May 2022

Hi there,

Welcome to the meta issue of my newsletter. I’m not talking about Facebook’s recent (terrible) rebranding, but a newsletter about newsletters, which is what this is.

I am really enjoying writing these newsletters. It reminds me of the olden days of blogging – it feels warm and personal and pleasantly anachronistic. Like blogging, you can of course ‘comment’ by hitting that big ol’ reply button. And please do. I’d be particularly interested to know which bits of my newsletter you’ve most enjoyed and whether weekly is a good rhythm for you.

What I’m watching: The Empowered Author’s Everything You Need To Know About Author Newsletters webinar

A couple of months ago, I watched Sam Missingham and Katie Sadler’s fabulous webinar on author newsletters (£) and immediately wanted to restart my own. I had to wait a bit to get going because of the whole moving countries thing I was in the middle of, but it was a proper moment of inspiration.

The hour-long webinar goes over all the basics, such as why it’s a good idea to build your own mailing list (rather than rely solely on social media), landing pages, newsletter platforms, automations and more. But what really stood out was their discussion about content. This was something I had really struggled with in my original newsletter, and it’s why it petered out after just 20 emails.

I particularly like the advice to create a content framework. I have a list of nine headings, and every time I stumble on a bit of content I think, “Where could that fit?” Soon enough I have a whole newsletter mapped out. And, having primed myself with these headings, I’m seeing and thinking of more and more things that I really want to tell you about, so writing the newsletter each week is a dream.

If you’re a bit strapped for cash and don’t want to become a full Empowered Author member, then they’ve also got a couple of blog posts on building your author email list and examples of great author newsletters to get you started. If you are on Facebook, you should definitely join their group – it’s not just a friendly place to talk about book marketing, you will also get the benefit of Sam and Katie’s many years of experience in the publishing industry.

Stop, look, and listen: London Writer’s Salon #009 – Polina Marinova Pompliano

The London Writer’s Salon podcast recently released an interview with Polina Marinova Pompliano, who quit her job as an editor at Fortune Magazine and now earns her living writing a weekly newsletter, The Profile. She talks about why she started The Profile, how she deals with criticism and feedback, the challenges she’s encountered and how she’s turned her newsletter into a business that brings in more than she earnt as an editor. It’s a fascinating listen!

Read This: Newsletter Ninja, How to Become an Author Mailing List Expert by Tammi L Labrecque

I’m just inhaling everything I can about newsletters at the moment. How to Become an Author Mailing List Expert by Tammi L Labrecque was recommended to me in the Empowered Author Facebook group – thank you Em Koch! – and whilst it’s a slimline ebook, it has helped me think more deeply about newsletters.

One of the things that I hadn’t really thought about, certainly as a newsletter recipient, is the importance of readers’ interactions with each email. Obviously, the simple act of opening the email is essential, although Apple’s recent Mail Privacy Protection features has effectively killed the open rate metric. TL;DR, when enabled, MPP pre-fetches emails before the user opens them, including the image pixels used to measure open rates, artificially inflating those open rates.

What I hadn’t realised was the importance of link clicks and replies. Both clicks and replies say to email services like Gmail, “This email is high quality!” and that improves deliverability, ie, the email actually getting put into your inbox and not your spam folder (or your promotions tab if you use Gmail).

It had honestly never occurred to me, as a newsletter reader, that clicking a link could be so beneficial, so I’m going to be clicking a lot more from now on!

Finally, Tammi recommends that newsletter owners ask their subscribers to whitelist their email address, which will help ensure this ends up in your inbox. Campaign Monitor have a comprehensive guide to whitelisting, so please do take a look and whitelist anyone whose newsletter you enjoy!

Suw’s News: Newsletter name change

Not much writing news this week, due to various other things taking my attention (see below), but I have been thinking about the name of this newsletter. I have to admit, ‘Suw’s Writing Newsletter’ is not the snappiest title I’ve ever come up with, so I’m considering changing it to ‘Word Count’. What do you think? Click the thumbs up if you like it! (Clicking will open a new window.)

Obligatory cat photo

Grabbity showing her belly

Last Wednesday, Grabbity (right) and Copurrnicus drove for six hours to Dulles Airport in Washington, DC.

Well, technically my husband Kevin drove, but there was so much commentary from Copurrnicus that I feel he was, in spirit, actually the one behind the wheel.

They flew to London Wednesday night, landing first thing Thursday morning, and I picked them up from the Heathrow Animal Reception Centre that afternoon. They’ve settled in incredibly quickly. It never ceases to amaze me how adaptable cats are, and how fast they figure out where the treats are.

Furthermore, I think I can very scientifically now confirm that cats do not suffer from jetlag. The first morning they were up with the larks at 5:30am, a time when, had they still been on US Eastern time, they would have been fast asleep.

It is a delight to have the family reunited. It’s been a long, long five weeks.

All the best,

Suw

Sign up to the Word Count newsletter to get emails
just like this one delivered direct to your inbox!

 

.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Hi there,

I honestly didn’t mean to write another themed newsletter, but the universe threw a bunch of stuff at me about perseverance this week, so who am I to argue? In a similar vein, I didn’t mean to make this newsletter weekly, but I had stuff to say, so here we are!

Suw’s news: Getting back on that damn horse

I talked last week about my fantasy TV script which got rejected by the BBC Studios Screenwriter’s Academy. It also got rejected by Wildseed Studios last year and soon it’ll have the opportunity to get rejected by Coverfly’s Writers Lab UK & Ireland and Scriptnotes’ Three Page Challenge!

It’s always hard to know how many rejections are enough to nail down the lid on the coffin of a project. For novels, one can easily rack up fifty rejections, but the fifty first agent will love it. With scripts, I really don’t know at what point you set it aside, because there just aren’t fifty places to send it. And, of course, there’s opportunity cost. Whilst I’m working on this project, I’m not working on another one that might have better luck. That said, I do know that two submissions isn’t enough, so here we go with two more.

Scriptnotes is an awesome podcast that I’ve been listening to intensively for the last couple of months. They occasionally do a Three Page Challenge, where they ask listeners to send in the first three pages (natch) of a screenplay or teleplay and pick a few to critique on their podcast.

Strangely, submitting my script to this is more terrifying than submitting it to the BBC, because there’s a very small chance that they might actually talk about it on their podcast and the idea of that makes me want to hide in the cupboard under the stairs. The best case scenario is that I get some good, actionable feedback, but the most likely scenario is that I’m not even featured. There’s nothing to lose, so off it goes.

Coverfly’s Writers Lab UK & Ireland is a slightly different kettle of fish. It’s a “six-month script development programme for features/pilots by women screenwriters 40+ in the UK & Ireland”, so there’s a bit more at stake. There are twelve places available, the course is virtual, and there’s a small stipend for participants.

I didn’t have the time or wherewithal to do a major overall of the script, so I have just submitted what I’ve got and will hope for the best. Coverfly charge $35 for the honour, which is about £28. I feel a bit icky about paying to enter a competition, not least because it feels like money straight down the shitter. Still, what’s the worst that can happen?

Deadline is 30 May, so if you’re interested, get cracking.

Read this: George Miller on perseverance

Joe Utichi’s interview with filmmaker George Miller is a fascinating read. Miller’s new film, Three Thousand Years of Longing, is the story of “a scholar on a trip to a speaking engagement in Istanbul inadvertently summons a Djinn who details his long journey through fantasy and history as he endeavors to tempt this scholar — who claims she wants for nothing — to make her three wishes.”

It sounds awesome. But it could have easily been called Over Twenty Years Of Trying To Get This Made.

Much of the interview is about how it can take time for projects to come together, and how ideas can linger for years, decades even, before the circumstances are right. Three Thousand Years is based on an AS Byatt short story from 1994, but it’s a project Miller had to work on between other projects.

“That [short story] was the starting-off point, and then during the making of the other films, it was always around, and we kept working on it. Kept coming back to it,” he says.

