Sunday, 26 June 2016

A bad business, but enough talk of me.

Every business needs solid foundations.
I try to do many things with this blog, but somewhere in the top three objectives is being honest. This post was going to be about the fallout between me and a client. It is still about that, in a roundabout sort of way, but not the name and shame mud-slinging extravaganza I thought about writing (I rarely act on my immediate thoughts, which is a good thing). So if you're looking for drama, sorry about that.

Most freelancers I know have had an experience of working for a client where at least one of the wheels comes off. The timescale changes overnight; or what you both agreed was proofreading turns out to be a hidden expectation of editing for the same price; or four pages and a bit becomes seven, which blows your costings out of the water; or the client doesn't quite know exactly what they want and you find yourself doing the free consultancy dance, while swearing under your breath - or not, and all the while you're working on trust. Coins in the USA state 'In God We Trust' but that's no way to run a business.   

In this tale of whoa (that might not translate well for the Brits) I doubt there was any malice aforethought, just a set of miscommunications that could double as dominoes.

To begin with, the client hadn't scoped the job and asked me to do it. Well, I say 'to begin with' but that was after several emails back and forth to agree what services and to make sure we had a joint understanding. (It later transpired that we hadn't, but neither of us knew that at the time.)

Logically, I needed to scope the job - at the client's request, remember - in order to price up the entire job. However, that's a faulty business logic. What I should have done is invoice her separately for the scoping work. As the messages had flowed thick and fast I assumed the same would be true for payment of the scoping. And here's where the wheels came off and the go-kart of a project (figuratively, you understand, although a ho-kart project would have been awesome), and it scraped along until it ground to a halt.

My client silence...only for a handful of days but out of character when compared with the previous exchanges. And, of course, I'd now delivered something in expectation of payment for that and being assigned the full job. 

By day four I taken agin them and fired off a blistering 'Where the hell are you?' message, and, more importantly, 'Where's my payment?' 

A free humbug to anyone who can guess where this is going...

When the client resurfaced they were shocked at my tone because none of the other writers they'd remained in contact with for the same job had responded in that way. In addition, they didn't think what I'd provided was fit for purpose - now you tell me! - and they'd had some private issues that prevented them getting back to me for four days.

In the largely pointless aftermath of this wholly unnecessary soap opera episode, I made the following observations:

1. My bad. Quite simply, commencing work on anything for a new client without clear agreement on scope and payment is utter folly. I've rarely used a contract, unless it's to pre-book blocks of time (when I obviously won't be working for anybody else), and I don't always request a deposit. Mostly, that works pretty well.
2. The clues were there. A lack of clarity after 20 messages back and forth is a good indication that a phone call would be better, or a contract, or even a stuttery chat over Skype. Also, the discovery - at a late stage - that the client was still in touch with other writers about the same job shows we each had a very different take on the working relationship.
3. There are few business bargains. I was drawn to this job by what I perceived to be some quick money. In the end, I spent far too long on messages back and forth, and gave a free hour of consultancy, and ended up with zip.

There was no happy outcome for either of us. I wouldn't have been happy to commit more time without payment upfront and the client wasn't happy with what they'd received so far. 

Result: stalemate. And when that happens you need to take the pieces off the board. 

Thursday, 16 June 2016

A Vote of Confidence for Chloe Banks

Winning prizes is something that many writers dream about. We can all imagine the excitement of making our Man Booker acceptance speech, or buying the perfect country cottage with our winnings. For most of us, the reality is smaller. We might win a small cash prize in a charity competition, or earn publication in a niche magazine. Winning something, however small, always gives us a boost, but it’s not just about coming out on top. Sometimes, even being shortlisted for something is all the inspiration we need.

There is something special about seeing your work on a shortlist. I think it brings out the competitor lurking deep within every writer. There is the satisfaction of knowing that, whatever the final outcome, your writing was one of the best pieces under consideration. There are the weeks or months of being able to tell people that you are “currently shortlisted in...” (before potentially having to admit you didn’t win after all). And there is the extra desire to win that comes from knowing you are within touching distance.

