traceysinclairconsulting

Writing, editing and legal directories advice

Tag Archives: writing

Spring forward – work roundup: Dark Dates live, Legal Directories Presentations and a new book in the pipeline!

As ever, from November-mid-March my life has been dominated by the UK directories season – while I do a lot of international work, that tends to be a bit more spread out, and UK firms are still my biggest customer (and, besides, a lot of international work also falls within this season – making me a very busy girl indeed!). Because I am so heavily committed, everything else tends to take second place, but with the last UK deadline under my belt and the arrival of spring, I get to take a bit of a breather (this year, as ever, celebrated by the annual ‘getting really ill as soon as the deadline is over’ ritual, from which I am only now recovering) and look at the bigger picture, assess what else is going on in my life, and what I want to achieve before the UK season swings round again…

Magazine work: I still review and occasionally write articles for theatre magazine Exeunt, and write a regular column on freelancing for Better Business magazine, and this is certainly something I would like to explore more of over the next few months. Last year, I had a piece published in writing magazine Mslexia, so it was nice to add another title to my CV, which is something I’d like to expand on this year.

Directories presentations: One of the nicest surprises over the past year or so has been the success of my ‘demystifying directories’ presentations, which I have now given to law firms in Europe, London and the rest of the UK – in fact, I got to the stage where I was having to turn people down as I was so heavily booked up! I really enjoy doing these – it’s great to be able to answer people’s questions face-to-face – so hope to do more over the coming months.

Books: This time of year is typically when my writing projects move into full swing and this year is no exception! I’m currently working on a slew of projects, including getting Wolf Night into print and writing the sequel, compiling a collection of Dark Dates stories and exploring a potential new publishing venture. Watch this space!

Zoe Cunningham as Cassandra Bick

Zoe Cunningham as Cassandra Bick

Dark Dates Live: Possibly the most exciting development has been the creation of a one-woman show An Audience with Cassandra Bick, with actress Zoe Cunningham and director Peta Lily. After opening to great reviews in the First 2015 at the Tristan Bates theatre in London, it’s coming to the Brighton Fringe in May, with further touring possible. Zoe and I are also collaborating on another project at the moment, so, again, hopefully there will be more news soon…

Throw in a bunch of international directories deadlines and suddenly the summer doesn’t look so quiet after all. The hard work is over – let the hard work begin!

The joy of print

Most of my non-legal work these days is online content, but I do still write for print publications – most notably, Better Business magazine, for whom I write a regular freelancing column. This month I also had a piece in Mslexia, the magazine aimed at female writers. Having both magazines arrive through my letterbox within a matter of days reminded me that, no matter the joys of digital – and I love the immediacy of digital, the fast turnaround and the ability to connect with readers all over the globe – there’s something about seeing your name in print that, for a writer like me, will never lose its thrill. Clearly now I just need to work on my photography skills…

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Ch-ch-changes… new city, new work, new products

The new term, ‘back to school’ feeling of September is always a happy one for me: possibly it’s because I was a study nerd when I was younger, partly it’s just I love the excuse to buy new notebooks and indulge in my stationery fetish. This year the new start that the season offers is particularly dramatic for me, and one I’m really excited by. After a hectic summer, I have relocated to Brighton and am currently in the process of reorganising my stuff after having it in storage for the best part of 6 months. This is turning out to be a great opportunity to reassess what I actually need, and what I am have been hanging onto unnecessarily – not a bad lesson for the rest of life, I think!

I’m looking forward to getting used to a new city after 11 years in London, and have a raft of promising new projects on the go for the next few months, including, of course, assisting a number of clients with both Chambers and Legal 500 UK and international research. I’m also still writing for Better Business magazine on the trials and tribulations of freelance life, as well as producing a fortnightly column for pop culture website Unleash the Fanboy, so my career continues to be pleasingly varied. I’ve worked on a number of great projects over the summer, including doing transcription work for an international academic study group and acting as subtitling consultant for a documentary, so am delighted that my decision to go freelancing a few years ago is already yielding such a diverse work portfolio.

