The Letters Page

October 21, 2014 17 comments

If you want a break from the keyboard and computer screen, dig out your fountain pen (or a biro would probably do) and have a go at this competition:

The Letters Page is asking for handwritten letters for their Protest Issue. The website requests:

Letters of complaint, letters of objection, letters of furious indignation; eyewitness reports from street protests around the world; recollections of recent and not-so-recent protests and sit-ins and camps and campaigns; reflections on the meaning or purpose of protests, and on the use of the letter as a political tool; letters to and from and between protesters and protest sites. These are the letters we’re looking forward to reading in our next issue. We’re looking for letters with a sense of urgency. We’re looking for some news from now.

Somehow, I think me complaining about all the waiting around on last week’s coach trip might not fit the bill. But if you’ve got something meatier to protest about, pick up your pen! Each letter used will earn the writer £100. But be quick, it’s postal submission only and entries must be received by October 29th 2014.

The Letters Page is a literary journal published by Nottingham University’s School of English.

Full details of the competition are here.

People Watching

October 14, 2014 22 comments

Have you ever been on a coach holiday? They’re great for people watching and character invention.

Cardiff Castle Wartime Shelter

Cardiff Castle Wartime Shelter

I was a coach holiday virgin until last weekend when I went on a two-day break to Cardiff and Bath. It was planned as a getaway for me, my sister and my mum so that we could spend some time together without the hassle of driving, flying or lots of organisation.

However, we didn’t anticipate the amount of time we would spend hanging about at service stations waiting for ‘feeder’ coaches to arrive. Four coaches had to meet part way to Cardiff on the outward journey and again part way home from Bath on the return journey.  So there was a lot of waiting around.

But this gave us time to watch our fellow passengers and the drivers.

We discussed the man sitting across the coach aisle from us. He appeared to be travelling alone but then we saw him with a woman and then alone again. Had he been chatting her up? Is a coach holiday a good place to meet someone of the opposite sex? Yes, but only if you’re male – there were a lot more women than men travelling with us.

The drivers’ lifestyles came under our scrutiny. Cooked breakfasts and burgers seemed the popular choice at the table ‘Reserved for Coach Drivers Only’ in the service station cafe. None of the men seemed to know what route they’d be driving from one day to the next or what time they’d be getting home. And the final leg of our journey was driven with urgency because if the driver didn’t get home at a certain time he wouldn’t be allowed to drive the next day due to insufficient hours between the two trips.

There was a Murder Mystery dinner in the hotel. In tables of ten we worked out who’d killed the Earl. Group dynamics came into play and it was interesting to see who took charge, who just listened and who was keen to interrogate the actors. Then there was the table of riotous women on a birthday outing who made it difficult to hear the scene where the body was discovered.

Finally, my imagination went into overdrive in Cardiff Castle’s wartime shelter. Think of the drama, heartache, deaths (and possibly births) that must have happened as the sirens wailed in the 1940s.

I haven’t come back with any complete story ideas but I have got various characters buzzing around in my head. Perhaps eventually one of them will come to the fore and tell me their tale.

Do you have a favourite place for people watching? Or a favourite technique for dreaming up characters?

 

What’s the Copyright in Recipes?

October 6, 2014 30 comments

We all know not to copy chunks of other people’s stories or articles. Similarly, we all know that there’s no copyright on ideas, so we can write a story or an article about the same subject as someone else, as long as we don’t use the same words. In fact people do this all the time (I believe there are only seven basic plots?) but the finished manuscripts are usually all quite different.

By the way, although there’s no law against it, it’s not a good thing to ‘steal’ an idea, especially if it’s unusual and the originator is likely to recognise it after publication.

But what’s the ruling on recipes?

I’ve just sent a couple of recipes to Take a Break’s My Favourite Recipes magazine. However, I’m not the world’s best cook. When I was 14 my cookery teacher wrote on my report, ‘Sally’s written work is much better than her practical work‘ – I think it was her way of politely saying that I was useless in the kitchen!
So, I don’t invent recipes from scratch. I start with something from a cook book or magazine and make slight adjustments. At the very least, I always omit the garlic because my husband doesn’t like it, I often replace celery with carrots and I never have the right herbs so just throw in what I have.
Therefore the recipes I submit are not exact copies of those I started with it. But I was still a bit dubious about whether I might be breaking a law or ‘stealing’.

I did a quick internet search and found this useful article on the Paleo Living Magazine website. basically it says that copying a list of ingredients and basic directions for cooking the dish is OK. However, what may be protected by copyright is any ‘creative narrative’ with the recipe, such as how the dish was invented or suggestions for wine to go with the meal.

So it seems that I can continue sending off my slightly amended recipes in the hope of winning £25 if they’re chosen for publication.

Now I just need to practise my food photography so that my accompanying photos look at least a little bit mouth-watering!

 

Going Viral

September 28, 2014 10 comments

This week I’m trying to go viral. The Omnibus Edition of The Museum of Fractured Lives is reduced to only 99p/99c until Saturday 4th October. The Museum of Fractured Lives Omnibus Edition

And I need the world to know!

Have you ever loved and lost? Have you kept something to remind you of that relationship? Do you think it might be easier to move on with life if you let go of that object? That’s what The Museum of Fractured Lives is all about. It displays objects donated by people who have suffered a trauma in their lives. Each of the three stories in this book tells the emotional tale of that object and its donor. And this omnibus edition also includes a prologue telling how the museum came into being.

The individual stories (each around 9,000 words) have been well reviewed:

“I thought this was a truly excellent novella. The central character, Maxine, is vividly portrayed, and her story is touching and powerful, with some surprising twists and turns.” Mr N. Daws on Maxine’s Story

“The story drew me in very quickly as I needed to know how Karen would go about putting her plan into place … and the erotic episode between Karen and John was an added bonus!” Lesley on Karen’s Story

“Another good story in the Museum of Fractured Lives. It was good to have a story from the male perspective with a good twist at the end. Thought provoking.” Mrs J A Williams on Pete’s Story

So, how to tell the world?

I’m going to try a range of Facebook groups:

The Kindle Publishing Bible
Debbie Young’s Kindle-loving friends
Kindle Publishers
The Review
Short eBook Reviews

I’ve already contacted Indie Book Bargains who send out a daily e-newsletter. They kindly featured One Day for Me a couple of months ago but I think they select according to number of Amazon reviews and, being fairly recent, I fear the Museum Omnibus hasn’t yet generated enough.

I’m also going to investigate The EasyChair Bookshop which I heard about via Helen Laycock on the Writing Magazine Talkback Forum.

If anyone knows any other promotional places please let me know. Maybe together we can build up a list of useful sites.

(And if anyone downloads and enjoys the Museum Omnibus, I’d be over the moon if you could leave a review!)

 

Four Lessons in E-Publishing by Emma Jordan

September 22, 2014 5 comments

Emma Jordan got in touch with me recently after using Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute Beginners to publish her first e-book, 119 Style Boosts from the Size15Stylist119 Style Boosts

Emma runs the fashion/shopping blog Size15Stylist and I asked her to share with us the lessons she learnt during her e-publishing experience.

This is what she told me:

Lesson One – Format
Keep it clean; don’t worry about tables and images, unless they are really necessary. There are books to help if you want to incorporate images and tables (Mark Coker’s Smashwords Style Guide; Steve Scott’s Kindle Publishing Package) but when you are converting your Word document to HTML (web page) to upload to Amazon, a lot of your formatting will be lost. To emphasise your points, use different font headings and use spacing well. Amazon Author Natalie Penna uses spaces beautifully in her YA novels, encouraging readers to read on.

Or, put simply:

An e-book screen is smaller than a paperback.

You don’t want to read too many chunks of texts.

It halts your story.

Spaces keep the reader reading.

 
Lesson Two – Front cover
I spent precious writing and editing time searching for a cover (and trying to get my head around rights’ issues) and even tried to create a front cover on Publisher software; silly me. Sally rightly points out that Amazon’s Cover Creator offers thousands of options and I created my front cover, for free, in less than a few minutes.

Lesson Three – Triangul-edit
I detest editing, although I realise this is how you shape your words to reach your readers. I am always more motivated to write during the planning stages; coffee, computer, no deadlines. I learned how to reduce the editing process so that it’s manageable and now triangul-edit:
1 – Content (do I have enough words, and are my words explained?)
2 – Grammar (can I say my words better in another way?)
3 – Typos and Format (has spell check picked up a wrong word? Are there problems with spacing?)

