Here is a news story by CJ Stone about Steve Andrews and his performance on Britain’s Got Talent last year. The story begins on Summer Solstice at Stonehenge though: My famous friend – The Green Bard who upset Simon Cowell
Why Niche Writing is recommended
Mediterranean Gardening & Outdoor Living
Niche writing is recommended for freelance writers because you are more likely to get clients who will hire you. This is why it makes good sense to discover your niche.
I speak from personal experience because I have found most of my paid work writing with the niches I am knowledgeable in. A client who is looking for a writer who knows what they are talking about is obviously going to favour hiring someone who can show a track record in delivering the goods. If you can show examples of your work already published within niche publications, it is far more likely that you will find further jobs writing within this field of interest.
Of course, the more popular and high profile the publications you are published in are, the better your chances will be of impressing potential employers to hire you to write for them.
On your website and on business cards and other publicity materials, you should make it clear what you specialise in.
Finding Your Niche
Finding your niche is important and easy enough. You just need to think about what subjects you have the most knowledge about and the greatest interest in. Perhaps you can write about your hobby? It just needs to be a something you can write easily about and show a passion for. In my case I have found it easy to write about nature and gardening. I have had articles published in magazines as varied as Permaculture, Welsh Coastal Life, and Bee Culture: The Magazine of American Beekeeping, but all my articles have been on the subject of plants and the natural world. I have also been a regular writer for Mediterranean Gardening and Outdoor Living magazine, and in the past had a column about gardening and wildlife in the Tenerife Weekly newspaper, and Living Tenerife magazine.
More than one niche
Having more than one niche can be advantageous, and I have more than one because I have also found success in writing for New Age and Mind, Body and Spirit publications. I have had several articles in Kindred Spirit magazine, with another about Magical Summer Herbs accepted for the next issue. This magazine pays a decent rate and I am getting £200 for my next article. In this magazine I have written about Atlantis and also about herbs and herbalism.
Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets
As an author, I have been able to get some great publicity for my books about herbs, by writing articles for publications like Kindred Spirit. I had a feature published in Kindred Spirit about my latest book with Moon Books, entitled Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets. More recently, but about the same book and subject matter, I have been published with a two-page article in The Magical Times.
Don’t be a Generalist
Having a couple of niches you can write about is fine but having a lot and being a generalist is not a good idea. You may think it is impressive being able to say that you can write about many different subjects but sadly it doesn’t impress clients and future potential employers. It looks as if you are a Jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. You may be very knowledgeable about many subjects but a potential client doesn’t know this and is not willing to take the risk, and why should they when there are so many freelance writers out there to choose from. This is why you need to stand out from the crowd and make a name for yourself as a niche writer.
I am proud to be able to say I have done well enough in the Britain’s Got Talent Auditions to have been chosen to go through to the next stage of auditioning, but this time before the panel of judges and being filmed for TV broadcast. It is going to be in January or February of 2017 and I am now waiting for my date. I have been told the auditions will be at a venue in London, Birmingham, Manchester or Blackpool. I am naturally very excited about this and don’t care which city it is, though I have said I would prefer London or Birmingham.
BGT Auditions so far in Merthyr Tydfil and Birmingham
I have been in two auditions so far for BGT. The first was in Merthyr Tydfil and was held in a building in the main shopping centre by the bus station. I wasn’t really knowing what to expect and didn’t know how long I would get or if I should do my own songs or covers. So I posted on Facebook asking my friends and supporters there what they thought. About half said I should do covers and the others said to perform my own material. My song Kingfisher was named by a lot of people as a good choice. With divided opinion I still didn’t know what to do.
However, I thought colourful clothing and my beard and hair dyed green would impress the auditioners, so I donned my purple velvet jacket and got to work with the hair dye. I was glad I did because one of the first things one of the two people in the auditioning team said was how much she liked my jacket.
