Category Archives: On Writing & Publishing

Writer’s Digest cuts links with Author Solutions

David Gaughran reports that Writers Digest has cuts its partnership with Authors Solutions. This is highly significant as a bellwether of publishing industry attitudes to the controversial vanity publishing operations run by Author Solutions.

Author Solutions aggressively pursues strategic partnerships to lend credibility to its scammy practices. More importantly, these partners help keep the pipeline of email addresses and phone numbers flowing. As I detailed two weeks ago, Author Solutions needs huge numbers of leads because it only converts 5% of queries into customers.

via Writer’s Digest Dumps Author Solutions  | David Gaughran.

Beyond the specific ethical questions surrounding Author Solutions is the wider question of industry attitudes to writers. Put simply, are emerging writers a valid income source for publishers? Are writers a part in the publishing process, or merely a part of the product? There is a burgeoning industry of experts and business’s aiming to serve the needs of writers seeking to publish their books. Especially debut authors who may lack industry knowledge. By and large these editorial, design and marketing services, often offered by freelance professionals, are entirely legitimate. But Author Solutions have faced intense criticism that their packages, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars, do not return real value to the authors who purchase them, leading to a class action lawsuit against the business and its parent company Penguin (now Penguin Random House I believe).

The purchase of Author Solutions by one of the big international publishers gave their operations a vast credibility boost. But it has always begged the question, do publishers see vanity publishing and charging authors for sevices as part of their core business? If the news from Writers Digest is any indication, then industry opinion on that question may be swinging towards ‘No’.

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There is no such thing as exposure

There is one absolute and inalienable fact about creativity; your success as a creator is 100% dependent on how good you are.

I say this as a pre-cursor to talking about one of the most pernicious problems creators are faced with. Being asked to work for free.

The shady types who make these requests rarely phrase it this way. Instead, like Juan Luis Garcia, who provided concepts for Spike Lee’s new Oldboy movie for free, you’re asked to work in exchange for “exposure”.

There is no such thing as “exposure”. if you believe there is, as many creators and artists of all kinds clearly do, it means you are operating on a faulty paradigm. And the cause of that fault is not understanding the opening statement of this blog.

Your success as a creator is 100% dependent on how good you are.

The entire concept of exposure is built on the denial of this fact. On the assumption that your writing, or artwork, or music, or app, is already good enough. And that the only reason it hasn’t rocketed to the lofty heights of success we all dream of is that it hasn’t had the right “exposure”.

It is so much easier to believe this. Because as long as you can keep telling yourself that “exposure” is the problem, you can duck the hard truth. You aren’t good enough. Not yet. And the only way to change that are the hours of hard work and toil it takes to get good at any creative discipline.

So much easier instead to focus on “exposure”. So much easier to blame nepotism in your industry, or a lack of money and time, or any of the forms of self delusion creators place between themselves and that absolute and inalienable truth: your success as a creator is 100% dependent on how good you are.

If anyone ever asks you to create in exchange for “exposure”, say no. Don’t explain yourself or bother negotiating. If they come back with an offer worth the value of your creation, then OK. Otherwise don’t waste your time. Instead, get back to your studio or desk or wherever it is you do the hard work of creating, and get better.

How to be in the moment and write better words

Where is your mind when you write?

We immediately think that our mind is far away. Away with the fairies. Gone to another world. The world of the story. Our mind is inside the thoughts, feelings and emotions of the characters. Inside another mind.

Have you ever begun to write and realised you’ve been just staring at a blank page for an hour or more? Your mind may have started out in the story, but it was enjoying the sights without noting them down. The it went off all together. Dreaming, scheming and worrying about anything and everything, as minds do. There might even be some words on the page, but they aren’t good one.

To write well our mind needs to be right here, present and correct in the moment. Because it’s only in the here and now that it can focus on the task of writing itself. All the techniques that help shape good writing – sharp sentences, focussed paragraphs, well turned scenes, insightful narration – all need you to be focussed in the here and now even while you are also inhabiting the story.

Being present in the moment is often called mindfulness. To be mindful of what our senses are showing us moment by moment. Not hanging on to memories of what just happened, or imaging what might happen next. The more mindful you are of the present in fact, the more space you leave for the story, because the less your mind is cluttered with all kinds of other thoughts.

Mindfulness is a habit. You cultivate it by doing it. Lots of people today and through history use meditation to cultivate mindfulness. But that’s a long process, and I tempted you here with a “How to” statement that shouldn’t culminate in me telling you to go and read Jack Kornfeld.

Before you begin to write, set a timer for five minutes. Spend the five minutes mentally listing everything you see, hear, smell, touch, think or feel. If you hear a siren, add “Siren” to your list. If you feel hot add “Hot” to your list. If you start to worry about a work task make a note “Worrying About Work”. You can make the list on paper, or when you get good just make a mental list. The point isn’t the list. It’s that while you are making the list, you have to be mindful of your present, moment by moment as it happens.

For every hour you write, spend five minutes being mindful of the present. Often you will find the other 55 minutes become many times more productive. Try it out, and let me know how it works for you.


On being bossed around by Neil Gaiman

I’ve been outlandishly busy in recent weeks. So much so that I haven’t been able to post anything personal here on my blog. One of the costs of having more freelance writing than you can do is that it squeezes out the personal projects that you love. So here’s a round-up on some of what I’ve been doing recently.

You may have noticed (unless you are reading this in the Andromeda galaxy) that Neil Gaiman has a new book coming out. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a remarkable story, that I was lucky enough to receive a very special edition of some time ago. My review is over on Medium, where I’ve been posting occasional things because I like their platform so much. I feel like Ocean is the start of a new phase in Neil’s fiction writing, and I’m excited about where it’s going to take him next.

Today Neil has been guest editing the Guardian books section, for which I write. He also edited SFX magazine, to which I am a regular contributor. Which kind of means Neil Gaiman has been my boss for the last few weeks. So what’s it like being bossed around by Neil Gaiman?

Well. I got to go on a tour of Weird London, chat with M John Harrison about weird fiction, and record the experience as an audio documentary.

And I got to interview Harlan Ellison. I have been reading Harlan’s fiction since I was a teenager, and I think All The Lies That Are My Life is possibly the only great meditation on being and SF writer ever written. It was an intense interview. You’ll have to go read it to find out what happened.

On Monday I’m heading to the Royal Society of Literature event ‘Magic, Memory and Survival’ where Mr.Gaiman is talking and copies of the new book are being sold. Super-excited about this, and will be live-tweeting the whole event at @damiengwalter

In and around all this I’m continuing work on my book, and also a couple of side projects. And teaching my course in creative writing at University of Leicester. And tweeting too much! It’s a pure joy making my living from writing and teaching writing at the moment, and getting to spend so much time around writers I admire. Happy days.


Is the death of the bookshop a sign of progress?

High street bookshops maye soon be a distant memory. Should we take this as a sign of progress, or the regression of society to a pre-literate state?

Today the last big bookshop in Leicester, the city where I reside, closed its doors. The out of town Borders went three years ago. Waterstones on Market Street shut it’s doors today, leaving a much smaller sub-branch in the nearby shopping mall. I do not hold much hope of it surviving, and feel convinced at this point that dedicated high street book retailers will soon be a memory. That is sad. I love bookshops. But should we take it as a sign that society is regressing, or is it actually a sign of progress?

Some thoughts for both progress and regress:

REGRESS : The bookshops are closing. That’s where people buy books. Where are they going to buy books now? Taken in isolation, closing bookshops is a terrible sign of a crumbling society.

PROGRESS : Bookshops have been superseded by the internet, ebooks and smartphones, which form a much better infrastructure for distributing knowledge. Big gains for everyone.

REGRESS : That digital infrastructure is only accessible to people who can afford the technology and have the knowledge to use it.And it’s owned by a small number of mega tech corporations. Big loss of privacy and maybe freedom.

PROGRESS : Poorer people culturally excluded from bookshops, much more likely to access books via widely used and ever cheaper smartphones. Anyone can publish a book digitally.

REGRESS : The infrastructure of bookshops, publishers & distributors is what pays writers to write books. Without payment, only rich amateurs can have time to write.

