Posts by Nick:

Daily Mail Penguin Random House New Crime Novel Contest Now Open

If you’re an aspiring crime/thriller novelist – and you live in the UK or Republic of Ireland – here’s a contest you should definitely consider entering.

The Daily Mail Random House New Crime Novel Competition is free to enter. The winner will receive a £20,000 advance fee, the services of a top literary agent, and guaranteed publication by Penguin Random House UK.

Your story can be detective novel, crime or spy thriller, or psychological chiller. Entrants must never have had a novel published before (in any format, including ebook or self-published) and must be 16 or over.

You don’t need to submit the finished novel, just the first 5,000 words plus a 600-word synopsis of the complete work. The deadline is 5 May 2017, so at the time of writing you have just over a fortnight to get your entry written, polished and submitted.

All entries have to be typed and printed on A4 paper with double spacing in font size 12 point, Times New Roman. They must be posted or couriered to Daily Mail First Crime Novel Competition, c/o Penguin Random House Group, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 2SA. All entries must include the entrant’s full name and contact details (including their home and email address) and confirmation they have agreed to the full terms and conditions.

For more information about the contest, including tips for would-be authors, visit this page of the Daily Mail website. For the full terms and conditions and details of how to enter in PDF format, click on this link.

Good luck, and happy crime writing!

 

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Ten Top Tips for Winning Short Story Contests

Ten Top Tips for Winning Short Story Contests

As well as being fortunate enough to win several short story contests, I have been asked to judge a few. So I thought today I would share some tips that come at least partly from my judging experience..

1. Most important of all, obey the contest rules. It they say the maximum is 1500 words, don’t submit 2000. An entry that clearly breaks the rules has no chance of winning.

2. Don’t enter the same story in more than one contest at a time. It will be embarrassing to both you and the organizers if the same story wins or places in both contests, and you may end up forfeiting your prize (or prizes).

3. Try to come up with an original idea or angle. Remember that your story will be competing with many others, so avoid the predictable plots that have been done to death, or at least give them a fresh twist. A clever double-twist ending that surprises the judges and subverts their expectations can be a winning formula.

4. Twist endings aren’t essential, though (unless that is specified in the rules). A story that engages with the reader on an emotional level and leaves him/her something to ponder can also be a strong contender in a short story contest.

5. Other things being equal, avoid submitting stories that are laden with doom and gloom. As a judge I’ve been amazed (and depressed) by the high proportion of miserable, downbeat tales that are entered in competitions. That’s not to say such stories can’t be good, but judges are only human. Faced by story after story brimming with misery, when we come across a tale with a bit of humour it really stands out. So go easy on the negativity. Witty, humorous stories (even dark humour) are far more likely to catch the judge’s eye, partly because they are so unusual. And even if you don’t end up winning, my fellow judges and I will be grateful to you for brightening our day!

6. Avoid cliches such as ‘she was a mine of information’ or ‘he was as cool as a cucumber’. These are signs of lazy writing and won’t impress the judges.

7. Likewise, try to avoid stereotyping. Just as judges are familiar with all the usual plot twists, so they can recognize flat, two-dimensional characters. Admittedly short stories don’t allow much space for characterization and character development. But if you can go beyond the standard stereotypes and present readers with interesting and surprising characters who spring to life off the page, it will greatly boost your chances of success.

8. Check and double-check your spelling, grammar and punctuation. No story that demonstrates a lack of attention to the basics of good English is likely to win a contest. Ideally, have someone else who is good at this check your entry for you before submitting it.

9. Don’t be too despondent if your story doesn’t win or even place. In most competitions there are hundreds of entries, and luck and the judges’ personal tastes inevitably play a part. I have had a story come nowhere in one contest and win another. If you are confident of the quality of your story, give it another polish and send it out again when a suitable opportunity arises.

10. If possible, though, take the trouble to read the stories that do win and see what this tells you about what the judges were looking for. Compare your own story honestly with those of the winners and see what they did that you didn’t (although bear in mind my comments above).

Good luck, and I wish you every success entering short story contests!

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Sign up now for this free screenwriting course

Sign Up Now For This Free Screenwriting Course

If screenwriting is something that interests you, you might like to sign up for the free introductory course currently on offer via FutureLearn (a UK-based educational initiative that advertises short online courses from British and international universities).

The course title is An Introduction to Screenwriting and it comes from the University of East Anglia. It starts on 8 May 2017 and runs for two weeks with an estimated time commitment of three hours per week.

An Introduction to Screenwriting is an online course for anyone new to scriptwriting and for more experienced writers who wish to raise their scriptwriting to a professional level. It does not require any previous experience of studying the subject.

On the website, it says:

You’ll learn from a mixture of basic theory, script analysis and practical exercises. We will explore key principles as they’re expressed in great films, then immediately apply these concepts. Videos, articles and discussion steps will offer you the opportunity to learn and engage with other learners on key concepts and ideas.

By the end of the course, you will understand the key concepts necessary to write an effective screenplay and be fluent in the language used to discuss the form.

The course is run by screenwriter Michael Lengsfield and his colleagues at UEA’s School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing.

An Introduction to Screenwriting is free of charge and open to anyone anywhere in the world. There is, though, a paid-for upgrade as well (costing 49 UKP) with a few extra features. In particular, you get a certificate at the end and can continue to access all the course materials indefinitely. With the free version you only get access for up to a fortnight after the end of the course – so if you don’t want to pay the fee you may need to do a bit of copying and pasting to keep all the materials for future reference!

For more information about the course (including a video trailer) and to register, visit the Introduction to Screenwriting information page of the FutureLearn website.

FutureLearn have lots of other interesting free courses, incidentally, on subjects ranging from anatomy to physical theatre, cyber-security to discovering dentistry!

I have taken a number of Futurelearn courses myself and always find them stimulating and thought-provoking. Another big attraction is that you get to interact with fellow students from all over the world.

  • If you are interested in screenwriting, you might also like to check out Movie in a Month, a high-quality CD-based course from my publishers WCCL. As well as in-depth advice on screenwriting, this also includes over 800 actual movie scripts and treatments you can learn from.
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Now You Can Publish Kindle Ebooks as Paperbacks Through Kindle Direct Publishing

Now You Can Publish Kindle Ebooks as Paperbacks Through Kindle Direct Publishing

If you’re a Kindle author and haven’t logged into the KDP website recently, you may notice a new option on your Bookshelf.

There is now an option to publish your Kindle e-book as a print-on-demand (POD) paperback via the KDP site. This is quite separate from publishing on Amazon’s CreateSpace platform, incidentally.

I spent some time looking at what is on offer today, so here are my thoughts so far. To start with, it’s not just the case that you click a button and a paperback version is produced from the e-book. Some information is obviously carried over (book title, author name, publishing rights, and so on). However, the text and cover artwork have to be uploaded separately as new files. It does surprise me a bit that you can’t just import the existing text and format it for print, but there we are.

You can download various templates for your book from the KDP website info pages and edit these in Word or other software. Some guidance is provided for doing this, including a downloadable PDF manual. In my case KDP recommended that I use a 9 x 6 inch template. Both blank templates and templates with sample text are available via the KDP website.

Likewise, you can’t just automatically import your existing e-book cover. You have to either create and upload a print-ready PDF (you’ll need software such as Photo Shop to produce this) or use the KDP Cover Creator tool. The latter can produce cover designs suitable for paperback books (front, back and spine) and will import your existing e-book front cover if you wish (and it’s suitable). If you want a consistent look across both the e-book and print version of your book, however, you may face a few challenges.

You can set your own price for the paperback version of your book and receive 60% of the price paid once print costs have been deducted. This is obviously worth doing in order to reach the substantial audience of people who still prefer print books rather than electronic ones.

The KDP paperback creator is still in beta and additional features are promised in due course. One major thing lacking at the moment is any way of purchasing a sample print copy of your book so you can see for yourself what buyers will receive. This is clearly a drawback compared with CreateSpace. Neither do KDP published print books currently receive the extended distribution of CreateSpace titles.

If you currently publish on CreateSpace I can’t therefore see any compelling reason to switch to KDP at the moment. However, the likelihood is that once everything is working as it should KDP will become Amazon’s main hub for both e-book and print self-publishing. The future for CreateSpace after that is uncertain. For this reason if no other, it is a good idea to at least take a look at KDP’s paperback creator tool now.

I have made a start on converting one of my Kindle e-books using the KDP paperback creator, and will post here again once it is available. But I’d love to get your comments and feedback as well, especially if you have tried out the service yourself. Please leave any comments below as usual.

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ALCS March Distribution This Week!

ALCS March Distribution This Week!

If you’re a UK writer registered with the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), you may want to log in to your account this week to check whether you will be receiving a payment in their March distribution due around Friday 24 March 2017, and if so how much.

For those who don’t know, ALCS handles a range of fees and payments for writers, including photocopying fees and payments from various overseas PLR (public lending right) programmes. As long as you have one or more books, articles or stories published, you can register to receive your share. There are two distributions every year, in March and September, though for whatever reason I only ever seem to get a payment in the March one.

If you aren’t already registered with ALCS you will have to pay a one-off fee of £36, but this will be deducted from your first payment, so you shouldn’t have to pay anything up front. In any event, it is definitely worth it. My payment this year is over £120, and aside from a few novelty products most of my work is published on the internet these days!

I don’t entirely understand how ALCS payments are calculated, and gather I am not alone in this. You might therefore be interested to read this recent blog post by my near-neighbour Simon Whaley. He asked ALCS a number of questions about how the scheme works, and published the replies he received. These make interesting reading, although I still found myself somewhat confused at the end!

If you are a member of an authors’ organization such as the Society of Authors, you may find that your ALCS membership is already covered. In that case, all you need to do is register on the ALCS website, providing details of your books and so forth and a bank account into which your payments can be made.

These days I find I make more money from ALCS than from the UK PLR scheme, as for various reasons lending from public libraries has diminished considerably in recent years. It is, though, still well worth registering for PLR if you haven’t already. For more information about this, see my discussion of PLR in this recent blog post.

As ever, if you have any questions or comments about ALCS (or PLR), please do post them below and I will do my best to answer them.

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Easy PD Profits

Review: Easy PD Profits by Amy Harrop

Easy PD Profits is the latest product launch by the ever-prolific Amy Harrop.

Amy is a successful self-published author, and publisher of many guides and software products for authors. She was kind enough to allow me pre-launch review access, so here’s what I found…

Easy PD Profits is about making money with the aid of public domain content. As you probably know, this is content available to edit, adapt and publish as you wish without any need to pay or credit the original creator. It comes typically from old sources that are now out of copyright (though some government-produced content also falls into this category). As well as books and articles, it includes photos, drawings, illustrations, films, and more.

Easy PD Profits has two main elements, a manual and a software tool.

The manual is a 71-page PDF. As you would expect with any of Amy’s publications, this is well written and attractively presented. It is illustrated with graphics and screen captures where relevant.

In the manual, Amy describes a range of ways you can make money from public domain content. It is organized into five blueprints:

#1-Create a Website Using PD Material
#2 Sell Image-Based Content Collections
#3 Publish Books with Public Domain Content
#4-Tap into the Hot Vintage Marketplace
#5 Sell Image-Based Physical Products

Each of these methods is described in detail with real-life examples. Any could easily become the basis for a highly profitable business on its own.

In general, the emphasis is on using the PD content as a starting point, creating books and websites combining it with original content, or selling physical products such as posters, mugs and tee-shirts that incorporate it. This approach seems eminently sensible to me, as of course you can’t claim copyright over PD content and others are free to use it as well.

As well as the manual, you get Amy’s Public Domain Dashboard software (see screen capture below). This is a simple program that will run on any Windows PC. You don’t have to install it, just save it anywhere convenient on your PC (e.g. the desktop) and double-click to launch it.

Public Domain Dashboard software

You can also use the software on a Mac, using Parallels or Wine. Video training on how to set up the software with Wine is included.

One important thing to note is that this is NOT a search engine for PD content. Rather, it is a spreadsheet-style database of sources. It is actually a collection of spreadsheets, listing sources of public domain photos, illustrations, books and other written content, and so forth. A short excerpt from the Books and Written Content list is shown below.

Public Domain Dashboard excerpt

The software is very easy and intuitive to use (help videos are provided but I doubt if most people will need them). It works online so you will need a live internet connection to use it. I guess that might be a problem for a few folk, but if you have a standard broadband connection it won’t be an issue. And it does have the big advantage that you can click on any link to open the web page in question (they open immediately in a new Internet Explorer window).

Even better, Amy promises to update the information regularly incorporating user feedback and suggestions, so the software will constantly grow in value. You may notice that there is a Suggest a Site button which you can use in a public-spirited way to upload any useful resources you discover yourself.

Other bonuses on offer with Easy PD Profits include guides to setting up an Etsy Store and how to profit from Shopify (see screen capture from the sales page below). I didn’t receive these with my preview copy, but they both look relevant and useful. As Amy says, public domain content can be a perfect starting place for creating physical products you can sell via these platforms.

In summary, Easy PD Profits is another high-quality product from Amy Harrop. It sets out an array of methods you can use to make money from public domain content.

It is currently on sale at a launch offer price of $27 (about £22), after which – as is Amy’s usual practice – the price will be rising by $10 to $37. If you are an entrepreneurial writer looking to add more income streams to your portfolio, it is definitely worth checking out.

If you have any comments or questions about Easy PD Profits, as always, please do post them below.

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Why Keeeping in Touch with Old Clients is Vital (and How Best to Do It)

Why Keeping in Touch with Old Clients is Vital (and How Best to Do It)

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am semi-retired these days.

That doesn’t mean I have stopped working altogether, though, and I wouldn’t want to.

Things have been a bit quiet over the last few months, though, so I decided to get in touch with some old clients to remind them I was still around if there was anything I could help them with.

Some didn’t reply, but others did. I got more work almost immediately from two of them, with the promise of more in future from a third. I thought it might be worth looking at what lessons can be learned from this…

One very important thing is that when you work with companies, people move on and – shock, horror! – they don’t always tell you. A new guy or girl moves into their role and doesn’t know you from Adam (or Eve). If they need a freelance, your name is unlikely to be the first one to come into their mind. Consequently, the flow of work suddenly dries up.

That was the scenario in one of the companies I got more work from. I received a reply from a woman saying that she was fairly new in the role, apologising for not getting in touch sooner, and asking if I could also do proofreading work.

Of course, I said yes, and the upshot was that I got a dozen short novelty books to proofread, along with the company’s trade catalogue. Although I am not primarily a proofreader, it is  something I am happy to do when the occasion arises. In some ways I rather enjoy correcting work someone else has produced, rather than having to write it all myself!

At the other company I got new work from, the same person was still there. He was pleased to hear from me again (he said) and mentioned that they wanted a Kindle e-book writing to help promote their seminars business. Of course, as a published Kindle author myself, I immediately volunteered my services. The result was that I got a sizeable commission to write a book on their behalf, with more projects promised in future as well.

Clearly then, while not all my old clients replied positively, enough did to make this a very worthwhile exercise. Here are a few more points you might like to consider if you find yourself in a similar position to the one I was in…

  • If it’s been a year or two since you last worked for a client, it’s quite likely your previous contact will have moved on, so start by briefly introducing yourself and mentioning projects you have worked on in the past.
  • It may also be a good idea to write to the company’s main email address rather than one that belonged to your previous contact. Or at least, copy it to that address also.
  • If you have a good pretext for contacting a business, don’t hesitate to use this. In one case a company had promised to send me an author’s copy of a print book I had written for them, but I  never received this. So I wrote politely to ask if I could be sent it now. I also reminded them that I was available for other work if required. I got an immediate reply apologising for the oversight and promising to send me three copies of the book (which they did). They didn’t have any work for me straight away, but promised I would be top of the list if anything else came up. So I would say I am definitely back on their radar now.
  • Another good pretext for contacting a new client is if you are now offering a new service, e.g. blogging or social media work.
  • You could also write to let them know if, for example, you have launched a new blog or website (and this might be of interest to them). As you may know, I recently launched a personal finance blog called Pounds & Sense, and I mentioned this in several cases. It certainly generated a degree of interest, although I didn’t get any work related to it directly.
  • Remember as well that a client may not realise the full range of skills you have to offer, especially if you have acquired new ones since last working for them. So it’s always good to remind them what you can do. In the case of the company mentioned above, they evidently hadn’t realised I could also do proofreading work. I fully expect to receive quite a lot more work of that nature from them in the coming months.

Finally, since I’m on this subject, I do still have some spare capacity at the moment – so if you have any writing, editing or proofreading work you need doing, please get in touch!

And if you have any comments or questions about this post – or any other ideas for generating work from old clients – do post them below.

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Next Great Horror Writer Contest

The Next Great Horror Writer Contest

If writing horror fiction is your thing, here’s a contest you won’t want to miss.

The Next Great Horror Writer Contest is open to any aspiring horror writer over the age of 18. The contest is for new writers, so you must not have had a story of over 10,000 words published by a publishing house already (although self-published authors are eligible).

The contest is being run by the HorrorAddicts.net website, and is free to enter. It is being judged by a panel of professional horror writers, publishers and editors.

The first prize is pretty impressive. The winner will receive:

  • a novel/book contract with leading indie publishers Crystal Lake Publishing
  • a free edit of a novel up to 50,000 words
  • a short story contract with the HorrorAddicts.net “Horror Bites” series
  • a horror writer gift box – ‘supplies and inspiration for the Next Great Horror Writer’

There are other prizes as well, including audio drama production, podcast interviews, more short story contracts, and so on. The contest will proceed through a series of ‘challenges’ designed to select the final winner, with prizes being awarded to the winners of each stage. The challenges will take place from March 2017 to October 2017.

The closing date for entering The Next Great Horror Writer is 1 March 2017. At this stage you simply have to submit the online entry form and a 100-word story. The rules say you must ‘have a full-length novel or novella ready to pitch to a publishing house’ but you aren’t required to submit this with your entry. Clearly, you should have a novel at least in progress so you will be in a position to benefit if you are lucky enough to win the first prize. However, definitely don’t be put off if you don’t have a full-length novel ready to submit now!

For more information about The Next Great Horror Writer Contest, click through any of the links in this post. You can also complete the online application form on the web page.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, as always, feel free to leave them below. I wish you the very best of luck if you decide to enter this contest. 🙂

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book covers

Two New Writing Books for Your Reference Library

Today I wanted to share with you news of two new writing books by colleagues of mine that have just been published.

The first one is The Business of Writing by Simon Whaley. As the name indicates, this is a guide to the business aspects of writing, from taxation to pen-names, author contracts to press trip protocols. The full table of contents is copied below.BOWContentsSimon is a UK-based freelance writer who lives in Shropshire, not a million miles from me. The book does therefore have a UK focus, especially when it comes to matters such as taxation. Much of the content would apply equally if you live elsewhere, though.

Simon also has a blog called The Business of Writing, which is well worth reading. He writes a column by that name too in the UK-based Writing Magazine (great branding, Simon!).

Much of the content of the book is based on articles published in Simon’s magazine column. As you might expect it is very well written and edited, and other writers (including me) are quoted extensively.

The Business of Writing is available from Amazon as a Kindle e-book and I understand a Createspace print version may be in the pipeline too. Highly recommended for UK writers in particular.

The other book I wanted to mention today is 50 More Mistakes Beginner Writers Make by UK-based writer Alex Gazzola. This does have some similarities with Simon Whaley’s book, as it concerns (primarily) business aspects of writing, but actually there is very little overlap between the two titles.

The content of 50 More Mistakes Beginner Writers Make is drawn mainly from Alex’s popular blog Mistakes Writers Make. The content is therefore organized into 50 short chapters (each corresponding to a blog post). Every chapter discusses one specific mistake, from Over-Politeness to Going Scattergun. Again, I have copied the table of contents below (with apologies that I couldn’t quite fit in the last two articles).

50 More Mistakes Writers Make

50 More Mistakes Beginner Writers Make is available as a Kindle e-book only, and is a follow up to Alex’s original 50 Mistakes Beginner Writers Make. Although written primarily for a UK readership, most of it would work just as well for writers living elsewhere.

I hope you will check out both these books and consider adding them to your library. They are down-to-earth and highly readable practical guides, by two UK professional writers who have both built very successful freelance careers. They are also, incidentally, two of the nicest people you could hope to meet.

As ever, if you have any questions or comments about either of these books, please do post them below,.

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UK PLR Statements Now Available

2015/16 UK PLR Statements Now Available

If you’re a UK author registered for PLR, you can now check your earnings for 2015/16 on the UK PLR website. Just log in here and click on Statements.

This year (covering July 2015 to June 2016) they are paying 7.82 pence per library loan, a slight increase on last year. Payment will be made between 13 and 22 February 2017, in accordance with your payment instructions.

For those who don’t know, PLR (in this context) stands for Public Lending Right. The UK PLR Office distributes money to UK authors based on the number of times their books have been borrowed from public libraries in Britain (and now also the Republic of Ireland) in the last year. This money is paid to authors as compensation for their presumed lost royalties on sales.

All UK authors are eligible for PLR (even if they don’t currently live in Britain), but you do have to register with the UK PLR Office first. If you’re a UK author with at least one published book to your name, therefore, you should sign up immediately to get what is due to you.

Non-UK nationals cannot claim from the UK PLR Office, but many other countries (though not the USA) have schemes in place to compensate writers for library lending. Australia, for example, has what appears to be quite a generous program, though payments are based on the estimated number of copies of an author’s book in libraries, not total loans. For more information on PLR schemes worldwide, visit the PLR International website.

In many countries there are also reciprocal arrangements to compensate non-nationals for lending in the country concerned. In Britain this is co-ordinated by ALCS (the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society), and UK authors should also register separately with them. ALCS also collect and pay photocopying fees due to UK authors, incidentally.

I always find it interesting to study my PLR statement. I was pleased to see that, rather to my surprise, my payment has gone up this year. This is despite the fact that library lending generally is down due to the inexorable rise of the internet and cutbacks in the public library service.

My most borrowed books, Advertising for the Small Business and Start Your Own Home-Based Business, were published quite a few years ago and are undoubtedly out of date now, but they were still borrowed over 1000 times between them. By contrast, almost nobody is borrowing my Living and Working in books (e.g. Living and Working in Germany), perhaps because new editions of these books by other authors are now available. Or maybe it means that these days people are more interested in starting small businesses than going to work abroad!

Over the years I have made literally thousands of pounds from PLR and ALCS payments – in the case of some books I have earned more from these sources than I have in publisher fees or royalties. So if you’re a UK author, it is definitely worth taking the few minutes needed to register yourself and your book/s with UK PLR and ALCS.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, or PLR in general, please do post them below.

 

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