I told the BGT auditioning team, who were called Paul and Gabriella, that I had asked my Facebook friends whether I should do a cover or my own song and asked if it was OK for me to do maybe a sample from each or maybe the whole song, if I had time. They let me do a cover and my own song and I performed Let’s Twist Again and my Kingfisher. They liked both and were applauding a lot so I asked if I could just do one more and they let me. I did my version of Stand By Me and told my auditioners that I ask the audience to come and join me for this. I invite them to actually Stand By Me! This worked very well because Paul and Gabriella came and stood each side of me and were moving their bodies to my music. They captured the performance on camera and told me how much they had enjoyed my act. I went away feeling that I had done really well but couldn’t be certain I had got through any further because they told me that if I was successful I would hear from someone from BGT.
A sheet of paper I was given said that I had completed the audition and would be notified by a date in February if I was successful, and that if I hadn’t heard by then that I hadn’t. I was prepared for a long wait but got a call from Paul just a couple of weeks later telling me I had made it through to the next auditions in Birmingham. He said it would be either the 22nd or 23rd. I was told in a subsequent phone-call that it would be at the ICC Birmingham and my time and date was 2pm on Sunday the 23rd.
The weeks flew by and I caught the train to Birmingham, taking my acoustic guitar in a hard case. I wasn’t going to risk a soft case in case the strings went out of tune which would have spelled disaster. I must admit that I am not good at tuning guitar strings. Anyway, I found the ICC easily enough and could immediately see how really big BGT is and what I was up against in the auditions.
There was a billboard size BGT poster outside the building and inside there were queues of people and lots of BGT staff supervising affairs and directing people to where they should go. Eventually I got to do my audition and it was in a much bigger room this time. I repeated my story about asking on Facebook what song I should do, and the auditioners kindly let me do two songs again. This time I did a love song entitled Ever Yours, which I have now recorded produced by Jayce Lewis at his amazing Northstone Studios, and I followed up with Stand By Me. Again the auditioning team joined me for the song and filmed it all.
Again I was told that they couldn’t tell me if I was successful or not because they have lots more people to audition but that I would hear from them by 11 Feb if I had made it through. I was advised to stick around because they might want to film me. I did stick around and was led outside where I was filmed carrying my guitar. I was told this may or may not be used at some point next year. I was also filmed sitting on a trunk and taking my sunglasses on and off.
There were some other colourful acts who were in the auditions and were being filmed too. One of them was my friend Jason Watkins, whom I knew from when I lived in Tenerife some years back. He does a Boy George show but also a comic gay Elvis. He was dressed in his Elvis gear and wearing shades for his BGT audition. It was because of the Elvis get-up that I didn’t recognise him but he recognised me even though my appearance has changed. It was a great surprise to meet Jason at this event.
Eventually I had to get back to Cardiff and went to catch my train for my return journey. Lots of people in the streets of Birmingham were complimenting me on my appearance and some of them took photos of me. The bushy green beard is a big hit with the public it seems!
So now I am excitedly waiting for my date next year. This could be my big break. Wish me luck!
Being a columnist for a magazine or newspaper definitely has its rewards, and not just financially. For a start, it helps establish you as a writer that can be depended on to deliver the goods. Editors and readers both know they can rely on you to come up with an interesting article each week or month your column is published.
Having a column also establishes you as a writer with a niche you are knowledgeable about. For example, I have established myself as being able to write about gardening and nature. When I lived in Tenerife, I had a column in the Tenerife Sun in which the natural world was my specialist subject matter. A photo of me sporting a green goatee beard added to the column’s appeal and my public image. It worked to my advantage because members of the public would recognise me as the man with a green beard who writes about nature in the Tenerife Sun newspaper. Several times I got approached by people who had recognised me like this and who had stories for me to cover. I remember writing one about the preying mantis and a man who had a bush in his garden he wanted to prune but it had several mantises on it.
Mediterranean Gardening and Outdoor Living April 2016 Issue 24
If you get known as a writer on a particular subject it makes it easier to get more work in this line. I am currently writing about gardening and the natural world for Mediterranean Gardening and Outdoor Living magazine. When I had been living in Tenerife, another publication that gave me work was Living Tenerife magazine, in which I had had a monthly gardening column.
Again, it was Tenerife that provided regular work for me as columnist for the weekly Tenerife Weekly, in which I had a page in which I wrote about gardening and nature. I also supplied the photos for this and had no problem getting some great ones to illustrate my articles.
But my first experience as a columnist was when I was a writer for Big Issue Cymru back in the late 1990s. In this magazine that is sold on the streets to raise funds for homeless people, I mainly wrote social interest stories. The Big Issue has a wide circulation and being a regular writer for it established me as a writer and helped me make a name for myself. Big Issue Cymru had reviewed my music before so I was already known to the publication as a singer-songwriter and local performer. At the time I was living in the Ely housing estate in Cardiff, and so when the Big Issue started calling me “Bard of Ely” it was a title that was apt. I have used it as a stage name ever since.
As a writer I have found being a columnist helpful in other ways too. My experience as a columnist has taught me to be able to make deadlines and also to make sure I proofread my work before I submit it. Also, knowing I have future articles to write in a particular niche, means that I am always on the lookout for topics I could cover. In my daily life I often make notes about something I see that would make a good story. I don’t have any problem getting inspired as a writer. Having a column helps stop the dreaded “writer’s block” because it keeps you thinking about what you can write about in future and it is easy enough to find subjects to describe.
Being a columnist is part-time work too, which is another advantage because it leaves you free to be able to commit to other jobs and writing projects. I like it that way!
Getting a book published is an admirable goal that so many of us have. It is easy to dream about becoming a best-selling author but the chances of doing so are very slim. Nevertheless to get your book accepted by a proper publisher is well worth achieving and well worth the work it takes to do so. Besides the personal satisfaction of being able to say you are a published author, getting published is a great boost to your credibility as a writer and it can open many other doors. For example, I got to be a guest speaker at Glastonbury Festival in 2004, talking about the herbs in my book that can be used in witchcraft. I sold some copies of my work too, of course!
Also, once you have had your first book accepted and put into print it is far easier to convince a publisher to take a second or third book. Unless, of course, your first book does so badly that no publisher would want to risk taking your work again.
I have been lucky because I have had two books published by Moon Books/John Hunt Publishing. My first book, which is entitled Herbs of the Northern Shaman, sold enough copies to pass the sales barrier for the company, which meant that it then got a lot more publicity and resulted in them seeing me as an author worth investing in. My second book Pagan Portals: Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets, was published earlier this year, and is already in stock at Waterstones and Barnes and Noble.
But what does it take to get a book published once you have written one? The answer is a lot of hard work and persistence. You are going to get disappointments, no matter how good your work is. Unless you are already famous, publishers are rightly wary of putting their money into backing a new author. Remember that even J.K. Rowling was rejected time and time again before she finally found a publisher willing to give her a chance with her Harry Potter books. You have to convince a publisher that what you are offering is going to sell and that there is a target audience for it waiting to buy and read your writings.
In my case, I think having an new angle has helped a lot. There are loads of books on herbs out there already but with both my books I have come up with something a bit different. In Herbs of the Northern Shaman I only wrote about herbs that grow somewhere in the northern hemisphere. The book is about plants that had some psychoactive property or that were mind-altering in some way. The herbs could have sedative, narcotic, stimulant, antidepressant, or entheogenic effects. Many of the herbs I wrote about have been used in witchcraft and others have been employed by tribal shamans.
First edition of Herbs of the Northern Shaman
This book actually is in its second edition because it was originally published in America by Loompanics Unlimited in 2000. The illustrations and photos were in black and white and the book was only in a limited print run. Nevertheless, it was very exciting for me to get a publishing contract and for the day to arrive when a box of copies of my book was delivered to my home. I even got a $1,000 advance too.
I had spent the last two years before this sending my work out to many British publishers, mostly in London, and that was how I found out by way of experience how difficult it is to get a publishing deal. I had a lot of standard letters saying “not really what we are looking for right now but best of luck.” But just when I was feeling very discouraged I was invited for an interview about my book proposal at Thorsons Books in London which was very encouraging. I think I made a good impression on Louise McNamara at Thorsons, and she gave me the impression she was keen on accepting my work, however, she told me that she had to get it also accepted by her colleagues at the company. Naively and optimistically, I came away from that interview thinking I had got a deal but a week or so later a letter arrived telling me Louise had tried to get my book taken on but unfortunately it was not accepted. Disappointing as this news was, it gave me the impetus to give up on the UK and to try overseas. That was why I started looking for publishers in the US. And I got an acceptance from Loompanics in a matter of weeks, not years.
Wonderful as this was, I didn’t realise then that getting published is only a lower rung on the ladder of success as an author. You still need the book to sell and this means it needs good marketing, publicity, reviews and distribution. I remember taking copies of my book into the city centre in Cardiff to see if I could get it stocked at some of the well-known bookstores, such as Waterstones. I was asked “Have you got an account with us?” to which I could only sadly answer, no. I was asked if I had been through to the “head office,” or if I had a distributor. I hadn’t. And so it was that I was to learn how important it is to have distribution in place. Loompanics were willing to send samples copies of my book to possible distributors I found, but seeing as I was a new author and seeing as the shipping costs for boxes of books to be sent from the US to the UK was very high, I failed to find a distributor.
Fortunately, this is not a problem with my new publisher because Moon Books are available on both sides of the Atlantic. The company has an office in Winchester in the UK and in Washington in the US.
My advice to any budding authors out there is to keep writing and keep looking for publishers. It is important to do your homework too. By that I mean you need to look for appropriate publishers for the genre your work is in. It is no use at all sending a proposal for a fictitious love story to a book publisher that publishes scientific books and non-fiction. When researching publishers make sure you find out what types of book they publish, and make sure you read their submissions details. Take note of what a publisher wants and do your best to fulfil their requirements, and good luck!
My first article for Mediterranean Gardening and Outdoor Living, June, 2015
Since the summer of 2015 I have been writing a regular monthly article for Mediterranean Gardening and Outdoor Living magazine which is aimed at gardeners in Iberia but contains features and information for outside that area. I write about gardening, nature, herbs, and wildlife. I have written a couple of articles about Tenerife. One was about the dragon trees that grow there and the other was about what makes the island a paradise for naturalists.
My Dragon Tree article in Mediterranean Gardening and Outdoor Living
I enjoy writing about gardening and nature because these are personal interests I have had since my childhood. It also means I am not stuck for topics to write about. I usually suggest my ideas to the editors, and sometimes they will suggest theirs, if, for example, what I want to write about has already been covered by another writer.
Writing about nature, wildlife and gardening is, of course, a niche area and having articles published about these subjects helps get my name around as an “expert” on such material and leads to more work.
When I was in Tenerife, where I lived for over nine years, I got known as something of an authority when it came to the natural world. I used to get emails from people asking me what something they had found was. I also had columns in three publications, all of which are sadly no more because they went under due to the economic crisis. I had a gardening column in Living Tenerife, which was a glossy magazine, a monthly column in the Tenerife Sun newspaper, in which I wrote about the flora and fauna of the island and also places that I visited, and a weekly column in Tenerife Weekly.
Because editors knew I was knowledgeable about my chosen subjects, I was sometimes commissioned to write features that the editor had in mind. This happened when I was asked to write a full page about monarch butterflies for the Tenerife Sun.
My feature about Monarch Butterflies for the Tenerife Sun
I have plenty of photos in my personal collection that I can supply for illustration purposes but when I cannot find suitable ones I usually find what I am looking for in Pixabay or Public Domain pictures in Wikipedia.
I used to also contribute articles about nature and about herbs, health and alternative medicine for the Tenerife News, which is still a widely read newspaper in the Canary Islands.
I am always on the lookout for publications that would be interested in my work, and only recently had a proposal accepted by Bee Culture magazine in America. My article will be about the Tower of Jewels plants in the Echium genus that are a favourite with bees and other pollinators. Although, I am not a beekeeper myself, I was brought up around these amazing insects because my grandfather used to have several hives. This meant we always had a supply of honey and I got to learn about the bees that made it.