PROGRESS : Retailers, publishers take a lot of the money made from selling books. Digital distribution might mean more money going to writers. Writing might become more like being a traditional artisan, as is happening in other creative professions. This is a big might.

Creative Writing at University of Leicester now offering £1000 bursaries for students.

Overall, I feel the argument for progress outweighs regress, quite substantially. But that doesn’t mean I cheer the death of bookshops. Progress means change, and change rarely comes without waving goodbye to things we love. We just have to believe that they space they leave behind will be filled with things we can love just as much or more.

Could you go one week without the internet?

A guest post in a series form students on the BA Creative and Professional Writing at Nottingham University.

A friend texts me an invite for coffee, but spends the next two hours continuously checking her phone. She isn’t receiving calls or emails from work – she’s refreshing her Facebook live feed. I ask her why she bothered to invite me out if she can’t pull herself away from cyberspace. She snaps back, ‘it’s only Facebook!’

We are a generation defined by our internet usage. 24/7 connectivity to the world, thanks to wi-fi and 3G, allows us to stay on top of our emails, friends’ holidays, twitter timelines, and tumblr memes.

It’s normal to carry a phone around with you. We stay in touch with family and friends throughout the day, arranging and re-arranging, updating. But is there a point of no return?

We rely on the internet for everything – news, conversation, shopping.

So could you push through a single week without access to the internet? You wake up in the morning and you don’t check BBC news. You can’t even go to Facebook’s main page. Twitter is off-limits. So is Eat Student (if you want a takeaway, better take a stroll down to the actual place itself!), eBay (no more staying up til 3am waiting for bids to end), and Reddit. You wander through the day without ‘liking’ anyone’s status, retweeting those oh-so-witty one-liners, or posting pictures on Instagram.

Is our ever-growing dependence on the internet becoming a problem? Maybe not on the surface. But multiple studies have proven that Internet Addiction Disorder is a real thing – this is nothing new. But are we taking it as seriously as we should? Internet users experience “withdrawal” symptoms similar to those of drug users – shakiness, anxiety, a general desire to throw their televisions out the window. I tried to go one week without internet access in 2011 – and broke after three days, because I “needed” some new music to listen to. I haven’t tried since.

Could you ignore your emails for a week, or disable your Facebook for one month? Would you cry without your daily dose of cute cats on Youtube? Could you abandon 4oD and go back to TV programmes with adverts?

One day? One week? One month?

And if you can’t do it… well, neither can I. So, I guess we’re all addicts.

Not knitting but blogging

Are older generation writers missing out on the power of social media to further their work?

GUEST POST : Carolyn Doudge is a late-comer to fiction writing. She is currently studying for a degree in Creative and Professional Writing at Nottingham University.

You would think that upwards of half a life-time hanging out on the planet would count for something when it comes to creative writing. Most of us oldies have been places, met people, had stuff happen that would fill volumes. Our pasts inspire our plots and colour our characters. But this advantage may be wiped out if we are not up to speed with social media.

We write for imaginary audiences and want our writing to reach people, not sit in a black hole waiting to be discovered. This is where it all falls down and we find ourselves on an uneven playing field alongside younger writers.
As a newcomer to fiction writing, I am beginning to accept that to create shock and awe, or even mild stirrings of interest on the literary scene, I must overcome my reluctance to engage with social media in general and blogging in particular. I must get ‘out there’, wherever that may be.

I came to this conclusion while stumbling around the internet. American author and super-blogger, Ollin Morales sums up the prevailing wisdom, ‘If you hate blogging you should really reconsider being a writer.’

Time to examine my reluctance.

‘Blog’ is such an ugly, off-putting word. Je blogue, tu blogues, nous bloguons. It’s even more an affront to the French language than English. Without wishing to insult the Germans, I can’t help feeling ‘bloggen’ sounds more at home in their language. But like it or not, the world is stuck with it.

It seems weird sharing personal updates and opinions with an anonymous, disembodied audience located in Nowhere-in-Particular. How could something as crazy ever take off? But as I watch younger folk with their obsessive-compulsive checking and tapping at screens, I suspect I may be missing out big time on the vast global ebb and flow of information, maybe gems among the trivia. I am disabled, disenfranchised.

