Tag Archives: magazine

Pity the man who has to say no

I'm sorry, butPhil: Following on from Candice looking at things from the literary agent point of view, I thought I’d relate a recent tale along those lines, one that will hopefully provide some guidance to anyone hoping to see their name at the top of a magazine article.

One of the jobs I have is editor of an on-line model railway magazine. It’s basically an edited letters page with added news and other articles. We don’t have a budget for submissions but that doesn’t always put people off. Our ranking on Google is pretty good and as a first place to see your name over an article, it’s an excellent choice. You might not get paid, but it could be a stepping stone to greater things*.

The first and most important rule when approaching any publisher is:

Write what they are looking for.

Don’t pester Motorcycle News with 5000 words on growing pansies. It doesn’t matter how good a piece you’ve written, they really, really, aren’t interested.

In the book world, if your publisher specialises in sickly romance, your mix of Andy McNab and vampires, probably won’t spend much time between slush pile and bin.

We have been very careful to send our manuscript to agnets who have worked in the same genre in the past. We know they aren’t likely to be looking to make a hard job any more difficult by looking for a news set of contacts, even if they do hold the best book ever writen in their hands.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I received an e-mail from a lady who wondered if I would be interested in a piece for the mag. I replied saying I would be but pointing out we had no contributors budget. She wasn’t phased by this.

A couple of weeks later, my in-box was home to a really well written and interesting article. At 2000 words long, it was a good length for on-line reading. None of it had been obviously lifted from the web, or if it had, the re-write was sufficiently good to move from plagiarism to proper research.

The only problem was that it was a short history of the hobby, obviously aimed at people who knew next to nothing about it.

So, here I was with a very good quality lesson on sucking eggs that it was proposed I present to the thousands of grannies who read my mag (they aren’t grannies, I’m using a metaphor, stick with me). I looked long and hard at the piece. It was good but no matter how I thought about it, the fit with my mag was poor. I could have run it and just let it go but I knew the letters page would have been full of moaning or people wondering what the heck I was doing.

Eventually, I wrote a nice (I hope) note rejecting the offer. My suggestion was that it needed to go to a general interest magazine such as “Readers Digest” where the fit would be as good as the last piece in a jigsaw. I never heard anything more.

It’s not fun saying no, but sometimes you have to do it.

 

*Writing for free is fine as long as it’s a stepping stone. The trick is to learn when to stop. (Hint: Quickly)

Membership of a special interest society such as for your hobby means there will be a newsletter editor always on the lookout for free words and this is a great place to start. Look to move on to submitting to places where you get paid pretty quickly though, at least if you aspire to turning writing in to a job. Be warned, the world is full of people advertising great opportunities to write for “up-and-coming” websites where the only thing on offer is exposure. Trust me, real editors are not cruising the web looking for random writers. They have enough to deal with looking at stuff sent to them in the post.

 

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Magazines: Paper vs Digital – Fight!

BRMsPhil:  On a whim last week, I bought the electronic copy of the magazine I write for. The paper copy would eventually appear in the post but the digital version comes out a few days before this and I was curious to know how some of the articles I’d written appeared on the page. There was also a bit of extra content to be seen electronically and I was really interested in comparing the two versions.

Delivered via the PocketMags website, downloading the digital version takes around a minute over broadband and WiFi. Cost is £2.99 compared to £3.75 for print. I’ve loaded my copy on to an Asus 7 inch tablet computer although I understand I can log on to the site and see the issues I’ve bought on any device. The copy seems sit on the tablet as I was still able to read it when disconnected from WiFi.

The pages appear exactly the same as they do on paper. Swiping left and right moves you through the issue. Touching the bottom of the screen shows a ribbon of thumbnails for faster racing around. Pinching the page zooms in in the same way as it does on all other Apps.

Enhanced content includes a couple of videos, photo galleries and captions that are called up by pressing an “i” button on the image. Not sure about the later one but I suppose it leaves the pictures clearer of text.