So is a project really ever dead? Or is it just biding its time? We’re encouraged to conceptualise writing – both novels and for screen – as a continuous process from writing to publication/production and thence to release. But frequently that’s just not how it works. Maybe we should stop trying to shoehorn our creative lives into that unrealistic template. And by “we”, I obviously mean me.

Stop, look, and listen: Scriptnotes Episode 548

John August and Aline Brosh McKenna talk to writing team Dan Gregor and Doug Mand about making movies for streaming services, and how the rise of streamers has changed what kind of stories get turned into movies. Ostensibly. Actually they, too, are talking about perseverance, about how sometimes the time just isn’t right for a particular story to be told and you have to wait until the mood changes. Aline in particular talks about how she drags stories around like a “dead horse” until she gets the opportunity to make them.

The fashion for stories waxes and wanes. Sometimes it’s musicals on the rise, sometimes musicals are the last thing anyone wants. Sometimes it’s disaster movies, sometimes people don’t want to hear about another bloody global pandemic. (Not now, monkeypox.) The trick is to submit the right story at the right time and sometimes, perhaps, to just be patient.

Writing women (and girls): Give girls STEM hobbies

We know that children’s understanding of gender stereotypes starts young and that by age 4, they are already internalising the idea that some things are “for boys” and others are “for girls”. But we don’t just need to teach children that such stereotypes are wrong, we also need to teach their parents that girls can be and are interested in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

A quick and easy way to help is to give your young female characters an interest in something STEM-y. Maybe she likes collecting fossils, building things out of Meccano, playing with her chemistry set, or making a robot.

It feels like a trivial detail to include: “Molly came downstairs to see her daughter’s Meccano set spread out over the lounge carpet, her daughter engrossed in building a tall, slender tower.” But these aren’t little throwaway lines. Every time someone comes across a statement like this, especially in fiction that isn’t otherwise about STEM, it reinforces the idea that girls can indeed enjoy such things. And if parents come to believe that it’s normal for their daughters to enjoy STEM, they’ll be less likely to steer their daughters away from it, whether consciously or subconsciously.

Obligatory cat photo

Grabbity showing her bellyWho am I kidding? This is the best bit of the newsletter!

Welcome to guest cat, Cassie, who’s looking a bit cross because I stopped petting her in order to take a photo and that is, of course, not allowed.

Cassie is 16 years old, lives with my Mum, and has lost all her fangs bar one. She is an extremely talkative cat and I have frequently had a chat with her down the phone over the last eight years, so it has been really nice to see her in person.

That’s it for this week! But to wrap up, here’s an inspiring tweet from Nathalie Antonia that just re-emphasises my point above:

To my writer friends. Just keep going. I was rejected over 48 times before I got my 49th rejection.

Somewhere, there’s a 50th rejection out there, just waiting for you. Go get it, tiger!

All the best,

Suw

PS Thankfully, monkeypox is extremely unlikely to become a pandemic.

Sign up to the Word Count newsletter to get emails
just like this one delivered direct to your inbox!

 

.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Hi there,

Oh frabjous day! It’s my first full newsletter, hot off the presses and ready for you to enjoy!

Suw’s news: The mundane pain of rejection

One thing that unites everyone in the creative industries is rejection. You pour your heart into your writing and then some complete stranger turns round and says, “It’s not good enough”.

When I started sending out my novel to agents, I knew it would get rejected. The bottom has fallen out of the market for stories about a global pandemic. Rejections or ghosting was what I expected and it’s what I got. It was water off a duck’s back because I knew it was coming.

But last September, I started working on something different, a fantasy adventure about a middle-aged woman who finds herself suddenly cursed with immortality and saddled with a responsibility to save our planet from invading insectoid aliens. It’s a six part serial TV show and I’ve drafted all six episodes (although I confess that episode 3 is a hot, hot mess).

In March, I spotted that the BBC Studio’s Writers’ Academy had an open call for applicants for a 4 month in-person course. The deadline was just before Kevin and I were due to go down to Texas to visit family and slap bang in the middle of our house-packing frenzy, but I still managed to get an application in. Despite trying not to, I’ve been on tenterhooks over the last month or so. I couldn’t help imagining how life-changing being selected for this course would be.

But alas, alack, it is not to be. I’m going to confess, this rejection stings quite hard because I genuinely I thought I had chance. You know what they say: It’s the hope that kills you.

You know what else they say? You have to get straight back on that damn horse. So now I’m working on my show bible to see if that helps me sort out ep 3, and then, well, maybe I’ll turn it into a novel as well, so I’ve got two things to submit. Hope doesn’t beget action; action begets hope.

Read this and watch that: Regret as rocket fuel

Regret is a powerful force, as this excellent piece by Lindsay Crouse in the New York Times amply illustrates. Mariko Yugeta had always wanted to be an athlete, but she set aside her ambitions to raise a family and have a career. Now, at the age of 63, she “has quietly become the fastest woman in her age group ever to finish a marathon [and] is beating the times she chased as a promising amateur athlete in her 20s.”

The article mentions Dan Pink’s new book, The Power of Regret, and in looking for that online I found this short talk in which he runs through the four different types of regret:

  • foundation regrets, eg not saving or not studying,
  • boldness regrets, eg not asking someone out,
  • moral regrets, eg doing the wrong thing when you know it’s wrong,
  • connection regrets, eg not reaching out to an old friend.

There’s no doubt that turning 50 last year lit a bonfire of regret beneath me. It’s not that I haven’t been writing, but it is true that I have not been writing consistently and I’ve not been submitting. That has changed. And reading this article has made me even more determined to use my regret as rocket fuel.

But it has also made me think about my characters in a different way. What do they regret? How does that regret shape who they are, what decisions they make and how they behave? We all regret something, what matters is what we do with our regrets.

Writing women: Give your female characters STEM careers

I’ve spent much of the last 13 years running Ada Lovelace Day, the international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and it’s given me an amazing insight into the lives and works of women whom I would otherwise never have heard of.

It’s also made me wonder how I can incorporate what I’ve learnt about gender (in)equality to writing. Certainly it has changed how I think about the female characters in the centre of my novel and screenplay, how I portray them, and how that might affect my readers’ understanding of women’s capabilities. So this part of the newsletter is really about encouraging us all to think about our female characters and how we can broaden them out. Over time, I want to develop a playbook of tips that can be used by anyone to enrich their writing.

Let’s start with careers. Studies have shown that people overwhelmingly assume that “scientists” are men. An easy way to chip away at these gender stereotypes is to normalise the idea of women working in STEM. No matter what genre you’re writing in, your character has probably been to school, maybe university, and could well have a job. So, what does she do?

There are STEM jobs for people of all background and levels of educational attainment, from engineering apprenticeships and technician roles through to teachers and lecturers, policy makers, communicators and yes, obviously researchers and practitioners. I put together a few careers posters for ALD, so take a look and see what inspiration flows!

Tip-top tip: Getting to the end of your barf draft

The purpose of a first draft is merely to exist. Whether you call it the ‘barf draft’, ‘draft zero’, or you ‘crappy first draft’, the only thing it has to be is finished. Which means that if you get stuck, it doesn’t matter if you just skip along to the next scene because you can always come back and fix things later.

David Dalglish has a great trick for moving your draft forward through these sticky patches, and he calls it <get there>. It’s worth reading this entire Twitter thread, in which he explains how he uses this technique during the writing and subsequent editing processes, but the long and short of it is to put a summary of what you’re stuck on between your angle brackets, so that you can easily search for and fix it later. That way, you don’t lose momentum when you forget the colour of your character’s eyes or can’t figure out how to segue from one scene to another.

Obligatory cat photo
Grabbity showing her belly

Just look at that fluffy belly! Grabbity has incredibly soft fur, and moults like crazy, but she’s so worth it! (Click to enbiggen.)

Grabbity and Copurrnicus arrive from America on 26 May, and I cannot wait to get them home and settled, so that I can once again smoosh that tummy.

That’s it for now! If you’ve enjoyed my newsletter this week, please forward it to your friends and encourage them to subscribe too.

All the best,

Suw

 

Sign up to the Word Count newsletter to get emails
just like this one delivered direct to your inbox!

 

.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }