Saturday 29 April 2017



I trawl writing newsletters for competitions. I have even won a couple of prizes, ranging from a box of felt-tip pens to a more welcome £50 cheque. For one thing, respecting a 500-word, or even a 50-word, deadline in flash fiction competitions is excellent discipline in making every word count.

   Another reason is that tackling an unfamiliar theme, or venturing into an unknown setting, can unlock reservoirs of creativity. Once you start looking, there is no shortage of unusual subjects to tackle. Every year, the Bulwer Lytton prize offers the opportunity to commit every crime in an author's arsenal by penning the most ludicrous opening sentence to a novel, and I compose my entry with glee. I was once published inside a Christmas cracker, one of a special set of 12.  For various competitions, I attempted to see the world from the viewpoint of a ghost, a witch, a tree and a cactus. Alas, none of my supernatural creations dripped gore, making them unsuitable for most of the horror competitions advertised, but in a sideways fashion they have influenced the way I write about real life.

   My latest effort has been a fun competition run by Wine Tourism Spain, which requested entries on the unlikely pairing of aliens and wine. A mish-mash of sci-fi and travel writing, within a limited word count? The source of inspiration in real life had to be a glass or two of chilled Rueda Verdejo. To see what I wrote, visit my blog.  

Madeleine McDonald

Saturday 22 April 2017

The Size of the Cast

In her hidden-gems-or-crazy-counsel blog series, Hornsea Writer Penny Grubb looks at the idea of a writer’s ‘repertory company’, the cast they use in their work.

Gore Vidal cites Shakespeare as someone with a large repertory company of twenty or so, claiming that most writers use far fewer characters. Can that be right? Shakespeare – only twenty?

As Penny says, ‘One thing that distinguishes an experienced writer from a novice is the size of the cast. A whole host of named characters piling on stage on page one; named extras, whose only role is to bulk out a crowd, are signs that the writer is new to this stuff.’ 

See the discussion on Penny's blog. 

Sunday 16 April 2017


Suzanne Jackson, Jo Thomas, and HW's Linda Acaster
Sub-title: Networking at Events #2 

Despite it being Easter Saturday, there was a good turnout at Hull's Central Library for HumberSFF's all-female panel reading from their Fantasy novels.

The organiser, Shellie Horst, did a great job of fielding the many questions, and everyone who attended went away with a book from the raffle - and an Easter Egg! 

For a fuller report see Linda Acaster's blogpost.

Sunday 9 April 2017

Networking at Events

Joy Gelsthorpe & Madeleine McDonald
Is it useful giving up your writing time to network at events by manning a table? The short answer is yes, because you never know where it might lead.

Today Hornsea Writers waved the flag at the town's annual Meet the Group event, held to give residents and the first of the holidaymakers an idea of what's on offer locally. With an A5 handout and a selection of book promotional postcards, three members were in attendance to talk about our display of titles and how the group operates, all with a view to recruiting more members.

Did we? Possibly two. What we did do was encourage a couple of ...I've always wanted to... with practical advice, as well as discuss publishing strategies with a lady whose relative is writing an health-issue self-help book. It's always good to pass on experience and see a shining eye overcome a long-held belief that authors are born a breed apart.

We also sold three books, which wasn't the priority but we never turn down an opportunity. Contacts at two local papers wanted the group's details with an eye to doing features on us, and a member of Hornsea Carnival Committee sounded us out for a table in its creative endeavours marquee, and also to offer a chat & readings evening in conjunction with the local library as part of the Hull City of Culture year celebrations.

Was it worth manning a table for a few hours on a sunny day in April? You tell us. The phrase tip of the iceberg comes to mind.

Saturday 1 April 2017

Newsletter Subscribers via #Instafreebie

Writers need readers – but where to acquire them? by Linda Acaster
page at
Despite nostalgia for the good old days, finding readers for one’s novels – mainstream published or indie authored – has always been an uphill struggle. My mainstream published friends spend a lot of time and effort, and a good amount of their hard-earned money, organising talks, readings, and book signings, appearing on local radio, and fighting for column inches in newspapers and magazines. Most also run Newsletters, some quarterly, some monthly, some using them only to announce the imminent launch of their new novel.

I run one myself, have for years. I try to make it chatty and relevant, with varying degrees of success. Despite having my Newsletter sign-up prominent on my website and at the front & back of my ebooks, new subscribers are few and far between. How do you twist people’s arms to join your Newsletter?

One method is by using Instafreebie. Better still is using Instafreebie and joining a group of same-genre authors in a cross promotion.

The underlying premise is to offer a “freebie” – short story, novella or even a novel – as an inducement for readers to sign up to your Newsletter. It’s up to you to keep them from unsubscribing by sending a short series of welcoming Newsletters with carrots attached. Think: what’s in it for the reader? Once readers become used to receiving your Newsletter emails and you’ve proved you aren’t going to waste their time, they are more likely to stay with you when moved to your monthly/quarterly Newsletter routine. is free for readers to join, or, if responding directly to a link to a particular book, they don’t have to join Instafreebie, just input their name and e-address into the linked book page – see above image of the page for my own “freebie”. Once the choice of format is selected the ebook will be delivered via the reader’s email in very sort order, complete with instructions on how to email or side-load the ebook to their e-reading device. Kindle e-readers are simple as the email is merely forwarded to the reader’s Kindle (Instafreebie is not allowed to email your Kindle direct).

For authors, Instafreebie is also free to join. Once signed up I received a dashboard to which I uploaded my chosen title – it has to be in ePub format – which is used as a master for delivering the ebook in all or any formats: mobi, ePub, or pdf. Rather like uploading an ebook to a distributor, genre and keywords are chosen to make it easier for readers searching the site to find your title.

The site collects the e-addresses of all readers who download the ebook, and these can be manually copied or downloaded via a csv file, the usual method of collecting lists. Instafreebie allots a link for each title to be used by the author for publicity. For instance, mine is sitting as a pinned Tweet in my Twitter feed.

As I already have a Newsletter I decided to sign up for the $20 a month Plus Account on a 30-day trial (there is no request for payment facilities on sign-up). This enables the e-addresses of readers to be sent directly into my account at Mailchimp, my Newsletter distributor. Beware: not using a verified Newsletter distributor, and instead using your own email client, is considered spamming and your email client could close your account to protect itself from falling foul of international laws.

Instafreebie has its own author forum where authors connect via genre for cross-promotion opportunities for more visibility of offered titles. There are also similar groups on Facebook, and on (Kindle forum boards).
Is this only suitable for indie authors? No. Unless an author has signed a particularly draconian contract with a publisher there will be leeway to produce a standalone novella or short story which can be used. Just ensure the short standalone is in the same genre as the published novels, and if possible using the same characters or setting. The title does not have to be available on any selling site, merely look professional.

Is it worth it? I don’t know yet. I signed up on Thursday. Between inputting the necessary data, retiring to the kitchen for a cuppa, and returning to check I’d ticked all the necessary boxes, I’d acquired three readers’ e-addresses, and there's been a steady uptake ever since. I take part in my first Instafreebie cross promotion on 16th April. I’ll update this post afterwards.