THE WRITERS BUREAU
|‘After spending ten years working my way through the insurance industry, I had finally reached the top of my game. At the age of 33, I snagged a senior management post at one of Malta’s largest insurers. I was on the fast track.
‘And then I quit.
'It all began when I started the Comprehensive Writing Course with The Writers Bureau in October 2006.
‘In late 2007, I had an offer from a local paper to join their team as a journalist. Unfortunately, the remuneration was too low when compared to my corporate package. But it made me determined to make writing my full time job.
‘My freelancing was going well and I cast about for some new markets to boost the income. Then I got a call from Network Publications - Malta’s largest publishing house - to join their team as a senior journalist.
‘Their offer actually beat my old corporate job and I decided it was time to throw in the insurance towel.
‘Initially, I wondered if I could cope. But the excellent tuition I received on my course gave me the skills I needed.
‘I became a full time writer in February 2008, working on the Malta Economic Update magazine. I handle our monthly 32-page supplements, edit the work of other freelancers and interview top businessmen and politicians. The job is hectic, the deadlines are tight but the reward of seeing the finished publication at the end of each month is indescribable.
‘It was a very hard decision when I turned my back on the corporate world. The climb to the top had been long and hard. But after spending three months in journalism and writing for a living, would I do it again?
‘In a heartbeat.’
Justin Tonna, Malta
|'As a lawyer, words are very much the ‘tools of my trade’. But I had not done any creative writing since my school days, apart from keeping holiday journals and odd scribbles when the mood took me.
‘Then, when I was going through a particularly bad time, I saw an advertisement for the Writers Bureau and decided to enrol. I needed a focus, and this was ideal.
‘Although the course started with ‘non-fiction’ writing, I found a great deal of therapeutic expression in writing short stories, but used the marketing concepts of the course to target these to particular magazines. However, the stories kept coming back – and rejection is hard to take, as any writer knows.
‘The advice from the Writers Bureau course persuaded me to continue submitting stories. I sent for guidelines and, finally, in May 2007 I received a telephone call from the fiction editor of ‘Take a Break’ to say they would like to buy a story I had submitted in January! I could hardly believe it. The story was published in the August issue of their ‘Fiction Feast’ magazine and I received £200.
‘I have continued with my story writing, but with renewed confidence I decided to try an interview article. I had appeared in a play written by a local playwright, Les Clarke, who had won countless National awards for his one act plays. He agreed to be interviewed. I was terrified! But I used the WB module to prepare my questions, and put new batteries in my tape recorder. I also took digital photos of Les with some of his impressive trophies.
‘I pitched the article to three magazines: two very polite rejections, but the editor of Writers’ Forum said he would ‘have a look’. I emailed the article and photographs to him in July, then heard nothing more. Until an e-mail arrived out of the blue at the end of November: ‘Your article is in the January issue, please send an invoice for £100’.
‘Apart from the thrill of seeing my article (a whole page plus photo) in print, and receiving the cheque, Les Clarke was delighted and said that his website had received a sudden upsurge in ‘hits’ after the article was published! So, I had made a difference.
‘I have also found many useful articles in the E-zee Writer monthly newsletter.
‘For 2008, my ambitions are to continue with the Writers Bureau assignments, and to become more organised in my writing. I have ideas for two one act plays, and am also midway through a poem which was inspired by Remembrance Sunday celebrations. Obviously, £300 a year is not enough to give up the day job – but it’s a start.’
Veronica Ryder, Dorset
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More than Just Child’s Play
With the rising market awareness of children’s books, it is not surprising that many would-be authors are deciding to try their luck with this genre, believing it to be an easy route to success. In fact, writing for children is as difficult as penning a best-selling crime novel, romance or thriller. The word count may be lower, but making sure your novel pleases a young audience requires as much hard work as any other genre.
What do children want from their literature?
A book for young readers has to engage the child’s interest in every conceivable way. The boredom threshold is generally lower for children than for adults, so it is essential the author grabs their audience from the first paragraph and doesn’t let go. Adults are often prepared to read on past the opening pages to give the book a chance to improve, few children will do so. Young readers need to feel the emotions and insecurities of the characters. They want to hurt when their heroes do, cheer when the bad guys are vanquished, groan at the soppy humour and laugh out loud at comic antics. So how does a prospective writer of children’s books get the mix right? Children’s tastes vary as much as adults' when it comes to choosing something to read, but the topics below could help to make your book one they won’t want to put down.
Hook Them Hard and Reel Them In
From the first few paragraphs you want your readers to identify with the plot and main character. By opening with conflict, danger or humour the reader is pitched straight into the story. But it isn’t only at the beginning of the book where you need to grab your readers; you must also end each chapter on a hook. Leave your young protagonist about to be caught by his enemies, or walking into a dangerous situation, so that the readers cannot wait to turn to the next chapter. Then hook them again by not giving them what they want. If, at chapter’s end, the hero is hanging from a cliff by a branch, don’t open the next chapter with his rescue. Leave him, and your readers, hanging for a page or two before returning to the scene.
Use of Language
Getting the vocabulary right is easier than you might think. The most important thing to do is listen to children interacting. Watch television programmes aimed at the age group for which you are writing. Listen to how children argue. Ask the children you know to tell you a joke to give you an idea of their vocabulary level. Make notes of today’s ‘in’ words, but don’t try to be too trendy, as slang dates very quickly. Don’t use jargon out of context or colloquialisms from your youth.
Characters – Love Them, Hate Them, Make Them Real
No one is all good or all bad and children know this instinctively. They can spot a cardboard cut-out from page one, and often won’t read on to page two. To avoid having one-dimensional characters it is important to think about every aspect of your fictional beings, even those details that will never appear in your book. Visualise the way they walk, dress and talk; how something is said is an easy way of creating character traits. Above all, children need heroes they can identify with. Give your good guys flaws and your baddies redeeming features. If you can hate your bad guys, but still feel sorry for them, then your readers will as well. Try to make sure your readers understand why your villains act as they do. It is a good idea to avoid long descriptions of how people look. Allow young readers to process the information by drip-feeding details. If you believe in the people you create, then so will your readers. As you write, feel what they feel, laugh with them, allow your heart to break when theirs does and you’ll have characters that will leap off the page.
Some Themes to Consider
Gadgets that work – kids love gadgets and enjoy reading about inventions, the more outlandish the better. Gadgets that don’t – gadgets that malfunction and cause mayhem are always enjoyed. Things that go bump in the night – witches, warlocks, vampires, ghouls, ghosts and goblins have a timeless appeal. Time travel forward – finding new life forms and visiting distant stars in the future opens endless doors to explore. Time travel back – an opportunity to rewrite history, or simply have adventures in the past. New worlds to conquer – writing fantasy gives you the freedom to create new planets and countries, as well as generating new beings to inhabit them. Computers on the outside – most children today are computer literate and might enjoy a tale about a computer boffin or hacker, particularly if he is evil and defeated by your heroes. Computers on the inside – computer games that swallow the players, forcing them to play for their lives inside the machine, could have your young readers on the edge of their seats.
Pace and Humour
The more action you can inject into a story, the more involved your readers will be. If the heroine is hurtling along an alley, dodging missiles and jumping over obstacles, while carrying a flask containing a deadly virus, the chances are the reader won’t let go of his breath until she is safe once again.
Using humour can also add pace and depth. Reading about situations where someone with whom they identify gets into one hilarious mess after another is particularly appealing to young readers. Humour is important to kids. They love to read stories that reflect their own hopes and dreams, but, if you can find a way of tickling their funny bones at the same time, you’ll have a winning formula.
A Rough Guide to What Children (and Publishers) Want
Publishing houses vary, so it is a good idea to check guidelines before submitting anything. The categories below will give you an idea of the style and length required.
Ages 6-9 need short, easy-to-read chapters, with lots of action, dialogue and humour. It’s important to keep the storyline simple, but still inject the maximum amount of excitement. General word count 3,500-8,000.
Ages 9-12 are looking for novels with strong characters and fast-paced, exciting plots ranging from fantasy to tales set in schools and everything in-between. Children from this age group love stories in which a bully gets some well-deserved retribution, or the villain is vanquished, preferably in a horrible manner. General word count 15,000-50,000.
Ages 12 and older are no longer looking for kids’ books; they want themes that have more relevance to their own lives, such as bullying, divorce and friendship. This age group also enjoys fantasy, sci-fi and humour, but on a more adult level than their younger counterparts. General word count 35,000 plus.
Writing for children is more than just child’s play, but is worth the effort required. A good children’s novel will be a child’s friend for life. Think back to your own childhood and the type of book you read under the bedcovers by torchlight. To write a book that children cannot put down – now that is real success!
Lorraine Mace, a columnist with Writing Magazine (UK) and Queensland Writing (Australia) is the co-author, with Maureen Vincent-Northam, of The ABC Checklist for New Writers. Her work has been published in five countries. Winner of the Petra Kenney International Poetry Award (comic verse category), she writes fiction for the women’s magazine market and is a writing competition judge. www.lorrainemace.com
10 top tips for entering poetry competitions
With the deadline for the Writers Bureau 2008 Poetry and Short Story Competition www.writersbureau.com/competition coming up at the end of June, here are 10 tips on how to improve your success rate when you enter a poetry competition:
1. Wherever you are and whatever the time of day, always keep a notebook handy. You never know when the inspiration for a new poem will come to you. It’s so easy to forget your ideas when you’ve lots of other things on your mind – and you might just be losing a winner.
2. Avoid hackneyed themes. You might have just had a painful love affair and want to write about it – but so will many other poets. Unless you can bring something new and original to your theme the judges will pass it by. The same goes for natural disasters, wars and abuse. They tug at your heart strings, but they also inspire many other poets.
3. Most competitions are open – so they will accept both free verse or rhyming work. But don’t mistake free verse for a slab of prose. There is a distinct difference between the two and poetry must have structure and rhythm. It must also be properly punctuated. Punctuation in poetry can be more fluid and imaginative but it must still do its intended job – to indicate pauses and breathing spaces.
4. If you do chose to use a specific form – such as a sonnet or a limerick – make sure that you follow the necessary metre and rhyming scheme. And don’t invert phrases unnaturally to get appropriate rhymes at the end of lines – this is a real ‘no-no’ for judges.
5. Never use ‘antique’ phrases such as ‘thus’, ‘poesy’ and ‘doest’. Also, check your similes and metaphors carefully to make sure that they are fresh and original.
6. Always follow the rules – so watch your line limit. If the organisers say 40 lines you’ll be throwing away your money if your poem runs to 45.
7. Don’t get unhealthily attached to a particular poem. If it’s not been placed in a couple of competitions try to look at it objectively. You might be able to use the same theme but how about starting again and re-working it?
8. Polish, polish and polish again. Make sure your work is perfect. When competition is fierce only the best will win.
9. When entering a competition give yourself plenty of time. We all know that you can dash off a poem and then send it by email the day before the deadline. But, you need to be able to put your work aside after you have written it and then come back to it with a fresh mind so that you can spot any flaws. And don’t forget Tip 8, above.
10. Finally, and probably most importantly, write with integrity. Make every entry your best, irrespective of how large or how small the prize money.
USEFUL SITES FOR WRITERS
Don’t forget, we have £4000 worth of prizes just waiting to be won! Closing date is 30th of June so log on and enter now!
A useful site with lots of creativity prompts to help you when your imagination just stops working – it happens to us all! It includes the www.blogger.com recommended creativity prompt, which uses photos and seasons, amongst other ideas, to fire your imagination. There’s a useful How-to section covering online blogging to greeting card messages, plus lots of articles written by professionals on everything from feature writing to breaking through writer's block. Finally, if you feel you have something to say about writing you can submit your own articles for inclusion, then sit back and bask in the warm glow you get from helping others, and seeing your work on the Internet of course!
This award-winning site offers help from Grammar Girl, who is a ‘magazine writer, technical writer, and entrepreneur’, who has ‘served as a senior editor and producer at a number of health and science web sites’. The site offers short, user-friendly tips on the vast rules of grammar and word choice. She helps to make ‘complex grammar questions simple with memory tricks to help you recall and apply those troublesome grammar rules’. Written for those who have English as a first language and those who don’t, she has also added podcasts so you can listen online!
This handy little chart helps you create character traits and personality components for your fiction work. A good kick start if you are having difficulty getting your characters organised at the start of a project.
END NOTE and a little inspiration
Could you write an article about ...
||The Nobel Prize is won by American poet TS Elliot.
3rd November 1957
|Laika - a dog - is the first ever living creature to be sent in to the cosmos on the Russian satellite Sputnik II.
5th November 1605
|What else but the Guy Fawkes gunpowder plot!
8th November 1974
|Police search for Lord Lucan following the death of his children’s nanny the previous night.
7th November 1879
|Leon Trotsky, the Russian revolutionary, was born on this day.
11th November 1843
|Hans Christian Anderson first published his classic ‘The Ugly Duckling’.
12th November 1912
|English explorer Captain Robert Scott’s frozen body was found in Antarctica.
17th November 1558
|English history sees the beginning of the Elizabethan era.
20th November 1945
|The Nuremberg trials begin - 20 leading Nazis are charged with war crimes.
21st November 1877
|The first phonograph was presented by inventor Thomas Edison.
22nd November 1963
|John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas.
27th November 1925
|The English Comedian Ernie Wise was born.
Next month, Heather Cooke teaches us about the importance of naming your characters with her expert article ‘What’s In A Name?’, detailing why you need to take great care when you name your characters, and how you can get it right.
As usual, if you've any suggestions or would like to comment on content then please contact me at: email@example.com
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