Hazel McHaffie

Hints and tips on writing

I must confess I find it hard to make space for reading how-to journals. So many other things take precedence.

But two publications break through this natural resistance because I subscribe to them – and after over four decades of living in Scotland, not to mention being married to a thoroughbred Scot, having paid the subscription, I feel compelled to get my money’s worth!

Mslexia’s one of them – a journal by and for women writers. And the edition that plopped – no thudded – through my letterbox this month demonstrates it’s worth persevering. I’ll share a few gems.

On being a woman writer:
‘It is a world [the post-Richard & Judy world] in which women writers … are far better equipped thanks to a plethora of creative writing courses, agencies and social networking sites offering help and alternative means of building new audiences.
And I’d just that very day dragged myself out of my cave and joined Facebook!

On being interviewed:
… be as rude, difficult, vain, self-obsessed as you like, but please, please don’t be boring.’
Hmmmm. That will take some practice.

On designing the cover of your book:
A cover is a signal to everyone around you as to what you like and enjoy. If you doubt that a cover is as much a style statement as a handbag or shoes, think about how you feel about being seen reading a book draped in pastel (chick lit), adorned with a near-naked fighting Amazon (fantasy) or underwear (erotica).
OK, I’m still happy with my new cover (see my 1 Oct blog).

On marketing:
In the 21st Century, limiting book campaigns to cover, press and a few posters is not an option; digital media is key.’
Indeedy. I’m learning that the hard way. Latest discovery: internet reviews.

On using autobiographical experience in your writing:
… imagine your characters intimately, and as separate from yourself and other people in your life, then mix in understanding and emotional acuity and use real-life experiences in a thoughtful, relevant way to breathe life into the clay. Only then will they be ready to walk and talk on their own.’
My experience exactly. So please don’t ask me which character I am in my books. As I’ve said before, I write about what I know about people, not people I know.

On small independent publishers:
Each book we publish is very special; it has to be; because we publish so few of them. Larger publishers may be able to take a punt on a new author and not expect the book to sell, but we can’t afford that risk. We put all our effort into selling as many copies as we can.’
I like the sound of ‘special’.

On getting work accepted:
I receive over 20,000 submissions across all categories a year and might take on 0.1 per cent. At a guess I receive about 1,200 memoir submissions, and might take on three annually.
Needle in a haystack comes to mind.

Lots of gems between the covers of one issue of one journal. Thanks, Mslexia. I must keep finding the time.

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