Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Who's really taking liberties in Ireland? Part II

Several days have passed ... the debate has rumbled on - a lot of it on Twitter, under the hashtag #libertiespress.

A tweet from writer David Gaughran gave me pause to reconsider my earlier post on this subject.

And it was such a good, succinct point, that I've since been pulled the other way a bit. While I'd still in principle defend the right of a business to run its business the way it chooses, I think I would now more strongly recommend against using this service - and suggest that if a new writer did want to receive a critique, an independent and experienced editor or MS critic would be the far better way to go. Is it against the spirit of publishing? I'm leaning towards yes, but I'm still uncertain.

Anyway, The Irish Times have reported on the brouhaha that has followed, including in their report the tweet from the Irish Writers Union criticising the Liberties Press move which I pasted into my previous post.

However, The Irish Writers Union also criticised The Irish Times for their rights-demanding writing competition which I also blogged on several days ago.

... and I doubt we'll be seeing coverage of that in the paper, will we? 

Why is nobody making a fuss over the Irish Times, but plenty over Liberties Press? I'll leave you with the thoughts of Gaughran again, which I'm inclined to agree with.

Depressing, isn't it? 

Friday, 7 October 2016

Who's really taking liberties in Ireland?

The news that an Irish publisher has begun to charge 100 Euro for any unagented submission of a manuscript for potential publication has been met with anger among some writers and writing groups.

Writer Susan Tomaselli, editor of Gorse Journal, suggested it was "taking the piss". A Twitter exchange initiated by Author Oisin McGann revealed a number of deeply unimpressed writers - with one declaring it a "racket". The Indie Authors' Alliance called it a "seriously worrying departure from publishing norms". This was the Irish Writers' Union response:

This all happened in the summer - but the Irish Times has only just reported it, it seems, bringing it to wider attention, including my own.

There is an irony, for me, that it was the IT who have belatedly 'broken' this story, given that they have just run a travel writing competition demanding all rights in submitted entries - yes, even losing ones - something I drew attention to on Twitter a few weeks ago, which my colleague Simon Whaley blogged on, and which was picked up by the brilliant writers' campaign group Artists Rights, who itemised each deeply unfair term on their website.

Although the Irish Writers' Union also criticised the IT, I saw little further frustration from the writing community about this appalling lack of respect for creators' rights - which is simply incomparable to what Liberties Press are doing, in my view.

At least LP are being transparent, and writers know what they're getting - a one-page critique, according to LP's submissions page, "providing a critical assessment of the MS, comments on commercial possibilities, and suggestions for next steps ... Further comment from the author will also be responded to".

Is this so bad? It sounds like a manuscript critique service, and an averagely priced one at that. The value of 100 Euro is known and understood - and the policy is explicit. You know what you are parting with, what you are getting, and there is no further price to pay. Choose to, or choose not to.

Meanwhile, the value of copyright in a piece of speculative work is not widely understood - and not actually knowable at the time of submission. Perhaps it's worthless; perhaps it's highly lucrative. The Irish Times have declared their rights-seizing demands in their T&Cs, but tucked away in a place many writers are too careless to check, and expressed in a manner many beginner writers are too green to understand.

While it's not unreasonable to get occasionally upset at the various changes happening in the publishing industry, is this all so different to a standard writing competition? You pay an entry fee, you win or (statistically more likely) you lose, and you may or (statistically more likely) you may not get any feedback. Is it fair, for instance, for poetry competition organisers to take (admittedly small) entry fees from entrants who have zero clue what poetry is - and probably offer nothing in return? Writing competitions, I fear, often make their money from no-hope entrants, and there has been little scrutiny of them, to my mind.

Everyone wants to be a writer these days, and I can imagine how bombarded those in the publishing business (for it is a business, the romantics would do well to remember) are with aspiring writers' precious works. As LP say, it will be "no bad thing" for them if they see fewer manuscripts, and while I tend to disagree with them that their policy will be routine in years to come, I feel the anger against them is not entirely justified, and wish far more were directed at those who show disrespect towards matters copyright, such as the Irish Times.

11th October. Edited to add: For further thoughts on this subject see Who's really taking liberties in Ireland? Part II.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Mistake No. 112: Desperation (Part II)

In Desperation (Part I), I wrote the following, which I make no apologies for repeating, this time with emphasis:

“Freelance writer” tells the editor you’re available for work.   

“Available for work” tells the editor you’re desperate for work.   

It's no good being desperate, because editors can sniff out desperation a mile off, and they are wary of it, for all the reasons I gave in the previous post.

I've noticed lately a number of writers using the #journorequest hashtag on Twitter to advertise their availability for work.

#journorequest was 'invented' by a journalist colleague called Sarah Ewing many years ago, for journalists to use to alert PRs, experts and others about anything they were looking for in order to complete their briefs - spokespeople for comment, products for review, and so on. 

It took off. In fact, it worked brilliantly. Years down the line, it still works to some extent, but it's now a partial victim of its own success, and is regularly appropriated by those with apparently little greater purpose in life than to troll those in the business and post bogus 'comedy' requests - and by those looking for work, rather than those who already have it.

Posting "Writer available for work #journorequest" will - I'm almost certain - never work. It just, won't, work. 

