Thursday, January 31, 2013

Why I have started a writers retreat? Guest Blog by Margaret Jennings

Charlotte asked me to do a guest blog. I’m a technophobe so my first question was how on earth do I do that? Charlotte reassured me that all I had to do was write down why I wanted to run a writing retreat and send it to her.
So why do I want to run a writing retreat? I thought about it and slowly came to realise that I wanted to do for others what Charlotte had done for me. Encourage. After all she could have said yes, it’s really difficult and you must be a right idiot if you don’t even know how to blog. But she didn’t, she made it all seem easy, and thus reassured I’m having a bash.
I took a Masters in Creative Writing at Chichester University. Many people doubt the worth of these courses saying that writing is a gift that cannot be taught. That might be so, but I believe that everyone has a talent for writing and that with the right encouragement everyone can explore their full potential and say those things they have always wanted to say. The trouble is that in our society we are expected to be ‘good’ at something before we can venture out into public and share our work, before we can even begin to think of ourselves as writers. This demand that people should be ‘good’ writers also presupposes a norm, a knowable standard that ought to be reached and this has the effect of restricting people in what they write. Surely, they all think, subconsciously or otherwise, if I want to be ‘good’ then I should write the sort of stuff I read.
My answer to that is no, in order to be a ‘good’ writer you have to be prepared to expose all your individuality, all your peculiarities, to crash into all those taboos so inculcated into you by society that they are virtually invisible to you. This is not easy. It is about being more naked in front of other people than you possibly ever could be with all your clothes off. And this ability to be who you, and you alone, are as a writer takes the confidence that is knocked out of us from early childhood by those who demand that we should be ‘good’. So this is what I want to do. I want to encourage people to write. I want people to treat words like play dough or paint is treated by small children. I want them to feel free to explore without unwarranted criticism.
I am aware that there are things that work in writing and things that don’t. I am aware that there are rules. But I am also aware that the best writers break these rules, the best writers write from their hearts, the best writers are happy sploshing in the metaphorical mud and don’t give a stuff what others think of their work. Not because they are arrogant but because they are enjoying learning as they play. Too much criticism, too much damnation, too many demands that people keep their clothes clean as they play in the giant sandpit of words we are blessed with, means that they stop writing altogether. And that means they will never succeed.
So when you come to stay at my retreat you will be treated like the writer you are. I will point out ways of improving your work if that is what you want. I will shut up and keep out of your way if you want. I will provide regular meals and space that you can work in free from the usual distractions of everyday life.
Look on my website, for further information. There are two examples of my writing there. The Lovedean Writer’s anthology “Keep calm and keep writing” available on kindle has other examples. My email address is
And whether you decide to come to my retreat or not, please believe in yourselves as writers. We all have something to say. Don’t let those who only know how to criticise harshly shut you up. Find a local writing group where you feel comfortable and supported and write your socks off.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Scales of giving and receiving

“One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but ends up impoverished.” Hebrew proverb

“Giving brings happiness at every stage of its expression.” Buddha

“They who give have all things, they who withhold have nothing.” Hindu proverb

“Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.”Jesus of Nazareth

I went to a conference this weekend and was moved by motivator speaker describing the paradox that the more you give the more you receive. A mantra that I'm not only familiar with, I've tried to live my life with that in mind. The activity required us to ask 'what could we do for our clients?' 'What could we do for or HQ?' Of course because it was a how to make sales seminar, he went on to explain how a £15 gift of a book, went on to generate a lot in sales.

I started this blog just over a year ago because I had realised I had continually put my own dreams on hold to help other people.

It is strange, I'm one of lives volunteers. The first to put my hand up. So why do somethings I've put time and effort into resulted in rewarding, life enriching experiences? And other have left me feeling tired, unmotivated and a little used?

I think it goes back to the relationship level. If we put a volunteer on one side of the scale and another generous person on the other side it will happily go up and down as both sides give a receive. It doesn't work that well with a 'yeah thanks for that' person. Those that happily accept with out putting energy back into the ether. It seems to be the number one complaint in broken relationships - I gave they took. Oh sure there are a couple who can keep on giving not matter what - but they mostly have a saint in front of their names.

Some of the happiest people I know are kind and generous with their help and time. But they are also careful over where the put their energy. I don't think this year as been wasted, life is definitely a balance - I can see that now. But I'm still not practiced in how much I should be putting on the scales.

I would have liked to have added to the sales seminar something I have found expressed amazingly well in the following quote;

'Generosity cannot be faked in order to achieve some other more valued self-serving end. Generosity itself needs to be desired. The good of other people must be what we want. Generosity cannot be counterfeited. And fake generosity does not make us happier, healthier, and more purposeful in life. To live generously, one must in due time really become a generous person. Generosity must be authentic. It must actually be believed and practiced as a real part of one’s life.'

I like to give. But I was still really pleased by the gifts I received from the sales seminar.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Problem With The Process

A series of emails with a friend inspired a poem. This doesn't happen often for me. It was the fact that a person filled with love could have a heart problem that was the starting point. Today most people with arrhythmia's will be okay, but there is an underlining possibility of it being something more serious.

It's quiet normal to be worried and a little scared when results come back showing there may be a problem. The unfortunate element of the story is when those close to that person disregard those feelings - especially when she'd been supportive to them in their time of need.

Sad, when people behave like that, common too. And the hurt they cause in behaving selfishly can be minor or serious, a bit like arrhythmia's...

What Is an Arrhythmia?

A problem with the process
electrical system out of control
you're beating too fast,
you're beating too slow.

It's problem with the process
You're rhythm is irregular
you're square peg in a
round hole.

It's nothing
it's common
They're harmless,

What is an arrhythmia?

A metaphor
the love giving organ
beating too fast,
beating too slow.

Trying to give
round love
to square holes

And those who don't care
are nothing
are common
They're harmless,

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

'Dear Lucky Agent' contest embraces social media

I'm currently having fun entering a writing competition. In the past the only thing I had to worry about was reading the submission guides lines, watching the line spaces or the font. This is different to be eligible you have to send proof that you have advertised the competition using social media!

Is this a sign of the times?

Categories: Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, Science Fiction Agents, What's New, Young Adult Literary Agents.
January 17, 2013 | Chuck Sambuchino | Comments: 6
Add to favorites

Welcome to the 13th (free!) “Dear Lucky Agent” Contest on the GLA blog. This is a recurring online contest with agent judges and super-cool prizes. Here’s the deal: With every contest, the details are essentially the same, but the niche itself changes—meaning each contest is focused around a specific category or two. So if you’re writing either a science fiction novel (adults or teens) or any kind of young adult novel, this 13th contest is for you! (The contest is live through January 31, 2013.)


After a previous “Dear Lucky Agent” contest, the agent judge, Tamar Rydzinski (The Laura Dail Literary Agency), signed one of the three contest winners. After Tamar signed the writer, she went on to sell two of that writer’s books! How cool! That’s why these contests are not to missed if you have an eligible submission.


E-mail entries to Please paste everything. No attachments.


The first 150-200 words of your unpublished, book-length work of your sci-fi novel or young adult novel. You must include a contact e-mail address with your entry and use your real name. Also, submit the title of the work and a logline (one-sentence description of the work) with each entry.

Please note: To be eligible to submit, you must mention this contest twice through any social media. Please provide a social media link or Twitter handle or screenshot or blog post URL, etc., with your offical e-mailed entry so the judge and I can verify eligibility. Some previous entrants could not be considered because they skipped this step! Simply spread the word twice through any means and give us a way to verify you did; a tinyURL for this link/contest for you to easily use is An easy way to notify me of your sharing is to include my Twitter handle @chucksambuchino somewhere in your mention(s) if using Twitter. And if you are going to solely use Twitter as your 2 times, please wait 1 day between mentions to spread out the notices, rather than simply tweeting twice back to back. Thanks.

Want to pitch this contest’s agent judge (Victoria Marini) in person?
Then check out the gigantic agent pitch slam as part of the 2013
Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC, April 5-7, 2013! The event
will have anywhere from 60-80 agents taking pitches.


Science fiction novels of any kind, as well as young adult novels of any kind.


This contest will be live for approximately 14 days—from Jan. 17, 2013 through the end of Jan. 31, 2013, PST. Winners notified by e-mail within three weeks of end of contest. Winners announced on the blog thereafter.
To enter, submit the first 150-200 words of your book. Shorter or longer entries will not be considered. Keep it within word count range please.
You can submit as many times as you wish. You can submit even if you submitted to other contests in the past, but please note that past winners cannot win again. All that said, you are urged to only submit your best work.
The contest is open to everyone of all ages, save those employees, officers and directors of GLA’s publisher, F+W Media, Inc.
By e-mailing your entry, you are submitting an entry for consideration in this contest and thereby agreeing to the terms written here as well as any terms possibly added by me in the “Comments” section of this blog post. (If you have questions or concerns, write me personally at chuck.sambuchino (at) The Gmail account above is for submissions, not questions.)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mills & Boon and Harlequin writing competition

Mills & Boon and Harlequin have launched a global writing competition which offers a publishing contract as its prize.

The competition, So You Think You Can Write, is the first held jointly by Mills & Boon and its parent company, Harlequin, and will be supported by a free online conference between 17th and 21st September 2012, hosted at The conference will bring together more than 50 Harlequin and Mills & Boon editors through social media tools including podcasts, videos, Google Hangouts, blogs, live chats, community discussions and Twitter events, with prospective competition entrants able to interact with them.

The competition deadline is 26th October 2012, with participants initially required to submit a 100-word pitch and a first chapter. An online vote, open to the public, will narrow the field to 25 contestants who will then be asked to submit a finished manuscript. Harlequin and M&B editors will then select three finalists, with the final winner then chosen again via public vote. The winner will be awarded a publishing contract with Mills & Boon and Harlequin.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

New Year, New Opportunities.

Following a lead that educational writing is a buoyant market I have made a pitch at a publisher who has expressed an interest and wants to have my first draft finished by mid March. It's going to be tight.

I did a lot of research into the market and it is still providing opportunities to writers. Educational writing currently comes in many shapes and sizes. Some educational writers pen books for companies like Scholastic Teaching Resources, Libraries Unlimited, Wright Group, and Enslow Publishers. There is also the opportunity to create lesson plans, testing passages, and even captions for illustrations in encyclopaedias. Some work for developmental houses that contract with educational publishers. Experienced education writers receive book contracts from editors without even pitching ideas.

It seems that educational writing is lucrative, especially during a time when many freelance writers are struggling to find jobs, and publishers aren’t handing out as many contracts. The education writing market is still providing writers with opportunities. Several experienced writers claim this is how they got started, and claim educational writing is a great career—even without a teaching degree.

Definitely worth a go.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Self-Publishing Scams to Avoid

1. Flattery

Reliable publishers don’t butter you up to gain your business. Beware publishers will play on your emotional heartstrings and tell you that your work is perfect and ready for publication as it stands. phrases to look out for are — “You deserve to be published” or “You have worked so hard, and we intend to share your voice with the world."

2. Promises, promises, promises...

When a self-publisher says, “We’ll get your book into every bookstore,” you might think your novel being on the shelves of every WHSmiths and Waterstones. But in reality at best this means your book will be llisted in every bookstore’s computer database. Customers can only buy it if a customer requests it.

3. Ineffective marketing

Most author services companies (which print your book on demand when one is ordered) and self-publishers offer all-inclusive packages that bundle printing and binding with editing, proofreading, sales, distribution, publicity and shipping. It’s easy to assume that the more services you buy, the more success you’ll have. Unfortunately, the “professional marketing materials” you receive may just be boilerplate press releases that journalists will ignore or a brief listing in a catalog that book buyers trash.

Remember marketing and publicity charges are one of the main ways these businesses make money.

4. Gobbledygook contracts

Self-publishing contracts are filled confusing terminology such as “author profit,” “royalty” and “net payment."

Before you sign anything, ask questions. How will you get paid? How often? How much? And when? Will you be paid based on the book’s cover price? Are returns (unsold books) taken into account? Get answers in writing and added to your contract before you sign.

5. Copyright tricks

Some publishers like to play: They tell you how difficult and expensive it is to obtain an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and/or a copyright, then offer to “help you” with those piddly details. But an ISBN, which identifies a title for tracking and sales, actually is easy to obtain. You can purchase your own. I have bought an ISBN number for my writing group anthology, and if I can do it, anyone can.

Good Writing Habits

There’s no better way to improve your work than by adopting good writing habits.

1. Read (and for some guys in my writing group,) if you won't read at least listen to an audio book. But if you can Read!

2. Write every day. Even if you can only dedicate a few minutes to writing.

3. Check your grammar, I'm need to this.

4. Have fun with your writing.

5. Research if you have to.

6. Find a writing process that works for you. What steps do you need to complete to tackle a writing project? Maybe you need to start with a plan, or perhaps you do better when you just write. Find out what works for you!

7. Proofread, edit, and revise. It’s obvious when a piece of writing has not been properly proofread.

8. Share your work and invite feedback. One of the quickest ways to improve your writing is through feedback. Embrace the feedback, even if it hurts, and then put it to work for you by ironing out all the wrinkles that your friendly reader found. And then return the favour.

9. Make writing a priority.

10. Experiment with different forms.

Eight steps you can take to keep your work out of the recycling bin

How do I format my poetry or short story submission? There are eight steps you can take to keep your work out of the recycling bin:

1. Read the publication (or samples of the publisher's offerings) before you send your work. Make sure they publish the kind of poetry you're sending.

2. Request submission guidelines from the publisher and adhere carefully to them.

3. Always enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. If you request your work returned, make sure to include a large enough envelope with adequate postage.

4. Unless guidelines specify otherwise, send only three to five poems or one short story.

5. Choose a standard typeface that is clean and easy to read. Twelve-point Times New Roman is a reliable choice. Do not use a script-style font.

6. Make sure whatever you send is perfect. Have someone reliable proofread your work. Check the spelling of the address, especially if you are sending it to a particular person's attention.

7. Keep your cover letter short: your bio should take up only a few lines; don't explain your poetry or short story; it should speak for itself; don't ask for or expect to receive feedback on your work.

8. Be aware that it often will take a long time for publishers to respond. Be patient. Don't call unless it is to inform them your work has been accepted by another publisher.

How can I tell if a contest or publishing offer is a scam?

How can I tell if a contest or publishing offer is a scam?

Consider these warning signs:

1. The sponsor or publisher asks for money. If a contest requires a reading fee, consider
(a) whether the sponsor is a for-profit or non-profit organization, and
(b) whether you feel its other activities besides the contest are worth supporting.

It does cost money to run a contest, so don't label all contests with fees as scams. Your entry fee may be used towards helping to keep a publicly supported arts organization healthy.

A commercial sponsor of a contest, however, should only earn a profit by selling the winning book.

2. There is no payment in either cash or publication copies. Many legitimate publications can't afford to pay their contributors, but at the very least they should give you a free copy of the finished product. If your work is worth publishing, it's worth paying for.

3. The publisher lists only a P. O. box address. If no phone number or street address is listed, they might be purposely obscuring their whereabouts. Why--or what--are they trying to hide from you?

4. The offer is a form letter that looks hand-generated. Using handwriting-style typefaces and fake Post-it notes is a popular tactic with direct-mail solicitation from a charity or book-club, but you shouldn't find it on an acceptance letter from a publisher.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My Favourite Novella

This week I'm thinking about the novella which is too long for a short story and too short for a novel. I can't count the number of times I've been told that publishers look down on them because they are hard to sell.

Look at the confusion about what the word really means. It’s Italian for a “little novelty.” Think about tales like the Arabian Nights. Now it means a prose narrative of intermediate length.

This length ranges roughly from 20,000 to 40,000 words, or in an average publication something between 60 and 120 pages. Compared to a short story there is more room to develop round characters and an interesting plot. The main difference with a novel is that it centres around one main character and it has no subplots. I love them!

