work, and how to keep going when it seems hopeless! The book looks at the writing discipline and organisational skills, for when your workload gets busy. It also explores new avenues for your work - it looks at blogging, writing for businesses, magazine publishing, writing books, photography, and other types of writing. The feedback has been very good.

  * * *

Easy Money For Writers And Wannabes  

If you want a book about writing letters and sending photos to the letters pages of magazines, this book is full of inspiration. However, the potential to make money from these markets has shrunk dramatically in recent years, since the majority now only pay for the 'best' contribution (e.g. star letter/winning pic) in each category. They used to pay for all contributions, and was a more worthwhile activity.

I found the book a bit dated, recommending sending letters to a magazine, which went out of print almost a year before the book was published. I did expect the book to include a bit more than how to write letters and take photos for letters pages, but it's nicely written and upbeat style, so if that's what you want, it's fine. Cheap and cheerful. 

 * * *

Easy Cash Writing

This is a beginners' book, providing an interesting look at different opportunities in writing, some of which I hadn't considered before. The title is a bit misleading, suggesting that it's easy to make cash writing. It isn't - it's a hard slog and some markets are very difficult to break into. That's something that the author admits repeatedly. It's hard work, not easy - but it's rewarding if you succeed. The author also admits that there are plenty of people who will ask you to work for nothing, and he encourages you to avoid these people and focus on the paying markets. He provides some useful lists of paying markets in different genres, and provides insight to some areas that I haven't worked in before, so I think I'll investigate them further.

 * * *

Photography for Writers

When I started writing for a living I quickly learnt how much editors value good photographs. Within a year I'd got myself onto a course and invested in a decent camera. This book looks at different ways of using photography to enhance your writing. It starts at the very beginning, looking at opportunities for photographic fillers in magazines. Then it takes you through ideas for more aspirational photography to accompany your writing.

Now, having been on a photography course and spent three years taking photographs for publications, I admit this book didn't teach me a lot of new tricks, but if you're a writer who's new to photography, then this is a great little tool! It's bursting with inspirational tips. It's also much cheaper than a photography course! Importantly, it highlights the money to be made from photography in writing, gives you lots of ideas, covers some technical details, shooting angles, storage and legal issues.

 * * *

Freelance Writing on Health, Food, and Gardens

OK I'm biased. I wrote it. I think this book is very good! Hopefully you'll enjoy it too. It talks about my rocky journey into freelance journalism - the ups and downs, the highlights and challenges. It also provides hints and tips on how to get an editor's attention, how to turn a rejection into a sale, and how to find inspiration from everyday life. It includes interviews with other professional writers in the field, and you'll get a little insight into each writer's journey in this competitive arena.

It's written to be helpful and accessible whatever your preferred genre as a writer, but the examples given obviously focus mainly on my experiences as a writer in the three areas of health, food and gardens. These are huge areas, covered in hundreds of magazines, so they represent lots of potential. Why not download a sample for Kindle and see if it piques your interest?

 * * *

Horror Upon Horror: A Step by Step Guide to Writing a Horror Novel

If you're interested in the history of literary horror, this book provides a great introduction. It looks back at the best of literary horror from the 1800s to the present day.

The depth of history presented in the book, gives a very thorough grounding to the horror genre. It wasn't quite what I was expecting from a 'how to' book, but none-the-less, it's interesting to see how the genre has changed and developed over the centuries. I particularly enjoyed the list of vampire rules for vampire novelists - some of them were new to me and if I ever feel inclined to write a vampire novel, this list will come in very handy!

Ideas for avoiding too much narrative are discussed, looking at how some novelists in history have successfully 'shown' rather than 'told' their tale. Characterisation is also discussed.

As someone who grew up reading contemporary works including James Herbert, Clive Barker, Stephen King and Dean Koontz, there was too much emphasis on 19th century literature for my personal tastes. I felt to me, like the product of an academic dissertation on classic gothic literature. But there is a discussion about modern literature nearer the back of the book, which I found more appealing.

The book is designed to help you draw inspiration and ideas from previous horror novelists. Each chapter ends with a practical exercise, encouraging you to apply the principles described to your own work.

On balance, if you love horror and are interested in the techniques used by some of the earliest horror novelists, you'll probably like this. If you enjoy reading about the history of the horror genre, this book could be right up your street too. 

                                                                             * * *

Dead Easy Ways to Boost Your eBook Sales

I was recently offered a review copy of this ebook on boosting your book sales. It's targeted at Christian writers and provides details of ebook promotional services for independent authors. Some are free. Some, you have to pay for. The free opportunities require you to have a free ebook to promote, which for those people who run free offers on their ebooks occasionally, might be worth considering.

There's a section on guest blogging, which I found quite interesting. It has a list of bloggers with large followings and who accept guest blogs. Many of them are Christian blogs, because the ebook is focused on this market, but some cover other genres too.

I have to admit that while scrolling through the pages of book promotion sites, all charging fees, the opportunities just smacked of desperation. But I've also heard that some of these sites do positively impact sales... so what do I know? I've never used one. The author shares her experiences where she's used the paid services, and covers social media and online advertising. I did identify a few opportunities that looked worth exploring. Overall, I'd say it's a useful little book.

The only disappointing thing, is the cost of most of the opportunities. I'd hoped for more ideas that were free to implement - perhaps that's expecting too much. For those with an advertising budget, this could be a worthwhile read. For those with time but not money, there are a few things you might find helpful. It's mostly aimed at those with a decent marketing budget though.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Helen Libby on inspiration, self-publishing, marketing, and other writerly challenges

Helen Libby releases her new book, Paris Actually, on Tuesday. Here she talks about her stories, her inspiration, self-publishing, and her career as a writer so far.

Helen says, "I write novelettes or long short stories if you prefer - my stories tend to average round the 15,000 word mark. I have always loved writing, enjoyed it at school, and continued writing stories as part of my degree (Literature/Imaginative Writing). Even when I graduated and started working full-time I continued to write, but somehow I could never finish a project.

"I started taking my writing more seriously just under 10 years ago, when I relocated and everything felt so strange that I found writing cathartic. I decided to write a novel about a young woman who was diagnosed with skin cancer. My sister had skin cancer, which gave me the idea for my book, although the story wasn’t based on her. I got to about 60,000 words when I stopped and put it away for a while. I was working full-time and had a stressful job; I couldn’t focus on my writing.

"A few years ago I had the opportunity to go part-time, which I grabbed! It meant a drop in salary, but it also meant I had more time to devote to my writing. I dug out my old manuscript and began editing. I was ruthless and cut a lot of it and eventually ended up with a story of approximately 17,000 words. I felt I’d found my niche writing novelettes.

"I have written four other novelettes since the first one, with a sixth well under way, and with ideas for at least three more. I have approached various publishers, but although I received some positive feedback, no-one wanted to take my novelettes on. I think they are very niche considering their length, and the fact that although they have a romantic bent, the romance is not usually the main focus of the story. There is another issue such as being heavily in debt, or adoption, or skin cancer, and so on.
"In November 2015 I decided to take the plunge and self-publish my work via Kindle Direct Publishing, and I have self-published two novelettes so far in e-book form. I have not yet released the first novelette I wrote, purely because it was appropriate to release the other two stories during the winter period due to the time of year they were set.

"Now I know what I’m doing with regards to formatting a manuscript before uploading it to KDP, I’m really enjoying self-publishing my work. I have some beta readers, I send my stories to a professional proof-reader, and my husband helps me design the covers. The hardest part for me is marketing - I have a lot to learn about this.

"Sales so far have been slow, which I’m not worried about at the moment because I’m in this for the long haul. I’ve had a mix of 4 and 5 star decent reviews, which is encouraging.

"Many people I know prefer to read a full length novel, not something that can be read in one sitting, like my stories. That said, I think the era we’re in means that many people are sometimes only looking for something short to read, especially if they’re reading a story on their mobile phone. My stories are compact, but they have layers, so I don’t believe they are one dimensional." 

Get Helen's new book, Paris Actually here

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Charles Naton: "Being fashionably obscure can actually be an advantage"

Getting a book deal is every new author's dream, right? Why then, are so many traditionally published authors now choosing the independent route? Charles Naton shares his experiences.

Charles Naton is the author of 'Section 12', a war-time psychological horror, telling the story of a traumatised WWII soldier, who ends up in an English psychiatric clinic after D-Day. He experiences headaches, nightmares, and supernatural phenomenon. Charles' dramatic supernatural tale was originally published through the small publisher, Can Write Will Write. He's since self-published the book and has a sequel entitled 'The Cronus Equation' due out in early 2016.

Charles explains, "My first step into publishing was when Can Write Will Write offered me a book deal. It was a new venture and we didn’t know each other, so I only signed a contract for the e-publishing rights initially. The publisher gave me some very useful editorial feedback, which was a great help in the early days. It taught me to look at my own work through the eyes of an editor as opposed to an author. I agreed to do my fair share of marketing, as they're a small publisher, and was committed to the project.

"Then things started to go wrong when I saw the cover design they'd produced. I hated it. This left me stuck in the strange situation of being reluctant to throw my weight behind my own work! I was also bewildered by the publisher's reluctance to make the book available on Amazon. I thought it was a poor business decision not to have any kind of presence on that mega-platform.

