Friday, 24 February 2012

Stolen stories

Romance writer Liz Fielding has had a story stolen - see her blogpost here. Someone else has taken her work, changed a few details and is passing the result off as her own. That's despicable. The thief, as defence, said she'd downloaded the original story and put it in a folder, then thought it was her own work. Yeah, right. And just happened to change characters' names as well. The lamest excuse I've ever heard.

Unfortunately now that works can be downloaded to PCs, and uploaded and self-published as ebooks so easily, I predict we are going to see more and more of this kind of thing.

Some useful links to sites discussing copyright issues here.

Updated 26/2/12 - more on the story here. This was not an isolated incident. The thief has stolen several other works as well. She has now admitted plagiarism and apologised. I'm not sure that's enough, though.

Updated 27/2/12 - the story was picked up by the Guardian Books Blog.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Competition results!

I'm pleased to announce that Geraldine Ryan has now judged the serial-writing competition from a couple of weeks back, and has sent me her judge's report. Many thanks to all who entered - we were both thrilled with the number and quality of the entries. All of you should carry on and see if you can complete a serial or at least a crime story, from your 200-word beginnings!

So, here's what Geri had to say:

I really enjoyed reading everyone’s competition entries. The standard was very high and it hasn’t been easy to judge. Before the winner is revealed I’d like to make a few observations about the writing.

The most convincing characters are always those captured in action. Obviously characters grow in the telling of the story but I particularly loved Loveday Ross’s energy, Julie Smith’s mysterious 1920’s female sleuth and Sally Jenkins’ Tower Captain. All strong, independent women perfectly capable of solving a crime single-handedly against the odds.

Everyone who submitted their 200 words understood that setting is just as important as character in a successful crime mystery. Village settings are familiar but no less intriguing for that – in fact give readers a village setting and immediately they know they’re in for a good old cosy crime, full of twists and turns in which evil will be destroyed and good triumph. Other settings were 1920’s London complete with fog, a bookshop, a newspaper office, a TV studio and a seaside guest house – all self-contained places with lots of opportunity for conflict and red-herrings by the bucket.

There was an excellent use of humour and dialogue to further the plot as well as paint character in many of the stories. I particularly loved the use of humour from Otternator, Stevie Carroll and Pat Posner.

In the end it all comes down to personal choice. I’d like to single out Rena and Julie in particular who came pretty close but there can only be one winner. The winner is Sally Jenkins and her bell ringing mystery.

This is a world I know nothing of and I expect that goes for most of us. Sally’s knowledge of her subject feels genuine and is impressive without sounding overly researched. After the immediate sense of unease that comes with that opening sentence she drops in detail after detail, building up the mood and the setting. I feel I am in safe hands with her intelligent heroine. I am aware that she has her enemies too – the old guard who think she’s both too young and too female to hold the position of Tower Captain and look forward to discovering how that conflict is resolved. I really have no idea where this story is going but I’m intrigued to find out.

Thank you to everyone for joining in and I hope you all feel you’d like to take your serial idea further even if you haven’t won this time.

Congratulations to Sally on a marvellous win! Please email me via the Contact Me link on this blog and I'll put you in touch with Geri who'll send your prize.

Also, remember the guest post from Nicola Morgan a month back? Nicola was offering prizes of synopsis critiques to all commenters on posts during her blog tour. I'm delighted to say that one of this blog's readers, Suzanne Jones, was picked as a winner. Well done Suzanne!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Magazine sales figures

Here's a recent set of magazine circulation figures, for the top selling women's mags. Bit depressing to see that the year on year change is downwards for all titles listed here. I think people are reading more online and buying fewer magazines in general. Good to see that of all of them, Woman's Weekly did the best job of holding onto its sales figures.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

This and that

Now the dust has settled over that Woman's Own competition furore, time to update you on a few pieces of news.

A while back I advertised a free-to-enter competition with a theme of Moving Home, run by estate agent Peter Barry. The results have now been announced, and I'm delighted to see that one of this blog's readers, Tess Kimber, came second. Well done Tess! All 12 of the shortlisted entries have been posted on the Peter Barry blog so you can take a look and see if you agree with the judge's decisions.

The organiser, Justin Burns, also did some wonderful analysis of the competition entries, which he posted here. These make fascinating reading - they had submissions from 29 different countries, and some were written by pets and ghosts!

For those of you interested in non-fiction writing, take a look at Laura Marcus's website, here. She lists some great links related to journalism, and has a useful FAQs page for anyone considering branching out into journalism.

Ages ago I heard of an interesting online weekly writing competition - Write Invite. I blogged about at the time, and it's still going strong. I know several people who swear by the inspiration they get from taking part in this (including Tess Kimber!) The competition runs at 5.30pm sharp every Saturday evening. You pay your entrance fee ahead of time, then at 5.30pm some prompts appear and you write for half an hour, allowing time to upload your story before the time is up. The best stories are published on the site and voted on by members, and the winner gets a decent prize.

You won't write a whole womag story in half an hour, but you should end up with something which can be worked on. Those of you who've read Della Galton's book, Moving On, might remember her giraffe-poacher short story which she used as an example of a story which could be expanded into a novel. Well, that one started life as a 400-word Write-Invite competition entry, before being worked up to a womag story. And I wonder if she will write the novel as well...? So if you're free on a Saturday early evening, why not give it a go?

Right, well I've got the next two days off work, for no better reason than it's half term and I had a couple of days holiday from last year to use up. So I'll be getting on with some serious writing, as well as going out to enjoy the winter sunshine. A four-day weekend - I could get used to that!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Woman's Own have listened to us

I'm delighted to say that Woman's Own have taken on board the huge number of comments they had about their competition, and have decided to offer £200 to the winner. It's not a huge prize but it is far better than expecting any writer to be happy with just publication. I'm glad that they listened to us and that they were big enough to rethink the terms of the comp.

Go to the WO facebook page and scroll down to find the post beginning 'Calling all budding authors' for the full story.

We can remove Woman's Own from the blacklist now. Well done all for exerting enough pressure to get this changed.

Edited 20:17 to add - on another facebook page Simon Whaley mentioned he had emailed WO to ask about rights for this competition, and received the reply that they will only take First British Serial Rights for any story they publish. So rest assured, the comp is not a rights-hogger.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Woman's Own wanting us to work for free

Woman's Own are running a short story competition, and the prize - the only prize -will be publication in their summer special. No payment.

I think, as do many other women's mag writers - see the facebook debate here (you'll need to scroll down to find the post that begins 'Calling all budding writers') - that this is appalling. How can a commercial magazine with a readership as large as WO has, expect to fill their pages for free? It's disgusting. I'll give away my work to charity anthologies, but other than that I never work for free. WO will make a pile of money from their summer special, and some of that should go to the writers whose work they publish.

In no other profession are people expected to work for free. WO think the kudos of having your story published by them is enough of a prize. Well, as Sally Q wrote in a brilliant recent article in The New Writer, kudos does not pay the bills.

Someone posting for Woman's Own on the facebook discussion, said: "This is intended as an opportunity for our readers – not professional writers – to potentially see their story in the magazine." Well they are certainly going the right way about putting off the regular short story writers. Any of their readers who can write a decent story, will be able to sell their story to another magazine for a decent payment. So WO are likely to only get rubbish stories in their competition. That will put readers off buying WO, and will also (and this is where I get really angry) put readers off magazine fiction in general. They might think it's all as bad as that.

I urge you all to take a look at the facebook discussion and perhaps post something yourself. And please, boycott the WO competition. Your work is worth much more than they are offering.

What do you all think? Feel free to rant here, anonymously if you like.

Monday, 6 February 2012

WW on your Kindle

I've just realised that Woman's Weekly Fiction Special is available for Kindle! Fantastic - no more rummaging around at the newsagents then finding I'm too late for an edition. Just click, click, whispernet and there it is.

Latest issue just out features Della Galton as this month's Big Name - which was a surprise to her when someone flashed the magazine in front of her at the weekend. Now then - something to aspire to - once you've got into WWFS, you then need to work up to being the big name for an issue. Ah, distant dreams....

(If you don't have a Kindle, you can download free software here to read Kindle ebooks on your pc, laptop, Mac, smartphone, ipad etc)

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Competition - deadline extended

The deadline for the competition announced in the previous post about serials has been extended to noon on 15th February, to give you all a bit more time.

Here's a reminder of the competition:

To win a copy of 'Leave Over’ by Geraldine Ryan - write the first two hundred words of Episode One of a crime serial in which your sleuth must make an appearance.

You can post your entries beneath this or the previous blogpost. The competition will be judged by Geri, and the winner will be announced on 22nd February.

So come on, all, get your deerstalker hats on and get writing! Good luck to all.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Writing Serials - guest post by Geraldine Ryan

If you're a regular reader of the women's magazines, then the name of Geraldine Ryan will be familiar to you. Geri has had hundreds of stories published, and dozens of serials. She has a large print book just out with Ulverscroft- Leave Over - and unlike the other large print books I've talked about on this blog, this one is not a reprint of a pocket novel. It's two serials, featuring the same central character, republished in one volume.

I know hardly anything about serial writing, and so far have not featured much about it on this blog. So to help advertise Geri's book I asked her to write a guest post about serials. They're more of a challenge than short stories, obviously, but pay well and as Geri's found, you may be able to resell them in book format! Definitely worth a go!

So - over to Geri. There's a competition here too!

