How to be a Hat Stand

Hats Entertainment
Freelance writing means different things to different people. But irrespective of whether you're a blogger, a columnist, a copywriter, a feature writer or a ghostwriter, you will need to wear many hats if you want to thrive in business.

Join me as we browse some the multiplicity of metaphorical millinery and indulge in a little hatter chatter.

Clients (I prefer the term to customers - your choice may vary) can come to you with a variety of needs and words may be the least of them. 

They may have a clear brief with a word count and a deadline, with your job to fill in the blanks with groovy content.* On the face of it this is a dream job, but there may be little scope for creative interpretation or adding value in other ways. Let's call this one being a straightforward content provider.

Other clients have a general idea of what they think they want, sort of, and an approximate sense of what the content is for. At first glance, your role seems to be that of a 'writing psychic', but put your crystal ball away and try asking specific questions to clarify what the objectives are and why. There is a reason why the client wants to spend good money on content and part of your role is to establish how they plan to get value from it.

Next we have those clients whose project has developed from a personal experience or need. In many ways these are some my favourite clients because they are already emotionally invested in the project, so there's a commitment to seeing it thrive. However, the flip side of that close connection is that any changes or creative input need to be handled sensitively. It's more than just a job for them - it's the fulfilment of a vision. Your role is part writer and part birthing partner. Remember to breathe!

Some clients do not enjoy working collaboratively, and some writers do not enjoy working any other way. The client rightly makes the final decisions because they pay the bill, but some have already decided that there will only be two hats - master and servant. The pay may be better or decidedly worse, but either way the working conditions will leave much to be desired. Micromanaging, frequent last minute changes, expecting you to put their project above everything else are all signs that your client sees you as an employee at best
On the face of it, choosing clients who don't know what they want, or who want the world, or who want you to be their bestest friend, might seem like a nightmare scenario. However, from a business perspective, all of the above give you the opportunity to add value, whether by providing additional paid services, or by offering some services free - for a limited time - in order to build a establish a long-term working relationship.

These additional services can include: concept development, rewriting and copy editing existing material, proofreading, project management, and proposing new projects.

And some of those hats we spoke of earlier?

Strategist, counsellor, ideas generator and sounding board, oracle, bullshit detector, inquiry agent, researcher, negotiator, reality check and marketeer. 

If all of that is within your repertoire, hats off to you!

* I have set myself the goal of championing groovy in common parlance in 2016.

Ta Da List!

Even though the year has barely started and my previous post is already a distant memory some writers have been in touch about how they want to approach 2016 differently. 

Kath Morgan is opted for the challenge of 52 Artist Dates this year. Others have talked in general terms about being more focused, or committing to deadlines.

Here's a mini list to get you started.

In 2016 I will / might / hope to....

- Write something EVERY day. 
- Treat writing time as special and not something I cram in between TV and biscuits (and yes, of course I mean me!).
- Experiment with my writing, trying new genres and new types of writing.
- Seek out objective feedback so I can develop as a writer.
- Work on my synopsis / pitch / introductory letter. Each one is as essential as a good manuscript.
- Get involved in the writing community, whether it be forums, a blog, a writers' group or sharing feedback.
- Enjoy my successes. I earned 'em!

In case you haven't already heard me whooping from the rooftops, my three thrillers (Standpoint, Line of Sight, and Cause & Effect) have been released as an ebook anthology, Spy Chaser. A paperback anthology will be available later this year.

Read the Thomas Bladen story so far, cover to cover.
"Classic spy novels with a distinctly British twist."

Spy Chaser is published by Joffe Books.

Authors & Books - Cynthia Vespia

Musa Publishing, which receded into the mists last year, was more than just a publishing house. It was a gathering place for a range of authors, some previously published and others easing their way through that magical doorway for the first time. I also found it a wonderful opportunity to meet writers of other genres and discover, to my great delight, that we weren't so very different in many ways.  

But I have to say, I haven't encountered many authors who have also been a model, a trained mixologist (yes, of course I had to look it up!), a licensed private security guard, and an award-winning video editor. It's a wonder Cynthia found any time for writing!

Q1.      When did the writing bug first bite you?

I had the bug early on. I used to read a lot so I always liked the escape that stories brought me. It wasn’t until high school that I got really interested in becoming a writer. It was after reading Dean Koontz novel Intensity that I decided I wanted to be an author. Years later I actually got Dean to sign that book for me!

Q2.      You've had a varied and interesting past. Are there any experiences you draw upon in your writing?

I draw from all experiences in one way or another. That’s what writing is…experiences. Specifically, I used my time as a fitness competitor for the training scenes in Demon Hunter and I drew upon my experience as a security guard for Lucky Sevens.

Q3.      Given your work as a graphic designer and video editor, do you always have a cinematic approach to your books and stories?

I do but it’s more from watching a lot of movie and TV! I mean who among us writers has never visualised their characters as a specific actor, or wondered what their story might look like on the big screen?

Q4.      What are your creative goals in 2016?

Creatively I have quite a few series to either finish or continue writing. Demon Huntress will conclude, I’ve gotten a few ideas to expand my novel Lucky Sevens into a trilogy, and I’m working on 2 brand new series that I will be shopping to publishing houses and agents.

Q5.      Tell us about your latest book and how it came to be written.

Well, speaking of new series I just finished writing the first in a 7 part dystopian thriller. Without giving too much away I’ll just tell you it is a bit of Game of Thrones meets The Walking Dead! It’s about the survivors of World War III. I got the idea for it from watching (not reading) Divergent. I’ve never read the books so I have no criticism but the movie was lacking for me so much so that I wanted to make a better one…there goes that cinematic approach again!

I also just finished the second in the Demon Huntress series which is available now on Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble. The idea for the Huntress came from a fan at one of the conventions I attended. She said “it would be cool if the hunter was a vampire.” So I took that suggestion and ran with it! Which is why Khalen struggles so much in the Huntress series.

Q6.      How do you handle some of the common challenges writers face?

I love everything about the writing process. And after finishing my new novel I’m excited and passionate about it again. What I struggle with, as most writers probably do, is in the marketing. Writing is a business and the marketplace is so saturated now with self-published novels that it is growing more and more difficult to stand out from the pack. You may have written a great book but if no one can find it then that’s where things get tough. And, unfortunately, it has become more of a popularity contest than it is about the writing. How many Facebook likes can you get, or Twitter followers? That becomes word of mouth for a novel but it doesn’t necessarily mean the novel is any good. I don’t know about you but I don’t have all day to be on social media…I’d rather be writing!

Q7.      Where can we find your books?

All of my books are across multiple digital platforms. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Lulu, and my own website where you can also find out more about my graphic design and video services. I do custom cover design and book trailers at an affordable cost.

Q8.      Which authors and books continue to inspire you?

Dean Koontz will always be my first love, I just really enjoy his writing style. I’m also a fan of Mary Higgins Clark which is why I’ve somewhat left the fantasy genre behind and I’m leaning towards more suspense/thrillers. But I’m also always on the lookout for new authors as well.

2016 - A New Manifesto

Well, here we are - a whole year to play with and a tantalisingly empty writer's diary for me to fill up with my scribblings. If you read my end-of-year post for 2015 you'll know I've been thinking about what helps or hinders writers getting their work started, developed, completed and read.

The Guardian recently ran a brilliant piece that addressed the homogenous state of UK publishing - - and many of the contributors had suggestions for bringing about change.

However you define yourself as a writer (and I include gender, ethnicity, culture, religion - and no religion, class and politics in the mix), I think it's a safe bet that most of us have felt excluded from the publishing party at some point.

Is there an exclusive club in the literary world for those who have the right background, the right education, the right connections and the right understanding? If so, I don't think it's a deliberate conspiracy (which makes it no less unjust). Most people, unless inspired, challenged or in some other way liberated, like sameness. Maybe it's a tribal mentality thing; a desire to read / hear a voice similar to our own, or at least one that we feel speaks to us.

I once approached a newspaper with a proposal for a column written from the perspective of an aspiring (and hopefully developing) writer, taking the reader from first draft all the way through to publication and beyond. It was rejected with the reply that 'they preferred to approach their own people for that sort of thing'. More recently, I wrote a piece for a literary magazine which, I was told, was suitable, edited down, as an unpaid letter, but unsuitable as a paid article. Apparently it just didn't feel right. Now, in fairness to both parties, my writing is the product of my experiences and education, and limited by them, so I am probably not their sort of person. As I've said in the past, not everyone gets to go to the prom.

I think what matters - now, more than ever - is that we writers each find our own, authentic voice. That also means being willing to work at our craft and to commit to the time, effort, honesty and pain (yes, really!) that appears to be necessary to deliver something real and vital on the page.

We need to know who we are in order to understand what our work is about. Not just for the pitching and the introductory letter, important as they are, but also so that we see our work clearly.

Last month I was on a Skype call with Thorn Sully, Editor-in-Chief of A Word with You Press. We decided to each read out an excerpt from our novels - Almost Avalon, in Thorn's case, and my unpublished novel, Scars & Stripes. I usually pitch S&S as a transatlantic comedy drama, or lad-lit, but - based upon a dramatic scene - Thorn suggested I'd actually written literary fiction. A light glowed dimly in the recesses of my mind. Maybe I was seeing the book all wrong. Someone else had once insisted that, for a comedy, there were some surprisingly dark, psychological episodes. At the very least it's a different filter to look through when I next start refining / submitting / pitching it.

All of which brings me to the new year manifesto - and thanks for reading this far down the page.

I was lucky last year - very lucky. And I know what it felt like to have my nose pressed against the glass for so long. Sore, for one thing.

In light of all that, I would like to participate a little more in the writing community.

This is my charter for 2016.

1. I will read / re-read a stack of books and ensure that I write a review for them afterwards. My list, in no particular order, starts with: The Faery Gates of Avalon - Gareth Knight, The Maltese Falcon - Dashiell Hammett, The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon - Richard Zimler, The Mabinogion, Doubting Abbey - Samantha Tonge, The Art of Letting Go - Chloe Banks, Narrow Dog to Carcassonne and Narrow Dog to Indian River - Terry Darlington, The Chapel in the Woods - Susan Louineau, and On Writing - Stephen King.

2. I am open to blog post swaps with any other author who is comfortable hosting a piece that relates to my thrillers. If you are interested, in the first instance, send me a direct message on Twitter - @DerekWriteLines - so we can see if our blogs are compatible. Different genres are fine.
3. I am offering an hour a week if I can help other writers. I don't have a magic wand or secret access to movers and shakers. I have, however, tried lots of different types of writing and I've made lots of mistakes! In practice, an hour is long enough to answer a few questions, read a synopsis, give input to ideas or offer some suggestions if you're stuck. Again, contact me on Twitter by direct message - @DerekWriteLines.

You can find links to these and my other books here: