17 November 2010

So You Want to be a Writer?

A lot of people want to be writers - or at least, they think they do. Like all the creative arts, it has a certain appeal to many people for various reasons. But just like becoming a famous musician does not happen overnight and requires years of gruelling schedules and poor income, writers are not guaranteed success. As a continuation of last month's post by Lauren, this will be looking at the ups and downs of writing and the various ways in which you can write for a living.

Typically when someone says they want to be a writer the first interpretation of that from others is a novelist, and that is often followed with warnings along the lines of '98% of manuscripts get rejected' and 'most writers never make much money'. Both points are true enough, but being a writer doesn't start and end with novels.

When you enter the foray of writing you need to decide what you want to do. Do you have lofty ambitions of being the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, or do you just want to be able to earn an income by putting words to paper? The latter is a shorter, easier process. You can start writing in your spare time, selling short stories to magazines or writing freelance articles for newspapers, or approaching companies to be a copywriter for their adverts, brochures or websites. If you already have a job, you can use your knowledge and experience from that to write on that particular topic - you may find that pretty soon you're in demand to write for a collection of people or companies on your chosen topic.

If you want to be a novelist, the process is longer and much more difficult. Not only does it take time to write a full book, but you need to then sell it to a publisher. While it is true that 98% of manuscript submissions are rejected, you shouldn't get too upset over that; rather, make yours stand out. Most of the submitted manuscripts are very rough and require a great deal of work before they are ready to be sold to the market. So, take some initiative and hire an editor; they will sort out the content and format it ready for submission. Do your research on what publisher or agent to approach - there's no faster way to get rejected than to send a submission to a publisher that doesn't deal with your type of book. For instance, there's no use in sending a fiction book to a non-fiction publisher.

Whichever route you decide to take, make full use of the power of the Internet. As Seth Godin recently said, don't wait to win the lottery, build an army of readers who are willing to buy your output when you release it. Build a website, write a blog that you regularly update to generate traffic so people become aware of you. Register on Facebook and Twitter to reach a wider audience and utilise the option of downloads so people can get your writing straight away. You can even give it away and ask for donations, or sell it. If you give it away and make no money at all, you're still building that army, and that will be great leverage when approaching publishers: they will see there is already a growing market for your personal writing.

Writing can be a wonderfully rewarding vocation and there are numerous ways you can earn a living from doing it. So don't be intimidated by the prospects; instead, brainstorm some ideas of what area you want to venture into and then make an immediate start. There's no time like the present, as they say, and you may well be surprised by how quickly things take off.

4 October 2010

Making the Foray Into Writing

Guest Post from Lauren Holden

If you want to be a writer, perhaps the first thing you should ask yourself is ‘why’? If you’re doing it for the money, you’ll no doubt be severely disappointed, especially in the first instance. Wannabe writers usually have to start at the bottom; writing for fanzines for free or contributing to their student newspaper. And everyone knows there's little, or no money in either. If you’re doing it for the opportunity of a published byline - great, but be prepared to start small. Writers who are just starting out are usually chuffed to bits to see their name next to an article on even the most obscure website.
Expecting to get a byline in a top national magazine on your very first writing assignment is usually out of the question.

Want to write because you have a genuine passion for being creative with words? Good stuff! Get yourself a contacts book and jot down the names and email addresses of people you meet along the way. Networking can be key to your first foray into writing; it’s not what you know but who you know, as they say.

Should you come to pitch your article to a magazine or newspaper, be prepared for some knock-backs. Don’t be disheartened if your feature idea is rejected; just because one editor doesn’t like your idea, it doesn’t mean everyone else will. Get hold of the 2010 Writers’
Handbook for relevant contact details for hundreds of magazines, newspapers and websites up and down the country. You’ll know exactly who to pitch your idea to, as well as picking up tips about what certain magazines are looking for in terms of content.

Keep an eye on what’s topical in the news and always remember to ‘write what you know’. Writers who tackle a subject they know little about will often struggle. It’s far easier to select a subject you can relate to and you’re interested to write about. There’s little fun in researching and writing about ‘injection moulding companies’ if you’re not a fan of the subject itself.

Finally, get yourself on Twitter and ‘follow’ fellow writers, interesting celebs and anyone you think may be worth a story. Good luck!

8 September 2010

The hyphen, the em-dash and the en-dash

A lot of people aren't aware what an en-dash or em-dash is, let alone how to use them. Unlike apostrophes and semi-colons, misusing them won't affect the flow or meaning of a sentence. That being said, there is a difference and it's important to learn it to avoid schoolboy errors.

A hyphen is what's used to link two words, hence hyphenate. It's the short dash that we see quite often, such as 'semi-colons' above. An en-dash looks like a longer dash and is used to replace 'to' when mentioning periods of time, like January–December, 1990–1991, 9–5 etc. An em-dash is what you see when a dash pops up mid-sentence, such as "no one – and I mean no one - has ever done that"

Microsoft Word will generally create an em-dash for you, if you put a hyphen in followed by a space and a word, the hyphen will change to an em-dash. If not, on a standard PC keyboard, ctrl+hyphen should generate one.

Apostrophes: What they are and what they're not

As an editor, one of the most common things I notice is a person's confusion over how to use an apostrophe. Some use them anytime an 's' finishes a word, others are hit-and-miss, using them correctly in some instances and not in others, and others still don't use them at all. So just how should they be used?

As a general rule, an apostrophe is used to indicate a possessive i.e. something is the possession of someone, not to pluralise something. For instance, if a line read "John's hat is over there" the apostrophe is used because the hat belongs to John. Another example could be "the dog's bed belongs in that corner". Again, the bed belongs to the dog; the absence of an apostrophe indicates a plural, like "the photos are all beautiful". Using an apostrophe in "photos" would change it to being possessive when it should be plural.

In the case of a plural that ends with an 's' (sailors) and possessive, the apostrophe is placed after the end 's'. For instance, if a researcher was named Mullins, a sentence could be "Mullins' study"; if it read "Mullin's study" the apostrophe would be incorrectly placed, changing the name. (If a plural doesn't end in an 's', such as 'children', an apostrophe is used.)

Apostrophes are also used when two words are merged (known as a contraction), like 'that' and 'is' to becomes 'that's', or 'it' and 'is' to become 'it's'. This is the exception to the possessive rule.

'That's' always has an apostrophe, it's never plural. As an example, "that's the correct temperature", is "that is the correct temperature".

However, there are instances where 'its' doesn't require an apostrophe. Understandably, this can be confusing for some writers. An apostrophe isn't required when it doesn't mean 'it is'. For example, "the main selling point of the television is its screen size". This seems to contradict the rule of the possessive apostrophe, but 'it' is a pronoun, which have their own rules for possessives. Other examples are 'theirs' and 'yours'.

The other main offenders people mistakenly use apostrophe is after dates and acronyms/initalisms. If you bought some DVDs, it is plural and so no apostrophe is to be used, just as they aren't used for other plurals. The same is true with dates, the 1990s saw a number of global changes, not the 1990's.

Apostrophes can seem confusing, but bear the few simple rules in mind and it'll become easy.

1) Plurals don't require an apostrophe, even if they are acronyms or dates.
2) Apostrophes are used as the possessive (John's, not Johns as this would indicate there is more than one John being mentioned) or or in a contraction
3) Pronouns don't require apostrophes for the possessive