I’m expanding my services into doing more personal presentations, too, having had a great response to both telephone and face-to-face Q&A sessions for clients this year, and already have several sessions lined up both in the UK and Europe. If you think you could benefit from one of these sessions, do get in touch – they can be an easy and affordable way to kickstart your directories process and save lots of time later on.

Sequels: is publishing any easier the second time around?

Having previously been published by a small literary publisher, when I changed genres to urban fantasy I decided to dip my toe into self-publishing with a novel, Dark Dates.  In some ways, it was risk-free – I published it on Amazon, which is free, and was lucky enough to have a handy team of beta readers to help, plus my friend Caroline from Red Button Publishing offered to design the cover for me. It cost nothing – months of hard work aside, of course – and the worst that could happen was that people wouldn’t buy it, or that they would buy it and then say it was crap. But are the stakes higher – and the job harder – the second time around?

WN KINDLE final

Fast forward a year from the publication of Dark Dates and I’ve been generally delighted with the reception the book received. Sales could be higher, of course – I’m not quite retiring to my seaside villa just yet – but it’s had some great reviews, and received some nice accolades, including landing on a couple of bloggers’ ‘top ten of 2012’ lists. I’d followed it with a couple of short stories just to keep things bubbling over, and only a few weeks ago, put out the sequel, Wolf Night. So the question is, is it harder, or easier second time around?

What Cassandra did Next

In some ways, it was much easier, if nothing else because the technical side of it was so much more familiar. I had a (paid) formatter who I trust, Caroline again did the cover, and my beta team again came through, and the process of actually publishing on Amazon is relatively straightforward once you’re less scared of it. I had also built up some great contacts in the book blogging community over the past year, so while lots of blogs won’t review self-published work at all, I knew that I had some blogs that would be happy to host guest features, Q&As, giveaways and reviews. I’d already done some of the legwork in setting up the Dark Dates ‘paraphernalia’, too – a Goodreads author page, a dedicated website, Tumblr page and Facebook page, so a lot of things were already in place. Plus, of course, I hoped that there were a lot of people just eager and waiting for the sequel to a book they said they loved.

Of course, it’s never quite that easy, and I’m finding I still have a lot to learn this time around. For a start, I should have done more advance planning: a perfect storm of deadlines meant that I sort of shoved the book out without any fanfare, and then, once it was out, started my follow up with bloggers and online, whereas what I should have done was send out review copies months ago, and organise a load of blog posts (perhaps even pay for a tour – it’s not that expensive and cuts down on admin) to coincide with the launch. Even the friendliest of bloggers – and those who are genuinely keen to read the book – have their own schedules and towering TBR piles to negotiate, you can’t expect to put a book out and have people read and review it overnight!

Dark Dates Nocturnal Reviews

Likewise I somehow hadn’t realised that if you’re plugging a sequel, you are actually plugging two books – because you’re not only trying to get the people who liked the first book to buy it, but you’re trying to snag new readers to the series as a whole. Who wants to read a sequel to a book they’ve never heard of?

A few weeks later and the reviews are starting to trickle in and, so far, they are very positive, but it’s been a nerve-wracking time waiting to see what the response will be. I’m slowly gearing up for guest posts and promotions, with a few things done and some more down the line. But I have realised that I plunged somewhat blindly into this hoping that the process would be the same as last time, without remembering just how long and complicated that actually was (for instance, in the last month I have only just had Dark Dates reviewed by sites I sent it to last spring). I still haven’t solved the problem of getting to a much wider audience, and feel that is my next task, but I also think I probably made things more difficult for myself by being too hasty to just get the book out there (and, if I’m honest, out of my way so that I couldn’t tinker with it and convince myself it needed changing). So my advice to any writer who finds themselves in the same situation would be – plan ahead. Plan way ahead. Everything takes longer than you think, and you’re always dependent on the schedules of others, which you have no control over. Maybe I’ll have learned that lesson by the time the next book comes out…

Digital promotion – feeding the machine

One of the criticisms of the digital book market is that it puts pressure on authors to constantly churn out new material: that on top of the ‘book a year’ demands of mainstream publishers, authors are now expected to put out digital-only short stories to keep their profile high and, of course, bring in extra income. (Although these are generally priced very low, for writers as popular as Tess Gerritsen and Lee Child – both of whom have successfully embraced this model – a lot of 99p sales soon add up). Short stories are now often used as ‘promos’ for new novels, either priced low or given away free in the weeks before a novel is published.

My reaction to this trend – both as a fan and a writer – is a positive one, and I must admit my sympathy for those professional writers complaining about this is, well, zero. For a start, it’s not exactly new: most novelists will regularly produce content for magazines and anthologies (just look at the recent Terry Pratchett book, A Blink of the Screen, a collection of his writings that brings together pieces from a surprisingly diverse range of sources). While some writers eventually have enough of this material to be compiled into standalone publications (Kelley Armstrong and Jim Butcher being good examples of this), often this isn’t the case, and fans either have to shell out for the anthologies or simply miss out.

Digital has changed all that. Now stories can be released as standalone pieces, or old stories that would have been buried in the archives of long-defunct magazines and publishers are now getting new life as digital-only releases. I was recently delighted when I discovered that the Lawrence Block’s ‘Burglar’ series – which the author stopped writing years ago – had a whole series of related short stories, now all available for less than a quid.

So I decided to embrace this trend myself. The sequel to my novel Dark Dates won’t be out till spring, but  I wanted to get something out before Christmas, and when I had an idea for a short story (and, if I say so myself, an enormously fun idea), I decided this was the perfect chance to try this model and see if it worked. While it’s far too early to know if this will boost sales in any way, initial reaction has been great, and it’s also an excuse to reconnect with bloggers with whom I have slowly started to build relationships over the past year. Plus I get another book with my name on it on Amazon. What’s not to like?

You can buy my new short story, A Vampire Walks Into A Bar, here.

New Dark Dates short story. Cover by Caroline Goldsmith of Red Button Publishing

Twitter for writers

I’ve posted before on using Twitter for business, but I recognise that how you use Twitter will depend on what you aim to get from it, and what you are using it to promote. With that in mind, I wrote a short piece for writing site Strictly Writing, tailored specifically to using Twitter to promote your writing, whether as fledgling freelance writer trying to build a reputation, or an established published author trying to facilitate a better relationship with your readers. You can read the full piece here.

Networking in a digital world

One of the most important – but often most difficult – things to do when you’re a freelancer is to network. Not only because this maximises your chance of getting more work, but because if you work for yourself, especially if you work from home, it’s all too easy to become isolated.

I recognise that, like many freelancers, this is something I’m not great at and I need to improve – it can feel calculating, or even dishonest: am I just being nice to this person to get something from them? But I’ve found that the best way to get around that is to think about networking simply as broadening my circle, not necessarily with any endgame in sight, rather than spending my time worrying about whether I’m making the ‘right’ connections, or whether they will result in any more work/sales for me.

With this in mind, I’ve been seeking out more writing communities to get involved with. I mentioned in my last post that I have joined the writers collective Strictly Writing – my first post goes live next week – and this week I started contributing to Byte The Book. Byte The Book is a relatively new site, set up as a community of writers, illustrators and digital publishing professionals: it recognises that the publishing industry is changing, and is helping people at the forefront (or sometimes just the sharp end) of those changes connect. Importantly, founder Justine Solomons sees the importance of human connection in an online world, and so organises regular ‘literary soirees’ so that the site’s contributors and other interested parties can meet face-to-face. My first post went live today: a short story in the Writing Showcase and a Book Review, and I’m looking forward to my first meeting next week. If you’re interested in any aspect of digital publishing, it really is worth checking out the site.

Blogging and writing for the web made easy

With the vast increase of online content, it’s never been more important to be able to write clear, concise and compelling copy. Here are some tips for writing blog posts or web content – aimed particularly at those more used to writing legal documents!

‘Front-load’ your article: you should be spelling out at the start what the article is about, and why your audience should read it. Make the title clear, and the first paragraph should outline what the article is about – or people may not read any further. Remember that on many sites, only the title and first 1-3 lines will be visible on the landing (main) page, so you need to encourage people to click through to the full article. (This will also give your article more weight in a Google search).

