A Look Behind The Book With Tom Albrighton.

Copywriter (noun): A person who writes the text of advertisements or publicity material.

Oxford English Dictionary.

Tom-Albrighton-mono-500pxWhile this definition is correct, I can’t help but feel it doesn’t do justice to the skill and talent involved in writing that ‘text’, which not only informs but often has to sell too.

One man who knows just what it takes is Tom Albrighton, who has been successfully doing the job for more than 12 years.

He’s also written a book, entitled Copywriting Made Simple, imparting some of his expertise in a bid to help other people wanting to break into this field.

I was delighted to be able to quiz Tom, who is based in Norwich, for my latest Behind The Book post.

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Can you tell us a bit about you and your writing background?

As a child I loved reading and writing stories. I did an English degree at the University of East Anglia and worked at Jarrold Publishing, then at a small agency.

I went freelance about 12 years ago, and since then I’ve written copy for brands of all sizes, in the UK and beyond, and I also do academic editing.

In 2012 I co-founded ProCopywriters, the UK alliance for commercial writers. I stepped down from running it in 2016.

How is copywriting different from journalism?

For me, the biggest contrast is with publishing, since that’s my background. But both books and newspapers are about giving readers something interesting, valuable or fun that they’ll seek out and (hopefully) buy. In contrast, copywriting is about grabbing their attention and cultivating their interest or desire, so they’ll seek out and buy something else. So as I say in the book, it’s writing with purpose.

What made you want to write your book? Who is it aimed at? Aren’t you helping the competition, in a way?

I wanted to write a simple, accessible guide to copywriting that anyone could find useful, even if they didn’t write for a living. I felt that many of the books out there mainly focused on one type of copywriting (whether they admitted it or not), and I wanted mine to be as universal as possible.

I suppose I am helping the competition, but when it comes to writing work, I try to have an ‘abundance mindset’. There are plenty of copywriting clients and jobs out there, and we can all find our niche.

tom quoteReading my book won’t turn you into me, but I hope it will help you find yourself as a copywriter.

Did you have any worries about writing a book about writing?

Well, the biggest worry is making your advice consistent with itself. I’d be mortified if someone said, ‘On page 123 you say this, but then on page 234 you write this!!’ That’s why I spent ages editing the book – far longer than the initial writing.

I think, from the outside, many people think writing is easy (in my experience, especially journalism) and anyone can do it. What’s your take?

I think this is because nearly everybody writes as part of their work, using the same tools as the professional. So there’s no barrier to entry, no cloud of mystique around the act of writing.

Also, when you see something well written, whether it’s an ad or an article, it’s so easy to think, ‘Oh yeah, I could have done that,’ particularly when the finished text is short and simple. Then you try it yourself, and you realise that long and complex is a piece of cake, while short and simple is fiendishly hard.

CopywritingmadesimpleThe strapline for your book is “write powerful and persuasive copy that sells”. From a copywriting point of view, can you afford to take a stand against products/brands you might not agree with? Has that ever come up?

I wrote about a consumer credit product recently that gave me pause, although I still did the job. I’ve always thought that I I’d hate selling sugary food to kids – but nobody’s asked me yet. And I wouldn’t fancy writing about guns.

I’d applaud anyone who took a stand, but if you’re in a salaried post or supporting a family, that could be a tough call to make. You could argue, self-protectively, that it’s the companies and brands who are the real villains, and marketers are just messengers. Certainly, we can’t sell to people against their will. But at the same time, we are out to influence them. So we’re probably not without sin.

How did the idea for writing it come about? Did you pitch it to publishers before writing it? Or was it all done and dusted first?  

When I stepped down from running ProCopywriters a few years ago, I fancied a new challenge. Since I’m a generalist rather than a specialist, a basic introduction was a natural fit. Originally it was going to be a little ebook, but it kind of grew.

It’s self-published (by Troubador), so there wasn’t any pitching. With quite a few copywriting books out there already, and no plans to write further books, I didn’t fancy trying to convince an agent to take me on. I also wanted full control over the editorial, design and production, since the book is my professional calling card and I know something about creating a book from my previous life.

What about the process of writing it? Did you take time off from your day job to write it?

Nope, I just did it in spare moments, mostly while Strictly or Britain’s Got Talent was on in the lounge. I’ve always spent some time blogging, as a non-work writing outlet, so I just repurposed those bits of time. Start to finish, the writing took me about two years.

Ever thought about writing fiction?  

I thought this was a fiction assignment?

Do you have any top tips you can share for copywriters?

Be curious. Read widely. Take an interest in what’s going on, what people say, what they do. Think about how products or services work, and why people like them. That’s how you find the little things that bring copy to life.

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Thank you to Tom for his fantastic answers. You can follow him on Twitter here and find out more about his book, Copywriting Made Simple, (including details of how to buy) here.

I was particularly interested to hear what he said about taking a stand on certain brands/products from a personal point of view, not only as a journalist but also in terms of blogging. Sometimes, especially in the latter, it can seem like you need to sell your soul to make money. From a copywriting point of view, writing about meat products as a veggie is probably the closest I’ve come to that.

What about my fellow bloggers out there. How do you decide what you will and won’t write about, especially if you are reliant on blogging for income? 

Also, a big thanks to Anne for introducing Tom and I.

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A Look Behind The Book With Julia Roberts.

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If you think Julia Roberts looks familiar then she probably is – especially if you’re a fan of televised home shopping.

While she’s had a long and varied career in the entertainment industry – including parts in Dr Who and The Price Is Right – Julia is perhaps best known as a presenter on QVC.

There since its launch in the UK in 1993, she continues to front programmes for the channel. She also does voice over work and other TV appearances as well as supporting various charities.

As if that wasn’t enough, she has also realised a long-held dream to write books, with a popular trilogy, a standalone novel, various short stories and a memoir to her name.

Her latest book, Alice In Theatreland, is about to be made into an audiobook but, before that, I am absolutely thrilled that she agreed to let me quiz her for my new Behind The Book post.

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You wanted to be an author from the age of 10 but it was another 47 years before that dream became a reality. You’ve obviously done a huge amount in between but was the dream always there in the background? What finally made you put pen to paper?

It’s funny you should ask this question. I am currently doing a series of blogs to celebrate the upcoming 25th anniversary of QVC in the UK, the research for which has had me looking through lots of boxes of saved mementoes and paperwork. I came across an article in a magazine that QVC used to circulate, prior to having a website, and in the last paragraph I was asked what else I planned to do in my career. My response was, ‘I have some great ideas for books I intend to write when I find the time.’ The article was from April 1998… twenty years ago. In a way, that answers both your questions. Working full-time at QVC and bringing up two children took precedence but once I had seen them off to university I began to write, initially a memoir entitled One Hundred Lengths of the Pool, which was published by Preface in 2013, before trying my hand at novels.

Your first novel was part of a trilogy. Did you plan it as such before you started writing?

The idea for the Liberty Sands trilogy came to me while I was on holiday in Mauritius, directly after the publication of my memoir. We were there for 10 days, during which time I copiously scribbled enough notes to fill a whole notebook. I immediately realised that the story was too much for one book with all the twists and turns, so decided to create three standalone books, which don’t necessarily require the reader to read on or have read the previous ‘installments’ – although it is intended to be enjoyed in its entirety.

Is it nice going back to the same characters (and adding new ones into the mix)? Are you ever tempted to add a fourth?

I got to know the characters so well over the course of the trilogy it was almost like writing about friends, but I also enjoyed introducing the new people as the story unfolded. I have been asked by many people who have fallen in love with Holly, Harry and co., if I will write a fourth book in the series but I’m not sure if I will revisit them and certainly not for a while.

Can you talk about your path to publication? Did you submit to many agents/publishers? What made you go the route you did?

As I mentioned above, my memoir was published by Preface, an imprint of Random House. When I had finished Life’s a Beach and Then… I sent it to my contact there who passed it to a colleague for consideration. Apparently, she loved it but it wasn’t suitable for her list at the time.

I also sent the manuscript to half a dozen agents, and had positive feedback from a couple saying they liked ‘my voice’ but clearly not enough to want to represent me.

I find the whole business of trying to sell myself and my work quite daunting, which is strange considering I can sell almost anything else and it’s what I do to earn a living, so I decided to follow a friend of mine down the self-publishing route.

I must admit I like the control I keep as a self-published author and I’m very lucky that I have a fantastic working relationship with my editor, Justine Taylor, who I’d worked with on One Hundred Lengths of the Pool. The only drawback for me is the marketing side of things and the lack of time I have available while still working full-time and trying to write.

Do you ever get mixed up with the other Julia Roberts? Were you ever tempted to change your name before you published your book?

I don’t really get mixed up with the Hollywood actress. A friend suggested that maybe I should write as Julia G Roberts but I decided against it as I didn’t want to confuse people who already know me as Julia Roberts through my work on television.

On a similar note, did you ever feel like it was a risk, because you were so well known in a different career, to publish a book? Or was it helpful that people already knew who you were?

I think it was helpful that I already had a public profile. There were a few people who left reviews on Amazon along the lines of, ‘You should stick to presenting,’ after my first novel came out, but the majority of reviews are positive and think my writing style is similar to my presenting style. As long as I’m certain that I’ve made each book the best it can be I’m happy – you can’t expect everyone to love your work.

ALICE in TL CoverYou’re turning your latest novel, Alice In Theatreland, into an audio book, which sounds very exciting. Can you talk about why you decided to do it? What was the process like?

I’ve had a lot of requests to turn my books into audiobooks but it was a bit tricky committing to do all three books in the trilogy. Alice is completely standalone so I thought it would be a good way to test the water and see if there is any interest. To be honest, I have hit a bit of a delay with the voice artist/producer who has agreed produce it for me through a company called ACX so it now won’t be available until July at the earliest. The process of putting a piece up for auditions on ACX is fairly straightforward, even for a technophobe like me, and listening to the auditions and choosing the right voice to bring your characters to life was great fun. It’s a watch this space currently though.

From the hundreds of Amazon reviews, the majority of which are five stars, it seems like readers adore your books. That must be an amazing feeling? Does it add to the pressure for the next book though?

I’m extremely grateful for every review and I must confess that it gives me a warm glow inside to know that readers have liked what I have written. I’ve even been moved to tears on a couple of occasions because writing is still quite a new experience for me and also I’m a bit of a softy at heart! I think it does add to the pressure but mostly because you don’t want to disappoint readers who’ve spent their hard-earned cash on your book. That’s why there has been more of a gap since the release of Alice in Theatreland last year. Although I wrote a Christmas novella, Christmas at Carol’s, I haven’t been able to dedicate sufficient time to my next full-length novel and don’t want to release an inferior product.

Can you talk about what you’re working on next?

I am actually working on two full length novels at the moment. One is set around Bonfire Night so I will be looking to publish in October, the other I might submit to agents and see if it generates any interest. I’ve also promised a sequel to Christmas at Carol’s so I will need to get started on that around September time.

You still seem incredibly busy with work and also your charity events, how do you find time to write?

I’m fortunate that I have a set shift pattern at QVC that gives me a five day break every fortnight after working eight days out of nine. They are my writing days although I do also ‘tinker’ with my manuscript before going in to work if I’m not on air too early. I only do a few events a year for Rotary International and British Polio.

Do you have any writing tips you can share please?

My main tip is the most obvious, just sit down and do it. I think all writers are different in their approach.

JuliaRobertsQuote

The final chapter of Alice in Theatreland happened because I wasn’t satisfied with the ending I had written. The book had already gone to Justine for editing and I rang her up to say I’d had an idea for a different ending. She was totally supportive and we both agreed it worked so much better, a view echoed by the reviews on Amazon, many of which comment about it. The only other thing to add is that I write from my heart.

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Thank you so much to Julia for letting me interview her. It just shows that it’s never too late to follow your dreams. I’m so pleased she managed to achieve hers – and so successfully too.

If you want to read some of Julia’s work, she has a free short story to download via her website. You can also follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. All her books are available via her Amazon page here.

A Look Behind The Book With S D Robertson.

SDRobertsonBestselling author S D Robertson took a risk when he quit his job as a newspaper editor to follow his dream of writing a novel but, thankfully, it has more than paid off.

Stuart has just published his third book, Stand By Me, which has already received rave reviews on Amazon, including being dubbed “a heartwarming and tearjerking triumph” by one reader.

As a fan of his work, I was delighted when he agreed to be my latest Behind The Book interviewee.

Read on to find out what he had to say.

You started your writing career as a journalist, ending up as editor of a local newspaper before leaving to pursue your dream to become a novelist. Did you find the transition to a more creative style of writing difficult?

Writing creatively is very different from writing news stories or features. However, I found that my time as a journalist did prepare me well for becoming a novelist, particularly in terms of being self-motivated, meeting deadlines and having confidence in my ability to communicate effectively to readers. I think it’s also important to write sparingly in fiction – particularly with books of a commercial nature, which need to be pacy and easy to read. In my opinion, a good journalist’s greatest skill is the ability to convey complicated ideas in a straightforward, easy-to-comprehend way. As a novelist, I try to do much the same in terms of my characters, plots and themes.

SBM2You’ve just published your third novel, Stand By Me, can you tell us about it please?