So, am I convinced to go digital?

No.

One of the problems is that when looking at magazines, size matters. My tablet is about 2/3rd the size of the A4 printed page. Reading the mag involves squinting or zooming on the page. Maybe if I was using a 10 inch iPad or even a proper computer screen, this wouldn’t be a problem. On the other hand, the iPad is heavy to hold for long periods and the PC screen means sitting at a desk.

Discussing this in the office, we also feel that readers engage with the content differently on-screen. They treat it like a web page and scan the words rather than reading them. It’s a less immersive experience perhaps, or just this is how people have learned to deal with screen based information. Plenty of useability studies tell us this is how web pages are consumed, hence the instruction to include plenty of keywords in text to catch the reader’s eye. You might think that when reading a publication, readers might behave differently but this appears not to be the case. I suspect this might be related to the size issue. If reading takes effort, they you’ll skim the content.

Of course, if you don’t want to read but just look at pictures then the tablet is good. Zooming in to the detail is easy. OK, in print the pics are bigger and I suppose in the analogue world you can use a magnifying glass but that’s not convenient and anyway, eventually you start seeing how the picture is printed and not the pic itself. Our photographer reckons the reproduction on the page is darker than the electronic version although this is a reproduction issue and not a deliberate choice, nor is it necessarily a bad thing as some readers comment they prefer darker photos.

Another thought is that a lot of the magazine involves “how to” articles with step-by-step information for readers to follow. That’s the bit I write and I’m not convinced that reader want to take a pricy tablet near some of the plaster, paint and glues I use in the articles. Paper magazines are far more resilient in this respect. At least if you glue the pages together , you can buy another copy from Smiths, “I dropped it in some plaster and not it’s stopped working.” isn’t likely to garner you much sympathy in your local electronics shop.

All of this is moot. While the digital edition sells well, the paper one sells better. All expectations are that this will be the case for over a decade so the presses will continue to roll. Mind you, predicting the future is difficult…

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How to publish a bookazine

Modelling British Railway Diesel Locomotives on the shelves in WH SmithPhil: My latest publication, Modelling British Railway Diesel Locomotives has hit the bookshelves in WH Smiths. In deference to Candice, who I can already hear rolling her eyes, I won’t go on about its anoraky goodness but instead blog about the hard realities of producing something like this.

Having successfully pitched the idea to a magazine publisher I work for last December, the challenge for me was to write short (250 word) histories of 58 different types of railway engines. Next, source lots of photos to accompany these, find out how you could acquire miniatures of each and finally, present them to a public consisting of people who would love to find error or moan that they have “seen all those picture before”.

Of course, I had a deadline to hit and budgets to stay within.

First up, like every publication out there, you have to work out what you are trying to say. Since the emphasis was on making models, anything that didn’t affect the appearance of the locomotive could be ignored in the history. That saved me digging through interminable technical bumf on engine and electrical equipment variations. If you want this sort of details, you need to find two things: More books and A life.

The cover was part of the pitch (I pitched to the publishers, they took it to WH Smith for approval, you don’t go ahead if they won’t take it) so an early version was mocked up. As it is, we ended up with two versions, with and without the “Exclusive to WH Smith” green blob. The mock-up also hit the web about the time I started writing to get the pre-order process going. The finished version differs in detail but then that’s why there was a caveat on the bottom of the page mentioning this. We’d worked out a few promotional points at this stage but since the content wasn’t finalised, some of the brighter flashes were no more than a designers idea.

It’s amazing just how long the writing process took. A deadline move bought me an extra months work – serious relief as at one point I was facing researching and writing 5 histories a day. Don’t anyone say that it should be easy to produce a small number of words. If anything it’s harder to boil down all the information and extract the important stuff. Some of the published information sources contradicting each other didn’t help much either. I did hit the 5 a day a couple of times but most days if I managed 3 I was doing well.  Thank goodness for my proof reader – he saved me from a few cockups along the way.

