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This month we have expert advice from Esther Newton on the importance of having a Plan B. Plus there are Ten Top Tips on how to create the perfect writing environment, Student Stories to show you what you can achieve, Inspiration to give you something to write about and Useful Websites to help with your research.

Plan B

By Esther Newton

Embarking on a writing career can be exciting, with a head full of images of becoming a famous novelist or screen writer, regular fiction writer for the women’s weeklies or weekly columnist for one of the broadsheets; on and on the dreams come. For a few, the dream becomes a reality but for many others, Plan A ends up on the rubbish heap. It’s then that Plan B comes into play.

Plan B

It’s good to have goals to strive for, but only a handful of authors become a J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown with their books turned into blockbuster movies. So if your hopes and dreams with regards to writing don’t quite come to fruition, it doesn’t mean the end of your writing career, it just means you need to move the goal posts a little.

Author

There are still publishers and agents willing to take a chance on new writers but trawling through the ‘Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook’, it can be hard to find them. And what happens when you’ve tried them all and no one has shown any interest in your script? One avenue many authors are having success with is self-publishing and publishing via the Kindle, in particular through Amazon’s direct publishing. The latter is especially popular as it doesn’t cost anything to do and you can receive up to 70% in royalties. To find out further information, Amazon have a step-by-step guide. You have to do the marketing side yourself, but many writers have found it worth their while and have become very successful authors – something they may not have achieved had they focused solely on the conventional method of publishing.

Story Writer for the Women’s Weeklies

Perhaps you saw yourself as writing regular stories which would grace the pages of the women’s weeklies. There are some magazines which invite stories from freelancers, including ‘The People’s Friend, ‘Woman’s Weekly’, ‘Yours’ (technically a fortnightly) and ‘Take A Break’s Fiction Feast’ (a monthly). Others such as ‘Best’ sometimes print a story but by a celebrity writer. ‘My Weekly’ still publishes regular fiction but the fiction editor doesn’t accept unsolicited manuscripts and has a team of regular writers. Therefore, competition to see your story in a woman’s weekly is fiercer than ever. Though, if you take the time to study this market carefully, you have every chance of achieving your goal.

However, there are some other excellent fiction story outlets. Why not enter a writing competition? Many offer good prize money and publication, such as our own annual ‘Writers Bureau Short Story Competition’. Another good short story competition is ‘The Global Short Story Competition’, endorsed by travel writer Bill Bryson. For further details go to www.globalshortstories.net.

The small press market is also one not to be ignored. Many are subscription only, but you can build up a strong following with readers and many small press magazines award cash prizes to the story with the most votes in each issue e.g. ‘Scribble’ Magazine. Take a look at the website for more information: www.parkpublications.co.uk.

Columnist

Being a columnist in a national newspaper or well-known magazine and dazzling readers with your knowledge and wit is many writers’ dream. However, take a look through the papers and magazines and you’ll see that many of them are written by experts in a particular field, celebrities or established writers, with a long queue waiting to take their place.

This isn’t to say that you can’t be a columnist but starting out small can lead to bigger things in the future. Why not try a local paper? If you have lived in a particular area or have specialist knowledge which is relevant to that area, they may welcome a regular column from you.

Many local churches and charities have newsletters, which need input. They won’t pay but it’s a start and if you have a regular column, it’s something to add to your writing CV and you’ll also have some examples to send to an editor when you approach a paying publication.

Article Writer

Open a magazine and study the article by-lines and you’ll see many of the same names week after week. This often indicates that the magazine uses staff writers for their articles or they have a team of regular freelance writers. Nonetheless, many magazines still accept freelance work from new writers and some use a mixture of the two. If you can find a niche, it’s possible to become a regular magazine writer, pitching ideas to the editor and regularly having them accepted.

Sometimes, after having a series of rejections or having one article accepted, the door closes on future submissions and things don’t go quite the way you planned. If this happens don’t give up on the market altogether. It may be that the magazine already has a similar piece in stock or that particular article didn’t have the right tone. Keep studying the publication in terms of content, style etc. Writers often have several rejections before getting an acceptance.

Additionally, remember that there are likely to be other magazines in the same genre e.g. just because one caravan and holiday magazine rejects your piece, it doesn’t mean another will. So look into alternative markets for your rejected work. You will need to study the new market carefully though as all markets have different requirements and you may need to tweak your original article slightly.

Script Writer

Your aspirations may include being a script writer and having your story broadcast on the radio, reaching out to a multitude of listeners and for the BBC to snap up your screenplay, with famous actors taking on the roles of your characters. It can happen but the competition is fierce.

If your heart’s set on this road, take a look at the ‘BBC Writers Room’. They are always looking to find new talent and the website is full of useful information including how to write a script as well as lots of tips to help you. You can download scripts from TV drama from the site. If the BBC proves elusive, then a good way to break into script writing is through a competition. The BBC hold several per year so it’s worth taking a look at the ‘Writers Room’ and clicking on ‘Opportunities’. Aside from the BBC, there are many other organisations which hold this type of competition, including many local radio stations. If you win a competition, your script is likely to be read on air so you’ll already have a foot in the door when approaching other stations or building relationships with producers.

So if Plan A goes awry, there’s always a Plan B. And, what’s more, you may find Plan B more rewarding and enjoyable than your Plan A.

Esther Newton is a tutor for The Writers Bureau. Her work has appeared in a wide variety of magazines ranging from My Weekly to Your Cat. Branching out into the area of copywriting, Esther has also enjoyed editing the Junior page of her local Cats Protection magazine for a number of years. As well as winning several awards for her writing, she has judged writing competitions.