8 Books For Your Bookshelf

As a writer I am sure I am not alone in spending too much time procrastinating.Pile of books from pixabay.com There always seem to be distractions. Some are easy to ignore; others less so. One problem is that we feel we need to improve our craft through learning and reading about writing rather than just getting on with the writing and learning as we go.

Having said that I am now going to contradict myself and say that we c an all learn from others. After all, why do we need to reinvent the wheel? If others have been there, done that, we can learn from them. And every writer has books about writing on their shelf.

Here are some of mine (in no particular order):

How to Write a Blockbuster by Helen Corner & Lee Weatherly

Authored jointly by a literary consultant/agent, and a highly successful published author, it offers not simply a guide to writing a novel, but an introduction to writing a plot-based, action-focused blockbuster.

It was the first ‘how to write a novel’ book I bought and I still refer to it ten years later.

Troublesome Words by Bill Bryson

A clear, concise and entertaining guide to English usage and spelling from one of our favourite authors. What more could you want?

The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman

The ultimate guide to staying out of the rejection pile, written by a literary agent. Probably the best book of its type. Nuff said.

Novel Writing: 16 Steps to Success by Evan Marshall

Thinking of writing a novel? Read this book first. It provides a methodical, easy to follow and effective approach to planning, plotting, writing and finishing a successful novel.

The Craft of Writing Articles by Gordon Wells

More than 15 years old this book set me on the way to writing articles. Although a little dated much of the content is still relevant today.

More about How to Write a Mi££ion: The Essential Guide to Becoming a Successful Author by Jack Bickham, Kit Reed and Monica Wood

Almost 20 years old but worth its weight in gold. This book takes you through all the elements of writing a novel, such as conflict, action and suspense, theme and strategy, scene and structure, in an easy to follow manner.

The Complete Handbook of Novel writing by Writer’s Digest

An invaluable addition to the bookshelf. With contributions and advice form more than 70 successful authors.

Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing by Don George

Written by a top travel writer this book is packed with insider tips and writing examples. If you want to try your hand at writing travel articles it’s the book for you.

So, there you have it. Not comprehensive by any means but I challenge any aspiring writer not to find something of great help in that list.


Ten Great Writing Advice Websites and Blogs

Okay, I admit it, this is a lazy post but it contains a huge amount of useful information for writers so I won’t apologise.I am a writer

Without further ado and in no particular order I present ten of my favourite writing websites/blogs:

1. Daily Writing Tips

Best recent post: 34 writing tips that will make you a better writer

2. Writers In The Storm

Best recent post: The difference between mistakes and failure

3. The Procastiwriter

Best recent post: Editing your novel with fresh eyes

4. Jane Friedman

Best recent post: Balancing dialogue and description

5. Make Money Writing

Best recent post: Research tips for writers

6. The Renegade Writer

Best recent post: Think there’s no one you can write for?

7. The Write Life

Best recent post: How to be a successful writer

8. The Creative Penn

Best recent post: How to write more and create a daily writing habit

9. Make A Living Writing

Best recent post: Petrified to interview experts? Here’s how to find your nerve

10. Writers and Artists

Best recent post: FAQs for writers

Pitching Articles that Sell

To continue the series of posts on writing magazine articles, following on from Writing Magazine Articles – The Easier Way to Get Published and Case Studies of Successful Magazine Articles, this week I’m discussing how to pitch article ideas to editors.

Why Pitch an Idea?

You’ve done your homework on prospective magazines and you’ve got an idea for an article that might fit with their audience. What next? You may think you should simply write the article and wing it off to the editor. And sometimes this may work (see Case Studies above) but if it doesn’t, and the article is rejected, what have you learned?

In most cases you will not be told why it has been rejected. It could be for any of these reasons:

  • They have recently published an article on the same subject
  • They already have a similar article lined up
  • They don’t like your writing
  • Your writing style doesn’t suit the magazine
  • You haven’t met their requirements (too long or too short)

What then? You could try and revamp the article for another magazine but you might have the same result.

It is much better to at least know your subject idea is a good one before you write the article and that is where pitching comes in.

Instead of writing the article, you send the editor a letter outlining the idea and seeking approval to send the full article. Doing this way means you avoid the first two reasons for rejection in the above list because you will be told if either apply. If the editor likes your idea you will likely be asked to submit the full article. This still won’t guarantee it will be accepted but you have increased the odds.

Anatomy of a Pitch

Your first paragraph should give the editor a reason to accept the article. If you’ve done your homework you will have come up with an idea (maybe based around an upcoming anniversary or event) the editor won’t be able to resist.

In the next paragraph outline how you will treat the subject, how many words you propose, and say if you have photographs to accompany the article. Supplying the latter is often a good selling point. (But they must be high resolution and sharp.)

Include the opening paragraph of the article as a teaser.

Finally, answer the ‘why you?’ question. Persuade the editor why you are the best person to write on this subject.

Example of a Pitch (to a Travel magazine)

E-mail subject line: 200 years of Arctic cruising

Dear Editor (find out and use the editor’s name)

Next year marks the 200th anniversary of the first tourist cruise to the Arctic. Would your readers be interested in an article, titled Kingdom of the Bear, outlining the history of Arctic cruising and describing a recent adventure I undertook around Norway’s Svalbard Archipelago? I propose a length of 2000 words and can provide a number of high resolution digital images.

This is the opening paragraph:

We lined the decks enthralled as the mother polar bear guided her two cubs across the ice floe. Then she slowed and stopped, head in the air, cubs freezing behind her. ‘Standing still hunting,’ Dr Ian Stirling informed us. ‘She smells a seal. Wait.’ Suddenly, in a blur of movement, she reared up, punched mighty paws through the ice, stuck in her snout and dragged out a wriggling baby seal. Lunch successfully secured.

I have travelled to more than 50 countries, on six continents, and been published in Wanderlust, Travel Africa and National Geographic*. Examples of my work can be found on my website: http://www.brillianttravelwriter.com.

May I send you the full article? (Always ask this – if you don’t ask, you don’t get.)

Best regards

Brilliant Travel Writer

* I wish!

Okay, it may not be the best pitch in the world but you get the idea. You’re selling the idea and if you’re lucky your pitch will hit the editors desk at exactly the right time and you will be asked to send in the full article. All you have to do then is write the best and most polished article you can and you have made a sale.

Next time I will discuss how anniversaries can be a great way to help sell an article.

Case Studies of Successful Magazine Articles

In my last post, Writing Magazine Articles – The Easier Way to Get Published, I promised you two case studies of successful magazine articles. Apologies for the delay but I’ve only just returned from two weeks exploring Austria and Slovenia (neat places) in extreme temperatures, but here they are:

Case Study 1 – Big Fish for Adventure Travel Magazine

This was the first article I ever submitted and it has a story all of its own. Big Fish

Whilst living in Uganda I took a break and flew down to Namibia, in southwest Africa. One of the highlights of my trip was a multi-day hike through the beautiful Fish River Canyon. When I returned to the UK I thought a write-up of my adventure might be of interest to a walking magazine.

Following a bit of research I discovered Adventure Travel magazine, a monthly publication that featured adventurous multi-day hikes. And, even better, they produced submission guidelines for would-be contributors spelling out exactly what their requirements were.

Full of excitement I wrote the article and posted it off via recorded delivery as I also sent a number of transparencies to accompany the words.

Disappointment turned to joy

Because I had sent the package via recorded delivery I could track its journey on the Post Office website. Unfortunately, even after a few weeks, it didn’t show up as having been delivered. Gutted that I had lost my transparencies (the originals) I made a claim to the Post Office for my lost package and duly received £10 compensation.

Imagine my surprise when seven months later (and three days before my wedding) I suddenly received an e-mail from Adventure Travel saying they were intending to publish my article the following month and checking the return address for the transparencies.

Not only had the package not been lost but I had achieved publication with my very first submission.

Why was the submission successful?

Two reasons: luck and meeting the submission requirements.

Luck because it was the right subject at the right time – they hadn’t already featured that hike.

I can’t stress how important it is to give editors exactly what they ask for. In this case the guidelines asked for an article of X words, a Let’s Go section of X words outlining how someone else could do the hike, a hand-drawn map of the route and a number of photographs. They also suggested the style of article.

Apart from changing the title to Big Fish (I preferred my original title, Baboons at 12 O’clock) and a few words here and there the article was printed largely as I wrote it.

Case Study 2 – Challenging Times for Women in Canterbury for Latitude Magazine

The path to publication for this article was somewhat different. I had moved to New Zealand and was looking for markets for travel articles. I found Latitude, a lifestyle magazine covering the Canterbury region, which featured a travel article in each issue.

Although perusal of a few issues showed that the same person contributed most of the travel pieces I thought it worth a shot. I e-mailed the editor and asked if they accepted freelance contributions and, crucially, I attached a piece I had written about a trip to the Arctic.

