Twas a night before Christmas...

...and there in the pub, not a creature stirred...well, only to the bar and back, and the occasional trip to the gents.

I must have been around 18 and thrilled to bits to be in a pub where the barman didn't immediately want to throw me out. It turned out that he quite fancied me, but that's neither here nor there as far as this story is concerned.

He also offered me the only gig that our band, Bad Timing, ever received. Believe me, we were terrible - I still have a rehearsal tape somewhere to prove it. But I digress...

So, we arrived at the pub at 1.30 in the afternoon. There was me, a friend of mine from my schooldays, his stepdad and Jock - his stepdad's work colleague. Jock's the only one with a name in this tale as he features heavily in what transpired.

Jock, from Glasgow, had been drinking heavily. When he wasn't lecturing us whippersnappers about how, right now, this was 'the only man you'll ever be', or eating copious quantities of crisps, Jock was slowly but surely sinking into an alcoholic haze. I, meanwhile, over the seven hours that we spent in that pub, actually sobered up. It wasn't difficult as two southern comforts were (and are) about my limit.

So we left the pub, in Hackney ( I remember it as The Favouite, but the internet can find no trace), and moved on to another pub in Hackney Wick, where it all went a little pear-shaped. You see, the barman of this other pub was Billy the Boil, from Aberdeen. And clearly, somewhere down the line, there'd been bad blood between Glasgow Jock and Aberdeen Billy.

We didn't know about the bad blood at the time, but it soon became pretty obvious when Jock started muttering about how he was going to take Billy the Boils' boil right off his face. Before you could shout 'chill out' (of course, we didn't have the term in the eighties), Jock had smashed a pint glass on the table and leapt at the bar to have a go at Billy. You've never seen so many pissed people move so quickly.

By now it's pandemonium; Billy has somehow repelled Jock and knocked him back - probably with a fist. Down Jock goes like a sack of spuds and people have pinned him to the ground. Meantime, Jock is screaming "Don't let him cut me, don't let him cut me," at the top of his voice, while me and my friend stare at the scene in amazement and horror.

Jock, bleeding from the broken glass that he's holding, is bundled out the pub with us and told not to come back. No one calls the police, naturally - that's not how these things are done. We get in the car - I think the stepdad has stuck to soft drinks - and drive off into the night as Jock regales us with his favourite fights and why Billy the Boil is his sworn enemy. But, as none of us speak drunken Glaswegian, most of the subtleties are lost on us.

I felt as if we'd passed some kind of multiple initiation of manhood. A lock-in in a pub, drinking with older men, the offer of a gig for the band, witnessing a pub fight (after a fashion) and making it out unscathed.

I never saw Jock again although my friend's dad told us other stories about Jock's flick-hatchet (which he unfortunately demonstrated while inside his new car), Jock's new Mercedes and, by way of explanation, Jock's brief and disastrous sideline as a drug dealer.

I give you the ghost of Christmas past!

The Geneva Connection by Martin Bodenham

Today I'm joined (virtually - use your imagination) by another Musa author, Martin Bodenham. He has kindly consented for me to put him under the spotlight and fire questions at him from across the desk. Let us begin...

What is your book, The Geneva Connection, about?

It is a financial crime thriller, set in the UK, US, Mexico and Switzerland. The story is about John Kent, a massively successful private equity player, and what happens when his unbridled ambition collides with the world's most powerful and most brutal drug cartel.

Kent thought he had it all. The phenomenal success of his private equity firm has propelled him into the world’s wealthy super-league. Self-made and from a poor background, he’s living his dream. Then he discovers his financial backers are a front for the world’s largest organized crime group, the Mexican Caruana drug cartel. It is run by Felix Safuentes, also known as “Jivaro” after the South American tribe famous for decapitating its enemies. Kent’s nightmare hasn’t even started...

What was the inspiration for the book?

As a private equity investor, I witnessed a number of financial institutions running into liquidity problems during the credit crisis. That gave me the idea to write a novel about a private equity firm losing the support of its main investor due to the financial crisis and how it is desperate to find a replacement without asking too many questions.

When did you decide to take up writing?

I have wanted to write novels for many years, but the pressure of working full-time in investment fund management meant I did not have the time. Recently, I have wound down a little from running my private equity firm in order to focus on a few other things in life.

What does the writing process look like for you?

I treat as a job. I am lucky in that I have an out-building, which I have converted into an office. The days I devote to writing see me at my desk at seven in the morning. I finish around six in the evening. Whenever I have tried to do something, I have always made every effort to be the best I can be at it.

What is the most challenging part of the writing process for you?

There are always calls on my time and, if I let them, they will eat into my writing space. I mute my telephone and switch off email so I don’t become distracted. If the front doorbell rings, I don’t answer it. Treating it as work makes a big difference.

How did you find Musa Publishing?

A published author contact of mine mentioned Musa as a new publishing house run by industry professionals. They sounded like my kind of people. They were the first US publisher I approached, and they signed me up in days.

Why did you decide to go with an ebook publisher instead of a traditional print publisher?

I have always been an early adopter of new technology and I have used it throughout my investment management career to increase productivity. The days of print publishing for fiction are numbered, in my view. If it didn’t already exist today, would we choose to invent it when digital technology is available? I think not.

Can you tell us a bit about how you prepared a submission package for your novel?

I’m based in the UK so I followed the usual UK format: One page covering letter, two page synopsis and the first three chapters—one, two, three.

Having said that, I found it difficult to reduce my story down to its basic elements. I treated it like all the business plans I have received over the years as a private equity investor. The two page executive summary is massively important. It determines whether or not an investor wants to read the full plan. I figured publishers were like investors, which they are in many ways. They have to decide which few stories they will back. Like investing, knowing the ones to walk away from is as important as choosing the winners.

What piece of advice do you think is most important for aspiring writers to remember?

Think of it as a business if you want to have your work published. Then treat the writing as a job and properly devote your time to it. Treat the editing process as a great way to improve your product, and not as an attack on you. Finally, recognize that publishers are business people, so ask yourself why they should invest their scarce resources behind your work. The rest will follow.

What do you see as the biggest obstacle for emerging writers?

I think the greatest challenge for new writers is trying to stand out in a crowded market and in a digital age in which anyone can broadcast a message at very little cost. Readers and consumers are bombarded with messages, and there are very few quality filters on which they can rely.

Which authors or individual books have inspired you in your writing?

The authors whose work I really enjoy are John Grisham, Michael Connelly and James Patterson. I love their fast pace, multiple settings and attention to detail.

Do you think it's important to have a character's morality defined early on in a book?

I think it is important to establish early on the main character traits of the protagonist, so that a reader can decide whether to support them or not. It doesn't matter to me whether or not the protagonist is likeable. I just want the reader to have a strong emotional bias for or against him and, therefore, have an interest in what happens.

Have you written any short fiction?

No. Once I start a novel, I find I have too much to say!

Do you have a view on the recent criticism of HMRC's alleged cosiness to some larger companies when they're negotiating a UK tax bill?

The tax affairs of large companies can be very complex. Consequently, there can be many grey areas and uncertainties as to the right interpretation of the tax regulations relating to their affairs. That said, I see very little flexibility or understanding offered to businesses and individual taxpayers so I don't understand why HMRC needs to adopt a warm and cuddly approach to large companies. There should be one consistent approach applying to all.

What are you working on next?

Another financial thriller involving a Boston based private equity firm and US government corruption.

You Put Your Whole Self In...

You know that feeling, when you've just finished reading a book and the characters are still rattling around your head? Or the plot holes are making swiss cheese of your afterglow? Or even that you're desperate to re-immerse yourself in the world of the characters you've just spent time with?

Well, imagine all of that and add in a dollop of nervous anticipation. Cue drum roll... I've just completed the second draft of Scars & Stripes - my transatlantic comic tragedy about a year in the US, in the late eighties. It's been a bit of a revelation, coming as it does from the adulterated wellspring of my experience and my imagination combined. The composite characters are all on stage now and the key scenes set in cement. (But I still have my chisel at the ready, just in case.)

What comes next, of course, is a deeper edit. That and referring back to my notes about what I feel I can and can't say, even in fiction. If any brave soul out there wants to read any sample chapters - Sonia, you know who you are - I now have the set.

It's a less funny novel than I'd anticipated. In several places it's actually quite sad. I like that, though. Writing and reading the manuscript has put me back in touch with something useful - painful once and poignant now. But definitely useful. It feels as if I can breathe a little easier.

One of the interesting things about the process of writing, especially when one draws upon personal experience (and let's face it, all writers do that to some extent) is the individual approach that each writer takes.

I'm pleased to say that fellow novelist, Sinclair Macleod, author of The Reluctant Detective and The Good Girl will be joining me for a blog interview in the not too distant future. I hope to get a better appreciation for his method of writing, delve into his psyche and generally pick his brains for tips and insights.

Shadow of the Hunter

I'm not really sure exactly how many words a picture paints, but our cat Porsha (she was a rescue cat and pre-named, so it isn't our fault) serves as a pretty good illustration. Today's topic is time. And, while it flies like the wind and goes after itself for Cyndi Lauper, it's also a huge consideration for a writer.

When you look closer at all the other activities necessary* to write, it's a wonder we get anything done at all. You need ideas, planning, research, blogging, LinkedIn, Tweeting, Facebooking...well, hang on a minute - that's just it. What is that social media really doing for you? Are you connecting with possible readers, existing readers, your peers or trying to build up your profile? Could it be that time given over to social media is actually time that could be better spent writing?

If you write to earn an income, writing is your product. Without something to sell, all the advertising in the world isn't worth diddlysquat. Our cat who clearly knows how to position herself, even if she's still working on timing understands that.

So speak when you have something to say or when you have a product or service to promote. Or maybe just for the fun of it, when your down time coincides with your urge to communicate. But don't mistake all that hullabaloo for actual writing.

There are only so many hours in the day, so get your priorities right!

* May contain irony.

Smart writers do it this way

Not so long ago, I was chatting away with fellow writer Terrie Leigh-Relf about our writing (there were probably other topics in there too) and the inevitable relfection on the year that's passed.
We've planned to each go away (i.e. offline) and come back with our writing goals for 2012. I know, the very mention of the 'g' word tends to make people and writers especially – go into sleep mode. But don't go just yet...

Goals, back in corporate land, were things you could control. And to make life easier*, especially when said goals helped determine your pay or bonus at the end of the year, they needed to be SMART goals.

Sing it with me, people:
Specific define what it is.
Measurable how you can tell when you've completed it?
Achievable is it within your control make this happen?
Realistic do you personally have the control and the resources to do this?
Time-bound when will it be done by?

Here are some goals that aren't SMART, even if they do appear to be desirable:
- Get my novel placed with an agent next year.
- Get my novel placed with a publisher next year (it's okay, I'm flexible - it doesn't have to be the same novel).

And here are some SMART goals:
- Write 2000 words per day. (Or, like Rachel Aaron, exceed that five-fold.)
- Spend three hours on my synopsis.
- Do a full edit of my manuscript by the end of March 2012.
- Identify three agents and three publishers to submit to.
- Prioritise my submissions.
- Contact the agent / publisher at the top of my list.
- Submit material from my novel.

Now, I will be the first to admit that SMART goals don't sound nearly as sexy or heroic. But they are...achievable. You're not reliant on anyone else to make it happen. You hold all the cards. Which means it's no one else's reponsibility but yours, if nothing happens (2012 end of the world scenarios notwithstanding).

My mantra of the moment is that we write, we edit, we decide who to submit to and then we submit. We need to do them all well because once our submissions leave us, it's out of our hands.

What are your SMART creative goals for 2012?

* May contain traces of irony.

Come on in out of the cold

Hello there,

One of the things that impresses and surprises me is how willing other writing professionals are to share resources. Whether it be white papers, links, freelance writing websites or other useful reference material, there is a genuine sense of community out there. Yes, we are all in competition to the extent that we're all in business. But there is also the recognition that, as a profession, it's in everyone's interests to promote the highest standards of business practice.

So this particular post is a bit of a sharing exercise. In no particular order, these are some of the places that I visit regularly and the people who know what they're talking about:

Cathy Presland -

Julian Summerhayes -

Brian Clark and Jon Morrow -

Mary Jaksch -

For those of you who don't yet know me, I'm a freelance writer also produce fiction and comedy material. If you head over to, you'll see the range of writing and editing services I offer, as well as samples and testimonials. You can also follow me on Twitter: @DerekWriteLines

I look forward to hearing from you.

An Artful Business

Creativity and business can sometimes seem like opposing forces, but that doesn't have to be the case. I recently chatted with New York Real Estate broker, Lee Anderson, who talked me through his experience of that sweet spot where creative endeavour and thriving business become one.

Q1. So, Lee, you combine a successful business with an active interest in the arts. Tell us a little about your company and how your creativity influences the way that you do business.

A1. I work for a real estate company called New York Living Solutions, located in downtown Manhattan – in the financial district, actually. It's really surprising how much creativity this job takes. And on lots of levels, too. For instance, there is a certain amount of artistic talent necessary to design real estate ads, which I do myself. I've always loved to paint and draw, so that comes in handy. I also write my own ads, which is how I finally found a way for that English degree to pay off. Plus, there's the creative aspect of helping people envisage how some empty apartment could be converted into a dream palace with the right design touch. I don't think I could stay interested in any job if it didn't involve creativity to a large extent.

Q2. Do you see opportunities in the creative world being applicable to businesses like yours? I see many authors now offering free ebooks and advice papers, or using promo videos on Youtube as book trailers. Have you considered anything like that to set your business apart?

I'm actually keeping a video blog sponsored by the New York Department of Cultural Affairs, called "Alphabet Pony," which I've linked with my business websites. Some of the videos that I post on Alphabet Pony can get pretty artsy and "out there," so some people have told me that I'm being too risky. They ask me how posting stuff that's crazy or weird can help my business image. Personally, I just think it's important to stand out and to offer people ideas that challenge and inspire. I've tried the straight promo idea and it's just not me. Too boring. Besides, that's one of the things that I love about the real estate biz: you can be yourself. People appreciate that, no matter how quirky you are. In my experience, they do, anyway. Helps them remember you too. I worked for years and years at jobs in which I had to be someone else some stuffed dork in a suit and I hated it.

Q3. What was it that first drew you to Real Estate as a career choice?

I worked for many, many years in the hotel business, which I'm extremely grateful to. I had some unforgettable experiences. Definitely met some people that I never thought in a million years that I would get to meet. But there came a point where I got tired with working late nights, working weekends, working holidays...there's a profound drawback in working for a business that never closes. I had some former coworker friends who had moved on to try real estate, and the reviews were good. I think it's most people's ultimate hope, right? To be your own boss and to have your own business? When I worked as a journalist, there was a part of me that always felt as if I was spotlighting people who were having a huge, beneficial impact on their environment, and on their city. I kept thinking, wouldn't it be more challenging and fun to have the same impact myself, rather than just standing on the sidelines and writing about it? Real estate is a way of beneficially shaping the physical world by using my talents, including the creative ones. Plus, after getting into a big-time verbal tussle with a lawyer and actually showing him that he was wrong, I was hooked.

Q4. Are there any creative techniques or books that you refer back to?

"The Real Estate Agent's Guide to FSBOs" by John Maloof and "The Power of Myth" by Joseph Campbell. I think it's important to balance the spiritual with business as much as possible, even in my choice of reading material. The only creative technique that I consistently use is to stand out as much as possible, using pictures that no one else has with graphics that are eye-catching enough to entice clients into calling me. I also use testimonials from clients that I've closed, who were more than happy with the service that I gave them.

Q5. Although I'm very tempted to ask you how you might see Campbell's "Hero's Journey" translating into good business practice, let's flip things a little. We've already talked about how a creative approach can be applied to business, so which lessons from the business world and your own working experience can be applied to creativity?

Just be disciplined and stay focused. It's all right to let your imagination go crazy, but there still has to be some structure applied to it at some point. Some way of measuring what you want to achieve and how you'll know when you've got there. Plus some quality control of course.

Q6. So, in your own creativity, outside of work, do you set deadlines and goals? And if that's the case, how do you define those parameters?

I believe you HAVE to set a deadline and a goal. Otherwise, how do you get started or know when to finish? Everyone needs a direction and a finish line. Mainly, my own parameters are time-based. I have to post on "Alphabet Pony" daily. I have to generate leads daily. I have to post ads in the New York Times twice a week. Objectives like that. Deadlines and goals drive everything for me.

Q7. Since we've talked about business and creativity and the arts, as a final question, what artwork (of any form) do you own or wish you owned?

My entire apartment is decorated with orginal works of art. Nothing by anybody famous just friends, mostly. There are also a few pieces that I bought from artists off the street in Soho and Union Square. Come to think of it, I can't imagine my home without them. As far as pieces I would love to own, it'd be nice to have "Starry Night." I know that's an outlandish idea, but you can always hope, right?

Lee's bio

A native Floridian, Lee came to New York in 2000. He quickly became an exemplary agent in New York City’s residential real estate market, developing a significant following throughout Manhattan. During his career, he has built strong relationships with several prominent clients and leasing companies. Lee is best known for his ability to comprehensively grasp a client's needs and to negotiate difficult deals. A major advocate for the New York art and literature scene, Lee hosts a monthly reading series in the east village. He also serves as editor-in-chief for Le Chat Noir, a New York artists and writers collective. He maintains a blog for the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and when possible, helps with such charities as "Behind the Book," "Children International," and other non-profit organizations. He is an active member of the Real Estate Board of New York.


Just for fun...kinda...

You know it's not the ideal freelancing job when the ad mentions:

1. Wording.

2. Wanting a quality writter.

3. We have a small budget, so please bare (sic) that in mind.

4. We're a luxury magazine, seeking writers looking for 

5. Payment in warm fuzzies.

6. Willing to split proceeds of word-beating novel once published.

7. Must be willing to dress up in costume.

8. A great way to lern (sic) your craft and rise (sic) your profile.

A report in every storm

When your pipes leak, you get in a plumber. Need some handmade cupboards built? A carpenter's your man or woman, guvnor.

And if that manuscript of yours (or mine) isn't quite cutting the mustard, where all the feedback is generally encouraging, but there's still no cigar, who you gonna call? A manuscript assessment service, that's who.

A good report will not only highlight weaknesses and inconsistencies, it will also tell you what you're doing right. Objective feedback can put your work under a microscope, which is both enlightening and disconcerting. Best of all, you have consider the feedback before you without the opportunity to argue your case and play 20 justifications. (No, my character has to play with a yo-yo at crime scenes because it's a metaphor for how she keeps an investigation going.)

Reports do not always make comfortable reading I've had three, over the years, for different books. Each taught me something about my writing and something about myself. Those same comments that had me coughing derisively (try it it's a real skill) later received nods of approval when I sat down again to review the evidence.

Summary feedback will focus on technique, characterisation, plotting, pace, description and dialogue. Which is a lot to fit into one report. Illustrative examples will help drive the points home. And then there's the manuscript mark-up. The right comments, perfectly placed, can act as a pivot point to lever your work over a hurdle. Those eureka moments really can make all the difference.

Although it can seem expensive unless you're fortunate enough to receive a bursary it's also an investment in your craft. And it may be your first opportunity to get feedback from a professional with experience in the industry. (Incidentally, always ask for the organisation's background and track record before you make any decision.)

An assessment of your manuscript might shatter your dreams and leave you running screaming to the hills. Or, duly acted upon, it just might be the difference between 'no thank you' and 'yes please'.

An unexpected pleasure

The business of writing is very often a set of knowns combined with a small number of processes.

You know what you're pitching for, you know your capabilities, you know your aspirations and you know the payment you can look forward to if:
a) you're hired for the gig
b) you deliver the goods

Often the surprises fall into one of very few categories:
1) changes to the requirements
2) changes to the payment agreement

Now, every month or so I take on some gratis work. Generally, but not exclusively, the recipient is a non-profit of some kind. Other times, it's a start-up that is just getting up a head of steam. In all cases, I've done it because the project appeals to me and because I believe that I can make a difference.

There are also benefits to me of course, in that:
- I get to try new areas of work that I might never have encountered before.
- I to test my skills and to pick up key learning.
- I end up with valuable feedback and often a testimonial.

But it's not about the money though. And, while I'm very keen on the idea of running a business that's first and foremost about values and principles, I will admit to having a modicum of scepticism about how to do that and still be sufficiently profitable.

This week, however, life threw me a welcome curve-ball. I received a payment and thanks for some gratis work I did recently. And I have to say, it's making me think that maybe it IS possible to do business another way.

Writer as entrepreneur

Apparently, the term entrepreneur was apparently first used by the French economist Jean-Baptiste Say. Where once this was synonymous with a contractor, who acted as the third part of the holy business with capital and labour, now it means much, much more. The entrepreneur controls - either directly or indirectly - the means of production, the branding, the marketing, the sales and the aftercare. That sounds an awful lot like a writer to me.

Lately, I have been discussing the realities of writing commercially with Wolf, over at Wolf Photography and my transatlantic compadre over at A Word with You Press, writer and editor-in-chief Thorn Sully. When running a creative business, it quickly becomes apparent that not only do you need to wear several hats, you also need several states of mind (preferably one per hat at any given time).

If, as in my case, the type of writing you do varies from client to client, that potentially multiplies the headwear during the production stage. I currently produce the following: features, copywriting, web content, speeches, sketches, gags, monologues, slogans for badges and greetings cards, short fiction and of course those beloved novels of mine.

The more I research internet and social media marketing models (and believe me, I've been doing a lot of research recently), the more I realise it can be summed up in one sentence: You find a way that works for you. Yes, there are approaches that appear to work for some individuals under certain circumstances - for example, an ebook author on Twitter announced his 50,000th sale last week, which is brilliant. But I'm also aware of a maxim in relation to business models: You only sing when you're winning.

Which is a roundabout way of saying I've decided to park some projects in order to focus on what, on the good ship corporate, we used to call The Lead to Cash. And if Sarah's reading this, please forgive me pressing a bruise! However creative we may be, business decisions are always rooted in pragmatism and often open to interpretation - here's a snippet on Radio 4 about Innocent and the investment from Coca Cola, as a case in point.

My thanks to those of you who purchased a copy of my short fiction ebook The Silent Hills.

If you're still thinking about it, here are two reviews to help make up your mind from
Crystal Trent Reviews and writer Rosen Trevithick, who I interviewed recently about her own novel, Straight Out of University. And here's an interview with my lead character, Peter Marlow, on the Musa Publishing blog.

Happy reading and happy writing!

Straight Out of University

It's my great pleasure to welcome a fellow West Country writer, Rosen Trevithick, to my blog. Here, amid a busy schedule for her recently published book, Straight Out of University, I turned the spotlight on her to learn more about her novel, food combining and fly paper.

Can you tell us about your book and the reasons why you wrote it?

Straight Out of University is a contemporary, comedy-romance that explores the culture shock of leaving university and trying to make it in the real world. That's something I've been through myself and I found it riddled with humour, so I let it inspire a book.

It also tells the story of a bisexual woman who is neither confused nor promiscuous, which I felt was long overdue.*

What would you say to your central character?

I'd tell Sophie Sweet that Maltesers and malt vinegar are not compatible ingredients, and probably lend her some of my recipes.

What are your aspirations as a writer?

Mostly, I want to entertain people. If I can make people think about a situation is a new way, then that's a bonus. Also, I'd like my writing to lead to the acquisition of a house on a cliff, with a flower garden and a windy path down to the beach.

Are you a meticulous plotter or a seat-of-the-pants writer?

It depend what I'm writing. I do enjoy making fiction up as I go, but that can leave me snookered without an ending, so I don't risk that strategy for large projects like a novel. Straight Out of University was planned carefully in advance.

Name three books - of any genre - that really inspired you, and why.

Matilda by Roald Dahl, One Day by David Nicholls and A Hole on the World by Sophie Robbins. Regarding the latter, I think it's incredible that an eighteen year old has already written and self-published a novel, let alone a good one.

Name an author you'd like to be trapped in a lift with, and tell us why.

Whichever author is also skilled as a lift repair technician. There's bound to be an indie author out there who knows how to fix a lift. There might even be an eBook on that very subject - indie books are getting pretty diverse.

What have you learned about yourself through the process of writing your book?

If you leave your housework for six weeks, nobody dies, but you do need to invest in some fly paper.

Where can we buy Straight Out of University?

*You implied, at the beginning of this interview, that your novel's take on bisexual women was long overdue - can you elaborate?

There are four predominant bisexual women in fiction:
- The soulless baddie who will seduce everything and everybody in order to spin her evil web.
- The selfish, promiscuous slut who can't decide between men and women, so does both.
- The lesbian in denial.
- The straight woman who dabbles in lesbian behaviour in order to improve TV ratings.
Sophie Sweet is none of those. She's caring, committed, self-aware (after the first couple of chapters) and genuine - like a real woman.

You can also see a trailer for Rosen's book here.

Eight types of client to avoid

A little list to be going on with.

Eight types of client to avoid

1. The ones who don't know what they want and say you'll work it out together as you go along.

2. The ones who need three brand new samples on very specific subjects.

3. The ones who reply, "Rights? What rights?"

4. The ones who, after three emails, still haven't specified the payment on offer.

5. The ones who 'just have a feeling' that your copy needs a little more rewriting, but they can't tell you what changes they're looking for.

6. The ones who believe that you need to give them free copy to use as a way of proving yourself.

7. The ones who change their minds halfway through the assignment and then say, "So that work you did before doesn't count, right?"

8. The ones who suffer a serious bout of amnesia, especially when it comes to pay day.

In which our hero loses himself to find himself.

The 31st of October is said to be the end of the old Celtic year. I treat it that way and always make some time, on the day, to think about those who have recently passed on or who are long since gone. It's contemplative, but not necessarily solemn.

I also do the same with my writing, making a special effort to review my trusty spreadsheet and to decide whether it's really worth keeping a magazine editor in the active section if she hasn't replied for six months.

Sometimes writers can be so busy trying to fit the niche of a client that we start to forget who we are. And while I'm mindful of the wisdom, 'If you only play to your strengths, they're the only ones you'll ever have,' I'm also acutely aware of the need to choose your projects wisely.

Here then are some of my recent endeavours.

Small Books

Discussions have been held about The Wanderer, resulting in a new title and some planned changes to the tex, with the idea of getting it into ebook form by Christmas. The Silent Hills was published by Musa Publishing as an ebook earlier this month and I'm able to check sales and royalties online. Beyond the Horizon, containing one of my short stories, was published by Bamboccioni Books in the summer, so I look forward to seeing how we are faring. And I'm still seeking a publisher for my satirically slim volume, Man Up (How to Be a Modern man through the Wisdom of Ignorance).

Bigger Books

Standpoint and Covenant are in circulation with agents / publishers. I had a recent rejection from an agent, which gave me a good insight into the state of the industry and what might be required to bring one of the novels up to scratch. The agent recommended an independent publisher to get my work on a bookshelf. Meantime, Scars & Stripes is still a work-in-progress and I'm about a third of the way in.

The lost part

I've been living on Twitter @DerekWriteLines and visiting FB as one would an aunt who lives a long distance. It's a bit of a pain, but once you get there, you're glad you bothered even if you do look forward to leaving. I've also read copiously about the secrets of social media, attended two presentation events and fended off attempts to sell me a high-grade website for my business. In short, I've been swimming in a sea of information and coming up with...well, not much really. I understand that there are some who can convert visitors to sales and also that, for a small consideration, I can buy blocks of 1000 Tweet followers or Facebook friends. But seriously, what is the goal? I first made the decision to float free from the good ship corporate because of a burning desire to see my work in print and to live a different sort of lifestyle. That's what mattered and matters still. Sometimes, when I'm up to my ass in alligators, it's easy to forget that.

The found part

I know what I'm not. I'm not a writer of material that lends itself to syndication. The agency that I approached advised me that, "The most exclusive interviews possible with famous actors, musicians and 'celebrities' is what sells best." Now where do I put Louis Walsh's phone number...

I'm also not a passionate writer of sales copy. True, it pays bills and it's just as valid as any other form of writing, but it's just not for me.

I did discover, quite by accident, that I enjoy a research brief - as long as the remit is well-defined.

Bottom line? Life is too short to waste your time pretending to be someone else. Unless you're Ronnie Ancona or Rory Bremner.

If good writing is a gift...

One of the delights of being a writer is feeling part of a creative community. Who better to understand the highs and lows than a fellow writer, especially someone who has earned a living through their craft for some time?

And with Christmas fast approaching (it's only weeks away now, trust me), how about tapping into that level of experience and expertise as the perfect gift for the writer in your life?

So You Want To Be A Freelance Writer One Day Writing Workshop
with bestselling author, journalist and features writer, Deborah Durbin

- Learn how to make the perfect pitch
- Find out who needs freelance writers
- Where to get ideas from
- How to make money from freelance writing
- Plus much more

Saturday 18th February 2012 - 10am - 3pm
The Bristol Folk House, Park Street, Bristol

£49.00 plus free signed copy of Deborah's bestselling book, So You Want To Be a Freelance Writer.

Only 24 places available, so book early. An ideal Christmas present!

Phone Deborah on 01934 528481

Tweet to woo

Tweet to woo

I recently attended an excellent social media presentation by Julian Summerhayes that made me think about Twitter in a new completely new way. Ironically, it wasn't something that Julian said (although, trust me, he said a lot of good stuff); it was a throwaway remark by one of the audience.

Julian talked about new models for doing business and creating a customer base (my words, not his), and about how potential clients were more interested in how you could solve their problems than in who you thought you were.

Then someone at a nearby table said that he used software that identified any Tweet with a particular keyword, where the Tweeter was based within a 20-mile radius of the commenter's office. Personally, I thought that was genius both relevant and local. He also added that, by answering questions and engaging with his potential market over Twitter, he had won new business. This sounded like an approach anyone that any business could use.

And also explained why, within five minutes of me replying flippantly to someone's fish joke (by trying to top it with a better fish joke), I had a follow request from an angling equipment company. It also explained the follow request, later that day, from a sex site – and made me think more carefully about the other jokes I tweet or reply to.

Twitter is a great way to engage with an audience or readership. The brevity of 140 characters requires you to think carefully about what you want to say and who you want to achieve. And, perhaps most importantly, why you want to say anything at all.

The Silent Hills has arrived!

The Silent Hills (ISBN: 978-1-61937-015-9) is out today, brought to you by Musa Publishing.

It's a short fiction ebook about a man who finally finds a reason to stop running from his past, himself and the truth.

A story of responsibilities and consequences, The Silent Hills finds Peter Marlow ensnared in someone else's drama, where the only solution is a permanent one. But is he just being used? And can the ends ever justify the means?

You can read an excerpt here and also buy the ebook for $0.99 in any of the following formats: PDF, ePub, PRC and Mobi.

Please pass on this post and the link.

The Silent Hills is my first venture as a contracted author with Musa and I hope it will be the first of many.

A Conflict? Of interest.

According to Barbara Streisand, people who need people are the luckiest people in the word. Mind you, she also said that love was soft as an easy chair.

As a freelance writer, I know that people – both clients and readers – are the lifeblood of the business. But...I also know that the occasional conflict is inevitable in all walks of life.

So, in the interests of putting an interesting filling in this particular truth sandwich, here are some cautionary tales.

1. The Name Game

When the Little Book of Cynics was published back in 2007, I tried everything I could to get some publicity. This included approach a writing magazine and producing a press release about the journey to publication for a first time co-author. The piece was duly printed with congratulations made to David Thompson. Needless to say, I hadn't been sent a proof copy ahead of publication, so the horse had already bolted, boarded a bus and been granted a new identity. Plus, as the magazine was monthly, it was felt there was no value in issuing a minor correction.

2. The Proof is in the Pudding

Long, long ago (judging by my email archive), I had a publisher lined up for my fantasy novel. As a small, independent, they naturally had a small but dedicated team. What they didn't have was time. After waiting a year for a proof edit, which I required before I was willing to sign a contract, said publisher managed a rush job and processed a 142,000 novel in two weeks. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was unhappy with the end result. Due to this and other issues, we parted on friendly terms.

3. C'est la CV

I had a highly qualified client who wanted his CV tailored for each of the prestigious jobs he applied for. As our working relationship progressed, I developed stock phrases and paragraphs that could be applied or adapted as the need arose. There came a point where he wanted to apply for one particular position and, based on my knowledge of his CV and experience, I questioned whether he was a good fit for the position. As if that wasn't enough of a faux pas, he then challenged me on my use of content from one of his previous job application. I countered that my role was to give him the best application possible, using all the infornation to hand, and that the finished CV was the result of a number of iterations and not merely a quick fix. After further discussion, he paid for services rendered and decided to discontinue our working relationship. I spent a further hour crossreferencing the vacancy requirements with the CV I'd put together, to illustrate why I thought I'd provided a professional service and showing where those all-important chunks of content met the criteria.

4. The Name Game Again

But first, a true story...

When I was a kid, our mum used to call me David - a lot. He was my older brother and I've written and spoken about him elsewhere. Sometimes she'd catch herself part way through the name, realise I was the 'other one' and call me Da...rick. So, somewhere in the depths of my subconscious, there's probably a little sensitivity about my name. Over the years, I've been Del, Derry, Dehr (probably needs an American accent), Delboy (of course), Dilbert and D. They've all been fine.

Another true story...

A few days before my brother's funeral, I met the minister for the first time. His opening line to me was, "Ah, you must be David." To which, I replied, with all the subtlety of a lump hammer, "If you want David then you've left it a bit late." Fast-forward to the service and the padre turns to the coffin, during the committal and says, "And now we say our farewells to Derek..." I resisted the almost overwhelming urge to wave from the front row and call out, "Hello? I'm still here," out of a sense of protocol. After all, there were others present who might not have seen the joke.

Now, back to the matter in hand...

Recently, I wrote a voluntary feature for a magazine, about a writer friend of mine, who passed away earlier this year. His partner was generous enough to talk to me at an incredibly difficult time for her, and provided both personal details and a photograph for the feature.

I saw a draft version of the piece, but not the print version. So it was a tad disappointing, while I did see my name at the top of the magazine page, to find Dennis thanked at the bottom. I did not handle the matter well and remonstrated in no uncertain terms to the editor, who countered with equal bluntness. Although I think I still think it was an entirely unnecessary foul-up, I can't fault his response.

Conflict is a fact of life, but how we deal with it is a matter of character. In my experience as a writer, conflicts usually arise because of differing priorities. However big the to do' list, there can only be one number one.

The lessons to be learned the above are:

1. Always ask to see a print ready version of your work (with thanks to Villayat SnowMoonWolf Sunkmanitu) as part of your standard terms.

2. Remember that it's rarely personal.

3. Remember that you don't have to be best buddies with people in order to do business with them, but you do have to be professional.

4. Remember that the customer is always right – even when they're not!

And to help sing us out, here is an insightful quote that's attributed to Bill Cosby:

I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.

So, how do you handle work conflicts and how might you have handled any of the above situations?