So many things have moved online since the first UK lockdown in March and public speaking is one of them.
Recent start-up, Mirthy is an online platform for professional public speakers to provide online talks to older adults in the comfort of their homes.
Free talks are available each Thursday at 4 pm for anyone to watch. Simply register for the talk via the Mirthy website and then join the presentation by clicking a provided link.
Alternatively, those who are part of a group, such as Probus, Women’s Institute etc., can (for a fee similar to what they might pay for a ‘live’ speaker) book their own exclusive talk at a time to suit the group and from a wide choice of speakers, with an optional Q & A with the speaker. Each group member then watches the talk in their own home but simultaneously with the rest of their group. Full details of what’s available are on the Mirthy website.
The really exciting news is that my author talk, How To Make Money Out of Murder, has been approved by Mirthy and is now available for booking via the Mirthy catalogue.
I’m also offering a twenty minute version of my presentation via Zoom. I’m looking forward to my second booking on Monday. For details of the Zoom presentation please email sallysjenkins ‘at’ btinternet.com (replace ‘at’ with @).
The wonderful news about a Covid vaccine means that we can look forward to a return to normality at some point in 2021. However, we still have several months of limited social contact meaning that all things virtual will still be an important part of all our lives for some time to come.
Much is written about crafting the novel synopsis and agent pitch but there’s far less on how to sell a short story to the women’s magazine market via a synopsis.
Writer, S. Bee has put together some good tips for those of us trying to make sales in this ever decreasing market. Here is her advice:
Six UK women’s magazines require a short synopsis – either with the story itself, or before the story is submitted.
- The regular, fortnightly Yours
- The Yours Fiction Special
- Take a Break’s Fiction Feast. (N.B. This has a closed writer’s list and takes all rights.)
- Spirit & Destiny. This magazine requires a story pitch upfront. If they like the sound of the story, they ask for it to be emailed for consideration. They also take all rights to accepted stories.
- My Weekly require a brief synopsis to head up the story. This magazine has a closed writer’s list.
- During the current lockdown, The People’s Friend is asking for writers who have previously been published by the magazine to email a synopsis. Writers new to the magazine should continue to submit by post.
Possible reasons editors ask for a short story synopsis:
- It allows the editor to quickly see what kind of story it is – sweet romance/comedy/crime/revenge, etc.
- It explains the plot, so the editor can decide whether or not the story will work for that magazine.
- It’s useful for the illustrator/picture editor – so consider including significant details about the age and appearance of characters or the location.
Below are six steps to getting the synopsis right:
- Keep to the word count. If the guidelines ask for 200 words, don’t ramble on. Don’t start with: ‘This is a story about…’ Provide a clear outline of the story from start, middle and end.
- Do I reveal the ending? There is some debate around this. Some writers do (I’m one of them) but some choose not to. It’s entirely up to you.
- Run it past a womag writer/ reader friend before submitting. Asking other womag writers to read your work before submitting is useful. I run a womag writers’ email critique group; we read each other’s work and give constructive feedback. Not only can others point out the flaws in the story, they might be able to spot the flaws in your synopsis too.
- Themes/ Genres There’s no need to include the theme or a genre in your synopsis. The word count matters, so don’t fill your lines with: ‘This is an empty nest/ moving on/ dealing with bereavement story.’
- Get to the point Imagine you are an aspiring scriptwriter who steps into a lift with a movie producer. You have an amazing opportunity to pitch your story – but only 30 seconds to do it. Cut the waffle and focus on the chain of events in your story: The main character has a problem/conflict. How do they overcome this problem? What complicates it? How is it solved?
- Get over the dread writing of them. It can seem like a synopsis cruelly chops our work down and removes the heart of the story. But without it, there’s no chance of a sale to the above magazines. The more synopses you write, the more confident you’ll become.
Women’s magazine writer, TW, has kindly provided me with an example synopsis:
Music manager Ross King is visited in his office by Beth and Sam, who are members of one of his most successful pop acts.