My ebooks so far have been around 10,000 words (a novel is around 80k, depending on author) so when I have accumulated around 30 pages of single space text then I start to edit. I head for the nearest coffee shop with my print out and trusty pencil-case.

Lesson Four – Technically, you’ll be okay
I put off self-publishing for years, because I just didn’t know if I was technical enough. But I bumped into Sally’s book, Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute Beginners and after I read the book a few times, I realised the technical details were within my capabilities. On publishing day (pyjamas and no distractions), Sally’s book sat by my laptop, so I could refer to common sense during the uploading process.

When it comes to converting your Word doc to a web (html) doc, as per Amazon’s requirements, you cannot check formatting enough – after 10 saved web documents on my hard drive, I still discovered a wayward additional space in the final Amazon published version. Note: delete each copy of the web document as you amend, and save under a new name if necessary – you don’t want 10 copies of a web doc lurking near the upload button.

The paramount wisdom I unearthed – You are Your words. Do not rush your self-publishing journey in a hurry to see your name listed as an Amazon author. And, pressing the (self)Publish button is only the start of your journey. You are also your own Marketing department.

 
Author Biography
Emma Jordan is a freelance writer and creator of the Size15Stylist blog.Emma Jordan

When she’s not blogging or writing, or entertaining her toddler-daughter, she can be found undertaking research in the shops.

Paying for an Editor

September 16, 2014 15 comments

Recently there’s been discussion around the web about whether or not writers should pay to have their novel edited.

On his blog Nick Daws puts forward a very good argument against paying for an editor. Instead he advocates making sure that your written English is up to scratch and also taking advantage of free resources, such as beta readers, writing groups and writers’ forums offering feedback on work. Nick also points out that an editing service is likely to only provide copy-editing. A thorough structural edit is an iterative process requiring the manuscript to go back and forth – which can’t be done if the author is paying per 1,000 words.

Similarly there has been discussion on the Writing Magazine Talkback forum, ‘Writers On-line’. It was pointed out that any suggestions coming from an editor are subjective and are only that particular person’s point of view. Also, be prepared for a damning report – if a paid-for edit is to be worth its money, it has to be honest and therefore may not be what you want to hear. And of course editing services cost a lot of money.

So, now that I have a completed novel manuscript and a self-publishing package prize, where do I stand in the ‘paying for an editor’ debate?

The answer is – I don’t know.

Like everybody, I want my book to be something of which I can be proud. I don’t want to worry that people will buy it and then be disappointed. So ideally, I’d like a professional to give my work the once over.

But I’m also aware that it will be very difficult to sell enough copies of a self-published book to recoup the expense of a quality editing service.

Currently my book has gone off to its first beta reader – and I’m feeling very nervous about the outcome. Also I’ve taken advantage of the free sample chapter edit offered by Jefferson Franklin. I was pleased with the result – the things that their reader highlighted improve the text and I wouldn’t have spotted them myself. It would be good to have that experienced critical eye over the rest of the manuscript.

What does anyone else think? Are editing services worth the investment?

 

RIP David St John Thomas

September 9, 2014 2 comments

Most of you will be aware that David St John Thomas passed away last month at the age of 84.  David St John Thomas Letter Writer of the Year

David St John Thomas founded Writers’ News 25 years ago and still wrote a regular column for the magazine right up until his death. Prior to that he ran the publishing company David & Charles.

A lot of writers will remember him for his work with the David St John Thomas Charitable Trust. The Trust was created with some of the money from the sale of David & Charles. It ran a wide range of writing competitions and also provided bursaries to students taking part in useful work in the developing world.

It was through the competitions organised by the Trust that David briefly touched my life. I was the winner of the 2006 David St John Thomas Charitable Trust Letter Writer of the Year Award. I met David at the presentation event in Harrogate. He was very friendly and it was a lovely event.

It was the final year that the competition ran and so I was able to keep the silver cup that went with the £100 prize.

This Letter Writing Competition was a wonderful way of encouraging new writers. It entailed compiling a portfolio of letters published in magazines and newspapers over a 12 month period and so was accessible to a wide range of people who may not yet have had success in any other area of writing.

So I’d like to say my own personal thank you to David St John Thomas for the encouragement that that competition win gave to me.

Finally, and in the spirit of encouraging other writers, if you’d like to try out your letter writing skills, this competition offers £30 each month to the writer of the best letter of complaint.

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