It's not just the desperation, or the naivety. It's the impossible successful scenario you have to imagine unfolding: one of an editor with a budget, and a responsibility for a successful media outlet, scouring through the results of a hashtag not aimed at them, chancing upon a self-promotional tweet among thousands, and offering to give the writer of that tweet money in exchange for words. Which words? Who knows. I certainly don't know. Because it just, won't, happen. 

Writers are everywhere. We are hay in a haystack. Nobody goes 'Ooh, a writer!' any longer. Advertising yourself as such is special to nobody, except perhaps yourself. 

Editors have writers overflowing in their in-boxes and contact books - writers with ideas, writers who they've worked with before, writers who other writers have recommended. These are where editors find their writers. You have to put yourself there to be in with a realistic shout.

And to get there you need ideas - I've blogged about this dozens of times before. (Try this one for starters.) It is great ideas that make you special; not calling yourself a writer. You need to put these sizzling, compelling ideas in front of editors, and you need to convince editors you're the perfect person to follow through on the promise of your red-hot ideas. 

There is no other way. 

Found this Mistake useful? You might like my ebook 50 Mistakes Beginner Writers Make (£1.99 / $2.99).

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Bloglovin' and unpaid contributors

Bloglovin' are looking for contributors.

Here, they say they're after a 'wave of talented food writers/curators' willing to contribute '1-2 articles per week [unpaid]'

Here, more recently, they're looking for a 'wave of talented home decor writers/curators' willing to contribute '1-2 articles per week [unpaid]'.

Having secured $7m investment a couple of years ago, I thought it fair that I should ask them - on Twitter - whether there was any of that money left to pay their contributors.

After a week, no response.

I retried, cc'ing the account of their co-founder, Mattias Swenson.

After a week, no response.

Lately, perhaps it's just a consequence of getting older, I've been losing my patience with non-payers. (See my frustration at an Archant publication here on my food allergy and intolerance blog.)

There are times when writing for free is OK. I've contributed guest posts or free copy to small websites in the past, for example; I've written an article to help promote one of my books. I've even asked - and still ask - potential contributors to write posts for this blog (thank you, Lucy - your post is still proving popular!). I have written previously about writing for free - on Mistake No. 75, and Mistake No. 99 - and I think my thoughts then remain mostly the same now.

There is, I think, now a line to be drawn under those who ask for regular contributions almost as a matter of routine, or as policy, or who ask journalists to provide quality articles without pay - and who are a money-making venture - or clearly have sufficient funding to pay should they wish to pay. For me, the line should be about finance - can they afford it? Are they looking to profit from the endeavour to which they are asking you to contribute?

Every case must be judged on its own merits, and I'm quite prepared to give individuals and organisations the benefit of the doubt, but my alarm bells will be ringing loudly and my dissenting response will likely be triggered at any future request for work accompanied by ostentatious promises of - urgh - exposure, or, as Bloglovin' offer, the promise of "feedback on how you can improve & grow your blogs [sic] audience".

It will not get better if we continue to put up with this crap, or indulge it to the degree with which we have until now, which appears to have normalised this sort of treatment of writers and aspiring writers.

I have deleted my Bloglovin' account.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Mistake No. 111: Rejection isn't personal

"Don't take it to heart."

"It's them - not you."

"It's nothing personal."

Share news of a rejection of your work to a friend or loved one and I'll bet they'll respond with one of the above - or a variation of. 

They're just saying what is expected of them, and being nice. 

You know what? Yes it is personal. 

Oh all right. It can be personal. It can be a bit personal.

It doesn't mean they hate your walk, your manner, your taste in music, your personality.

It doesn't even necessarily mean they hate your pitch, or idea, or article, or book proposal. 

It possibly does mean they don't think there's any business sense in accepting it. It either won't sell, they think, or won't fit well into the market, or isn't right for their reader. It'll cost them - financially. It may cost them readers. They won't recoup the money they pay you. 

Why is there no sense in accepting what you're offering? It might be no good. They may have accepted something similar recently. It might be boring. They may think you're not a good writer, or won't be good - or professional - to work with. They may not be commissioning currently because they've enough articles or books. It may not go down well with the advertisers. 

There are lots of possible reasons. And some of them are personal

Your idea, your expression, your work - each of these is an extension of you. Your writing originated in your brain. Something of you - your art, your words, your judgment, your creativity, all of which were formed in the mind by which you are defined - is quite probably being rejected. And that's personal. I fail to see how it can not be. 

How can you know whether it's personal or not personal - or somewhere in between, as I would imagine it often is? You might not know. The editor may give no clue. Even if he does give some clue, the writer's mind may be prone to agonise over it for hours or days.

Spare yourself that. Why not just resolve to take it personally before you even open the email or letter? Try it. Suck up that feeling of unwantedness. It's character building. Wise writers past may have done well out of writing self-help books about dealing with rejection (just look how many there are), but you don't need them, because you've sucked it up, shrugged your shoulders, and moved on to the next potential client. If you have faith in your idea or work, then keep going with it. If you keep getting rejected, review it. Can it be improved? Can you get an honest opinion from someone who you trust? Make it a bit better; send it off again. 

Most of all, tell yourself that if it wasn't for rejection, acceptance wouldn't be such a thrill.