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 This book has been superseded by an updated version.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!

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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.

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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! 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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. 

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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.