New beginnings (*** list alert ***)

The news that yet another short story magazine has closed its doors to all but a privileged few has knocked me sideways somewhat this past week. It’s not a market I’ve had a lot of success with, but it’s a good market to target anyway and at least the result is a completed short story at the end of it.

I had such plans, though. I’d bought a new diary that starts in January and finishes in December instead of sticking with my usual academic diary, and I’d insisted on getting one with appointments so I can stick to my individual time-slots. I’d written out a schedule of work for various drafts of various short stories, to ensure I completed something. And I’d bought recent copies of all of the short story magazines you can buy on any newsstand in the UK.

My short stories generally “do the rounds”. I write them with a specific market in mind and then, if they’re rejected, I’ll work on them to make them suitable for the next market on the list. That list has got shorter and shorter until now there are only three. One favourite market had already temporarily closed its doors before Christmas, and then this other one slammed them shut over the Christmas period.

So I took a step back and spent my first official day back in the office (aka yesterday) having a rethink.

Fortunately, my diary is always written in pencil – apart from anniversaries, birthdays and other un-moveable events. So I can rethink the schedule, rub them out and start all over again.

Fortunately, there are other markets for short stories – I just have to work harder to find them and build up a new routine.

Fortunately, I am not averse to self-publishing collections of my own short stories, and it is these anthologies that have actually worked the hardest for me out of all of my self-published books. (In case you’re interested, you can find all of my current books here.)

I’ve renewed my previously expired subscription to Duotrope. I’m going to buy a writing magazine each month and try and target at least one competition or call for submissions. And I’m following several websites that list opportunities for writers.

Words Worth Writing is also having a bit of a facelift for the new year:

  • Diary of a Freelance Writer  will be updated to the end of 2016 and then it will be finished. A lot of readers do say they enjoy it, but – really – there is only so much that changes from week-to-week that it can get quite … stale. I’m working on a collection of the previous Diary of a Scaredy Cat and this will be followed by a collection for Diary of a Freelance Writer. Both will include extra exercises for readers to try at the end of each section or chapter, and there may be further insights discovered since they were originally written. I was going to complete two volumes of Diary of a Freelance Writer, but I’ve decided now that one should be sufficient.
  • At least once a month I’ll be interviewing writers of all levels about their work and especially if they have books coming out. Please let me know if you’d like to take part, with thanks to those who already have.
  • There will be more “nuts and bolts” posts, ranging from (*** dirty word alert ***) money, including how to set your own minimum rate and how and when to chase payments that are overdue, to working as a freelance writer and all the things that involves.
  • I’m going to try and read, review and attempt the exercises in a writers’ guide each week – 52 Books in 52 Weeks. If you have any suggestions, or any writers’ guides of your own coming out, again let me know, but do bear in mind these MUST include practical exercises that lead to a finished piece. I’m simply incapable of doing writing exercises for exercise-sake.
  • Because it’s been requested, I’ll do an ideas masterclass at least once a month.
  • And there will still always be homework suggestions.

Tales From Baggins Bottom will be changing too. I’ll still have My Fat Year and a walk or a day out as often as we do them. But new features will include Tales From the Farm and the long overdue Wormy’s Kitchen.

Behind the scenes I’ll be working on quite a few things too:

  • I want to get back into feature writing, so will be doing the whole ideas-to-finished-piece myself (watch out for a new book on this …).
  • I’ll still be writing short stories, but they’ll be more market-orientated and will automatically go forward into the self-published anthologies in case they don’t do well elsewhere.
  • I’m finishing Diary of a Scaredy Cat. Watch out for this soon too.
  • I have Catch the Rainbow to fine-tune and polish. I want that to be doing the rounds by mid-year.
  • I’m starting The Beast Within, which is the next Marcie Craig mystery.
  • I’ll be collating Diary of a Freelance Writer and adding in those extra exercises and insights.
  • There should be at least two more volumes of Tales From Baggins Bottom in the pipeline this year.

As a point of note, everything – everything – I write is with a view to it earning its keep and/or getting it published, either via the traditional route or myself. This is the way I roll.

I hope you enjoy the new features. Here is today’s homework:

  1. Spend some quiet time thinking about where you want to go next. What has changed recently to make you rethink plans or your way of work? Jot these thoughts down.
  2. Challenge yourself to come up with at least one thing you’re going to do differently – more if you have them. Give yourself a deadline to do this by. Then do it.
  3. Choose a writers’ guide. Read it from cover to cover. Go back and do the exercises with a view to sending the finished product(s) out. Polish it, find a market, adapt it to suit, and then send it out. Spend the next 6 months looking for another market for each item, in case the market you sent it to doesn’t use it (although they will usually come back quicker than that now if they are going to use it).
  4. Challenge yourself to try something you’ve never tried before – a reader’s letter, a filler, a poem, a short story, a puzzle, a nostalgic article or RTE (Reader’s True Experience). Find a market and send it out in its entirety. Each of these will go out in its own entirety rather than as a query. Do this at least once a month.
  5. If you don’t already, buy at least one writing magazine per month. Read it from cover to cover and look for potential markets to send your work.

Let me know how you get on!

Author interview: Sarah Stephenson


Sarah Stephenson

I’m delighted to welcome today Sarah Stephenson, newly published author of Dougal’s Diary (Crooked Cat).


Sarah lives in South East London with two dogs, the occasional grandchild and a lot of clutter.

“I’ve had a chequered career as ballet dancer, chef, cleaning lady, salesgirl of outsize underwear in Littlewoods, and actor,” Sarah says.

“As an actor I worked mostly in the theatre, in plays ranging from Shakespeare to improvised, both comedy and tragedy. And throughout those years, I wrote – occasionally short stories but mainly letters and diaries documenting events and people I didn’t want to forget.”

Sarah managed to fill thirty or more exercise books with practically illegible scribble. The books sat in drawers and suitcases, for years.

“Then three years ago I found The Write Place, a class in Dartford run by writer Elaine Everest. Under her terrific guidance I began Dougal’s Diary. She gave me the name of a publisher to contact, and that was it.”

I asked Sarah to tell me a bit about Dougal’s Diary.

“It follows Dougal from innocent puppy to mature hound, as he deals with Greenwich life, his chaotic owner and her eccentric friends, his own hypochondria and jealousy over a foster puppy.  Then there’s the excitement of parties, his dreams of stardom and travelling to a paradise island on Virgin Atlantic, will they ever come true?

“A living version of Dougal does exist. And when I first got him I felt he had the kind of personality that was begging to be put into a story. ”

And did Sarah edit it herself or did she hire someone to look over it?

“Being dyslexic I thought it best to get it looked at, so sent an early version to Hilary Johnson’s Author’s Advisory Service. Foolishly I didn’t return the much changed copy for a final check. Crooked Cat gave me an editor, Andy Angel. He was lovely but not nearly tough enough on me.”

“Elaine insists everything we write goes somewhere”

How did Sarah go about getting it published?

“Elaine Everest, who runs The Write Place, insists everything we write goes somewhere – a competition, magazine, or publisher. It must never sit in a drawer. Elaine told me Crooked Cat were accepting submissions and to send Dougal in.

“The Crooked Cat family (Laurence and Steph Patterson who started the company and their authors) have all been fantastically helpful. And without Elaine Everest and The Write Place group, I would have been totally lost.”

Sarah’s book was launched last week amid a flurry of parties and events. How did Sarah find that?

“It was both hectic and fun with two launch parties on Facebook on Thursday, one arranged by Crooked Cat, the other a ‘bring your pet along party’ hosted by me. And I’ve filled in many questionnaires for people’s blogs. Sometimes I’ve been interviewed; at other times, Dougal.

“Now I’ve got some good reviews, I’m contacting the local press and masses of dog magazines.”

What has Sarah learned so far from the experience?

“I had no idea how much there was to do. Marketing an ebook isn’t easy. No one can see it, so if you don’t tell them it’s there, no one will buy it. And, of course, I’m an unknown writer, so have no followers and no track record.”

So, where does Sarah go from here?

“We’re encouraged to write what we know. So, having spent the last twenty years cooking in the homes of the very wealthy, witnessing behaviour I couldn’t possibly write about without being done for libel, I’m putting my experiences into a cosy crime story. The characters will be just as outrageous, only fictional.”

Does Sarah have any advice, for readers and for those hoping to have their books published?

“You may be lucky enough to pick up one of the big publishers, even get an agent. But if you don’t, I suggest starting small with maybe an ebook publisher. At least it’s a start. You’ll have writing history.

“There are many young publishers out there. And join a group or get onto the RNA’s (Romantic Novelist Association) new writers’ scheme. Writing is a lonely occupation. There’s help and advice out there.

dougal's diary

Dougal’s Diary

“And never give up.”

Dougal’s Diary is published by Crooked Cat as an ebook. It can be bought on Amazon UK and Amazon Worldwide, and at Crooked Cat Books.

The Write Place creative writing school is based at The Mick Jagger Centre, Dartford, Kent, and is run by author, journalist and creative writing teacher, Elaine Everest. For information on classes and workshops please visit the website.


If you have any questions for Sarah, or if there’s anything you’d like to say to her, please do so in the comments section. Thanks for dropping by.