"So, keenly aware that one never gets a second chance to make a first impression, I made a conscious decision to draw as little attention to myself and my work as possible, until I got my electronic rights back, and could republish on my own terms. I wrote the sequel while I watched the clock ticking down!

"Following that disappointing experience, I wanted complete control over the publishing process, so I set up my own publishing company, Cordlant Publications. This enabled me to control my own ISBN series, which is important to me.

"When I got my rights back, I relaunched the book with a new cover, making it available in paperback too. The good news is that since striking out on my own, I’ve seen a significant rise in interest and in sales. At the moment I’m focusing more on building my reputation rather than shifting volume. That takes time and a lot of shoe leather if you’re working by yourself.

"Doing it all myself has been a real education. I've learned an awful lot about the subtleties of print layout - a couple of millimetres here and there can really enhance the reading experience. I urge any self-publishers to resist the temptation to cram their work into as few pages as possible to save a little bit on each sale. The thing to remember is that a book is more than just the words it contains. The way it looks and feels is just as important as what’s printed inside.

"I've done all my own techy stuff too. I built my own website, although the artwork was supplied by my long-suffering and extremely talented graphic artist. I’ve learnt how to collaborate with other creative folk, to listen to their specialist insight, and explain important decisions where it’s not possible to please everyone.

"Since deciding to self-publish, I’ve found word of mouth, via the internet, is the most successful way to sell books. Being fashionably obscure can actually be an advantage. Some people like to shop local and support 'independent' artists and content producers. At this early stage in my career, I have the ability to engage with readers and customers at a very personal level, which simply isn’t possible for established household names.

"We are living in fascinating times, where it’s possible to take an idea and reach out to literally millions of potential customers in ways that were never possible before. However, self-publishing still requires a lot of hard work, in addition to actually writing something good in the first place! Self-publishing isn’t for everyone and the results will be hugely disappointing if you’re hoping to be an overnight success, but for the able, the committed and the determined, it really can be a brave new world."

Monday, 8 February 2016

Internet dependency: a modern problem

Is Aghabullogue nearer to Blarney or Cork?
Is Ireland supposed to have pixies as well as leprechauns?
What's the history of Cork Cathedral?
Is it even called Cork Catherdral, or does it have another name?
Does my editor want his reptile article?
How are my book sales doing this weekend?
So many questions. So few answers.

It's one of those frustrating weekends when I'm visiting the mother-in-law, wondering how she can survive without internet access. I already have a list of unanswered questions waiting for my return home, and it's only been 24 hours.

My husband has a smart phone, but the signal's often not very good. Here I am on Sunday morning, itching to make progress on various writing projects, and coming unstuck at every turn, due to lack of internet access. Meanwhile, hubby and mother-in-law are dozing in bed.

While I sometimes think the internet is too much of a distraction from work, it's easy to see how my work also depends on it, and starts to suffer the moment I'm not connected.

Back in the bad old days, I'd have to wait for the reference library to open, then spend hours trawling through books, looking for answers. I love the internet, but it's very frustrating to be offline when our modern lives are so dependent on it.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Cloud computing sounds risky to me. Am I stuck in the 20th century?

19 January 2016: Twitter went down this morning. Remarkable for such a widely used site. It made me think about cloud computing, and why, despite being on Windows 10, I'm reluctant to store my files in 'the cloud'.

It's a nice idea, but it puts someone else in control of your work. If their servers go down, how good are the backups? Do they exist? What if the whole thing goes down? What if stuff goes missing? What if a virus deletes everything on their server? What if a hacker steals my work?

Call me paranoid, but I like to feel in control of my files. Now in truth, my perceived control might be quite limited. My computer might break. My back up system is rubbish, but unlike Twitter today, my computer has never 'gone down'. It's reliable. It works. My photos are on external drives and when they're about to die, they usually clunk first, giving you a warning, to copy everything onto a new drive quickly! Although I do have a back up of sorts too.

My stuff doesn't go missing (I'm sure Windows 10 stuff doesn't either, but Twitter has just vanished off our screens for the time being). If my files do vanish, a quick file search usually solves it. If it doesn't, I have only myself to blame for inadvertently deleting something!

On that topic, knowing how to activate the 'Are You Sure?' prompt on Windows 10, would sure add a helpful layer of added security to my Windows 10 experience, which does seem to have an auto-delete problem on emails. Fortunately, my email filing is pretty good. It has much improved since auto-delete from the inbox became a problem.

How do other people get on with cloud computing? Do other people think it sounds risky. Am I stuck in the 20th century?

And can anyone tell me how to activate, 'Are You Sure?' as detailed above? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject.