Sunday, June 26, 2016


A word about email addresses for writers.

A while ago I moved my email accounts and website to another provider. In the process I had to import my email contacts and distribution lists onto the new web server and I lost a few and had to hunt for them. Some I never found.

The experience taught me that many writers on my e-lists do not use their names in their email addies and are thus at risk of not being found when editors, readers, or colleagues search their address books for them. I discovered others use slightly risqué handles that are definitely not professional. Here are a few I found that I can safely post in a blog as examples of what not to use: downspout@, bestseller@, authortreasure@,
and dragonsbreath@.

So, here's the thing: Keep your weird/funny/naughty email addies for your personal life and Aunt Agatha. Open a more professional account using your name for your writing career's correspondence as soon as you start communication with writers, editors, periodicals, andassociations.  It's okay to use a free service like gmail or hotmail if you must, though I wouldn't. Instead secure your own domain using your name and you'll get email accounts with it; e.g. (This is not my real email, so don't try using it.)

But in the interim before you register a domain, most writers pay for connection to the Internet and have the use of several emails on the account. Use one for your writing life only and ensure that your last name, at least, appears in the address. Ideally use both your firstlastname@... because it makes searches accurate and quick. 

I can hear many of you saying, "Oh, but, my name's not available." Yes that happens with common names all the time. You have options:
  • Add an initial or two — juliehferguson@... or juliehtmferguson@....
  • Hyphenate the name, even better — julie-ferguson@... or julie-h-ferguson@....
  • Use periods - julie.ferguson@....
  • Add a meaningless number after both names. I would use a number that I'd never forget!
  • Use underscores as a last resort — they are easily confused with hyphens, especially when hand-written – julie_ferguson@....
There is always a way to achieve a searchable email address, so please open a separate, professional email account for your writing correspondence. It's too important to take a chance.

© Julie H. Ferguson 2015 (

QUESTIONS: Have you separated your email addresses for personal and professional use? If not, why not?

Sunday, June 19, 2016


Pitching a novel or non-fiction idea verbally at a writers' conference causes an epidemic of tangled tongues and sweaty palms, at least in first-timers. The remedy is in three Ps - preparation, practice, and pauses.

As you have about ten to fifteen minutes for each appointment, which includes the niceties, it's best to define exactly what you want to get out of the meeting before you go. Do you want a contract, advice, or just info?
Prepare by researching the editors/agents you are meeting. If you're pitching a book, compose a 'zinger' sentence describing it to open the discussion, otherwise explain your reason for meeting. Flesh out your opening sentence to a 50–60 word verbal pitch and figure out some questions. Write a one page synopsis or non-fiction overview to leave with the editors/agents. Don't risk ad libbing – you're likely to babble. Bring a business card. Note: Your zinger sentence is also invaluable if you are informally asked about your book, e.g. at a conference lunch and later with the media.
Practice the pitch until you can say it aloud with passion and precision. I know of one writer who practised role-playing her first editor meeting to get comfortable. It was that important to her.
Pauses  these are the gaps that give you what you came for. Pauses let the editor/agent ask you questions and give advice to you. Talk for no more than 25 seconds at a time, then stop and listen!
Top 3 mistakes editors/agents complain about are explaining why you wrote the book, talking too much, and presenting poorly formatted work.
I suggest you try it out at your writers' group well in advance of the big day too. Good luck!
More detail about how to write a verbal pitch and manage the meeting is available in Julie's Book Magic: Turning Writers into Published Authors here.


Sunday, June 12, 2016


I had a pen but no paper on which to record their wisdom. Quick! Something, anything!

This dilemma occurred over a decade ago while I was listening to four well known freelancer writers talking about why they were so successful in global markets. The only paper available to me was a greasy paper bag that had held my muffin five minutes before— it would have to do!
What I heard from the writers that day was so valuable I follow it still.
Unanimously, the foursome agreed that a good freelancer has "To live hard, write free." They were referring to having to experience life to the fullest before you can write about it with passion. "Get into situations," they said. "Live on the edge." Okay!
Starting out, each wrote prolifically with high aspirations and for little money. Three said that they analyzed the publications, which they yearned to sell to, for 'gaps'. All said that they quickly evolved into go-to experts in a key area of interest. "Write, write, write for that 'killer clip' that will launch your career."  (This is the one pubbed in a big-name magazine and that has appeared within a year of the event, experience or adventure that spawned it.)
The queries that worked best were "lively and spoke with their own unique voice." The freelancers talked about grabbing the editor by the throat and not letting go, and it's advice I still give emerging writers today. All agreed that each query had to have a unique slant on a story. "Remember," they said. "Local events have international impact." For example, Europeans had a surprising appetite for stories about the wildfires that threatened the city of Kelowna in 2003. At that moment, I realized I had a front row seat to an event of worldwide interest. The idea became my next book: Sing a New Song (Dundurn).
These writers discussed the art and science of research and advised that writers must know what they are looking for in a story: weirdness, conflict, universal appeal, melancholy, irony, truth, to name a few angles to follow. Then when a writer writes the piece, these freelancers insisted that you must storytell it; another tip I have followed as much as my editors allow.
Articles must always have human interest . After all the elephants you may be writing about are not going to be reading the article! 
Most importantly their advice, which many writers minimize, revolved around the editing of the piece. Every one of these successful, international writers also advised that writers must make it easy for magazine editors to buy our work, i.e. nothing less than perfect manuscripts and be sure to add value such as images, video clips, etc. Also, never pester a magazine editor and submit your articles with three to six month lead times for the top publications; never miss a deadline.
Since that salutary experience without paper, I carry a small notebook everywhere. Today I'm mostly paperless and voice-record ideas on my smartphone, but the notebook remains for spelling names and places. And, no more used paper bags are mouldering in my "morgue"!

Sunday, June 05, 2016


The maddening answer to the perennial question about writing for no fee is that it depends.  When I began freelancing for magazines as a new writer in the 1970s, I was always paid. It was a given. Now periodicals, whether print or online, have a habit of attempting to get your work at no charge. Some even want your copyright as well.
Offers like this are frequently explained with, "It's great visibility for you." 
I always respond with an emphatic, "No, I don't write for nothing. Nor do I need more visibility." Freelancing is part of my livelihood and when you've been writing as long as I have, it's easy to decline unpaid work on principle and sell it elsewhere. But it's not so easy to refuse at the outset of your career when you are building a portfolio of published work. 
Today's editorial budgets are slim for most periodicals except the huge international ones like the New Yorker and National Geographic. An emerging writer shouldn't start with these as disappointment will surely follow.  Instead focus on smaller markets close to home and build up to the biggies slowly. If small, local magazines or newspapers won't pay but will publish you, give yourself a deadline for moving into paying markets once you have a few articles in your portfolio. You may hear complaints from some established freelancers who believe unpaid writers encourage the practice of not paying fees and were the cause of the drop in fees over the past twenty years. I don't fully agree with this opinion because new writers have to start somewhere and proven writers can always find other markets. However at my stage in the game, forty-five years and counting, I want a fee.
There is another aspect to the issue of writers' fees. Some freelancers never accept pro bono work; others do. Once you have made your mark as a freelancer, you'll be surprised at how often you are asked to write for nothing by friends, companies, non-profits, and associations, etc.
I do write for nothing, but I pick my moments carefully. Early on, I developed clear parameters for pro bono writing that have become my guiding principles. Writers must make their own decisions on this issue that are firmly rooted in their knowledge, common-sense, ethics, and circumstances that best suit them — then you will have a fair set of guidelines to apply whenever you're approached.
One way to develop your own philosophy about pro bono writing is to tell you how I select when or if I will work for no fee and my reasons for doing so. Promotion is a prime reason for choosing visibility over dollars and the other is philanthropy:
  1.  When I am writing a new book: I sometimes want to get articles into specific print or electronic publications ahead of release, which do not have editorial budgets, but my book buyers read regularly. However I do ensure that the majority of my articles relating to my books go into paying periodicals.
  2.  When I want to target a specific audience to increase sales of my books post-publication and my speaking services: For this choice to work for me, there must be strong potential for the return on my investment.
  3.  When I choose to support a charitable organization or an association: I write for only one or two each year and decline all other requests. I explain my decision to decline by saying that I could end up writing for no fee all the time and suggesting that the organization pitch me for next year's slot. As many professionals donate their skills occasionally, and I consider myself a professional, this is the “right” thing to do for me and I choose causes to support that are dear to my heart.
In the first two situations above, I negotiate energetically over my by-line and the rights that I am giving away to the publication. I want a longer by-line than the standard one sentence so that I can mention my upcoming book and the services I offer, as well as my contact information. I limit the rights to first print or electronic only and never give exclusive e-rights. In other words, I retain the right to immediately sell the piece, which I have given away, as a reprint and to put it up on my website. Thus I can still use/sell the no-fee article exactly as I wish.
In the third case, I make no demands and let the charitable organization do whatever they like with my work. Sometimes this means I even donate copyright, and my name might not appear on the piece, especially if my writing is to be used for promotional purposes.
Here is another consideration for pro bono writing:
I usually restrict my freebie articles to about 800 words and I often aim for as few as 500. Why? Because articles of this length are quicker to write and can be fleshed out to 1200 words, the standard length for many magazines, then subsequently sold for first rights. However, I do breach this personal guideline if the visibility is too good to miss. If it is promotional copy, I do not restrict word count, but find that the client usually does.
So there you have it – some ideas to assist you in determining your own parameters for charging a fees and selecting how and when to write pro bono.
For more info on freelance writing fees, find your national association on Google. Canada's is the Professional Writers' Association of Canada at, which maintains a current list of appropriate fees.

Sunday, May 29, 2016


Few topics confuse writers as much as “rights” but few topics are as important to us, especially at the outset of our careers. The advent of the internet and electronic publishing  complicated the issue and copyright legislation has lagged behind the technology. I will discuss the basics only and I emphasize that I am not a lawyer.
When we create a book or an article we own the copyright (the right to copy), which means we own all the rights to our work and no one can use it without our knowledge or permission. Rights are the “uses” to which an article or book can be put. It can be the licence to publish it, such as publication in a print magazine, or make your story into a movie. Writers can sell these rights or uses in several ways or retain them for future opportunities. 
Print and electronic rights for traditionally published books typically last until the book is out of print, selling less than a prescribed number of copies per year, or the company goes out of business, after which the rights revert to the author.
First Serial Rights are an issue for freelance writers of articles or short stories for print or electronic markets, and means you are selling the publication the right to publish your article/story for the first time and once only. They may not publish it anywhere else either.
In the case of first print rights – the writer may immediately sell the piece to an e-zine before print publication. Once the print magazine containing your article hits the newsstand, you are free to sell it again as a reprint to other print markets.
However, first electronic rights are different – e-zines buy first rights for an exclusive time period, between six months or a year, and in the same breath, ask for non-exclusive rights after that so they can archive the piece. While you can immediately sell the same piece to a print market as a “first print right,” you cannot even post the e-article on your own website until that time period is up. Once it is, you are then free to sell the article to other electronic markets as a reprint and post it yourself too.
Most Canadian and US freelancers choose to sell only North American first serial rights, reserving the right to sell in other world markets for themselves. I always specify what type of rights I am selling on the manuscript and in the email, e.g. First North American Electronic Rights Only.
Second Serial Rights are reprint rights and apply to print. Do not offer these, retain them at all costs. For, although you earn less money for each reprint, you can sell one piece over and over again.
All Rights means exactly what it says and are rarely sold. When they are, the author gives up forever all future income from the article or book and loses the copyright, which moves to the purchaser. Newspapers often operate this way.
Other rights that authors and freelancers may hold or licence are called subsidiary rights and apply more to books. These include movie rights, dramatic, TV and radio rights, audio, and other media rights. These are important to negotiate. But don’t forget, the Travolta movie, Urban Cowboy, came from a magazine article….
E-rights for books traditionally published are a part of every contract these days. It used to be a negotiable clause but is no longer; neither is the split of revenues between the publisher and the author.
This leaves one critical point: Always, always have a contract. If you don't you may find you've lost all rights or some you wish you had retained. Be very clear what you're selling and for how long.

If you find yourself confused, concerned, or faced with a questionable contract, get legal advice or contact your national authors’ or writers’ association for further guidance.

Sunday, May 22, 2016


If you're writing your first book or your twentieth, writers are well advised to keep an eye on current book-buying trends. What's hot and what's not changes over time and so does the buyers' demographic. How readers discover titles can be crucial, as is what device they read on if you self-publish ebooks. Knowledge also helps the writer target appropriate publishers and potential readers who are buyers.
Booknet Canada is the best resource for Canadian authors and conducts consumer surveys every two years on this topic. If you live in another market, do a Google search to find an equivalent organization in your location.
Let's first look at the typical Canadian book buyer in 2015:
  • Female, in her mid-forties, and married
  • employed full-time
  • a college or university grad
  • a city dweller
  • she bought 2.8 books per month (print, e-books, audio)
  • and also borrowed more from her local library.

The top favourite categories readers bought in 2015 were 1) crime/thrillers, 2) fantasy/SciFi, 3) popular fiction, 4) cookery/food and wine, and 5) historical fiction. The the types of books purchased were 33% fiction, 33% nonfiction, and 33% YA, though Booknet remarked that many adults bought YA titles believing them to be for adults. 
Canadians prefer print books, and choose paperbacks over hardcover by a large margin. However, those buying electronic books (17% of the total), buy more titles per month than the print purchasers, probably due to the price differential.
While  online sales for all book formats increased by 16% since 2013  surpassing in-store sales for the first time, Canada still lags behind the US and UK. However, when asked for a preference, 52% of Canadians said they still like to buy books in-person at bricks and mortar stores.
Book buyers are also library patrons, visiting and borrowing books several times a month. They borrow all versions of books — 74% chose print, 11% chose electronic, and 6.4% chose audio books in 2015.
But it is discoverability that interests those of us who write books for publication, either with traditional publishers or ourselves. Where and how do Canadians find titles and authors they want to buy and read? The two most likely places are while browsing online or in-person in a store, and from a review or recommendation. The third way mentioned was by wanting to read more by a known author or a series they had tried before.  Booknet Canada will be releasing a report on discoverability that has much more detailed information for writers and authors. We should all read this.
Keep current by signing-up to BNC e-news at 
Ref: The Canadian Book Buyer 2015, a survey, Booknet Canada, October 2015. 
Top image:

Sunday, May 15, 2016


Author, Julie H. Ferguson
© Jerald Walliser

Many clients of Beacon Literary Services wail, "I'm a writer, not a speaker" when I tell them that public speaking is a requirement for every aspiring author, both before and after publication.    
Before publication of articles and books, writers should be articulate whether speaking to one person or many, whether on the phone or in person. You may meet an agent or editor at a conference and need to present your book in short order; you may get lucky and reach an editor on the phone; you may be writing a how-to book and need to present workshops or deliver keynotes. After publication, there are media interviews, the need to promote your book to bookstores, readings and book signings, etc.
If the prospect of speaking with a well-known editor or getting up on the platform terrifies you, get to Toastmasters without delay. You won't regret it even if you don't like it much at the beginning. Go long before your manuscript is accepted because the skills you'll learn will be useful from the get-go. Toastmasters helps everyone who joins, providing training and support for even the most timid.
Yes, it's just another facet of your job as a writer. And who knows? You may even find yourself earning honoraria for readings in libraries and schools! Certainly, you will sell more copies of your book if you are willing to speak in public and for the media, and do it with engaging style.
 For tips on improving your speaking skills, try: