Monday, 31 October 2011

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.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

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

Saturday, 22 October 2011

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.

Friday, 14 October 2011

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.

Monday, 10 October 2011

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?

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Edit where Edit's Due


I've been swapping the odd line with fellow Musa author Wendy Soliman about the joys - or otherwise - of editing. I'm pleased to say that after maybe the fourth draft, I remove the version number from the title and stick to 'edit' or 'edit A' as a naming convention. It's kinder that way and stops me from fretting.

Whether it's contemporary fiction such as Wendy's or thrillers like mine, every author, at some point, throws up their hands in despair and asks, 'When will it end?' I have to confess now that as a writers' meeting I once declared that I only edited to the point where I could get away with it.

The truth though is that it's only over when the agent or editor says so (whether it's indicated by their acceptance of your work or by an email with a smiley face). There are few literary crimes greater than disappointing your readers with a floppy plot, distant characters, lacklustre dialogue or shabby story. Hopefully they'll have invested their money to read your work and if not that then they have certainly invested their time.

With every edit, something more subtle is revealed, just as other material is removed. It's archaeology for manuscripts. And what you're left with, once you finally get there, is something that makes all the hours, all the different approaches and all the hair-pulling session worth it. At least, I hope that's the case!
I know, you're wondering about the image? It's a drain pipe and, as you can clearly see, it's above the water line. Consequently, although it looked fit for purpose to the eye, it doesn't do the job once the rain comes down. And just to reassure you, that's mud.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

In praise of... Musa Publishing



My short fiction work, The Silent Hills, is contracted to Musa Publishing and the whole process has been a revelation.

Within days, they'd sent me a contract, held a skype call to introduce me to the team, discussed cover ideas with me (and assigned an artist) and - be still my beating heart - gone through my text with a fine tooth comb and made comments and recommendations for changes.

Compare that to another, nameless publisher, who took 1 year, 3 months and 16 days just to email me a generic rejection. (Boo, hiss and so forth.)

Musa is a new and vibrant publisher, with a wide range of genres and authors - many of whom have been published elsewhere in print and electronically.

The Silent Hills comes out as an ebook on October 14th, for $0.99. If you have enjoyed reading these blog posts, why not treat yourself to one of my stories.
Here's a tiny url link http://tinyurl.com/6bro36q

In the meantime, here are the Musa team, in their own words:

Editorial Director - Celina Summers
Editorial Director Celina Summers has been involved in e-publishing as an author, editor, review coordinator, senior editor, and managing editor for over a decade. She studied theater and political science at college in Tennessee, including master class studies in playwriting with famed dramaturge Howard Stein. First published in high school and now the award-winning author of sixteen novellas and novels, she left her career in professional theatre to return to her first love, writing and publishing, in 2000. As the driving force behind Aurora Regency, she produced over forty historical novels in the year before coming to launch Musa Publishing.

Financial Director - Kerry Mand
Kerry Mand comes to Musa with eight years of business ownership/management. As the Office Manager/Owner for those companies, she was responsible for Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, and payroll for employees. She recently worked for another publisher as the office manager before coming to Musa Publishing. Kerry is thrilled to be part of Musa from the beginning and cannot wait to see where it takes us in the future!

Promotions Director - Elspeth McClanahan
Elspeth comes to Musa Publishing after working as Promotions Director for another publisher. Before entering the publishing world, she spent many years promoting and assisting in the promotion of the theatres she has worked for and the mothers groups she belongs to. Her promotional experience includes, but is not limited to, review coordinator, conference representative, conference speaker, contest judge, special guest speaker, “After the Show” host, and Promotions Director. As an author writing under a pseudonym, she has published two novels and one novella.

Art Director - Kelly Shorten
Kelly Shorten has over fifteen years of Web/Graphic Design experience under her belt. Besides what she does for Musa, she also works on independent contracts working with businesses for their promotional items. She has been designing covers and marketing books for authors for over three years. Kelly was the Art Director for a publishing company for over a year.

Director of Editorial Production - Coreen Montagna
She has a doctorate in Pharmacy, but is an artist at heart. Even while working on her degree from the University at Buffalo, she took as many art classes as she could on the side: ceramics, photography, art history. Cory has been a voracious reader since elementary school and was heartbroken when she discovered that there are people who never read books if it isn’t required for work or school. As Musa's Director of Editorial Production, Cory combines her love of art and words in a wonderfully unexpected way. Her prior experience includes freelance work as a graphic designer and typesetter, as well as working with another publishing house as their lead copy editor and book designer. At Musa, Cory is the Head Copy Editor and is responsible for the interior book layout and formatting as well as eBook production.