Here are some of my all time favourite stories are novellas.

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)

The narrator is Mr Utterson, a lawyer who observes two people: the scientist Dr Henry Jekyll and the murderer Mr Edward Hyde. He finds out that Dr Jekyll actually has a split personality and that Jekyll and Hyde are one and the same person. Dr Hyde believed that every man has good and evil incorporated within himself, and he invented a potion to separate these two. I have yet to see a film that is faithful to the original excellent plot.

The Time Machine
H. G. Wells (1895)

An English scientist invents a machine to travel in time. He travels to the year 802,701 A.D. and discovers two species: the small, child-like Eloi, and the aggressive, ape-like Morlocks, who live under the ground. He finds out that humanity has evolved into these two species, a result of the separation between leisure class and working class.

Of Men and Mice
John Steinbeck (1937)

My only argument with this one is that they use it in schools instead of Grapes of Wrath. George Milton and Lennie Small are two field workers traveling through California in search of employment.

The Turn of the Screw
Henry James (1898)

In the introduction, an unnamed narrator listens to a man who starts reading a manuscript written by a governess. Together with a housekeeper, she became responsible for Miles and Flora, a orphaned boy and a girl living in a country house without their uncle. The governess started seeing the ghosts of two former employers around the house. In this eerie atmosphere her concern grew over the safety of the children. It reminds me of my uni days.

The Metamorphosis
Franz Kafka (1915)

I felt so grown up at university reading this and discussing it over coffee. A traveling salesman, Gregor Samsa, wakes up transformed into a giant insect. Because of this he cannot go to work. The interesting question is how his family and his employer will deal with the absurd situation. The story can be read as a reflection on how society treats people who are different in some way or another.

A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens (1843)

Ebenezer Scrooge, is visited by the ghost of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, and by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come. This will finally convince him to change his attitude, and become more generous towards society, and towards his clerk Bob Cratchit and invalid son Tiny Tim who I personally found really annoying and I think would have probably enjoyed dying and becoming a martyr.

Animal Farm
George Orwell (1945) (Eric Arthur Blair)

The main characters are intelligent animals. And this story blew my mind when I was at school. Although everybody is supposed to be equal, the pigs are more equal than the others. The story shows how utopian ideas can lead to exactly the opposite of what was intended: a dystopian society. The farm represents the Soviet Union. Napoleon and Snowball are based on Stalin and Trotsky.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Novellas Weird Right?

Over Christmas I've been giving a lot of thought over what's next in my life. One of my projects left unfinished is a novella sitting under the bed that I felt was unpublishable due to its length. I've had some good feed back on my work but I've been given the advice to make it longer. But why? I'm happy with it and I think it will lose something if I add padding just to make it the right length. Then while surfing the net this morning I came across an article which literally answered the question I was running over in my mind - weird right?

According to today's Telegraph 'Booker prize-winning author Ian McEwan believes the novella is the superior literary form to the novel.
The author told an audience at Cheltenham Literary Festival over the weekend, "If I could write the perfect novella I would die happy."
McEwan said that publishers and critics feel there is something 'unmanly' about a novella: "Whenever I've handed in a novella there's always someone to give you a kick in the shins, as if you've made a mistake.
"Many of the writers we love the most, we love for their novellas: Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann, The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James, The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka."
McEwan believes that brevity appeals to readers, because "you can hold the whole thing structurally in your mind at once."

The writer defines the novella as being a work of 25,000 words. He is the author of several short-form books and two of his short novels have been shortlisted for the Booker prize. The 166-page On Chesil Beach was nominated in 2007, a book which McEwan described as a novella. This would have made it ineligible for the Booker, but the panel decided that the book was in-fact a short novel.
The writer won the Booker with the 175-page novel Amsterdam in 1998.
His most recent novel Sweet Tooth includes a character who is nominated for a literary prize for a novella.'

Source Tuesday 01 January 2013

Now I'm the first to admit that my story isn't the next Turn of the Screw, but encouraged I have spent the afternoon on my submission letter.