Since I started writing nearly a decade ago, I have entered 60 competitions – mostly short stories. I have achieved something in 30 of those competitions, but in only a handful was I the outright winner. Many of them did not bring prizes to my door but instead gave me the satisfaction of knowing that I’d been shortlisted – that I was there or thereabouts. I learned more from those competitions – what I’d done right and what had stopped me being a winner – than any of the ones I won. Being shortlisted is the writing equivalent of those steel bands who line the route of the London Marathon: keep going, you’re doing OK, you can do this. Try again.

The first competition I ever entered was the result of a friend daring me to write something for an undergraduate novel-writing prize. I was doing a science degree at the time but I managed to knock out a first draft and found myself on the shortlist. I can still remember the thrill I felt when I got the letter telling me the news. I didn’t win – I certainly didn’t deserve to – but making that shortlist set me on a path. Now, nine years later, I have another novel on another shortlist.

When I read through the shortlist for the People’s Book Prize my heart sank. There is at least one famous name on there, along with books which have already received national coverage or won other awards. What was my book – The Art of Letting Go – doing there among them? But then I realised something: every place on a shortlist is equal. In an award voted for entirely by the public, a quiet book by an unknown author may not have a head-start, but it  does start with the same opportunity as all the others. The competitor in me wants to win; the writer in me wants to know that people thought enough of me and my work to bother voting.

When I stand on stage with the television cameras rolling, and listen to the result of the People’s Book Prize being read out, I would love to hear my name. There will be eleven other authors there who also want to hear their names. Whichever of us wins, the experience won’t be a waste. To be a shortlisted author has given me the motivation and encouragement to press on with my next novel. And, in my experience, inspiration is one of the best prizes you can be given.

To vote for my novel, The Art of Letting Go, in the People’s Book Prize you can go to Your votes would mean an awful lot to me. Voting closes on 10th July ahead of the award ceremony on 12th July.

Chloe Banks lives in a quiet corner of Devon with her husband, two young boys and an overactive imagination. Her debut novel, The Art of Letting Go, briefly hit the Kindle Top 20 list but spends most of its life hanging around, hoping to get noticed. When not trying to get toddlers or words to behave themselves Chloe enjoys wandering the moors, baking puddings and eating chocolate.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Standpoint - now that's what I call advertising!

Of course you can buy lots of other things for the same price - although not in pound shops. You could buy chocolate (and lord knows I've roadtested that idea), but it'll make you fat - or hungry. You could buy a proportion of a coffee from a high street chain, and share it with a stranger. Or not. You could buy a newspaper and depress yourself to the point where you never want to leave your home again. You could pile up 99 pennies and throw them in the air while listening to Nena's Ninety-nine red balloons, but they'll hurt when they come back down again.

Or you could just chance 99p on a standalone, honest to goodness British thriller (with a nod to Raymond Chandler, Victor Canning, Reginald Hill, Harlan Coben, John le Carre, and Len Deighton). 

If you enjoy intrigue, action, sardonic humour and some heartfelt swearing, this could be the perfect gift for you or someone you love. Or someone you think deserves a good read but whom you value at less than a £1 outlay.

Thomas Bladen has been living a double life for two years. True, he's a government photographer. But he works in the Surveillance Support Unit, a shadowy department that loans officers to law enforcement, intelligence and other organisations in need of evidence gathering and discreet document deliveries.

He has his life in neat little compartments: job, Miranda and her family (a story in itself), and the family he left back in Yorkshire. One day on surveillance at Harwich Port changes everything. With an eye for the details other people miss, and a talent for finding trouble, soon his work and his private life are on a collision course.

Can one good man hold the line without crossing it?

Standpoint - the first book in the Spy Chaser series, published by Joffe Books. Come and see where it all began. 

Any questions?