Make it easy to ‘skim’: many readers online will only briefly scan text, so it’s important to make your text easy to read on screen so that they can pick up the important points easily and quickly. Use short paragraphs, subheadings and bullet points to break text up – few things are more daunting to read on screen than reams of unbroken text. If appropriate, use images to break up the writing and add visual appeal.

Keep it simple and jargon-free: it can be difficult for lawyers and other professionals to put themselves in the mindset of non-expert readers, but unless you’re actually writing a legal/technical document, you should avoid, as far as possible, jargon and unexplained technical terms. This isn’t ‘dumbing down’, it’s being reader friendly. Blogging especially is about communicating with your audience, not intimidating them with your intelligence.

Write to match the way people read: again, this can be a challenge for lawyers or technical professionals, who are used to drafting documents in such a way that the most devious of souls can’t find a loophole in them. But this isn’t how normal people read. So while it’s fine to write in a legal document, “The contractor in place (“the Contractor”) sued the Baxter and Sons Delivery Company (“Baxter”)”, in more informal reading, this sounds over-mannered and stilted. If you refer to a contractor in the first sentence, a reader will naturally assume any future reference to the contractor is to the same one unless you introduce a new one; you don’t need to spell it out.

Use hyperlinks (though not too many): readers online now expect to be able to move easily from one article to another, so if you refer to a blog post or article – your own or someone else’s – link back to the original so that the reader can visit it; you shouldn’t make your reader head off to Google to find out what you are talking about. Links should be added to the body of the text (this is easy to do in most blogging or content systems), but using too many hyperlinks can be messy and distracting, as you risk sending your reader off in so many directions they don’t come back to you. If a lot of links are necessary, consider adding a ‘for further reading’ at the end. (Handy tip: you may prefer set your hyperlinks to open in a new screen, so that you’re not sending people away from your site as they may not come back). DON’T underline words for emphasis when writing online content – readers will assume they are broken links.

BUT be careful with links! Remember the links you use reflect back on you – so you might happily link to the FSA, BBC news or HMRC, but you probably don’t want to link to www.stupidstoriesforcrazypeople.com. Also remember that directing readers to a site with a pay wall can annoy them, so it’s usually best to link to free access sites. Use specific URLs (web addresses) so that you direct people to the actual story, not to a general site – for example, if you are linking to a story on the Roll on Friday site, you need to link to the actual story (the long URL at the top of the screen when you click on the title of the story), not just the news page, as that will be updated regularly, so by the time your reader visits it, the story you were talking about has moved off the main page.

Use tags: tags are extremely useful on blogs, helping readers easily find articles on the subjects they are interested in. These may appear in a list on the front page, or a ‘tag cloud’ which shows the most popular topics. If you are starting a blog, it’s worth creating a list of common tag words in advance, so as to be consistent: if you are contributing to an existing blog, be sure you use the same tag words the site already uses. (So, for instance, you don’t want to be tagging an article ‘Bribery Act’, if all of the other authors on the site simply use ‘Bribery’, or vice versa.) Tags are also a useful way of adding weight to your pages for a Google search.

Key words and phrases: ‘Search Engine Optimization’ (SEO) can be a tricky business (and there are whole industries out there aimed at helping people maximize traffic to their blogs and websites, so I won’t pretend to be any great expert) but as a general rule, make sure you help Google and other search engines identify your article or blog correctly by using the appropriate key words, especially in your title, first paragraph, tags and labelling of links (and, if you’re feeling particularly techie, in the ‘metadata’ sections of your blog or site – which again can sound scary, but is generally very easy to do). You don’t need to go crazy – it will look weird if you do – but it really doesn’t hurt to spell out what you are writing about. It can be tempting to write a cleverly oblique title, but bear in mind that people will search Google using clear, direct terms – so they may not see your article unless you title it in the same way!

If you have any questions about how blogging can help your business, feel free to contact me at traceysinclair23@gmail.com

A version of this article first appeared on www.deferolaw.com