Pictures turned out to be fun too. I promised a comprehensive set and that means talking to photo libraries. Not the big boys like Getty but specialists. Some were excellent and other work like it’s 1932. I needed to say, “Send me what you have on Class 33” and receive thumbnails the next day followed by the full sized versions, all by e-mail. Working with someone who posts out a pack of prints from which you select a few and then return the others with a cheque just takes too long. Having to scan these prints in isn’t great either especially when the standard 6X4 will be blown up to 2 or 3 times that size on the page. Every hour spent tidying up photos was an hour I could have been writing, eating or sleeping.

Modern technology did come to my rescue with a couple of new faces making pictures available on Flickr. There I could select my pictures and grab them straight from the site. All the owners had to do was await the cheque for payment. Of course, I could have just nicked them without telling anyone, this is why my on-line shots are always too small for print publication, but apart from the legal aspect, morally the concept pains me as I don’t like it when people do this to me.

As it is, the final photo tally worked out at 223 picture of real locomotives and 139 of models. The later were “fun” as I had naively assumed that model manufacturers would be delighted to supply pictures that they would have in stock to publicise their products. The large firms such as Hornby were fine. A quick e-mail and I soon had what I need. A lot of people supporting the hobby are cottage industry manufacturers though and the results were far patchier. Even when all I wanted was a hi-res version of a shot on their website, extracting wisdom teeth would have been easier than getting the picture. Sometimes you wonder if they really want to sell their products…

Unexpected problems can trip you up – one source of photos was on holiday in France. Despite many e-mails, the appalling WiFi he had prevented any images being sent over much to both of our annoyances. Holidays generally were a nuisance, don’t do anything over the summer if you have a deadline!

While all this was going on, I worked with a designer putting the pages together. The deadline meant we didn’t get to produce as many mock-ups as I’d have liked which left planning the flat-plan (A publishing term. The magazine is laid out pictorially so you can see every page at once. If you are at Vogue, there is a room with every page produced full size and fixed to a wall. The rest of us make do with an A4 PDF with titles on each page) rather more flexible than is ideal. I think we ended up on version 4 because I kept moving things around depending on the amount of information available for each locomotive. Changing the page count wasn’t an option and allowance had to be made for contents, introduction and some advertising.

MBRDL Flatplan

The designer allocated to me, Nikki, turned out to be brilliant. The results are punchy and full of life – not an easy task with this subject matter. Modern communications allowed me to see PDF files of each page. From this I was able to comment and have stuff moved around. Here again, the lack of prototyping caused me a few worries – in some cases I had sourced (and paid for) more images than I really needed. It’s important not to use photos too small for this market, they moan like crazy if the tiny details aren’t visible. Fair enough really, that’s why they bought the thing but it does lead to some serious thinking along the way.

Even the binding caused a headache. Initially, some of the photos were reproduced as double page spreads – this looks lovely on the screen but when Perfect Bound, a strip of the picture disappears down the spine. Now you can leave a gutter in the middle and split the photo but this relies on the printer getting every page perfect and I wasn’t willing to gamble on this. We compromised with a few full A4 photos where the contents could justify it and I particularly liked the picture.

MBRDL inside pages

Needless to say, this all came together eventually and I eagerly awaited the result. Seeing it on-screen is one thing, on paper a whole lot more exciting. Just to entertain me, the first I knew that it was out was seeing a forum post by someone who had a copy. Typical – the pre-orders were hitting people’s doormats before mine! It turns out that a certain courier service had managed to lose my box sent out a week earlier. A replacement followed quickly and I then moved on to sending out the contributors copies along with cheques for payment. As someone who has been on the receiving end of this, I know how important it is to do this bit quickly.

Now all I have to do is wait. My job is done apart from some social media promotion efforts. Sales will be what they will be. Initial feedback is promising. The only person who has critiqued it heavily did this in good spirit and proved my point about short histories being difficult. His comments on one type of locomotive ran to twice the space I had for the initial words.

