Friday, 28 October 2011

No Contacts? No Problem!

I have been feeling "under the weather" again this week so it was good to get a bit of a boost today with the arrival of the November issue of Freelance Market News ( as a letter I sent in recently was published as the star letter.

I wrote the letter in response to a reader who had asked about the problem of commissioning editors wanting to see a "portfolio of work" and how you are supposed to achieve this if you can't get a commission without a portfolio of work. (Catch-22 and all that.)

My reply was to point them in the direction of an excellent book by experienced freelance writer Catherine Quinn ( called 'No Contacts? No Problem! How to Pitch and Sell a Freelance Feature' (Methuen Drama). I read this book a while back and reviewed it for The New Writer ( and it is well worth getting hold of. Not only will it help if you are trying to land your first article commission but it is also very informative if you are a well-established freelancer looking to improve your sales and marketing techniques.

To quote from my TNW review: "The author takes a positive view when it comes to believing that anyone can land a commission, providing they can write reasonably well, regardless of whether or not they have been published before. Where editors are concerned, idea is everything. If you come across as confident, present your ideas in a format that the editor likes and can pitch to the right person, you have as good a chance as any "seasoned pro" of seeing your work in print."

Even if you are already getting commissions, Catherine's book is useful in reminding the reader that market before idea is always the right way of doing things, pitching ideas is a necessity not a luxury for the jobbing writer and freelance writing is much more about marketing than writing. Oh and it is vital to have a thick skin when it comes to dealing with editors!

Judging by my success rate with articles recently (after a period of having whole pages to myself in The Guardian and eight-page supplements in national women's magazines), I think it is probably time I read the book again.   

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Rant Against Writers' Groups

When I opened my copy of the Autumn issue of The New Writer earlier today ( I was rather surprised to see how many times my name appeared. It was nine times if anyone other than me is interested, even beating the great Simon Whaley (Hi Simon!) who was only mentioned seven times, although I'm happy to accept a re-count if he insists on one.

On a more serious note, the reason for this unusual proliferation was because a while back, I had a piece published in the open "rant" slot of TNW explaining why, in my opinion, professional writers shouldn't belong to writers' groups. I admit I had my Polly Toynbee hat on at the time and was trying to be a bit controversial but nevertheless, I stand by everything I said in that piece.

Much to my surprise, someone agreed with me. Someone also strongly disagreed with me, saying I had been"extremely patronising" and expressing great relief that I wasn't a member of their writers' group (I'm a pussy-cat really!) but isn't that the point of good journalism?

The someone who agreed with me was Roger Harvey who wrote a full page in response to my "rant", beginning by congratulating me on having the courage to speak out against writers' groups and TNW on having the courage to print my views. I realise I wasn't being congratulated on having the courage to speak out against apartheid or illegal phone tapping but it's the first time I've ever been congratulated for speaking "the truth" so thank you very much for that, Roger.

Anyway, the reason I'm blogging about this is not to boast (honestly!) but because I think the question about the use and validity of writers' groups for professional writers is a subject that should be up for "healthy debate" just like any other topic. Yes, there will be many people who disagree with my views especially as, in my opinion, the writing trade magazines seem keen to promote the idea that belonging to a writers' group is definitely the thing to do if you want to become a writer.

I don't actually disagree with that, as I said in my original article. It's just that I totally agree with Roger when he says that membership of certain kinds of writers' groups is definitely not "a reliable route to publication and success". In fact I would go one step further by saying that it can even hold your writing career back or keep it "stuck" in a less than desirable place.

So my (controversial!) view is that by all means join a group to help kick-start your writing career but once you've made it onto a respectable rung of the ladder, don't be looking to the cosy confines of a writers' group to help you move up even further.

If you still think I'm wrong, ask yourself if you honestly feel that it is a good idea to mention in a covering letter to an editor or agent that you belong to a writers' group, unless you are writing about writers' groups, of course. And if that fails to change your mind, try the litmus test for all writing-related questions. Would JK Rowling belong to a writers' group?

I'm off now to hire a handsome bodyguard to defend me against any brickbats that might be coming my way but I'd love to hear your views on "the truth that dare not speak its name" so do get in touch. (Oh, and to make up for having a little bit of fun at Simon Whaley's expense, here is a link to his excellent website                

Friday, 14 October 2011

Writing On The Run

This may seem like an odd title for this week's post as I could barely walk last week, let alone run, due to my close encounters of the hall floor kind. However, even though I wasn't well enough to do much writing, I still managed to look at a few writing websites as I'm never too ill to do that.

During my "research", I came across a really interesting American website called Writing on the Run at which has some great advice, articles, tips and encouragement for writers as well as fun things like a Writer's Pet Quiz! (You select the pet you would be most likely to have and it tells you what sort of writer you are. Apparently I'm methodical, like to use longhand and would benefit from more disciplined time and space to meet my deadlines (very true!) because I would choose a hamster or a rabbit.

On a more serious note, the article I found most helpful had "coincidentally" recently been posted and is called '101 Tips and Ideas for Writing on the Run' by Allen and Linda Anderson ( As my regular readers know, finding the time and inclination to do any writing is something I regularly struggle with, especially when I feel as if I've just gone six rounds with George Forman, like I did last week.

This article has some really good tips for creating time and space in your life to write. (And some rather wacky ones. I'll probably have to give writing with a fountain pen by candlelight a miss.) I particularly liked the idea of setting up writing spaces in your most frequently used rooms, such as equipping a kitchen drawer with writing tools so that you can write for ten minutes while you're waiting for a saucepan to boil. I also really appreciated the idea of writing the words "For my eyes only" on a first draft so that your subconscious isn't censorious. My absolute favourite though is that if you are aiming for publication, you should start acting like a published writer. So get those teeth whitened and spruce up that wardrobe!

If you have any tips of your own for making time and space to write, you are invited to "Pay It Forward" (Tip Number 101) and help other writers by emailing a 100-word idea plus a 25-word bio to Your tip could even be published in a forthcoming book.  (Further details are on the website.)

Meanwhile, I'll share my favourite tip for writing with you...just do it!


Friday, 7 October 2011

No Show

Sorry that there is no new post this week. I am a "no show" due to the wheels coming off my trolley on Tuesday when I tried some glandular therapy treatment for my ongoing hypoadrenalism and ended up passed out on the hall floor. At the moment, my brain feels like it is full of cotton-wool and writing anything deep and meaningful (or even anything shallow and nonsensical) seems quite difficult. Hopefully normal service will be resumed as soon as possible so please do not adjust your settings.