A few taps and clicks give us an instant global voice, but if we are neither celebrities nor experts in a particular field, it seems arrogant to assume the world will be listening. And what if we stray into controversial territory and trolls pop up from beneath the rickety-rackety cyber-platform? Do we really need the aggravation?

Those who grew up in a pre-digital age often lack know-how around computers and electronic gadgets. How many of us have explored the full potential of our TV remotes? How many use mobiles for anything beyond phoning or texting? We are bewildered in the world of widgets and plugins and apps that make possible things we never knew we wanted. We call children to fix problems – digital natives to the aid of digital aliens. The knowledge and skills are not beyond us. What we lack are interest and impetus. Keeping up with technology has never reached the top of our priorities. As a result, a whole raft of older generation writers may be missing out on the huge potential of social media to further their work.

It is no longer enough to just write. Platform wins over content. We must join the connecting classes or perish into obscurity. Cyberland awaits. No good dithering at the boarding gates. Upload, preview and publish – three steps to blogging bliss or blogging hell. Who knows if anyone will read or react to what we have to say? Hotspur put his finger on the problem in the exchange with Glendower in Shakespeare’s Henry 1V part 1:

Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
Hotspur: And so can I or so can any man; but will they come…?

With reckless optimism I have added ‘check blog’ to my weekly list of stuff-to-do, just in case.

Social media users – beware, the psychiatrist is watching you

Is Internet Use Disorder a 21st century mental illness?

GUEST POST : Helen Durham is a part-time undergraduate of the University of Nottingham’s BA in Creative and Professional Writing, trying to learn Mindfulness to alleviate the stress of assignment deadlines piling up

The fifth edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), used across the globe by many psychiatrists, is due out in May 2013. It is believed to include ‘Internet Use Disorder’ as a condition of addiction and social disengagement that merits further consideration. The consideration will be whether such a disorder should be included as a diagnosable condition in the next update of DSM-5.
Diagnosable conditions have implications for health and social care provision, health and social care insurance, and employability.

Back in 2008, an editorial in the American Journal of Psychiatry made a case for the inclusion of Internet Addiction:

Internet addiction appears to be a common disorder that merits inclusion in DSM-V. Conceptually, the diagnosis is a compulsive-impulsive spectrum disorder that involves online and/or offline computer usage and consists of at least three subtypes: excessive gaming, sexual preoccupations, and e-mail/text messaging. All of the variants share the following four components: 1) excessive use, often associated with a loss of sense of time or a neglect of basic drives, 2) withdrawal, including feelings of anger, tension, and/or depression when the computer is inaccessible, 3) tolerance, including the need for better computer equipment, more software, or more hours of use, and 4) negative repercussions, including arguments, lying, poor achievement, social isolation, and fatigue.

Should we be worried about our internet usage health?

I’ve compared aspects of my life now, in this social media age, with life in the years before it became a significant part of my life. What do I do more or less of because of the time spent using social media?

Reading novels – less
Contact with acquaintances – more, but virtual
Contact with close friends – different, less frequently face to face
Chatting on the phone – much less due to texts and emails (I miss a good natter)
Dropping into people’s homes without prior arrangement – far less frequently, it’s almost becoming unimaginable
Writing words – more
Sitting – more, at the computer, with an iPad, phones etc
Watching TV – less, using social media as an alternative distraction or recreational activity
Playing a musical instrument – less
Gardening – less
Eating – more
Alcohol consumption – no change
Ability to be still and reflective – less
Sleep – often shorter, brain more active later in the evening from computer use

It seems I have become something of an addict in terms of the components of time spent using social media and the emotions that stirs or alters.

Is abstinence viable or necessary?

Unlike alcohol, social media, or at least time at the computer and aspects of the internet, are not something 21st century users can abstain from. In the UK the government is pushing citizens to it, right down to people who may be too poor to own a computer or too illiterate to use it. It will become a tool of exclusion if we’re not careful.

Perhaps it’s a question of balance

What might save us from this addiction and from being diagnosed with a mental illness?

The simple answer is ‘ourselves’. We are in control of the off button. But life is never that simple. So I’d like to suggest an alternative: Mindfulness.

During February 2013 the Wisdom 2.0 conference – think Silicon Valley on retreat rather than doing business – took place in San Francisco. Jon Kabat-Zinn , a leading exponent of mindfulness, said “We’re in the information age… …it’s a huge stretch for us to understand how we’re going to deal with all this information that is so overwhelming us that we are perpetually self-distracting, and instead find the threads of connectivity.”

Google has been aware of such issues for some years. Google’s ‘Jolly Good Fellow’ Chade-Meng Tan (Meng), whose job description is, “Enlighten minds, open hearts, create world peace” invited Kabat-Zinn to speak to google employees in 2007, and google’s VP spoke in the opening discussion of Wisdom 2.0 in 2010
There’s a common phrase in mindfulness about ‘showing up in our own lives’, being present in ourselves and to ourselves in the present moment. Wisdom 2.0 considered “How can we live with greater presence, meaning, and mindfulness in the technology age?”

Brain changes
The constantly expectant state that comes with a constantly connected digital life raises the vigilant brain stress hormones, which are known to have an impact on physical as well as mental wellbeing. Equally mindfulness has been shown to profoundly alter, heal and nourish the brain – it enables us to dwell in ourselves and not in a state of being elsewhere with all the stresses that brings. It improves attention, sleep, relationships, mood and productivity – what’s not to like?

Jon Kabat-Zinn, writer of the foreword in Mindfulness: the practice of finding peace in a frantic world, said “We’re rediscovering something deep within ourselves that is timeless, and it is potentially profoundly healing and transformative, and globally so. So I see this as maybe the manifestation already of the early phases of what I would call a global renaissance of awakening, of true wisdom.”
That seems quite a claim. True? False? Possible? Impossible?

Try it for yourself. There are youtube videos and podcasts aplenty by Jon Kabat-Zinn, and by Mark Williams, co-author of Mindfulness: the practice of finding peace in a frantic world. Kabat-Zinn has written excellent books, too.

So join me, get yourself a book, a podcast or an audiobook, step away from the computer for a short while and have yourself a mindful time. It’s already paying dividends for me.

How the ‘Poetry Engine’ gives museum visits a whole new meaning

GUEST POST : Elaine is a Doctoral student in Education and also nearing the end of her BA in Creative and Professional Writing at the University of Nottingham. She runs Strange Alliances, a blog exploring different ways of creating narratives through different forms of media and can be found on Twitter @EMAldred.

Next time you go to a museum, don’t go on your own. Bring a few people interested in writing, then spread out to find objects that interest each of you. But whatever you do, don’t look at the labels.
Then start up what poet Mark Goodwin refers to as a ‘Poetry Engine’ exercise. Take no more than three minutes to write the first things that come into your head, while you’re looking at your chosen item. Write a poem based on these words. Get back together for an intense brainstorming session to combine at least two poems. Then perform them as a shared enterprise, spread out amongst an audience seated about the museum collection.

The result is engrossing and startling, when themes such as war and rural idyll are juxtaposed. As the words emerge and work with each other there is a palpable sense of disquiet, particularly as the objects of inspiration (a gas mask and a seed spreader) reside on a table by your shoulder.
That’s what happened last night at the bijoux Kegworth Museum, as the audience seated themselves down the length of the upstairs room amongst a variety of themed areas ranging from agriculture, to a Victorian lady’s boudoir, an old schoolroom and war memorabilia.

The ‘poetry experience’ (Mark’s definition of the event) was the culmination of three, weekly sessions of the ‘Box of Props’ intensive creative experience run by Mark and his partner Nikki Clayton, who has a Doctorate in Museum studies and has been an open museum projects officer.
In the first week, the group used the museum as inspiration to create poetry. Week two was spent organising and combining the poetry, ready for the performance in week three.

The performers experience had been one of intense activity, but no one was complaining and were, in fact, demanding more of the same. The audience, tucked in amongst the objects that had inspired the poetry, felt the same way.

