Saturday, 22 July 2017

Give Your Freelancing a Reboot

Are you worn down by the well-travelled path?
How many times have you found yourself following a familiar working pattern, even though it no longer delivers the same level of positive results?

The routine runs like clockwork – set-up, prospecting, emails, social media, yadda yadda. If you’re not paying careful attention to your business you can fail to spot the trends for a gradual decline in individual revenue streams, the increase in wasted time, and a lack of meaningful growth (more one-off gigs that took an hour to prospect are not growth unless they lead directly to a significantly better rate or a better class of referral).

The first challenge is to stop. Shut down the monkey mind that equates multiple activities with progress, switch off the self-doubting monologue about your limitations (education, location, time constraints, take your pick…) and take a breath.

Einstein nailed it in 1951* when he wrote: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

As readers of this blog will know, I rely on my trusty spreadsheet – not the graphs, but I could if I wanted to. I can see what work I’ve completed for which clients, when, and the value to my business. It's one of the means I use to prioritise my time. There is an interesting correlation between that value and my enjoyment of the work, but this may just be a quirk of mine. 

A few tips

  • If you use freelance sites such as People Per Hour, regularly review your profile. Look for best practice by checking out the profiles of freelancers who won the jobs that you didn’t. Perhaps they are presenting similar skills in a better way or targeting their clients better?
  • If you’ve been writing regularly for a client, check whether the way you present your business aligns with their business.
  • Go back through your profile / business resume and weed out any information or links that are no longer relevant. This can include dead links (for dead websites), content that - for whatever reason - doesn’t convey the impression you need to attract the clients you want, and vague terminology. For example, a seasoned writer of what?
  • Experiment with different styles of communication. Try on different personalities for your business and see which ones fit, and whether you might benefit from varying your style according to which businesses you approach. 
  • Mix things up. Try varying your start and break times (you have breaks, right?). Disrupt your working pattern and introduce more creativity into your thinking and your approach. New ideas are the lifeblood of writing and you are more likely to encounter them if you’re not fixated on the familiar.


What can you do today to make a difference to your freelancing business?

Derek
Freelancer and author

* Albeit not definitely attributed to him as the author, despite the power of the Internet!

Friday, 14 July 2017

A slice of homily pie

You write...WHAT?
There is a school of thought that business blogs equate to online marketing, and that all information should be carefully managed to 'champion the brand'. If your eyes are rolling at this point you're not alone. 

I'm all for promoting one's business - this blog has worked well for me on that score over the years - but if you're not careful it can all get a little ...corporate. Again, if that is your brand, all well and good, but I suspect a lot of niche businesses lose their way and end up trying to be something they're not. I should know - I write for some of them.

It matters because any customer engagement, be it on social media or outside of it, tells people more than what your business does. It also gives them cues about the way you do business, how you communicate, and a flavour of your business's personality.

You might think that could potentially drive away business rather than find / secure it, and in both cases you'd be right. The alternative is to try to be all things to all people, and risk setting yourself and your customer up for disappointment.

True story time.

Recently, a client approached me, based upon geography, around teatime, with an urgent online job that involved proofreading, editing and rewriting. The document arrived around 21.30 that night with an agreed turnaround over the weekend. The only issuette being that the client wouldn't not be available until after the weekend. No biggie, these things happen and I was willing to work for the rate offered. 

Those of you with better spider senses than I employed might have already spotted a few pitfalls. For example...
1. I wasn't selected on the basis of my portfolio or experience with that particular business.
2. A tight deadline and no client availability does not allow for expectations to be managed on either side of the arrangement.
3. Anyone with a thinking head on might have surmised that a rush job for an important document with financial implications might have required closer collaboration not less.

Anyhow, I took the job and I worked on the document over the weekend, marking up only the key changes and adding comments and queries for feedback for subsequent changes (based upon client feedback).

Readers, it did not go well. And let me state for the record that the client was - and is - a good client. Just, perhaps, not the best client for me and vice versa. He felt I hadn't delivered to his requirements or met his needs, and after some soul-searching I felt that too to some extent. We were like a blind date that hadn't quite worked out. The upshot is that I've invited him to review and consider my weekend work and come up with a partial payment. It's not ideal and no one goes away entirely happy, but I think it represents our best chance of an equitable resolution.

My key learning points from this?

1. Know your business's strengths (both skills and subjects), and where you add value. 
2. It's great to work with great clients - and I maintain, for someone who already understood this client's business, he could have been one.
3. Respect your own time and expertise, and price accordingly. And know when to say so.
4. Be the writer you are and manage your business in line with your vision. Or, as a friend of mine put it: A giraffe does not apologise to a jellyfish for having a long neck. Each is perfectly adapted to its own environment and thrives there.
5. Always get a detailed brief and plan for contingencies. Our old friends Time Cost, Quality and Scope are the cornerstones of any project. Squeeze one or more and you affect the others too.

Interestingly, not that long afterwards I was approached by a previous client to do some  branding work. It called for a mix of creativity, humour, quirkiness and non-directed research. It won't surprise you to learn that the work was completed over fewer hours, to a delighted client (her words, honest), and for a higher rate. 

Here endeth my lesson.

But before I go, have you had any freelance lessons recently? I'd love to hear about them below.

Derek


Friday, 30 June 2017

When Words Collide

No sense sitting on the offence.
As I progress with my fifth thriller and tie myself in knots with middle class angst about some my working class characters' attitudes, I'm quite attuned to our propensity to get things wrong. Getting it wrong doesn't mean you're necessarily prejudiced or bigoted. You could just be thoughtless. On the one hand, your characters need to speak and act freely to fulfil their literary destiny. You could even argue that the point where you cringe as you're writing is also the cut-off point where you step outside your boundaries and start to inhabit their perspective. On the other hand, frankly, you may need to think about where you're being authentic or just trying to be clever. 

I write jokes that occasionally find their way into live performance (and even less occasionally - like almost never - onto radio). It's so easy to offend a section of the populace without even meaning to. Not just bucking the trend or subverting the form but out and out pissing people off.

And speaking of 'out', something really interesting happened recently that illustrates not only how easy it is to get it wrong, but how that misfortune can occur even when it's a cause that matters dearly to you.

Pride in London went for 'humour' in its Love Happens Here marketing for London's Pride Festival (now running until 9th July). It missed the target by a wide margin and managed to offend the LGBTI community. In particular, the use of the word 'gay' as irony (that's my take on their motive) was subsequently considered misjudged after being interpreted as a pejorative term. 

You can read about it here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40446096

It's a reminder that words have power. Forget all that 'sticks and stones' nonsense. As an example, ask any child or adult who has been bullied and they will be able to vividly recount what was said and how it made them feel. 

We all have a responsibility for what we communicate and how we do it. Writers can and do walk that line between expression and censorship, and sometimes we cross it. It's our freedom to do that, but we have to accept that others may see that as a step too far. Unlike fiction, life can be messy and remain unresolved. In the above case, there's an added dimension, which is the impact on other people who might go on to use the words.



Have any writers out there ever misread the mood with a piece of writing? And if so how did you recover the situation, or did you let it stand?


Derek

Author of the Spy Chaser series, which so far has only managed to offend a few readers.*



UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Derek-Thompson/e/B0034ORY08

US: https://www.amazon.com/Derek-Thompson/e/B0034ORY08



* Swearing, a shower scene, violence, and - bizarrely - a lead character expressing too much emotion. 

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Music for Writing

I can hear music. Not just a brilliant track by The Beach Boys (and also nicely covered by The Ronettes), but also a statement of fact. Why? Because generally I write fiction to a musical backdrop. 

When I work on a novel I use different types of music to get into the mood of a scene. Classical music and jazz (especially Chet Baker) are favourites but sometimes an individual track will capture the essence of a moment, or complement a section of dialogue. As my Spy Chaser owes a debt to Raymond Chandler, I find anything with a noir feel to it opens that magic door to the active imagination. 

A haze of smoke lingers and I see shadows beyond it where Thomas Bladen is waiting for me, leant against a faded brick wall, looking at his watch. He glances over and nods to Karl McNeill who is standing by the opposite wall and eating a bag of crisps. A haunting bassoon lends a melancholy tone to the steamy night air... And then Miranda Wright strolls along the alleyway, doing her slinky walk for Thomas's benefit even though her eyes are fixed on that doorway where I listen to her approaching steps. She pauses, just ahead of Thomas and Karl, facing me down. Her lips part, breaking the streetlight glint, and then she takes a breath. I hold mine in anticipation  and she smiles momentarily before bestowing her wisdom. "Maybe if you stopped pissing about so much you'd get the book finished?" She raises an eyebrow and then turns, her heels tapping out a sensuous beat that recedes into the night. Thomas and Karl follow in her wake.

Miranda has a point.

It's been a funny old year. An illness and then a death in the family, bloodshed on Britain's streets and a seemingly never-ending conveyor belt of tragedy, politics and other bad news. Oh yeah, and I took a short holiday for the first time in two years. Sometimes the page reflects with near perfect clarity, even if no one else can see it.

But the thing is, writing doesn't always have to change the world, or make things better - even for ourselves. Writing is about the story - the characters, the dialogue and the pulsing heart of it. So I'm back now, cocooned by music to dissuade me from leaving the confines of my writing desk. Well, I say confines but really it's the stepping off point. 

And speaking of music...

Before Standpoint was published I put together a soundtrack of the book, selecting music to accompany the film. Now that it is published, I'm still rather fond of those original choices.

I'll keep this as spoiler-free as possible!

I'd open with I Specialise by Christine Collister & Clive Gregson. Who couldn't love Christine's powerful voice, conveying cynicism and indifference. Another option would be Someone's Looking At You by the Boomtown Rats.

I have several tunes for Thomas and Miranda, depending on how things are between them: 
I Can Hear Music by The Beach Boys, Will You by Hazel O'Connor, Here with Me by Dido
and Kiss the Rain by Billie Myers.

One song always make me think of Thomas and his trips to Whitehall is The Queen and the Soldier by Suzanne Vega. 

When it comes to Thomas being back amongst his family in Yorkshire (and confronting his father) it has to be The Story of the Blues Pt 1 byThe Mighty Wah. 

It's Bridge of Spies by T'Pau when Thomas is alone, on the North Yorkshire moors, heading off to confront the bad guys.

And the final tracking shot, as the dead are counted along with the cost? I Saved the World Today by Eurythmics.

Readers of the sequel, Line of Sight, will know that Karl has a theme song, sort of, which is another story altogether!


Do you write books and what importance does music play in the process?



Sunday, 21 May 2017

Do writers need boundaries?

Vive la difference!
I'm at a really interesting point in the novel I'm writing. And I know that because it's making me uncomfortable. It's not violence or sex or swearing; no, it's more subtle than that. It's about religion and culture. More specifically, religion and culture that aren't mine. 

I've recently had some brilliant email conversations with Lynn Michell, founder of Linen Press, and it's been fascinating to see where our thinking aligns and where it diverges, when it comes to books. We've chatted about the tropes in genre fiction and how, for example, some of the archetypal characters in noir don't play so well out of context, or in a more modern one. It all got me thinking about the boundaries writers place upon themselves and how that can either be a blessing or a curse.

Sometimes when you create a character with a walk on role there is something about them that makes you want to spend more time with them. In Line of Sight that spotlight fell on Thurston Leon, a West Indian private detective based in Dalston. Then (same book) there's Stuart Fraser, the Scottish bloke working for Special Branch over in Belfast. And let's not forget the two cops from Shadow State, Karen Edwards and Jun Wen - a black Brummie and a British Born Chinese detective. You see where I'm going with this now?

The BBC website ran a piece recently about how prolific author and TV writer, Anthony Horowittz, was cautioned to not create a black lead character because he is white. I don't anticipate having a profile that high any time soon (!) so it's a moot point for me, but one that I have considered anyway. Sometimes ethnicity, religion and culture are entirely secondary to a character because they either aren't relevant to the story (and let's face it, I'm talking about my stories here), and sometimes there isn't space for that secondary character to get more than her five minutes on the page. And sometimes, for a whole heap of reasons, I don't feel I have the skill to do it well enough.

But when a fear of being labelled patronising or concerns of allegations of tokenism prevent literature (or any aspect of the arts) being diverse and, well...imaginative...I think we have a problem.

My fifth book in the Thomas Bladen Spy Chaser series stumbles into that maze because it takes place during the 2005 London Bombings. There are a few changes to the team and an assignment that forces people to confront their values and prejudices. 

As writers we're so used to Mark Twain's 'write what you know' advice. (Or Hemingway's, if you prefer.) And you've probably heard my own updated version, which is 'know what you're writing about'. When it comes to diversity and inclusivity, I think it's more important to just get out of the village of our own experience. We need to be able to write about people we don't know, so that some of our readers can meet new people too. And not merely perfect, politically correct and sanitised stereotypes, but real, flawed and surprising people. 

Anyone who has read the series so far will know that I like to bring characters back from other books - Jack Langton, Sheryl, Sir Peter, and even Bob Peterson (I have a soft spot for Uncle Bob!). This time, MI5 operative Rupee Tagore also returns to Thomas and Karl's world. She was always there, on the floor below.

Writers need boundaries to see how far we've come and then how far we're willing or able to go. Beyond that, we're into the wastelands of taste and the quicksand of appropriateness.

It's a sad fact of our interconnected world that whatever you write, pretty much, someone will take issue or offence with. That's lesson one from social media! I believe, as writers, we have to be true to the muse and to how faithfully we can express our imagination on the page. It's a process, a continual momentum against that formless boundary made up of our own preconceptions and society's mores. When we lose that momentum we become static, trapped in the confines of our own experience, culture and identity. It's not that we have to continually push and risk offending or challenging; it's that we need to feel free to explore the other when the muse takes us. 









Sunday, 14 May 2017

STANDPOINT is FREE

Where it all began.

First, a public announcement. 

STANDPOINT is a FREE download from May 14th to May 18th. Please share / download / review and do all the other groovy things that make an author's soul sing. 

UK https://www.amazon.co.uk//dp/B00UVQBVVU




Second, a little update for those of you who have been on the bus with me since Standpoint was first published in 2015 (and a few from before then). I'm now working on the fifth book in the Spy Chaser series, which is currently entitled No Defence. Writing what may well be the last book in the cycle is an unusual experience. Of course, there is the usual process of research, drafting, editing, panicking and insomnia. But in addition there is a certain, subtle pressure to both tie up loose ends and leave a door open for Thomas, Miranda and Karl to have new adventures. 

This latest (let's not say last for now) novel takes place in the aftermath of the 2005 London Bombing, which was something I'd always planned to do and the reason why the series started off in 2003. Reading the details of that terrible time, along with the second failed wave of attacks two weeks later, is harrowing and so it should be. Regardless of the genre, readers expect a degree of authenticity and authors have a responsibility to deliver that. I remember feeling sickened when the film Skyfall showed a derailed London Underground train, but I think I was supposed to. 

Books and films do more than entertain - they can take us on an emotional journey. Sure, there are formulas and templates and models - see Blake Snyder's Save the Cat as one such overview. 

In No Defence, Thomas has years with the Surveillance Support Unit under his belt, and all the experiences of the previous four books. He still has an eye for the details other people piece and he still has a talent for finding trouble. But this time, perhaps more than in any previous Spy Chaser novel, he is equal to the task.

Even if No Defence proves to be the last Bladen book for a while (never say never, right?), I'm not stepping away from the series. I am actively exploring how to get Thomas's adventures on to the small screen, on radio, or even on the big screen. I think it's time for a downmarket spy who doesn't wear a dinner jacket, who borrows his girlfriend's car, and for whom it's always been personal.

Thanks, as always,

Derek







Sunday, 7 May 2017

Is Social Media the Writer's Friend?

Recently, The Guardian carried a piece about author Joanna Trollope's criticism of fellow author JK Rowling. Specifically, JT thinks JKR spends far too much time being far too vocal on social media. 

You can read about it here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/may/05/jk-rowling-driven-by-ego-like-kim-kardashian-joanna-trollope

The part that really piqued my interest was JT's suggestion that aspiring authors will look at JKR's interactions online, with her legions of fans, and assume that's what authors need to do these days.

Firstly, of course, getting even half a legion of fans online that aren't bots, retweeter services or purveyors of webcams is quite an achievement. Perhaps a few cohorts is more realistic.

Secondly, social media and online interaction is part of the game now, especially for anyone who is self-published, independently published, or who just wants to engage with their audience outside of their books.

Thirdly, and this is the thing that struck me most, there is no single (or proper) way for writers to behave. Surely that's part of what being a writer is all about? You make it up! Why would it be any different off the page than on it?

There will never be another JK Rowling. Aspire as we may, that ship has sailed. All writers need to balance time spent online with actual writing, which can be problematic because social media activity can feel a bit like writing in that it's creative and engaging. It's also often more fun - a never-ending source of inspiration, validation and connection. It won't get your books written though and may actually cloud your judgment by overloading you with shiny examples of how other people do it. But that too is part of the game. You have to figure out who you are as a writer and how you plan to go about your writing business.

I've seen many people reach overload and declare on line that they're taking a break, as if they have a relationship with social media or the people they're connected with online. Maybe there's some truth in that. I have also spoken with writers who allocate specific time to Retweet, Share, Like and all the other satisfying button clicks. That can work too.

Personally, I think social media can be useful, especially when you are reaching out to discover your audience, and also to interact with other authors. The same goes for writing blogposts (I couldn't not mention them) or your own tweets and posts. Social media plugs us into what's going on, even if that happens to be a bunch of cat videos from time to time.

But please don't mistake it for creative writing. 

What your relationship with social media?

Derek


Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Who Owns Your Books?

Now you see me.
When it comes to books, the word 'ownership' can mean different things at different times.

Who owns an idea?
Nobody. Try copyrighting an idea and be prepared for laughter and disdain.


Who owns a completed manuscript?
Unless you've been paid to ghostwrite a novel, ownership rests with the author. The laws on copyright different between the UK and US, so as this is a mixed audience I will simply say that in the UK copyright exists (but would still require proof if there was a legal challenge) from the act of writing it. The Society of Authors has some brilliant information here:
http://www.societyofauthors.org/Where-We-Stand/Copyright


Who owns your book once it's contracted?
You own the manuscript and you enter into a contract with an agent or a publisher. They own their edited version of your original manuscript. No matter how many drafts you've gone through, an objective editor will find more gold and cut away more. Their contract permits them to do certain things with your manuscript and specifies which of those actions requires your prior approval.


Who owns your book once it's published?
You and the agent / publisher retain the same proprietary interest in the book, but the reader owns their copy. Now, here's the thing, they may also have an emotional investment in your characters and their adventures, which - I would argue - is every bit as important as the nuts-and-bolts ownership principle. If you disappoint them during that book or in any subsequent book, they will vent their frustration online or by word of mouth. Once you become aware of this factor it can be a challenge to balance what you want to write, what your characters want you to write, and what your audience expects. 

I have spoken on this blog before about the principle of 'the same but different'. However, different can mean different things to different people.

The BBC website recently reported that JK Rowling  tweeted her apologies for killing off Professor Snape in the Harry Potter series. Some would argue that the plot demanded it and that there's a certain logic in his demise. Others were so attached to Snape (and, of course, Alan Rickman who portrayed him) that it felt like an act of literary cruelty. 

I ponder all of this as I write my fifth book in the Thomas Bladen Spy Chaser series, and I'm mindful of the feedback I've received, including:
- Isn't it about time that Thomas and Miranda settled down?
- Is there an ultimate revelation at the conclusion of the series?
- Is Book 5 the end of the series?
- Why isn't Thomas more macho?
- I hope you don't kill someone off just for the sake of it.

Without giving away any spoilers, my statement to the imaginary panel is:
Someone dies in each book. I won't name the dead but I make it a body count of at least eight so far. Thomas has shot five people, been wounded by one, and restrained himself from shooting someone on at least one occasion (not counting a familial near-miss!). How much more macho do you want him? Thomas and Miranda's relationship has its own carousel of baggage, but it has also evolved through the series. Book 5 continues that journey. Is it the end for Thomas and Miranda and Karl? That depends on the readers and what they want. Of course, a TV deal would certainly help bring Thomas Bladen to a wider audience! And yes, there is a revelation of sorts in Book 5. It's subtle, but it is there.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have gun battle to conduct. Or do I?

Derek


https://www.amazon.co.uk/Derek-Thompson/e/B0034ORY08

https://www.amazon.com/Derek-Thompson/e/B0034ORY08


Sunday, 30 April 2017

The Writer's Code

Sometimes we can't see the woods for the bluebells.
I always dread software updates. I expect things to go wrong. Today was a doosie. The iPad update had all kinds of nifty improvements that I neither wanted nor needed. It doesn't need to interface better with any other device, or do any of the other spectacularly irrelevant things that I'm told I'm missing out on. But, fearing the worst, I click and button and then go for a long walk with Anne and the neighbour's dogs.

On returning, the Pad (we're on informal terms) asks for my Apple ID. Awkward. I know my National Insurance number and even my Driving Licence number, but anything more recent than the 1980s tends to take a while to sink in. 

No problem though because I can switch on the computer upstairs in the attic (which is where attics usually are). This is where the magic happens, if by magic we mean me negotiating with my novel to come together the way it's been plotted. Needless to say, that's not exactly the case.

Anyway, I find the Apple ID and realise that I have two. Back downstairs I go, check which one is required and then back up I go because I know not to write down a password, not even for a journey downstairs. 

ID entered and a new screen greets me. There is now a two stage verification to protect my account and would I prefer a text or a call to my mobile phone, and what's the number. The two stage question is easy in the first part and a challenge in the second. I know it starts with 07 because they all do. (20 years with BT and that's what I learned.) 

I switch on my mobile and check the Me entry in my contacts (having already checked the landline's caller display and found that I haven't rung home recently). And there I am in my own contacts, only I'm a digit short. Now, Anne has to switch on her mobile, to give me my mobile number, to enter it into a screen, so that a machine can text me, so that I can enter the verification code, so that I can access my Pad, which looks exactly like it used to an hour ago. Along the way I skip all the marvellous new services that I never wanted (tough luck, Siri).

Creative writing can be a lot like that. A submission needs a synopsis, which needs a complete manuscript, which needs editing, which needs writing and drafting. And before then we need time to bring together all the elements that make a book interesting to us and the reader. Each step feels like a cross between a quest (which it is), a scavenger hunt (which it can be), and a set of challenges designed to test our resilience and determination. But when those codes are acquired and entered in the right sequence we access something magical. We have become writers. 


UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Derek-Thompson/e/B0034ORY08

US: https://www.amazon.com/Derek-Thompson/e/B0034ORY08