Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Formatting your manuscripts

Several people recently have told me they're unsure how to format a manuscript for submission to a magazine, so I thought I'd offer a few suggestions.

1. Always read the guidelines and follow any rules or suggestions regarding formatting (and everything else!) Unless the guidelines state otherwise ...

2. Use a plain, standard font in a reasonable size.

3. Put your name and contact details on the story document, even if you've used a covering letter or cover sheet.

4. Any covering letter should be brief. Editors are busy people and if the story requires masses of explanation then it probably needs to be rewritten.

5. If sending by post, print on one side only and number your pages.

6. If emailing, format as for printing and be sure to save the document in a standard format (e.g. .doc) so it can be opened, or include in the body of the message.

7. Double space. (That's the lines, not the words or letters)

Don't get too stressed over formatting. It's the story which is important, not how it's presented. As long as it doesn't break any submission rules and can easily be read, you'll be fine.


Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Guest post by womagwriter Maggie Cobbett

My guest today is Maggie Cobbet. She's sharing her antidote to despair.


It’s very discouraging when a painstakingly crafted submission fails to hit the spot with editors.  My personal antidote for many years has been the writing of ‘fillers’.  Dashed off in minutes and sent on their way by email, they can be surprisingly lucrative. As well as mining my own store of opinions, jokes, anecdotes, household hints and family albums, I never leave home without a camera phone and notebook in my pocket. Snippets of conversation overheard on the bus, weird signs and advertisements, odd displays in shops etc. can all provide useful material.

 Examples of good markets for 'fillers' are cheap and cheerful magazines like That's Life and Chat and, more surprisingly, perhaps Reader's Digest. Requirements and email addresses change all the time, so make sure that you check these before you send off your gems. I spend hours each year browsing the newspaper and magazine shelves in search of new opportunities and also keep an eye open for in house magazines that reward contributions from customers.


I save a proportion of my 'filler' money each year to pay for my place at the Writers' Summer School, an August week I would recommend to any aspiring or seasoned wordsmith. Its programme of courses, workshops, talks, discussions and entertainment all contribute to what the old hands call 'the magic of Swanwick' and first timers are welcomed with open arms? (Two of those arms will be mine this year, as I'm helping to host a table for newcomers on the first evening as well as running a workshop later in the week.)

You can get Maggie's book, which gives more hints and tips on filler writing here.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Commenting on blogs

I've heard from a couple of people that they have trouble commenting on Blogger blogs. As I like to get comments, it seemed a good idea to try to help. This will seem like a lot of instructions, but honestly it's easy once you get the hang of it ...

Under each post you'll see little icons for sharing the post on twitter, Facebook etc (feel free to use those if you like!) Just above you should see either 'No comments' or the number of comments already made. Click on that and a box will appear for you to write in.

Under that you'll see 'choose an identity'. If you have a Google or Blogger account, select that and it should fill in your details. Open ID can be used if you have a Wordpress blog. If you don't have one of these accounts, or prefer not to link to them in your reply, or are having difficulty using them, then select either of the bottom two options.

With the name/URL one you can type in your name and I, or my guest, will know who to reply to. You can also add a link to your blog if you wish.

I also allow anonymous comments (this isn't an option with all blogs). If you wish to remain totally anonymous then obviously that's the one to go for. You could add a name or initials to your comment if you would like to make replies easier.

Once you've made a selection, you'll see the bit about proving you're not a robot. On my blogs (and most others) this has been disabled and you can safely ignore it.

Click 'Publish your comment'. Here the comment should appear very quickly. With some blogs you'll need to wait until it has been approved.

Comments can't be altered once you've made them, but you can remove your own and the owner of the blog can remove anyone's.

Hope that helps. Feel free to practise - you can try guessing why I picked the photo to go with this post, or just type 'test'. If you're still having trouble, you can email me (address under 'contact' tab at the top) and I'll see what I can do.

Finally you're never obliged to leave comments on blogs, and I know sometimes there's not time, or the internet is being anoyingly slow, or we just don't have anything to add, or get distracted and move onto something else, but all bloggers and guest posters appreciate comments. It makes us feel it was worth writing the post.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Ireland's Own

Here are the latest guidelines for Ireland's Own. (Yes, that is me with Sean in the Ireland's Own office. I snuck in one day and he's too polite to throw people out)

Ireland’s Own includes a short story and a number of non-fiction items in the regular weekly issue. Each month, we produce a Special issue devoted to a particular theme (i.e., Christmas, New Year, St. Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Spring, Summer and Winter, etc).
Material with a seasonal theme should be submitted three months in advance to accommodate publishing schedules.

In general, we favour fictional stories of a maximum of 2,000 words, written in the ‘straight forward’ style, typifying the ‘good yarn’. The magazine is not an outlet for experimental or impressionistic writing. Tales should reflect the magazine’s ethos, having good general appeal developed through a well-explored story-line, with an Irish orientation where possible.

Non-fiction items of 750-900 words, accompanied if possible by a reproducible illustration, are also used, especially informative articles with a strong Irish background and general appeal.
Memoir pieces of about 800 words are quite popular and general interest and historical articles are also used.

We have no requirements for poetry.
The editor reserves the right to alter scripts if editorial adaptation is required.

Email copy may be sent to the addresses at the end.
Emails should be just typed in a straightforward manner, with no unnecessary capitals or spaces between paragraphs or lines.
We endeavour as far as possible to return all unused scripts, but we do not take responsibility for mislaid or lost texts and we urge all contributors to retain copies of their work. Please ensure that your name and address appears on all submissions as covering letters can become separated from articles/stories in the sometimes long interval between submission and usage. We need those details for the despatch of voucher copies and cheques in the event of acceptance.