However, what emerged from the exercise was more than the creation of poetry. One of the curators voiced her desire to re-label the collection, because of the insights she had gained through her participation in the project. It was clear she now saw many of the objects in a completely different way. What had once been an inanimate object of interest, had now acquired a personality and unique narrative.

This outcome is particularly interesting, given Nikki and Mark’s combined passion for using museum collections to inspire the development of language through creativity and poetry. It’s something they know a great deal about having contributed a chapter on the subject in The Thing about Museums. Objects and Experience, Representation and Contestation an edited book published by, Routledge.

The ‘Poetry Engine’ technique also appears to present creative opportunities to those who may have a desire to express themselves through writing, but are held back by fear of appearing linguistically inadequate. This opens up numerous creative opportunities in many fields of education.

The process is certainly infectious. My next museum visit will be spent ignoring the labels and discovering what complex narratives I can draw out of something that catches my eye.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every writer wants to be famous

In this ever-increasing self-publishing explosion, how can you get yourself noticed?

GUEST POST : Angela Foxwood is a budding author, singer, poet, part time student at University of Nottingham and mum of one.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every writer wants the world to know how brilliant they are. This used to involve people, paper and print. Now writing can be broadcast in cyberspace by pressing a button. But just how do you get to be read by the digital masses, when you are just one in the millions of others out there?

Despite my resistance to the possibility that my beloved books may soon become relics of a tree-destroying time, even I have to concede the growth of the technological world. The fact that I am tapping this article into a computer, rather than reaching for a pen, is proof of that. That I have signed up for a module entitled: ‘Writing for the Web’ is further evidence of my reluctant acceptance. So, having admitted that this digital malarkey is not going to fade into obscurity I have to ask, ‘So exactly how can I turn this new media to my advantage?’

My first toe was dipped into the water that is Twitter. Within a few minutes of trial and error I was ploughing my way through Stephen Fry’s copious Tweets (how does he find the time?) and various other celebrities whom I had managed to find through the wonderful search button. Believing that these famous people actually gave a damn about me personally added to my short-lived illusion. If I could talk to someone who sounded pleasant in electronic form that may also be able to tell the world about me, how awesome would that be? Awesome yes. Likely, no. I began to realize, after ‘replying’ to some of these Tweets, that nobody famous was actually going to reply to me. The final nail was when I checked out the number of followers that these celebrities have, in some cases six figure numbers. Not much of a chance that my little comment would even be seen.

Next, Facebook. This prooved to be much more fun. Now I can have ‘friends’ whom I actually know. In my real world. And what is even better, they talk to me. And they talk to their friends. And their friends talk to their friends. Hooray- it’s like a spreading virus of the most pleasant kind. And this, I believe, is a more likely way to get my name in lights. My lovely friends are starting to ‘share’ some of my Facebook ‘Posts’ too.

So, where am I at now? Right here-blogging. This is my latest toe in cyber-water. To date I have only composed a few entries, and I’m hoping that everybody who ‘lands’ on this page will tell all of their friends about me. And their friends…and so forth. It may take a while though, so in the meantime I am looking up other sites, that I can become part of. New cyber ‘communities’. People out there who share my interests, which of course are mostly centred around writing. But those people are also trying to get their names out there, exactly the same as me. Which is when they become the masses that I am competing against.
My question is, I suppose, is it better to go down the traditional route, find an agent (tricky in itself), get a publisher. wait a year until your book is produced, if you are very lucky, and then, if you are even more lucky, get an advance. But you still may end up gathering the wonderful dust I spoke of in my last post. Or, do I keep plugging away at this computer world, joining every community I can think of, subscribing to every site that has a competition I can enter (so far, no prizes) and hoping that one day, somebody out there may just feel that I’m worth the risk.

Can’t print and digital media all just get along?

The debate over ebooks and their printed ancestors rages on. I see no reason for them to be at war with each other.

GUEST POST : Emily Cooper (rusticwriter) is a freelance writer, typesetter and editor. She is a soon-to-be-graduate of ‘Creative and Professional Writing’ at Nottingham University and enjoys capturing the strangely beautiful and beautifully strange with her words. Want to know more?