The editor wrote back saying their travel section was covered but she liked my writing and asked if I could write a feature on a local event. Too right I could. I had me a commission!

The event was an annual multi-disciplinary (running, rafting, cycling) team competition for women only, which that year was due to be held in Canterbury for the first time.

Challenging time for me

The brief from the editor was an article of 1200 words covering the history of the event and interviews with the organiser and some of the previous participants. Aargh! I had never interviewed anyone before so this presented a challenge.

Fortunately, a quick internet search provided me with the organiser’s name and contact details. I e-mailed him and he was more than happy to talk about the event. He wasn’t local so it would have to be by phone. Nervous does not describe my feelings. However, I did my homework, typed up a series of questions and called him up.

It couldn’t have gone better. He was charming and helpful and gave me some great quotes. He also gave me the contact details of one of the previous event’s winners. She was local so I was able to meet her in person. And it snowballed from there. Having interviewed the professionals I needed to speak with two ‘ordinary’ participants to provide a balance and the winner gave me two names – a first-timer and the oldest entrant (67).

I ended up conducting two telephone and two face-to-face interviews and it was nowhere near as scary as I first thought. People love to talk about things they are enthusiastic about. I just prompted them and off they went.

Integrating the juicy quotes into the article and keeping it to 1200 words was surprisingly easy and off it went with a series of digital photographs provided by the organiser.

Why was the submission successful?

Simple – I met the brief.

The article was published exactly as I wrote it with no changes, not even to the title. When the editor says, “I love what you have done with this piece . . . I think you have done a wonderful job”, you know you have nailed it.


There is more than one route to a successful article. In my next post I’ll discuss pitching – another way to get a commission.

Links to the articles featured above, Big Fish and Challenging Times for Women in Canterbury, can be found on this webpage.

7 Ways for Writers to Overcome Rejection

“This book fills a much-needed gap.” Moses Hadas.

“Thank you for sending me a copy of your book. I’ll waste no time reading it.” Moses Hadas

Addo 183It’s my first post and I’m tackling rejection. Is this a good idea? Well, the one thing all writers have in common is rejection. Not one writer in the history of the written word has had their every word universally accepted.

Unfortunately, not all rejection comes with the wit of the examples above. Most will be in the form of a standard non-personalised letter/e-mail or, worse, no reply at all.

Dealing with rejection is one of the most important aspects of being a writer. It hurts. But it cannot be ignored; it must be faced. Here are seven ways to beat it:

1. Celebrate

Now you’re thinking I’m one chapter short of the full novel, but bear with me. If your book or article has been rejected you’ve done something great – you’ve put it out there for scrutiny. Most people don’t.

If I had a pound for every time someone told me they could write a book I would be as rich as Bill Gates (well, not quite, but you get the picture – it happens a lot). But how many of those people actually write the book? Very few.

I have even read of cases of writers finishing book after book but never sending them off. Their fear of rejection outweighs their desire for publication. Celebrate, you’ve made a brave step.

2. Learn from it

Review what you sent.

If it was a book, can the cover letter be tweaked to make your pitch more compelling? Does your synopsis sizzle? Do the opening chapters grab the reader and pull them in?

If it was an article, did it meet the exact requirements of the targeted publication? Many submissions are too long or too short or written in first person when the usual style is third. Give them what they want.

3. Join a writing community

Family and friends can be useful sounding boards/ readers for your work but the danger is they will be too nice. Join a writing community and you will benefit from tough love. Critiques from strangers mean more because they are your potential readers post-publication. One of the best is Litopia.

4. Take a break

Leave your writing and get away for a weekend or a week. Go on Skyscanner select some dates and your local airport and type anywhere in the destination box. See a country you fancy? Go and enjoy.

5. Read inspirational books

Combine this with the last one and take it with you. I recommend:

  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King – useful writing advice and a great story from the best-selling author
  • Taking On the World by Ellen MacArthur – how Ellen overcame all obstacles to become the youngest person to sail single-handedly around the globe
  • Yes Man by Danny Wallace – the hilarious story of what happens when Danny decides to say yes to everything

6. Take succour from successful rejected authors

Many famous authors suffered rejection before they hit the big time:

  • Ruth Rendell, the Queen of crime-writing, wrote seven books before being published
  • JK Rowling had her first Harry Potter book rejected by twelve publishers before it found a home
  • The San Francisco Examiner wrote the following to Rudyard Kipling: “I’m sorry, Mr Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”

7. Write again

Write another book, write a dozen articles, and send them out into the world.

Remember, all you need is one yes to kick-start your writing career.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Beckett