Technically, it all worked well. None of the people involved ever met and we rarely telephoned each other. Photos were generally swapped by e-mail. Larger files by Dropbox.com. None of us worked conventional hours – Nikki would stop mid afternoon to collect her kids from school and then hit the keyboard again later in the day. I dropped in whenever I needed to so some days were long and others less so. 20 years ago you couldn’t work this way but now, with so many people freelancing, it’s the way we work. If we were all in an office I suspect things wouldn’t have been that different.

Modelling British Railway Diesel Locomotives is available from good branches of WH Smith until the end of the year and also from MyHobbyStore.com.

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Parker’s Guide – On Sale Today!

Parker's GuidePhil: I’ve been waiting 18 months to write that.

On this blog, I try to keep my model-making activities under wraps but today, I don’t care how much eye-rolling Candice* does, I won’t be shut up.

Today you can go to WH Smith, Sainsbury supermarkets or many on-line book shops and buy my new bookazine.

Inside the high-quality soft, shiny covers, you find 130 pages where I show you how to complete over 30 model making projects. Each one is profusely illustrated in colour and surrounded by text in what one review described as  my “cheery, light and informative style”.  I recon that for your money you get 50,000 words from the very depths of my mind. That’s got to be worth every penny of the £7.99 purchase price.

Some might wonder how I managed to recycle a load of old magazine columns into a new publication. Well, they have all been revised and re-photographed where necessary. In addition you get a few new projects including which take advantage of the greater flexibility available to the editors when not having to produce a balanced edition. Personally, I think All Me is perfectly balanced but others may beg to differ. I would agree that my mug shot on page 3 could have been smaller though.

While I’ll happily admit that for the non-nerd, there probably isn’t a great deal of interest between the covers, I am very pleased with it. Yes I did spot a mistake within 5 minutes of reading but I bet most authors get that. If I keep quiet, then perhaps no-one will notice.

You can buy Parker’s Guide on-line from the publisher.

A full listing of the contents can be found on my model making blog. (Warning, contents may contain traces of dork)

*That’s the same Candice who once wrote me a press release for a model railway exhibition that Ellie at Radio CWR described as “a masterpiece”.

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Investing in my writing

Phil: Being quite happy with quality of the feedback we’ve received from Writers-forum for our last short story, We’re planning to submit another entry. It’s ready, edited, polished and perfect, or so we think.

Checking the entry details, to take part costs £6. This is cut by half for subscribers to the magazine – so, I wonder if it’s worth subscribing. After all, this is £36 or the money saved on twelve entries. Can you see my Scottish and Polish blood lines coming through ?

Anyway, a trip to WH Smith sees me the proud owner of a copy of said magazine. It’s got a nice shiny cover and decent quality paper (I do work with other magazines, trust me, this is important). Settling down with a mug of tea and a little cake, I start to read. You know what ? It’s really not bad at all. I know you can’t really judge a magazine by a single issue (unless my byline is in there, in which case it’s as good as you get) but I pretty quickly find a couple of pieces that set me thinking which seems like a good thing.

I also have the chance to read the winning short stories for September. These don’t seem anything like as good as ours, in fact I can’t get through the winner at all. The judges might think it “sucks them in” but I only agree with one of those words. It is useful to read other people’s work even if I don’t like it, the skill is working out exactly what I don’t like and trying to learn from their mistakes, or at least understand why I might be wrong (surely not).

Anyway, the website is down so I make a quick phone call and hand over my credit card details for a years worth of magazines. If I am serious about writing, and I am, then I need more input. Ignoring the money for a moment (I’ll get that back with 10 miutes worth of sales once The Book gets published) I need to make time  to read this stuff. You can’t learn by osmosis, the mag must be read from cover to cover every month, in many ways the investment is more in time than money. It’s certainly quicker than a college course in creative writing and cheaper too. Who knows what I might learn, or what opportunities will appear to be grasped ?

Writers-Forum website

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