Beth and Sam are in their early twenties, slim, blonde and beautiful. They are very excited, as they have met a potential new member of the group, Penny. Ross has a shock when Penny enters the office, as although she is also slim, blonde and beautiful, she is over forty. Ross thinks the group’s young fans won’t accept an older woman as part of the group. He’s forced by politeness to watch Penny audition (sing and dance) and recognises that she is very talented. After some tough argument, Ross agrees that Penny can join the group.
The girls are so keen on her joining them that Ross suspects – rightly – that there is something they are not telling him about Penny, and at the end of the story the girls reveal what this is.
The above story was published in Take a Break’s Fiction Feast. Note that the twist ending wasn’t revealed in the synopsis.
Practice makes perfect. Writing a synopsis – whether it’s for a short story, a novel, article or a play – is a specific, highly valued skill. Give it a go and increase your chances of a story sale!
S. Bee is the brains behind the lively short story anthology Paws for Thought. It is available on Kindle and raises money for the RSPCA.
To find out more about S. Bee and her critique group, Fiction Addition, please visit her website.
Don’t forget there’s lots more information about writing fiction for women’s magazines at https://womagwriter.blogspot.com/
We couldn’t go on holiday this year but I spent the latter part of the summer travelling the length and breadth of the Scottish Highlands. In books.
I was a reader for the longlist of the Highland Book Prize.
The Highland Book Prize is an annual book prize that celebrates the talent, landscape and cultural diversity of the Highlands. It is open to fiction, non-fiction and poetry.
In 2020 there were 52 entries, which were initially reviewed by a panel of 145 volunteer readers, comprising both industry professionals and avid readers. Our opinions and comments were then aggregated to build a longlist of thirteen books.
The longlist will be read by a panel of experts who will draw up the shortlist. The final winner will be announced in May 2021 and will receive £1000 and a place on a writing retreat at Moniack Mhor.
Reading for the longlist was a great experience. I was sent a mix of fiction, memoir, non-fiction and poetry. Some of it challenged me and other stuff was more along the lines of my usual reading matter. I learned a lot about the people, landscape and nature of the Highlands. I’m hoping to be on the panel again next year. If you’d like to take part as well, applications to be a reader in 2021 are now open.
On another subject entirely, if you are struggling to find the time or space to write, you might be interested in this post, which I wrote for Lightbox Originals.
October and November 2020 contains two big anniversaries for me.
Five years ago, on 26th October 2015, my first psychological thriller, Bedsit Three, was published in paperback and e-book format.
The book was the result of my 2013 NaNoWriMo project (after a substantial amount of re-writing and editing!) and went on to win a competition.
Michael Barton, one of the competition organisers, said, “This novel is well-constructed and well-written. But it’s also far more than that. It’s a book that elicits emotional reaction, drawing the reader into the story and placing him or her in the middle of the action page after page. Be prepared for a sleepless night, because you won’t want to put it down until you get to the end.”
The Kindle version of Bedsit Three is currently only 99p!
At the beginning of November this blog will be ten years old! And I’m in good company, fellow bloggers about the writing life, Helen Yendall and Carol Bevitt celebrated the same milestone in October. There’s lots more of you who’ve been blogging a long time too. Possibly some of you longer than ten years? Please drop your blog link and longevity in the comments – even if you’re a relative newbie. We all deserve a pat on the back.
My first, tentative post was about self-discipline for writers.
I am attempting NaNoWriMo again this November and so I may be gone some time. But don’t go away! In the middle of November I will have an interesting guest post about writing the short story synopsis – something several women’s magazines now ask for.
I’ve had a day of writing events.
First up was a writers’ networking meeting organised by Writing West Midlands:
The chief executive, Jonathan Davidson, explained how the selection process for the writer development program Room 204 works – each year there are around 150 people for 15 places, but a worthwhile scheme for ’emerging writers’ if you can make the grade.
The Arts Council England is now open again for applications for Developing Your Creative Practice – grants from £2000 to £10000 are available, but be quick because they close on 5th November.
And a reminder about the free courses offered by Futurelearn and be edX.
Then it was off to Bristol Literature Festival and Build Your Social Media Presence with Tom Mason. He told us that social media posts that include images get 150% more engagement than those without. He recommended using Lumen5 to create mini promotional videos to use with social media and Canva for graphics.
Next up in Bristol was a panel discussion between Phoebe Morgan, editorial director at Harper Collins, literary agent Kate Hordern and book blogger, Anne Cater. Phoebe explained the importance of the hook – it is the selling point to an agent, on to a publisher and then on to supermarkets and book shops. It’s also essential that the book fits a recognised genre, otherwise even the best written book is likely to fall by the wayside. Kate Hodern echoed the importance of hook and genre and mentioned the usefulness of being able to draw comparisons between your book and others already out there. She added that younger agents are often more hungry to take on new writers than older, more established agents who already have a large stable of writers. Anne Cater gave an explanation about the blog tours that she runs for both mainstream publishers and indie authors. She and Phoebe both agreed that, hot on the heel’s of Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club, cosy crime is likely to be the next big thing. There was a general consensus that psychological thrillers are still hugely popular but to be successful, they need to be better than the books being published five years ago and need to offer the reader something different to what has gone before.
Please take the above nuggets and use them as you see fit!
Finally, a couple of months ago I recommended Readly for accessing a multitude of magazines digitally. I now have a link offering you a two month trial subscription if you fancy trying it out: Readly 2 Month Trial. The link is valid until 31/10/2020.
It feels like everything has been cancelled or indefinitely postponed this year.
But every cloud has a silver lining. Many of the literary festivals, writing workshops and bookish events have been re-engineered to take place online, either via Zoom or some other remote conferencing facility. This means that events which were previously too distant geographically to attend are now within reach. Plus, many are also being made available for free!
There’s an interesting article in the November 2020 issue of the US writing magazine The Writer by Melissa Hart giving tips for how to make the most of these remote events. If you can access the magazine (I use Readly) it’s worth a read. If you can’t, here are the salient points for conference participants:
- Put yourself on mute if you’ve got children/pets/background noise.
- When taking a break from the conference action, turn your camera off as well as muting (you don’t want others to see you wandering around in a smart top and pyjama bottoms).
- Have a tidy, neutral background.
- If the time of day allows it, use natural light otherwise try a white bulb about a foot in front of the screen (not behind you or you’ll appear like a silhouette).
- Put the laptop on a pile of books so the camera is slightly above eye level.
The original article also contains useful information for conference staff and instructors.
To get you started in the online writing world: Arvon are running a number of courses and readings ,My Virtual Literary Fest is connecting readers with authors (and there is a free e-book to download every month for members) and Harper Collins at Home is hosting a number of author events.
For some people another advantage of online events is that it can be less daunting to speak and give your opinion from behind a screen rather than in front of an audience. But if you’d like to start readying yourself for a return to ‘normal’ and the opportunity to speak in front of a group, Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners has lots of tips for addressing in audience in many different scenarios. It is available on Kindle, Kobo and in paperback.
I want to give a shout out to the very generous Ellie Pilcher. She is running a series of free Zoom workshops entitled #MarketYourMarketing. The workshops are principally aimed at those taking their first steps in a career in book marketing. However, anyone can signup and it’s useful for an author to be aware of what goes on behind the scenes when a book is published or to apply some of Ellie’s advice to the marketing strategy for a self-published book.
So, in order to broaden my own horizons, I signed up to Ellie’s first two workshops: How to Write a Marketing Plan and How to Utilise Social Media to Promote a Book, the latter will also feature Claire Fenby from One More Chapter.
How to Write a Marketing Plan took place last week and is now available to watch on YouTube. There were over a hundred people in the meeting (all muted!) to watch Ellie’s presentation. The main purpose was to show how to create a book marketing plan during the interview process for a job in publishing. However, as an author, I found it interesting and picked up on the following points:
- The importance of pinpointing the audience for the book, for example: gender, age, beach read, Christmas gift etc. This enables the marketing to be correctly targeted.
- Publishers generally allocate large marketing budgets to writers who are already big names and often there is no budget at all for some books. No budget means creative thinking is needed plus more input from the author.
- It’s important to get a buzz going pre-publication around the cover reveal and the launch of pre-orders. At this point assets for social media are effective (gifs etc.) along with trying out different straplines for the book and using fun photos.
- Post-publication the emphasis shifts slightly to sharing reviews and a blog tour plus more social media.
- A person has to see a book mentioned three times before they might be tempted to buy. So it’s important to keep putting the cover image out there.
How to Utilise Social Media to Promote a Book takes place on Tuesday 15th September at 18:00. This is followed on Tuesday 29th September by How to Ace a Publishing Job Interview. Both of these are free and can be booked via Eventbrite.
During lockdown social media has been full of pictures of banana bread, sourdough starters (whatever they are!) and other delicious things produced by the nation’s bakers. In between the chocolate beetroot cake and lemonade scones, I’ve been trying some of the free food that nature has to offer:
Nuts from the Monkey Puzzle Tree.
When we moved into our house 24 years ago there was a small monkey puzzle tree in the garden. Nearly a quarter of a century later, there is a HUGE monkey puzzle tree in the garden and, for the first time ever, it has produced nuts. A quick internet search confirmed that these nuts are edible if boiled for ten minutes. They taste a little like chestnuts and are very moreish …
Like most people I used to cook the green bushy broccoli top and discard the stalks. However, if you slice the stalks very thinly, they can be successfully stir-fried or roasted in the oven and there are even recipes specifically for broccoli stalks.
Obviously, blackberries aren’t a completely new food for me but I’ve never really taken advantage of the easily available abundance of this fruit until this year. Last week we picked A LOT of blackberries and now have stewed blackberries in the freezer and ten jars of blackberry jam in the cupboard. The pips are a disadvantage compared to strawberries and other jamming fruit but spread over toast they don’t cause too much of a problem.
What has all this got to do with writing?
Not a great deal, but it does nicely lead up to me telling you that the food and drink website pellicle.com is accepting paid pitches for its blog.
Tip: My wine-related pitch was turned down because they are stocked up on wine articles for the next six months – so you might want to peruse the website and come up with a different topic.
Freelance writers must study their target publication before starting work on a short story or article.
It’s essential to find out the following as an absolute minimum:
- Are freelance contributions accepted? Look at the bylines, list of contributors etc.
- What’s the word count for the slot in the magazine you are aiming at?
- What’s the tone/style/age range of the publication?
- What topics have been covered recently? Potential writers will have to come up with something different.
- What’s the name and email address of the feature editor? This will allow an idea to be pitched in advance before writing up the whole article.
It’s difficult to discover the above without reading several copies of a magazine. If you’re aiming to write for several different publications, buying all the magazines can become very expensive.
I’ve just discovered the joy of Readly. For a monthly subscription of £7.99 Readly gives access to a wide range of magazines plus a couple of newspapers as well. You can read as many publications as you want across up to 5 devices including laptop, tablet and phone. Perfect for a writer to study the wide magazine market.
The Readly website currently offers a one month free trial but it’s sometimes possible to get a longer trial elsewhere. I found a two month trial via Money Saving Expert but unfortunately that’s finished.
However, electronic reading doesn’t beat curling up with a proper, paper copy of your favourite magazine. Use Readly for market research but please continue to buy your favourite magazines on the high street – otherwise there’ll be no markets left for us to write for!
Entries can be fact or fiction and there are categories for prose and poetry. However, the subject matter must have a connection with some aspect of mountaineering, rock climbing, walking or ski mountaineering / ski-touring.
In both categories the prizes are: 1st £200: 2nd £100; 3rd £50.
Prose entries should be a maximum of 2,000 words and poems a maximum of 200 words long.
Closing date is 31st August 2020.
As always, please read all the terms and conditions before entering.