Storyology 2017

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I revisited my journalism roots recently by attending Storyology 2017, an annual talkfest put on by Australia’s Walkley Foundation.

I won’t give a blow-by-blow account (that’s what Twitter is for), but there were some very strong themes around building/reclaiming trust in journalism, combatting Fake News, battling troll armies, Big Data and how to best work with the tech giants that are reimagining the media landscape (Google and Facebook, which also sent emissaries in the form of Aine Kerr and Irene Jay Liu).DIb0n_WVAAAItyE

In the 10 years since I left full-time journalism, the industry is still trying to make up ground when it comes to landing a workable funding model, a conversation I didn’t think we’d still be having in 2017.

Some media companies are building subscriber walls, others are relying entirely on funding and wealthy benefactors, and some are now directly appealing to readers through donation models to support their journalism. Who’s right? Who knows? Everyone’s playing the long game.

One speaker worthy of mention is Filipino journalist and editor Maria Ressa’s amazing contribution to the Storyology 2017 program, both as a standalone presenter and panellist. Her editorial vision for Rappler.com epitomises the kind of reinvention and engagement media companies are aspiring to in a Web 3.0 world. Ressa’s Rappler.com is a reason to get excited about the future of journalism.

While the focus of the conference was very much on working journalism (and making journalism work), there were some great takeaways for creatives and freelancers looking to learn and leverage the knowledge of the experts in the room.

  • Don’t stop learning. There is an enviable suite of clever and free tools online – it’s time to get acquainted. For citizen journalists in particular, Google and Facebook now offer unrivalled free training and resources. Podcasting, coding, data mining – get in there!
  • Be organised. Flex your schedule muscles, establish and maintain contacts, and stay on top of your admin paperwork with a good accountant.
  • Innovate or die. Be like Inkl. Innovation is more than just a buzz word, it’s the fresh approach/method/idea/product behind ‘the news’. Reinvent or stagnate.
  • Swim against the tide. Sometimes the best ‘aha!’ moments (like this award-winning story by Dan Box) come from the outliers. Never follow the herd.
  • Machines can’t replace humans (yet). Machine-learning can’t compete when it comes to creativity (but machines are very helpful when it comes to crunching vast amounts of data and weeding out fake accounts). You/me/we are the human experience.

You can enjoy more of the Storyology 2017 program over at The Walkley Magazine’s Medium.com pages.

Top 5 takeaways from Copycon 2017

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I recently attended the inaugural Copycon conference in Sydney run by and for copywriters and creatives. I’ve always walked between the worlds, so to speak – that would be the commercial and creative worlds – but found it difficult to be wholly focused on the business (read: invoicing/accounts) side of writing.

I earn my living working in corporate communications but spend my down time living the creative life, so I was curious about how people are blending the two, and earning a living.

There was a great line-up of speakers starting with the effervescent Kate Toon, event founder and chief cat wrangler (she said many wise things, so she’s getting her own post…Kate’s also got a new book out here – compulsory reading for copywriters). I particularly loved the sessions on Facebook Ads and SEO, so I may talk about them elsewhere.

My takeaways from the day (quite a few of which I tweeted here) were many, but I’ve decided to focus on five (because it’s much easier to remember five than 10, and actually commit to doing *or in the case of #5, thinking* them!). In no particular order…

1. Embrace the constraints on your time. Seriously. You know that old saying, give a busy person something to do and it will get done? Even though I’ve always found this to be true – after all, I’m never more productive than when I’m already busy – I often use busyness as an excuse not to do other things I need and want to do. Writer, editor, graphic designer, triathlete (?!?) Kelly Exeter believes (and knows) we all have spare slots in our diaries…so make that limited time work for you! If Kelly can fit in daily triathlon training, I’m sure I can write a novel chapter a week! (Oh, and sorry for stepping on your foot Kelly!)

2. Collaborate! The brains behind the Awards Agency, Melinda Leyshon, urged us to team up and work with big agencies (and each other), and to share in client success. Melinda has an amazing personal story of her transition into freelancing on the back of winning several business awards for her husband’s mechanics business. From there she has successfully carved out a niche helping companies write winning award entries.

3. Keep a tax savings account. And a log book. Think about GST. Sort your Super out. Karen Goad of Goad Accountants is a very sensible woman. While this advice may seem a bit ‘Freelancing 101’, it’s so obvious (and rarely practiced)! I certainly never kept a tax savings account when I was freelancing, it might have saved a few unnecessary heart palpitations around tax time every year. Oh, and don’t forget to pay yourself Superannuation. I know, so much adulting – why can’t we just create, create, create? I guess having a roof overhead and a crust of bread to gnaw on is important.

4. Find your niche – know what you want to write about (and what you don’t want to write about, the infamous ‘anti-niche’). True North Content’s Matt Fenwick advised us to combine personal likes and interests with your client base. Love property? Focus on real estate. Live for the latest lotions, potions or pots of age-defying remedies? Then health and beauty might be a good fit for you. Loathe finance? Avoid it like the plague. Etc. You get the idea…

5. No matter what you do…it will still be better than your client’s effort. That’s why they come to you. Sage words, those, echoed by Kate Toon AND Divine Write’s Glenn Murray. People will pay for expertise and experience. Professional writers experience the jitters too – this was quite validating to hear.

I’m pleased to say Copycon was such a rip-roaring success it’s going to be held again in 2018, so keep tabs on when and where over at Kate Toon’s website.

 

 

Easter, anthologies and Amanita

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This weekend while everyone else has been looking for chocolate eggs in the tall grass, I have been busy trying to weave together stories for two anthologies I’m editing.

I have always enjoyed reading, and there’s something rather special about pulling together the work of other writers in relation to a particular theme.

Specifically, I’ve been tinkering with the adrenalin-pumping non-fiction tome Call of the Wild, and my creepy M.R. James tribute anthology of short stories, both of which have attracted some very high calibre offerings from both new and established writers.

And while my house has (rather unthinkably) been caffeine and chocolate-free, there have been bunnies aplenty – wild brown rabbits darting across in front of our car when we nipped out for a Saturday drive (no mean feat on the Easter long weekend when my neck of the woods becomes choked with cars heading east and west).

After the rabbits zipped by (egg-less, they must have already done the bidding of the Easter Bunny), I noticed we had stopped out the front of an old miner’s cottage, and the road had turned into a dirt track. In front was a magnificent old pine tree, and gathered around its roots like a colourful skirt were lots of Amanita muscaria, pretty red and white toadstools of the kind always seen decorating faerie bowers.

Sometimes the magic happens when you least expect it.

C’mon down to Indie Recon 2015!

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If you’re a writer or editor involved with self-publishing, set aside April 15-17, 2015 to attend Indie Recon online.

Indie Recon is a global conference providing the best advice and education for independent-minded authors across the world, particularly those with an interest in self-publishing.

The conference will feature a mix of online educational seminars, workshops discussions and masterclasses; culminating in a reader-centred Indie Author Fringe Fest live from The London Book Fair’s Book and Screen Week, on Friday 17th April.

Held at Foyles Bookshop, Charing Cross, the largest independent bookstore in London, the Fringe Fest will offer exciting ways for readers to meet indie authors and discover great reads.

This year the Alliance for Independent Authors (ALLi) has joined forces with the organisers of Indie Recon to present an even bigger and better conference experience, leveraging off its highly experienced membership.

In line with ALLi’s mission to be a global organisation for authors everywhere, the event will be live streamed, so authors and readers who can’t be in London can take part online.

That means you and I can tune in and take part.

See you there!

Working holidays, writing myths, and patrons

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Has it really been more than a month since I posted on this dear old blog? What the hell have I been up to? Well, dear reader, I’ve been enjoying a bit of a working holiday.

I spent a good three weeks undertaking some firsthand research for a long-term non-fic book project, which entailed camping out in the wilderness of Tasmania.

And I’ve been busy pulling together some anthology projects, the first of which is an M.R. James inspired collection of creepy tales authored by some very exciting (several of which are very well known) authors.

It’s going to be a cracking collection, and I’m sure old Montague, if he were about, would certainly approve!

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I’ve also engaged in a bit of crime – watching it on the box, that is – enjoying Murdoch Mysteries (S1 – there’s another 7 to watch, apparently!), and some tense, nail-biting drama in the form of Broadchurch (S2), and Fortitude. All highly recommended.

The latter two series do a good trade in red herrings – more potential suspects than you can poke a stick at, but at least the plots keep you coming back for more.

Of course there have been other casualties during this fallow writing period – most tellingly the garden and the housework. It’s hard to get your work ethic back after several weeks of communing with nature, but one does have to pay the bills.

Speaking of the bills (of which there are many, I think they were breeding under the fridge!) I stumbled across a series of interesting posts about how writers *really* financially support themselves. There is a prevailing belief that most writers just write all day, miraculously making ends meet while churning out moderate to excellent prose.

Well, some do. While others can, largely thanks to inheritances or wealthy patrons (read: spouses or family trusts), plod along and write whenever they please. But most of us work other jobs. I’d urge you to read the many comments and links, and enjoy the honest revelations.

Here’s the post that kicked it all off, Ann Bauer’s “Sponsored” by my husband: Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from. It’s refreshing, and it’s raw. And we’re all green with envy, Ann! Your bloke sounds like he needs cloning 🙂

Today, I am essentially “sponsored” by this very loving man who shows up at the end of the day, asks me how the writing went, pours me a glass of wine, then takes me out to eat. He accompanies me when I travel 500 miles to do a 75-minute reading, manages my finances, and never complains that my dark, heady little books have resulted in low advances and rather modest sales.

As for me – yes I do work full-time as a writer, but not for myself. My own writing is largely done on the train each day early in the morning or evening, or on Sunday afternoons. Sometimes it’s churned out during fits of insomnia. But it’s rarely if ever penned between the hours of 9-5. That time, friends, belongs to The Day Job, without which I would not be able to fund much of what I do, including living and eating.

At the moment my independently-published books break even and pay for themselves production-wise with a bit more besides, and I have a trade-published book that presents me with a nice combined ELR-PLR payment each June, equating to slightly less than a week’s pay. Icing on the passive income that is the book royalty.

I write for pleasure, and for interest.

I don’t write for profit – yet – but I’m getting there.

Why I work – so I can read and write!

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My love affair with books started as a child. In fact I still have several of those early tomes close at hand that gripped my fledgling imagination, including two dear favourites from when I was a mere eight years old: The World of Myth and Legend, and Tales ofMagic and Enchantment (both by Brimax Books, 1980).

Those two books in particular sparked my fascination with all things mythical, magic and Fortean. The fact I still have them on my bookcase after all these years and countless house moves as a child and adult is a testament to how precious they are to me, and how fond I am generally of books.

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As well as haunting libraries, I have long been a fan of garage sales, post-Christmas book chain store sales, mail-order books clubs (remember those?), independent bookshops, and now online book shopping via the likes of Amazon.com and its contemporaries.

As a result of this passion, I now have books on true crime, myth and legend, war, health and fitness, biographies, psychology, archaeology, rare and extinct animals, as well as thrillers, romances, ‘cosies’, fantasies, mysteries – and too many other genres and categories to mention.

My fascination with storytelling evolved over my school years, and I eventually started writing my own stories – non-fiction and fiction – and for some years pursued the craft of journalism. I love writing, meeting people and learning new things. For a time it was the perfect job for me – days spent writing and being paid for it. Evenings spent reading the books my writing had paid for. Win!

In fact this lifestyle was pretty damn good for a long while, keeping me comfortably in books and hot chocolate, pet food and the odd new item of clothing for some time. Basically, as long as my primary survival needs were met, my career was doing its job – keeping me in books!

But as happens with many professional scribes, after some time I longed to write under my own ‘masthead’. I had my own stories to tell – true and fantastical, made-up and mythical. I wanted to take that next step as a storyteller. I wanted to be an author of books, not just of newspaper articles (or fish and chip wrappers, as my Nan used to say).

And so it was that 10 years ago I started working on my first non-fiction book, which was eventually independently published in 2010. Sadly it was too late for Nan to see, but I included a picture of her and I in the dedication. That connection was important to me.

The bug bit me, and since then I have independently published two more non-fiction tomes, and this year will (fingers crossed) be publishing some fiction.

So yes, while it’s true I work to read (wage = books), I also work to write these days.

And as a complementary passion to reading, it’s working out just fine.

(PS my dear thanks to Weezie for the inspiration for this post…and www.Grammarly.com)