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

How to Write About Anniversaries

Sorry for the delay since my last post. No good excuse but I have been spending a lot of time researching self-publishing, more on which in the future.Anniversary picture

I promised you a few words on writing about anniversaries so here goes. Peruse any newspaper or magazine and you will find numerous examples of articles based around a current anniversary. This is no coincidence. People like to read about current issues. The writers of those articles were not lucky with their article pitches – they thought ahead.

Planning an Anniversary Article

If you want to write about anniversaries you have to be forward thinking. For any article based around Christmas you should probably submit 9-12 months ahead to magazines. For any other subject I would allow a minimum of six months, but preferably more. (Newspapers require less notice but are far more difficult to break into.)


Use the internet to search ahead for memorable anniversaries. Don’t just look for the obvious ones. It could be the death of a famous person, a significant battle, a sporting event, the publication of a bestseller, the opening of a prominent building, the first airing of a popular TV programme, a scientific discovery, an invention, the list is endless.

Draw up a list and reduce it to those that you can find sufficient information about to flesh out an article.

Finding a Market

Now is the time to really think outside the box. Take your first subject and fill a page with as many connections you can think of, however tenuous.

Here is an example. Next year is the 50th anniversary of England beating West Germany to win the Football World Cup in 19966. A straightforward anniversary piece, recalling the occasion, is unlikely to find favour with editors because staff writers are likely to cover that. Brainstorming the subject I came up with this list of possible angles:

  • A brief history of Wembley Stadium, where the final took place
  • A story about the World Cup being stolen a few months before the tournament and being rediscovered by Pickles the dog. Or a story about stolen sporting trophies.
  • George Cohen, one of England’s players that day, is the uncle of Ben Cohen who was a player on the England Rugby Union World Cup winning team in 2003 – are there any other families with such success in major sports?
  • Brothers Bobby and Jackie Charlton were on England’s team – have any other siblings achieved such success?
  • Find and interview people who were in the crowd that day
  • If you are old enough, what were you doing that day?
  • A where are they now feature on the players
  • A history of England-(West)Germany matches over the years. Consider other sports – they famously met in an Olympic Field Hockey Final at Sydney in 2000.

That was a few minute’s worth and I am sure there are plenty more angles but you get the idea.

Go through your list and brainstorm likely markets for each subject e.g. sports magazines or a pet magazine for a story about Pickles finding the trophy. Do this well and you might come up with half a dozen different magazines for each subject.

Pitching the Article

Take the best ideas from your brainstorm and pitch them to magazines as discussed in my last post.

Writing the Article

With luck you will receive one or two positive responses from editors. Now all you have to do is meet their requirements in terms of length etc. and write a polished article.


There is no limit to the subject matter you can find to write about when you start researching anniversaries. Start doing it today.

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.

Writing Magazine Articles – The Easier Way to Get Published

If, like me, you are having trouble getting your fiction published it may be time to try something different. Receiving rejection after rejection can be demoralising. I suggested some ways to react to rejection in my first blog post, 7 Ways for Writers to Overcome Rejection, but one I didn’t mention was changing tack for a while.Big Fish

Don’t give up on your fiction hopes – Ruth Rendell wrote 7 books before getting published – but take a break and try something different. In this post I outline why turning to non-fiction article writing could boost your confidence and how you should go about it.

Why write magazine articles?

Achieving publication boosts your confidence and self-esteem. After your first by-line appears you can say, ‘I’m a published writer.’ Believe me, it feels good.

Check out the vital statistics

Thousands of magazines are published in the UK. Go into any newsagent and survey the shelves. They go on forever. And on top of that there are many hundreds of e-zines. There is a huge market out there just waiting for your submissions.

Getting started – write what you know

Write about what you know is no longer valid advice for writing fiction but it is a good maxim for getting started in magazine writing. What are your hobbies? Are you a keen cyclist, runner, horse rider or pigeon fancier? You probably already read a magazine that focuses on your hobby. If not, scan the newsagents’ shelves and find one or, better still, find two or three.

Research the market

Take each of the magazines that cover your area of interest and deconstruct them. Stop. I don’t mean tear them apart! Read through them and take notes. How many sections are there? How many articles in each section? How long are the articles? Half a page, one page, two pages? Do they have photographs? Did the writer supply the photographs? What type of articles are they? Who wrote the articles?

When you have finished that exercise go to the Editorial page and find the list of editors and sub-editors. Check their names against the list of article writers. This will give you an idea of how many articles in each issue are staff-written and how many are written by freelancers.

Now work out how many opportunities each magazine offers to freelancers. If a monthly has five slots per issue for freelancers that is 60 opportunities in a year; if a bi-monthly has 12 slots that is 72 opportunities. Logic suggests choosing the bi-monthly but that may not be the best choice. Does it have a more exclusive feel? Are the features longer and do they appear to have ‘professional’ photographs? If so, it may not be the best place for a beginner to pitch to.

Where do I get ideas for articles?

First, check if your selected magazine has a website. If it does, search it for contribution guidelines. They are rare for British magazines but some do have them. If guidelines exist they may say which sections are open to freelancers, the word count required, whether photographs are required and even topics to cover.

If there are no guidelines refer back to your notes on the selected magazine. Of the articles that appear to be provided by freelancers are they first-person accounts, how-to articles or interview pieces? How long are they?

Now think about your interest. Let’s say you’re a runner. Consider the following:

  • Have you run a race somewhere unusual? The Arctic, maybe!
  • Do you have an unusual training regime?
  • Could you interview the organiser of your local marathon/10Km race?

Let’s say you’ve run the Svalbard Marathon (it’s in the Norwegian Arctic) so pick that as the subject for your article.

How do I write it up?

Find a similar first-person account in a previous issue of the magazine and deconstruct it. Does it start with an anecdote or a quote? They often do. Find something unusual that happened during the race (maybe a polar bear wandered across the course) and use that for your opening.

How does the middle of the narrative continue? Is it a straightforward account of the race or doe it dip into the history of the event and mention famous winners or unusual happenings? Follow the same pattern in your piece.

Finally, finish it off by referring again to the incident you mentioned in the first paragraph.

What next?

Edit and proof-read until it is perfect and send it in, usually by e-mail, with a covering message. Now forget it and think of a new idea for the same or another magazine.

Case studies

In my next post I’ll give two case studies from my own experience. One, for Adventure Travel magazine, was the first article I ever submitted, and is a straightforward first person account of a multi-day hike; the second, for Latitude magazine, was my first interview piece.

Ten Writing Tips from the Masters (and Surprising Facts About the Authors)

“The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.” Robert Benchley

Many of the great and good (and just plain notorious) of literature thought it necessary to share their advice and thoughts on writing. Some were useful, some were facile and some were humorous.

Here are a few of my favourites and a little-known fact about each of these famous writers.

1. Mark Twain

“Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”

Samuel Clemens, for that was his real name, used a number of pseudonyms before settling on plain Mark Twain. He wrote Joan of Arc under the name Sieur Louis de Conte, and used the initials SLC for poems and stories. Writing for the Keokuk Post he used the splendid moniker Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass and while working as a miner he simply used Josh.

For me, Snodgrass beats Twain every day. If only . . .

2. Jack London

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

In 1913, days before completion, London’s dream house in California was destroyed by fire. It had 26 rooms spread over four floors and cost $75,000 (a cool $1.8 million in today’s money). He collected $10,000 on the insurance but didn’t have the funds to rebuild it.

3. Ernest Hemingway

“We are all apprentices in a craft, where no one ever becomes a master.”

In 1954, near Murchison Falls in Uganda, Hemingway and his wife, Mary, experienced two plane crashes in the space of 48 hours. Hemingway fractured his skull using his head as a battering ram to open the plane’s door and sustained numerous other injuries. Some newspapers reported his death and published obituaries.

4. Toni Morrison

“You rely on a sentence to say more than the denotation and the connotation; you revel in the smoke that the words send up.”

Morrison graduated from Cornell University after completing her thesis on the suicide of famous authors.

5. Stephen King

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time – or the tools – to write. Simple as that.”

King was a member of the Rock Bottom Remainders, a rock band, now sadly defunct, whose line-up consisted of famous writers, including Amy Tan, Matt Groening, Scott Turow, Dave Barry and others. Critics hailed the band as having, ‘one of the world’s highest ratios of noise to talent’.

6. William Somerset Maugham

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

Somerset Maugham was born in Paris, in 1874. At that time, anyone born on French soil could be conscripted for military service so his father arranged for the birth to take place at the British Embassy, technically British soil, where he worked.

7. Margaret Atwood

“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”

Her first novel, The Edible Woman, sat in a publisher’s drawer for two years after submission. It was only published after she won a poetry award.

8. Kurt Vonnegut

“Every sentence must do one of two things: reveal character or advance the action.”

He survived the fire-bombing of Dresden (where he was a prisoner of war) in 1944 and was subsequently awarded a Purple Heart for frostbite.

9. Ray Bradbury

“You fail only if you stop writing.”

He has an asteroid named in his honour: 9766 Bradbury.

10. Oscar Wilde

“The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself.”

It is widely believed that Wilde and his friends coined the word ‘Dude’, from a combination of attitude and duds.

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