Magazines on the other hand, are having to decide how their articles and news reaches their audience. My articles have been published both on- and offline, I’ve seen the differences.

Where I Write

I write for LeftLion – Nottingham’s free print magazine – which publishes its articles on paper and online, and HeartofGlass magazine – a purely online publication. Both are free. Copies of LeftLion are delivered throughout Nottingham for anyone to pick up. I’m not sure how much HeartofGlass pays for its site hosting, or there is any cost – but they certainly don’t charge their readers anything.

Despite LeftLion being the longer-running of the two, I don’t feel as connected to them. I only write on a casual basis. Either I pitch an article to them, or pick from an email that is sent to all contributors. Thanks to LeftLion, I have been able to interview David Almond (author of Skellig) and Peter V Brett, an American fantasy novelist. I am a ‘fan’ of both, and talking to them was a dream come true.

I do not have a regular submission requirement for LeftLion, but am required to write an article fortnightly for HeartofGlass. For this reason I define myself as a columnist for HeartofGlass, but only a contributor for LeftLion. This regular deadline for HeartofGlass means I am more likely to send my pitches and ideas to them – which is okay. LeftLion is regional, and I would not send them the same stories.

The Two Mediums
If I know my article will be print or online, the way I write changes. Marshall McLuhan famously said ‘the medium is the message’, meaning that the form a message is given in (TV, Radio, speech, etc.) affects the message itself. Print articles can only be as long as there is space on the page, but when writing for the web I can have all the space I want… right? Not so. A reader can only process so much information. Just because I can post something of 2,000 words does not mean anyone will want to read it, nor is it an excuse to ramble.

Without the columns of print magazines, it is a good idea to cut articles into ‘chunks’ with headings. Not only does this help the reader, it helps to keep your article coherent and flowing from one topic to the next. Sub-headlines also change – not significantly, but it’s there. Not only do they have to explain what the article is about, but due to the nature of websites, it can help to use keywords. This serves several purposes. One, to help your readers to find your article. Two, readers tend to scan, then read. A clever, witty title might not make it clear what your article is about – time for a subheading.

Blogs, Articles and Editorials…
… aren’t exactly the same, and I admit, it took me several pokes from an editor for me to fully understand. Each has a different purpose:

A blog article contains opinions and information, and is updated on a regular basis.
An article may contain news, debate or instructions on ‘how to’ do something.
An editorial reflects the writer’s opinion on a topic. While all three of these are non-fiction, editorials often reflect the beliefs of the publication, (and can be more biased than blogs.)

I struggled with the informal tone of my articles, wanting to present my words in a chatty way. This wasn’t entirely successful, and is something I’m still working on. If you write a blog, it is excellent practise for article-writing. Just make sure to look for the differences.

Thanks to the digital age, a writer needn’t be tied to a telephone. I communicate with editors through email. I might peek at what they have to say on twitter occasionally, or join in a discussion on the private HeartofGlass forum… but essentially, writers need plenty of ways for editors to contact them, and works even better for writers who check these communication channels often.

Waiting for a Copy
Once I’ve submitted an article, I plough on with other work, but this doesn’t stop me itching to know when my article will be printed or published online. If I published my writing on my blog, they would be online in an instant, and I would know exactly how many people were reading it, directing them through my website. But then again, my work would not have been edited (which makes all the difference between self-publishing and not), nor would it reach the readers of that magazine.

Whether online or not, a writer still needs to wait for the publication date, and hope that the editor lets you know when and where you can find it. LeftLion is sent all over Nottingham, and as I’m not entirely sure where it is delivered, I tend to go to a coffee shop each month and hope that there are still some issues left. With HeartofGlass, the editor-in-chief puts a link to each article up on facebook as soon as it has been published. Social media snaps it up straight away, and there’s a short boom of hits and visits to your stories.

To Print, or not to Print
I love the rush of seeing my name in print, but at the risk of sounding like a sell-out, I’ll happily sacrifice that for being printed online. Why? Because my words will circulate so much further thanks to social messaging (facebook, twitter etc.) I’m currently studying at University, and being published online means I can send friends and family a link, and post it on my blog. I get more readers, the magazines get more traffic and everyone is happy. I sometimes miss the smell of newspaper ink, the feel of paper in my hands, but thanks to LeftLion – I can have both. I’m not sure which is more effective, as LeftLion is also online. So I’ll watch, I’ll wait, and try to keep my head above the water in this industry which doesn’t dare to predict what it will become in five, ten, or twenty years time.

Are you wasting your time on social media?

The onslaught of online information is endless. Is the time thirsty sponge of social media just wasting your time?

GUEST POST : Sadie Greening is an aspiring crime author, creative writing student and mother – follow her on Twitter @octaviagrey

If it is then you are not alone. I’m new to the social media side of the Internet. I’ve had a Facebook profile for a few years now but then again, so has my dad. I dabbled a bit with updating my status and checking in with friends I haven’t heard about since school, but Twitter, Kickstarter, Pinterest? It was like people were speaking Swahili when they talked of tweets, ‘following’ people (I heard ‘stalking’) and crowd funding.

It almost became a pride thing for me to say, “Nah, not my bag that,” whenever people spoke of social media. Well, they do say pride comes before a fall. And fall I did because as I set off on my path to achieve literary fulfilment with a writing career, I realised my error. These media platforms are an integral part of the networking process for a new writer. They are the way people communicate in this field. I need them.

I set up a WordPress site for my blog. Well, okay, I got a friend who’s a real techy genius to set it up for me, but I populated it! It looks great and you can check it out at I started to blog. The previously forsaken Twitter account was activated and I set up not just a Facebook profile but a Facebook page. With a huge pat on my own back I congratulated myself in having nailed it.

It wasn’t long before I grasped the sheer weight of effort necessary to make these platforms work and almost gave up. In the online ether people don’t look for you – you have to go out and get them. And that requires time. Lots of time. Time to research the blogs that relate to your area of interest, find them, read them, comment on them, stalk, sorry follow, the writers themselves, tweet them and build a rapport. You need to invite them to come to your blog as a guest post, you return the favour, you book review everything you can; tread the fine line between saying what you mean and not alienating someone you might either meet, or worse, come to rely on later down the line. The list is endless.

This activity sucks you in. You need to do it so you do, to the expense of, in my case, university assignments, housework, cooking, washing and on some days, sleep. Keeping a day job whilst being a full time student means life is full on as it is. Add in the mix the black hole of social media surfing and the only thing that can give is sleep.

One recent blog post I uploaded was on the very subject of how people find the time to blog when they’re working too. One writer commented on the blog and her opinion of how people juggle both sides of the coin was:

‘Basically, you don’t! I launched my first eBook in Aug (11 previous novels publ by mainstream publishers, but dried up in recession). BEFORE doing this, I started a blog in May. Then joined Twitter in Aug. New book? Put on back burner for 7 months while I built my profile. Good bits: making some money at last!! Meeting some great people who are now friends. Less good bits: having to be away from the WIP. From what I gather, and your blog confirms it, mainstream publishers now expect writers to do a large part of the publicity themselves. I actually quite like it, but I shudder to think what the ‘shy, retiring’ author is going to do. Get remaindered pretty fast, me thinks!’

She makes an interesting point. Publishers are increasingly relying on authors to publicise themselves. With success stories such as Fifty Shades of Grey, which started life as internet based fan fiction for Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, the self-published, self-publicised novel is no longer spurned as it once was. Publishers are realising that their publishing budgets will go further if the authors are doing the majority of leg work during those crucial early stages. With less of an initial outlay, publishers can wait for the reaction of the masses prior to shelling out. In the age of austerity that’s an attractive prospect.

So it equates then that an author with an established platform and fan base, or following, will be a more enticing prospect that one without. Salt Publishing, the UK indie publishers of Booker Prize shortlisted novel The Lighthouse by Alison Moore actively state on their website that they will look at an author’s online platform before making a decision to take them on. They urge would-be authors to follow their listed authors on Twitter, get involved with them and engage in their publicity machine. It’s genius – free publicity for them! But what the rest of us get, as we struggle to follow their suggestions because we desperately want to be the next Booker prize nominee, is another few hours in the day devouring darkness of the online onslaught.