We generally pay €65 per 2000 word short story, €50-€60 per article and €15 - €20 per filler piece. Voucher copies are despatched; cheques are issued a few weeks after publication.

While we do not wish to discourage anyone, it should be noted that we have a large corps of regular contributors who look after most of our needs, and we have a considerable stockpile of accepted material on hands. Even when material is accepted, there is likely to be a lengthy delay before publication.
Sean Nolan, Editor.
email: sean.nolan (@) people news.ie or write to Ireland’s Own, Channing House, Rowe Street, Wexford.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Interview with womag (and pocket novel) writer Sally Quilford.

Sally Quilford is my guest today and she has lots of information about pocket novels.

What exactly are pocket novels, Sally? And what got you started on writing them?
Pocket novels are 42k-50k novels sold in small magazine format. They’re published by DC Thomson, and there are My Weekly Pocket Novels (they’re 50k) and People’s Friend Pocket Novels (they’re 42k). I got into writing them when I heard a friend talking about how she wrote for them. At the time they were only 30k, and I’d been stuck on writing short stories (with some success, I should add) but wanted to stretch my writing muscles, so to speak, in order to try something longer. I was amazed when I sold the first one I ever wrote!

Are they generally romances, or do your PNs cover a range of genres? 
They are generally romances, and with a male/female romance at the centre of every story. But you can include lots of sub-genres in that. I’ve written Regency romances, Victorian romances, Wartime romances, western modern romances, family sagas, murder mysteries and romantic intrigue (though it’s fair to say that most of my novels contain an element of intrigue).

Most recently, editor Maggie Swinburne (nee Seed) has been looking for series of books about the same characters. I have just completed my third novel about 1960s police woman Bobbie Blandford, called Big Girls Don’t Cry (the first two are called The Last Dance and Runaway) and am just about to start writing the fourth novel. The important thing to bear in mind about series romances is that they still have to be stand-alone stories, so that the new reader coming to them doesn’t have to have read the previous books. That can be quite a challenge, and I find myself repeating a lot of information in books, but that’s necessary for the new reader to catch up with the story.

My next pocket novel, due out around 30th July 2015 is a Gothic romance called The Dark Marshes.

Are there any rules or guidelines to follow?
The stories are mostly sweet romances, with no explicit sex, though it is possible to get reasonably steamy as long as it’s tasteful. The novels must be 42k for The People’s Friend and 50k for My Weekly Pocket Novels. There must be a central romance, even if the novel steps over into other genres. And there must be a happy ending. The stories themselves, even if there’s a murder mystery, must not get too dark and dreary. The full guidelines are available from DC Thomson.

Do you pitch the idea first, or present the finished PN?
In the first instance, if it’s your first novel for them, it’s best to send 3 chapters and a synopsis. Then they can advise you if you’re on the right track. Once you’ve had a novel accepted, you can send full novels. I prefer to do that as I don’t always know if an idea is going to work unless I write it all. If you have an idea you’re not sure about, you can always email either Maggie (My Weekly Pocket Novels) or Tracey Steel (People’s Friend Pocket Novels) to see if they like the idea. But you need to be able to deliver it once you’ve pitched it and not keep them waiting too long.

The pay for these isn't huge - are there other benefits to writing PNs?
No the pay isn’t huge, but once you’ve had a novel accepted, you can then send it to Ulverscroft for Large Print Publication. They pay a bit more, and you also get Public Lending Rights when it goes into a library. You can also put your work on Amazon Kindle yourself. I don’t do too badly out of my old pocket novels.

You've re-released some of your PNs for kindle. Can you tell us about that?
I’ve released all my previous PNs on Kindle. It’s very easy to do. All you need is a Word file, then convert it to web page, filtered and load it up to Amazon. There are sites, such as dreamstime.com, where you can buy royalty free covers, then Amazon have their own cover image software where you can perfect it with a choice of fonts and colour schemes. I sell mine very cheaply at 99p each, but I feel that’s fair enough. I also make money if people borrow them through the Kindle Lending Library. In fact I make more from lending than from selling! (You can buy all Sally's books here)

Are you a disciplined writer who works every day, or do you wait until you're in the mood?
I have to be in the mood, and then I’m very disciplined. I can only write if I have a solid idea, but once I have an idea, it eats away at me and my keyboard until I’ve completed it. That’s why it’s worth me writing the pocket novels, despite the low pay. I can write one within a month (not that I always do!)

The right writing snacks are very important - what's your fuel of choice?
I’ve just finished eating a packet of Cheesy Wotsits, actually. But shortbread biscuits are also a big favourite.

What has been your happiest or proudest writing moment so far?
It’s hard to say. Obviously the first time I had a pocket novel published was a tremendous boost. But I think my proudest moment was when my family saga, The Steps of the Priory, was published by Ulverscroft. It was the first time I’d seen it in print and the cover was wonderful!

Do you have any advice for people who may be considering writing a pocket novel?
Enjoy yourself! If you enjoy what you’re writing it will come across to the editor. You may need to tone down any darker urges. And that can be hard, even for someone as upbeat as me. I used to joke that pocket novels were like Heartbeat and The Darling Buds of May but with all the sex and violence removed. That might be an exaggeration, but they do present a rose coloured world where the good are rewarded and the bad get their comeuppance, and whilst there may be thrills and spills, nothing really awful ever happens. That’s why the readers love them. They know they’re going to get a good read that leaves them feeling that all is right with the world.