The first serial I wrote came as a request from Gaynor Davies, Fiction Editor of Woman’s Weekly. The magazine had published two 6000 word “cosy crime” stories of mine within a period of a year, both featuring the same heroine, DC Casey Clunes. When some seven years ago Gaynor suggested I might try my hand at writing a full-length, 3 or 4 part crime serial I must admit that initially I was thrown into total panic.

First of all I didn’t write crime. Not really. Those two long crime stories had been a bit of a fluke I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to repeat. Second of all she was asking for something in the region of 12500 words (serials were longer in those days) and I was a short story writer! Thirdly she appeared to making noises about sub-plots and cliff-hangers. I didn’t actually say, ‘You’ve got the wrong person, here, Gaynor,’ but it was pretty much what I was thinking. So of course I said yes, I’d have a go.

Casey Clunes has subsequently featured in a total of seven Woman’s Weekly serials. She’s been promoted to DI, got herself a romantic partner, journalist Dom Talbot and become a mum to baby Findlay, while solving a caseload of crimes along the way.

Since that first serial I’ve been lucky enough to have had twenty-one serials
published by Woman’s Weekly, mostly crime. No, I don’t have that number etched on my brain – it’s just that last year a great opportunity arose to sell some of these serials on and it was in my interest to make a tally of them.

On February 1st “Leave Over”, containing the Casey Clunes’ serial of that name alongside “A Tough Workout”, will be published by Ulverscroft Large Print Books Ltd, a non-profit organisation whose books are both for sale and distributed to public libraries throughout the world, bringing the pleasure of reading to millions with failing eyesight.

I wouldn’t have known anything about Ulverscroft had it not been for writer Sally Quilford generously sharing the information that she’d sold on some of her previously published pocket novels to them. I’ve thanked her in private but now I’d like to acknowledge in public how much in her debt I am. Thanks, Sally and I owe you!

Do I have the definitive answer to How To Write A Serial? I wish I could offer you a formula. Damn it if I knew it I wouldn’t have had all those rejections in among the successes! The truth is that no matter how many successful ones I write the process doesn’t get any easier. Just recently for example, with my latest serial, “Breaking The Rules” which also comes out on 1st February, I ended up writing episode one four times before I got it right.

But if I can’t offer you a winning formula maybe I can at least offer you a couple of do’s and don’ts. For instance, don’t expect to get it right first time. Ask yourself, has this idea of mine got legs? Could it hold up for three, four or five episodes of 3400 words each or is it best suited to a one thousand-word “moment in time” story? What about my characters? Are they complex enough to hold the reader’s interest or have I just created stereotypes? And when I write ‘End of Part One’ will anyone care enough to buy next week’s magazine so they can find out what happens next?

Even if your answer to all the above turns out to be yes, don’t start writing too soon. You’ll kick yourself if you find you’ve boxed yourself into a corner round about half way through episode four because you haven’t thought something through or if, towards the end you have a sudden brilliant idea but you can’t use it unless you go right back to the beginning and make some drastic alterations.

Now here’s the biggest don’t. Don’t get precious! You really don’t know better than Gaynor Davies and Diane Kenwood about what Woman’s Weekly readers want. If their criticism hurts try stamping around the house for a bit till your fury wears off but if you want to sell your serial you’ll get straight back to your computer and work on their advice.

Oh, dear, that’s three don’ts. So what about the do’s? The first is common sense, though why they call it common when it’s most uncommon in my experience I’ll never know. I can’t be the only writer who’s taught courses on writing fiction for women’s magazines to get the answer ‘Oh, I never read them’ to the question ‘When did you last read a story in a woman’s magazine?’

So it’s this - do make sure you follow the serials as they’re published, week for week, before you decide to have a go.

And do have a go! You’ll learn masses about pace and plotting as you struggle to squeeze an episode into the 3400-word mould you’ve been given. You’ll find out how to craft characters who are consistent over four episodes and who can all interact convincingly. You’ll struggle with all sorts of technicalities you won’t be able to foresee until you actually start writing. And your writing will improve enormously from the challenge.

*Ulverscroft only want to see previously published (not self-published or manuscript) full-length work – (for their romance series 25,000 –60,000 words and for their mystery series 30,000 – 70,000 words) rather than the short story length.

**To win a copy of “Leave Over’ why not have a go at the following competition – to be judged by Geri. Write the first two hundred words of Episode One of a crime serial in which your sleuth must make an appearance. Please post your entries beneath this blogpost. Deadline: noon 15 February. Winner to be announced a week later.

I've read one or two of Geri's Casey Clunes serials and she has indeed created a memorable character there. So go on - have a go at the competition and who knows, you might even want to carry on beyond the 200 word mark. Guidelines for Woman's Weekly serials are here.