This book is about the powerful and changing nature of a long friendship. My two central characters, Elliot and Lisa, meet as 11-year-olds in the early 1990s and remain great pals as they traverse secondary school and grow into adults together. Then life pulls them apart – until one day, totally out of the blue, Elliot returns just when Lisa needs him most. As the story flits between past and present, we gradually learn the remarkable truth about Elliot’s return and what it means for both of their futures.

Are you ever sad to say goodbye to any of your characters? They live in your head for such a long time, do you find yourself thinking about them once the book is done and dusted?

Yes, definitely. As an author you spend a great deal of time with your characters and you really miss some of them after you finish working on a particular project. At the end of a story, I often wonder about what might happen to them next. In fact, one character from my debut novel, Time to Say Goodbye, does actually make a cameo appearance in Stand By Me. I won’t say who, as I don’t want to ruin it for anyone. But it was great to reconnect and to see how things had progressed for them since the end of that novel.

Can you tell us about your route to publication with your first book? What was it like getting that phone call (or email) telling you they wanted to publish it?

I left my job as a local newspaper editor and wrote a novel inspired by my early experiences as a reporter. I sent this off to various literary agents and publishers, but after lots of rejections, I stuck it in a drawer and returned to the drawing board. The next novel I wrote was Time to Say Goodbye, which went on to be published by Avon HarperCollins. The first exciting moment was when my (now) agent phoned me to say that she loved it and wanted to represent me. Then, several months and a few tweaks later, I got another call from her saying that Avon wanted to publish it. Both of these were fantastic moments that I’ll never forget. They validated all the hard work I’d poured into pursuing my dream and inspired me to keep on going.

You took a risk to follow your dream, was there ever a moment where you doubted yourself and, if so, how did you bolster your confidence again?

There were lots of moments when I doubted myself at the beginning; there still are from time to time. Authors tend to be introspective types and I’m no exception. Beating your insecurities is one of the many hurdles you have to overcome in order to finish a novel and then get it published. My advice to any would-be novelist struggling with this is to channel it into their work by creating characters with believable flaws, issues and contradictions.

quote SD Robertson

Surrounding yourself with positive people who believe in you and encourage you to follow your dreams is always a big help.

Your novels seem to twist and turn. Do you know before you start writing what is going to happen and when? If you are a planner, how do you do it? Do you use Post-it notes or write a chapter by chapter plot?

I start with a plot synopsis and I do tend to stick fairly strictly to the beginning and end. I think it’s important to know where you’re heading when you start out. However, in terms of the middle, I’m very flexible. I like to allow room to develop things as I go along: particularly the twists and turns, which I find often work best without advance planning. (If I’m surprised, the reader is likely to be surprised too.) I don’t work with Post-it notes, but rather that initial synopsis together with a notebook that I update as I go along. This includes character profiles and any other information I don’t want to forget.

What role does social media play in getting your books out there? Has it changed much since the first book in 2016?

I think social media is a great way of reaching out to your readers and vice versa. It’s hugely important nowadays, although it can be quite time-consuming. As an author working from home, it’s all too easy to procrastinate rather than actually writing; social media can be dangerous in that regard. In my experience it hasn’t changed an awful lot in the last couple of years, although it is probably a little harder now to communicate with your readers on Facebook without paying for adverts.

On your website you say you’re a film buff (who doesn’t love a rom-com?), which of your books do you think would make the best film? Have you ever considered writing a script?

Any of them could be made into films or TV shows, in my opinion. It’s a dream of mine that I do hope will come true one day. I think my love of movies seeps into my writing, giving it a visual quality that would translate well on to the screen. I have considered writing a script, because I particularly enjoy creating dialogue, but so far I haven’t done so.

Are you working on something new at the moment? Can you share any details?

I’m currently working on my next novel, which is still at a pretty early stage, so I don’t want to say too much. What I can tell you is that it’s about a childless couple who suddenly find themselves looking after their estranged teenage niece.

Do you have any writing tips to pass on please?

One of the best writing tips I can offer is to complete your first draft before you start editing it. I don’t recommend reading anything back until you’ve got to the end of the story. Otherwise you’ll probably find yourself so busy tweaking things that you never actually reach that point. And you’re not going to get published without a completed manuscript. Think of it like creating a sculpture. Start with the basic shape and add in the detail later.

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Many thanks to Stuart for his thoughtful answers, I especially loved his advice for beating insecurities. Fingers crossed that his dream to see his work on the big (or small) screen also comes true one day.

If you’d like to know more about Stuart you can visit his website, follow him on Twitter and buy all his books via Amazon.