So you've chosen your subject matter and the magazine you're looking to submit to. You've also done your research and found a new spin to develop - your working theme and the crux of your article which you can sum up in a sentence or two...
And you've found out the Editor's name...
What happens next?
Before you put the meat of your article together, draft a query letter. This is the equivalent of a sales pitch and should contain these five key ingredients:
Write a paragraph introducing yourself and introducing your subject matter.
The second paragraph focuses on the Editor's needs. This is some basic detail about your article based on the general editorial policy of the magazine and the target readership.
Paragraph three briefly outlines the content and appropriateness of your article and why the publication’s readers would want this information.
The fourth paragraph explains why you are qualified to write this piece. Your credentials and your knowledge of not only the subject matter, but the magazine as well.
This final paragraph is very short. Think of it as your action statement telling the Editor what you plan to do next. Indicate you will call to follow up and state when. Unless specifically requested, don't wait for the Editor to call you.
Whilst you wait to follow up, keep researching. If you get a rejection, you'll be best placed to re-work the article for another magazine with a quick turn-around.
After the research has taken place, organise it all. Make the time to do this. Many writers don't.
When you've taken a deep breath, or two, now is the time to piece the article together and write it. If you've ordered your research, this process will be a dream. Draw up a quick outline first: Intro, three main points and a conclusion. Keep it simple. Depending on the article length, I'll add more main points if the word count demands it. Write a grabbing intro that makes the point of your subject matter, use your main points to prove it and then wrap up all the detail of the article in your conclusion.
Finally, revise and edit your work. Look for typos, grammatical errors, repetitive words and awkward phrasing. Get someone else to proof for you if your eye keeps missing things. Another technique is to read the piece aloud.
All of this hard work and careful prep will pay off when the Editor requests to see the finished article. If you follow my advice above, you will get to this stage.
GOOD LUCK & HAPPY WRITING!
I'm home from an abso-bloomin'-lutely magical holiday to Canada and what a fun family filled January it has been! I have to reiterate that it's got to be the best start to a new year ever. Since being back I've been laughing my way through Series 2 of Mrs Brown's Boys and getting addicted and highly strung on Series 1 of 24 (which incidentally Wikipedia tells me premiered in America on the Fox Network on my 19th birthday). My over active imagination means Colin and I are nightly prowling the streets of America saving innocent lives. In my dreams I've got quite good at shooting a gun and dodging bullets! We've only watched 8 eps - and we're a bag of jangling nerves. Means it's good script writing if we're this hooked so early on, so hats off to the writers.
Here's something I strongly believe in - never listen to the critics. What am I referring to? Well, it's actually my album of the month - Beyonce's 4. I was under the impression it was full of retro tunes, totally different to anything she's done before and a record I definitely wouldn't buy - or even like. How very very wrong I was to listen to those critics. I played it on the plane (both directions in fact because I loved it that much) and have since purchased the deluxe version on iTunes. It's a fabulous mix of styles that compliment each other so well. I am rocking it!
Now onto the MAIN event - today brings a close to the first quarter of my 30 Things project. I've got off to a bit of a slow start (having finalised the list 2 months after my 29th birthday - whoops) but I can tick off 2 items on that list:
1. Fly First Class long haul from anywhere to anywhere - DONE
Thanks again to Air Canada for the totally unexpected upgrade! Flying 3,000 miles across the Atlantic with funky mood lighting, champagne, my cool pod that morphed into a bed with 5 weird and wonderful settings AND massage, the endless stream of inflight entertainment, brekky, a 5-course lunch, drinkies on tap and jumbo salt and vinegar nuts... was a pleasure and yep, I'm so easily pleased!
6. Try 3 new variations of foods - DONE
A cold Brussel sprout sarnie courtesy of my Aunty Pat (was pretty darn good)
Poutine courtesy of my cousins Phil & Shan (apparently of Polish origin - chips with gravy and cheese)
Red & green dragon rolls courtesy of my cousin Lissy (salmon and avocado sushi)
So, 2 down... and only 28 to go!!!
I'm going to leave you with some pics of happy snowy Canada memories - the first country I've visited in all 4 seasons believe it or not - and let's see what the "leap" month of February has in store for us...
When writing for a magazine, the key is to be original - bring a fresh take to an old topic. You want to stand out from the crowd to ensure a regular stream of assignments (and income).
Can you introduce a new idea or concept that hasn't been tackled before?
Will the target market (readers of this particular magazine) connect with the subject matter? Do your research and put together a readership profile for each magazine you want to work with. File these for quick and easy reference later on.
Will it hold the reader's attention? Make sure your article has substance and keeps them wanting more.
Surprise your readers with an amazing fact, figure or funny anecdote, but avoid going out of context and sidetracking them.
Can you bring it home to the reader? The point of any type of writing is to make an impact. Give your reader something to think about.
Be sure to challenge each new idea using the above guidelines, so you stand a fighting chance of avoiding the dreaded Editor's slush pile!
When you finally come to sit down to do some serious article writing (because this is where you'll earn as a freelancer - if you're good), take some time to brainstorm your favourite topics. When you have a list of all the things you think you might like to write about, pick your top 2 and run with them for a while. Any writing or research activity that sits outside of these top 2 subjects should be left on the shelf for the time being.
At the end of each week - in preparation for the next - put together a marketing plan for that week. Keep your top 2 in mind when doing this and brainstorm what I call your "spin offs" - ideas that come from ideas. Remember, the aim of all this is to put a new spin on an old topic. Start studying magazines that relate to your top 2 either at your local book store or library - or both - and analyse the articles they publish. To target these publications, you need to be able to write in a similar style and with similar content. Start by finding out the name of the editor/s and writing queries to a few of your chosen markets.
Include in your marketing plan how you will network with other businesses and other writers each week. This is an integral part to staying focused, but one that is often overlooked (and I'm guilty!) However, thank god for Twitter... Contact with fellow writers will keep your passion for writing and freelancing alive and networking with businesses might just result in a few leads or assignments.
How do you fight isolation, disorganisation and lack of motivation when you work from home? Here are 10 pointers to combat these negatives:
1. Create your work space
2. Stick to a schedule
3. Ensure other people stick to your schedule
4. Keep the variety in your writing alive
5. Get out and meet people - network
6. Take breaks
7. Massage your creative brain
8. Exercise and eat right
9. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done and celebrate
10. Have a life outside of your work space
This is what it all boils down to:
Focus on the things that pay at the expense of the writing projects you feel so passionate about
Take the plunge and risk investing all your energy into something that might or might not pay off
If you can sort out the practicalities, then I believe Life is too short not to pursue what really matters to you.
Here is my 5-point foundation for staying on track whilst I freelance this year:
Create your own definition of success based on what is important to YOU
Be prepared to make sacrifices
Don't panic if you lose your mojo, it happens! Bring yourself back to the status quo gradually
Surround yourself with people who will support you
Keep the vision clear so you keep moving forward
Consider joining the Society of Authors. They work to protect the rights and further the interests of authors in the United Kingdom.
The Society has over 9,000 members writing in all areas of the profession. Whatever your specialisation, you are eligible to join as soon as you have been offered a contract from a publisher, broadcaster or agent. Services include the confidential, individual vetting of contracts, and help with any professional queries. In addition, the Society organises a varied calendar of events, publishes a quarterly journal, The Author, maintains a database of members’ specialisations, and administers a wide range of grants and prizes such as the Authors’ Foundation, which is one of the few bodies making grants to help with works in progress for established writers.
And they have a free tax helpline!
"Tax doesn't have to be taxing..." Despite what the adverts say - it is. I've been doing my homework this afternoon and for a moment there I thought I had to file my first ever tax return online before January 31st. And there was me thinking I had until April...! Then I came across the following on the HMRC website:
If you have been working for yourself for less than 12 months, you will have to choose your accounting date (and you usually keep to that date each year). You can choose any date you like (I did) but as the tax year ends on 5 April you may find it easier to use 5 April. The beginning of your accounting period, that is, the period (usually a year) from one accounting date to the next, covered by your books and records, will be the first day of your business or trading year.
Here's some more advice:
A tax return lists your income for the year and all of your allowable business expenses and capital allowances. Deduct the latter from the former and you get your taxable income. The online system automatically tells you exactly what you owe and then you pay it.
You need proof of everything so keep good records and receipts. Enter every job and expense into a spreadsheet on a daily / weekly basis, and buy everything that could constitute a business expense on plastic.
Internet banking and online statements come into their own when trying to work out your expenses!
What you can claim:
Business travel - including petrol, train and bus fares and even taxis
Office expenses – if you rent an office or a space somewhere you can claim this cost, but what happens if you work from home? You're entitled to claim some of your home running costs as long as you only claim for business usage. Use this as a guide - you will spend a third of your time working in your home if you do an eight hour day, so work out a third of your bills such as electricity and gas.
However, you have to account for the fact that your work space is not your entire home, and you can only claim for the space you use – for example one third. So a third of a third might be the amount you could claim as an expense. Say I spend £90 a month on gas and electric, I can claim £10 a month on my expenses. Also ensure every household bill is in your name - if you're looking to claim on your home.
Phone costs – same rule applies as office expenses, you need to work out what is spent on work and personal use if you don’t have separate lines. Broadband costs can also be claimed. If you use a mobile smart phone to run your business (like me), you can claim that too.
Misc expenses – paper, postage, repairs, stationary are all tax deductible, provided they are needed for your business and you have receipts.
There is a difference between your running costs and fixed assets, like computers, a car, printer or photocopier, which you can claim under capital allowances.
Each year you can claim 20% of the cost or value of new equipment and machinery as an annual allowance, meaning you do not claim it all in one year.
NB: In your first year you can claim 100% of items that fall under capital allowances definitions.
Box 48 Annual Investment Allowance
You can claim a capital allowance called an Annual Investment Allowance (AIA), if you bought equipment (but not cars) during the year up to an annual amount of £100,000. Add the cost of all the equipment together and, if the total cost is £100,000 or less, you can claim 100% of that whole amount as your AIA. If the total is more than £100,000, then you can claim up to £100,000 of the total as your AIA. Where you use an item of equipment for both business and private purposes, the AIA claimed has to be reduced by the private use proportion.
Gordon buys some tools for £5,000 and a van costing £10,000. The tools are used only for the business. The van is used 60% for business and 40% for private motoring. As the total cost is less than £100,000, Gordon can claim the full amount as AIA.
However, because the van is used for private purposes, Gordon must restrict the amount of AIA that he claims on the van to reflect his private use. This means that the AIA he can claim for the van is £6,000 (£10,000 less 40% private use).
His total AIA claim is £11,000 (£5,000 for the tools plus £6,000 for the van).
For more information on tax deductible items, visit here.
Visit HMRC for help and information about your tax return.
_ This is how I registered for self employment and set up my writing business (simply named "Piara Strainge") to make it all official. As far as I know, I'm ticking all the boxes! I guess I'll know for sure when I come to file my tax return in April...
NB: All of my information came from www.hmrc.gov.uk
You need to register for self assessment as soon as your circumstances change. I think you have 3 months from the new business start date, or from when you first start earning money from the new business. My start date was July 2011 so I made sure I registered by October 2011. HMRC sent me the link to the self assessment form and I filled it out online, printed and posted it back. This information is important for HMRC to get your records straight because you don't want to pay too much tax or National Insurance contributions. Details you can expect to divulge:
Your National Insurance number.
Your contact details and the contact details of your new business.
Your ten-digit Unique Taxpayer Reference number if you have previously completed a Self Assessment return. You’ll find this on letters or forms sent by HMRC about your tax return - I got my UTR number once I'd registered because this is all new to me.
The date your circumstances changed (basically your start date).
So, nothing too scary!
Once you’ve registered for Self Assessment, HMRC will set up your records and send you your new Unique Taxpayer Reference or UTR. Keep it in a safe place! You’ll then get a letter telling you when you need to send your first tax return. The letter will usually be in April, but it may be earlier if you need to send a tax return back for an earlier tax year. If you don't receive a notice or a tax return, you should contact HMRC. I'm expecting to file mine in April.
The one other thing I did was to apply to exempt myself from paying Class 2 National Insurance contributions (using form CF10). Why did I do this? Because I honestly didn't think I'd make £5,000 from now until April. Here's what HMRC say about this:
If you have low earnings
If you earn less than £5,315 per year you can apply for a Certificate of Small Earnings Exception and not pay Class 2 National Insurance contributions. However, you might decide to carry on paying them voluntarily to keep your entitlement to the State Pension and other benefits.
I'll hopefully do better in my second year of self employment, but playing it safe in Year 1.
More information about Class 2 National Insurance contributions can be found here.
Blogging is an amazing concept so here I am giving it a whirl. You'll get words. You'll get pics. Sometimes a vid or two. You'll get tongue in cheek, the odd humble opinion and an honest insight into my travels and writing life. Maybe even a few gems along the way. I'll be musing on home turf as I see more and more of the UK and sharing my experiences further afield on holidays and adventurous trips across the globe.