Archive for category Lifestyle
We’ve just entered Twixmas – that funny sort of no-man’s land between Christmas and New Year. The big event, for which we’ve planned, prepared and worked, is over. The slightly lesser event is still a few days away. Many of us are still off work, surrounded by leftovers, chocolates and the Christmas TV Guide. It’s a good time to relax, ponder and mentally prepare for the year ahead.
Here are a few things to ponder, as you sit with your feet up and enjoy another mince pie:
Morgen writes the regular competitions feature in Writers’ Forum magazine. She is now organising a free email critique group for pieces of fiction of up to 3,000 words. It works on a mutual, writers helping writers, basis. For every submission you critique, you will get one piece of your own work critiqued. This sounds like a great way of getting feedback on your work and honing your own critique skills (which will help you edit your own work in the future).
Should E-Books be VAT Free?
Books and other printed matter have always been free of VAT because it is thought taxing these items is akin to taxing knowledge. However, digital publications are subject to VAT. This hits many disabled people, who find digital reading far easier than handling a paper book.
On 4th December 2018, an EU directive was passed allowing member states to bring VAT on digital publications in line with VAT on books i.e. 0% in the UK. Whether or not to follow this directive is down to the individual countries and, of course, after Brexit, the UK will be able to decide for itself. A campaign has been started to persuade the UK government to abolish VAT on digital publications. If you would like to get involved, sign the petition or read more about it, nip over to Axe the Reading Tax.
Regional Writer Development Agencies
Most regions have a body dedicated to promoting writing in their area. This is likely to be done predominantly through workshops, events and conferences. Many of these agencies also have mentoring schemes. Living in the Midlands, I’ve attended events organised by Writing West Midlands and Writing East Midlands. Both run mentoring schemes. A list of similar organisations is provided by the National Centre for Writing and Jamie Edgley Rhodes. Take a look and get some writing outings into your 2019 calendar!
Finally, if you’ve got a Christmas gift card from a certain online retailer burning a hole in your pocket, The Promise is currently only £5.75 in paperback.
Wishing you all a happy, healthy and successful 2019! Hope it’s filled with lots of reading and writing.
Which would you prefer to unwrap on Christmas Day, an Amazon gift card or a Book Token?
I’d go for the Book Token every time, for several reasons:
- A Book Token means that I have to indulge and buy a book. On Amazon there’s a danger of being ‘good’ and buying something boring that you need, like an iron or a set of saucepans.
- A Book Token promises me an outing to a real bookshop where I can enjoy the smell of new books. I can pick them up and read the blurb. I can sit in an armchair and try out the first few pages. And if I’m in one of the bigger stores, I can enjoy a coffee before deciding on my final book selection. ‘Looking inside’ just isn’t the same.
- Buying online means clicking straight through to the bestseller everyone is talking about or automatically buying the new release of an author I know I enjoy. A Book Token offers the luxury of browsing. Other authors, new to me, will be sitting alongside the familiar – and maybe I might be tempted to step out of my comfort zone and try something new.
- Book Tokens create business for bookshops. Do we really want a future where all our book buying has to be done online?
National Book Tokens began in 1932 when publisher Harold Raymond noticed that very few books were given as Christmas gifts because people were afraid of buying the wrong book. In 1982 the Queen attended National Book Tokens’ 50th birthday party and in 2010 National Book Tokens changed to a gift card format.
National Book tokens are not dinosaurs. They do have an online presence and they can be spent (on books not irons!) online in selected book chains. Have a look at Caboodle from National Book Tokens for offers, events, competitions and to buy tokens online (you can even design your own).
Which would you prefer to unwrap on Christmas Day, an Amazon gift card or a Book Token? Which will you be giving to family and friends?
Writers are tough people, we are used to rejection and stonewalling from editors, agents and the like. We do not take criticism personally because we know it is only a particular submission that is not up to scratch or does not fit the publication, not the writer herself.
But when it comes to conversing one-to-one with strangers outside of the writing industry we become defensive and touchy about our work. This is especially true of the many thousands of us yet to hit the big time. So, non-writers, when you are introduced to Fred, a writer, at a party, please observe the following rules otherwise he may run away screaming:
- Do not say to Fred, ‘Have you written anything I will have heard of?’ Unless you are speaking to J.K. Rowling or E.L. James, the answer will be no. If you are speaking to J.K. Rowling or E.L. James, they will have been introduced as such. It’s far better to ask Fred, ‘What type of thing do you write?’
- If Fred says, ‘I write short stories’, do not dismiss that as ‘not proper writing’. The craft of bringing life to character and plot in a very short word count is difficult. Even more so when writing to the guidelines and themes of specific publications or competitions. Show admiration for the fact that Fred knows how to make every word earn its place.
- Do not ask Fred how many books he has sold or why you’ve never seen his books on the display tables in Waterstones. Most writers are not big sellers. Think about the millions of books available on Amazon – it’s impossible for us all to be in the top ten. It’s impossible for every book shop to stock us all. Low sales do not equate to a bad book. Low sales may just be symptomatic of a low marketing budget.
- If Fred says he is self-published, do not lose interest. In the past, self-publishing may have been tainted by amateurish books, now this has mostly changed for the better. Self-published authors are power houses of industry. They write, they seek constructive criticism of their manuscript, they use professional editors and proof readers, they learn to format a book, they take on the task of publicity and marketing AND they get on with the task of writing the next book. If Fred says he is self-published ask for his card and make a point of ‘looking inside’ his book on Amazon. It might tempt you to buy.
- Don’t tell Fred you’ve written a great a book and ask him to read the manuscript and give an opinion on it. Most writers won’t have time. They will either have a ‘day’ job or several writing-related irons in the fire in order to make a living. Writing on its own rarely pays a living wage. Instead say, ‘Fred, I value your opinion. How much would you charge to read my manuscript?’
- DO say, ‘Wow! A real life writer. Let me jot down the title of your book. I’ll give it a try. If I like it I’ll write a review and tell my friends.’ Then keep your word – you’ll make a hardworking writer very happy.
Birmingham Literature Festival 2018 is currently underway and one of the first events was an edition of the BBC Radio 4 political panel show, Any Questions. It was broadcast live from Birmingham Repertory Theatre last night (5th October) and repeated again today. I was in the audience for the show (if you listen carefully I’m sure you can pick out my particular clapping!) and, although I’m not a political animal, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
When we arrived, the theatre was surrounded by men in high-vis jackets clearing away the security cordons (fences and concrete bollards) that had been put in place for the Conservative Party Conference – the theatre is only a few paces from the International Convention Centre. We were reminded of the conference again by the ‘warm up’ lady, Midlands BBC political journalist Kathryn Stanczyszyn, who did a great job of recapping the week’s main political events and taking us through the clapping warm-up. We did polite clapping, middling clapping and extremely enthusiastic clapping.
On arrival the audience were asked to write down any questions they’d like to ask the panel. Ten questions were chosen and the questioners brought down to sit in the front row. Then the chair, Jonathan Dimbleby and the four members of the panel were brought on to the stage, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, President of the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Saquib Bhatti, MP for Rutland and Melton Sir Alan Duncan and the SNP Health Spokesperson Philippa Whiford. With minutes to go before live broadcast, an audience member posed the warm-up question, “What is your favourite Abba track?” The panel’s answers were used as a sound check. We heard the 8 pm pips, the news headlines and then Jonathan Dimbleby was live on air introducing the panel.
Lively discussion followed on Brexit, Theresa May, austerity and the possibility of cyber rather than physical warfare. As opinions bounced from the panelists, the audience graduated through the three types of clapping and added shouts as well. The final question book-ended the warm-up question, “Theresa May came onto the conference platform to ‘Dancing Queen’. What song would you choose?”
Verdict on the evening: Very interesting and I was amazed at how calm the production team and panel were, given it was a live broadcast. I would’ve been a nervous wreck! If you get the chance, go along (it’s free!) or apply to host the show at a venue near you.
I recently walked the West Highland Way. This is a 96 mile path from Milngavie (a suburb of Glasgow) to Fort William, at the foot of Ben Nevis. The walk took seven days and on the eighth day we climbed Ben Nevis and walked in snow on a blazing hot day. All along the route the scenery was terrific: mountains, hills and lochs. We heard cuckoos and saw feral goats.
We chose to go in the middle of May, which is supposed to be the best time for both weather and minimum midges. We had sunshine and few insect bites but there was a lot of people. On the more open stretches of path they could be seen snaking in front of and behind us like a colourful bendy reptile. When the path was narrow and terrain difficult, there was a constant tapping of walking poles and a search for passing places to let those walking faster than us overtake. At first this unnerved me; I felt as though I was in a race and being overtaken by everyone else. I worried we were going to be last to finish the day’s walk and my competitive spirit kept trying to kick in and make us go faster. Eventually I relaxed and realised everyone has their own pace and there are merits to going slower and enjoying the views.
What has this got to do with writing?
Social media makes us all very aware of what other writers are doing. We know when they get an agent, when they sign the publishing deal and when the book hits the shelves. Or we know who’s on a winning streak in the womag short story world. Or competition winners are shouted from the roof tops. Celebration is good and, after the toil of writing, well deserved. But as a result we are constantly measuring ourselves against the success of others, just as I was measuring my walking speed and ability against the other boot clad walkers on the West Highland Way. This is not a good thing. Everyone’s path to success is different. We have different talents, different starting points and face different obstacles along the way.
Instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on your own route to your goal. You may find it beneficial to take a detour into article writing or to pause and clear your mind. Domestic issues might slow you down or a surge of ideas might push you forward. Take the journey at your own pace without comparing it to others (but do give them a little cheer when they succeed!) and you’ll enjoy it all the more.
And when you stand on that mountain top we’ll all be cheering you and your achievement – however long it might have taken to get there.
At the end of April I was in York for the ASC’s 2018 Conference and National Competition Finals.
I’ve never attended before and was only there this year because, to my surprise and shock, I won my way through the Club, Area and District rounds of the speech competition. When I entered the Club competition last November, I didn’t anticipate that five months later I’d be representing the Midlands in competition against seven other contestants from all parts of the UK. My anxiety levels were sky high and further increased by having to use a clip-on microphone for the first time and face my biggest ever audience.
But what has this got to do with writing?
I needed a subject for my speech. It had to be something I could talk about enthusiastically, something most people would have an interest in and something I could structure logically into a speech.
So I ‘taught’ the audience how to write a romantic novel (how many people have you heard say – ‘I could/would like to write a novel?’).
I only had eight minutes to speak so it was a quick and dirty ‘lesson’ based on the following points:
- Choosing a genre
- Choosing a setting
- Naming characters
- Obstacle to the love affair
- Event that brings the couple back together
To drive each point home I concocted a romantic ‘novel’ about Tony and Janet falling in love and having a date at the hotel where the conference was being held. I concluded by revealing the absolute peanuts that most authors get as financial reward and asked the audience the question, ‘Is it worth it?’
I didn’t win and wasn’t placed in the top three. I was up against some fantastic speakers. The winner was a sixteen-year-old girl who was extremely confident and gave an excellent performance, talking about the scourge of selfie-taking complete with props of a mobile phone and selfie stick. However, we all received a lovely paperweight as a souvenir of the occasion.
Later at the event, I was talking to a lady and she told me how members of her party had been having fun in the bar dreaming up their own spoof romance based on my speech. I was delighted to hear this – it meant people had listened to me and had absorbed and remembered what I’d said. And isn’t that what public speaking is all about?
When I was offered an ARC of Everybody Works in Sales by Niraj Kapur I immediately said, “Yes, please!”
The reason? As writers, I feel we are each increasingly having to be our own salesman. We might be marketing our self-published books, pitching an article to an editor, writing an agent covering letter or polishing up our website. So, I hoped Everybody Works in Sales might reveal to me the secret formula of selling books, short stories and articles.
Of course it didn’t because deep down we all know there is no secret formula to sales. But the book did teach me what the mindset of a salesman should be – and it isn’t SELL! SELL! SELL!
The three main points I took away from Everybody Works in Sales were:
- Don’t try to constantly sell ‘at’ people willy-nilly (e.g. frequent ‘buy my books’ tweeting). Instead take the time to build relationships – with magazine editors, book shops, social media followers etc.
- Nothing succeeds like hard work.
- Treat your customers/readers/editors/followers as you would like to be treated.
Two quotations from the book which are worth pondering:
- Care for people and ask for nothing immediately in return.
- You can always go further in a group than by yourself – maybe that’s why we writers like to collect together and share experiences?
But this book has more to offer than these simple lessons. There are many inspirational quotations and advice on making progress in a corporate career. The book follows the career of its author, Niraj Kapur, the bad bits as well as the good bits. He’s had some tough times in his working life and his experiences might help you if you’re trying to climb the greasy pole in sales or management.
In places the book’s language is unpolished and reflects the way I imagine Niraj would speak. It is conversational rather than textbook and allows the author’s background and personality to come through. It’s as though Niraj is in the room with you.
Everybody Works in Sales is an easy read that shares inspirational thoughts for leading a better life in the workplace, building relationships with potential customers and networking.
About Everybody Works in Sales
We all work in sales. If you work for somebody, you earn a living by selling their product or service. If you are self-employed, you earn a living by selling your product or service.
When you buy from Amazon, they always recommended other products similar to the ones you are purchasing or have already purchased – that’s selling. When you download a song, movie or TV show from iTunes, they always recommend more similar products. That’s selling.
When you register for most websites, they sell their products or services to you through a regular email.
When you attend an exhibition at the NEC, London ExCel, Olympia, Manchester or even a local market, everyone is trying to sell you their product.
We all work in sales, yet few people know how to sell. Until now.
Containing 27 valuable lessons, plus 17 interviews with experts, Everybody Works in Sales combines unique storytelling and personal development to ensure you have the tools you need to do better in your career.
Available on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.
About Niraj Kapur
Award-winning executive, Niraj Kapur, has worked in corporate London for 23 years. From small businesses to a national newspaper to FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 companies, he’s experienced it all and shares his insight, knowledge, big wins and horrible failures.
Niraj has also had several screenplays optioned, sitcoms commissioned, kids’ shows on Channel 5’s Milkshake and CBBC. His movie, Naachle London, was released in select cinemas across the UK.
He’s working on his next book while advising companies and coaching individuals on how to improve their sales.
Follow Niraj on Twitter: @Nirajwriter or find him on LinkedIn: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/nkapur.
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