Interview with Deborah Durbin

Freelance writer, journalist and author Deborah Durbin has taken time out from her busy schedule to chat to 'Strictly' about her career and her new book So You Want To Be A Freelance Writer, which is out today (March 29)

A: Up until I had my second daughter I pretty much flitted from one job to another – I don’t much like working for other people because it’s always in the back of my head that they are earning more money than me! When my second daughter was born I decided I wanted to work for myself, so enrolled with the London College of Journalism and took a diploma with them. Once I had qualified I started out submitting articles to local newspapers and then to magazines. That was almost 17 years ago and I haven’t stopped.

A: Because I trained as a journalist, journalism writing is what I’m best at. I love the whole process of researching a subject that I know nothing about, interviewing people and submitting. I also love pitching to editors. It’s almost like having a challenge every day – will they accept, won’t they? Having said that I have had two novels published which have both been in the Amazon top ten and I enjoyed writing these enormously. It’s a lot harder for a non-fiction writer to change their style to fiction, because in journalism every word must count and you’re trained to write short and sharp copy to tight deadlines. You have more space and time to work on a novel, but this can often be more of a hindrance.

A: So You Want To Be A Freelance Writer is based on my years and experience of working in the industry and details not only what to do, but most importantly, what not to do if you want to become a freelance writer. The reason I wrote it was because so many people have asked me for advice on what to do when they start out, that I thought I would jot down what I had learned in the form of a blog. This was then picked up by Compass Books and turned into a handy pop-in-the-handbag paperback.

A: It certainly is. So You Want To Be A Freelance Writer covers everything from starting with the basics such as writing reader’s letters to learning how to pitch correctly and how to get a book deal. All the information has come from my own experience, whether it’s submitting an article to a magazine or persuading a publisher to publish your book. It also details the mysterious world that is the publishing industry.

A: I’ve written for most of the women’s national magazines and newspapers in the UK and the States – from The Sun to The New Scientist and everything in between. I have also had 13 books traditionally published and although I have had agents, I have secured all my own publishing contracts, including foreign rights. Writing is my full time job.

A: Yes. Everything within the book is from my own experience, so if you follow the advice in the book you stand every chance of getting published, whether that be in newspapers, magazines or books. I explain in the book that getting paid for your writing depends on a lot of different factors, such as an editor might have already run a similar piece, or be holding one in stock etc, and that very often it is a numbers game, but if you know how to approach a commissioning editor, you’ve won half the battle.

A: My first published piece was a reader’s letter for a parenting magazine. This led to me being commissioned for an article with the same magazine and then my first book. Once I had something to show editors that I could write to a publishable standard, my career really took off.

A: In the attic! It’s not as bad as it sounds! Our attic is a fully functioning bedroom and office. I have to have either the TV or the radio on when I work. I don’t like to work in silence. I have two white regency style desks; one with my laptop on and the other with magazines, newspapers, clippings, printer, a tub of Twiglets and a tin of Quality Street on it. I also have a mini fridge in the corner of the room, filled with chocolate and soft drinks – it’s a long way down to the kitchen!

A: All sorts of places. I tend to specialise in mind, body and spirit or health and wellbeing features because those subjects interest me, so I’m always reading about them. Having said that, one day I had written features about cell regeneration, white magic, the function of the kidney and dating for the over 50’s, so there are a lot of subjects that interest me and if I think I can make them interesting to a reader and get a commission then I will write about them.

Deborah Durbin’s new book, So You Want To Be A Freelance Writer, is out on 29th March. You can find her at or blogging at

We have one copy to give away to one blog reader - all you have to do is leave a comment below and we will pick one at random.

Ways in which...

From the annals of

Flexibility will only get you so far...

Ways in which I've made a tit* out of myself as a writer (in no particular order).

1. Waiting one year, three months and 16 days to get a reply from a publisher. Mercifully, not an exclusive submission, but why, why, why did I bother?

2. Using the phrase, 'Yours ethically,' to a client (who freaked a little and went elsewhere).

3. Making a flippant comment to an agent after waiting an extra week to hear about a writing competition, only to hear that the reason my email had been delayed was that I'd been shortlisted. I didn't win, which arguably is karma.

4. Not asking, up front, what the rate was per word, and then having to listen to a load of pony about what a great opportunity it will be for me in the long-term. That is, once I'd learned to go without food.

5. Writing at a rate per word where, ordinarily, outside the writing world, you'd be searching the job ads during your teabreak.

6. Taking FOREVER to take the plunge and self-publish my own novel. I mean, seriously, what IS the worst that could happen? Nobody buys and reads it? Shit, that's the situation if it isn't published. I lose a little money on it? Big deal - as long as I learn something. To be filed under 'don't be a wuss'. 

7. Letting two payment deadlines go by before issuing a client with a take down notice. (If I just love them even more, maybe they'll change...).

8. Agreeing to exclusive electronic rights for two years, which is the approximate lifepsan of a mosquito fish. Just in case you were wondering.

9. While attending a writing course in London, after work, the tutor snootily asked me to define my work for the benefit of him and the class. I explained that the essence of the novel (see, I can do snooty, too) was that the plot mattered more than the individual characters. 
"Ah, he nodded sagely, you've obviously read a great deal of Chekhov." 
"No," I replied, "but I've watched all his appearances in Star Trek." Phasers on pun.

10. Admitting all the above in a blog post.

* Bearded, in my case, today. 

Difficult Second Album Syndrome

So, regular readers of this blog will know that last year I published a book, Dark Dates. It wasn’t a good fit for my previous publisher and I struggled to find an agent, so I thought, sod it, I’ll publish myself, and see what people say. Self-publishing has been a steep learning curve: it’s way more work than you imagine going in (although I’ve also found it more rewarding than I could have imagined) but the problem with publishing something yourself is you haven’t gone through the quality control procedure of agent-publisher-editor: there’s constantly the nagging worry in the back of your mind, the little voice saying, ‘c’mon, if this was really any good someone would publish it for you’.

Some bloggers were really kind...

So when the reviews start coming in, you pay more attention than is healthy to what people say. I’ve been very lucky with Dark Dates – the reaction has been almost overwhelmingly positive. Of course, I’d like more people to have read it (it’s still incredibly difficult to get coverage for an indie book) but those who have, have tended to love it. I’ve been blown away by the feedback I’ve got – just this week I got another rave review from Indies R Us and was selected as Book of the Month at the TBR Pile, and I also made a couple of bloggers’ ‘Top 10 of 2012’ lists. It was exciting, and thrilling, and exactly what I wanted – the fact that people actually talked about my characters, had opinions about them, cared about them: this was the very thing I got into writing for.
See? Actual nice quote by person I don't know

Then I had to write the sequel, and suddenly The Fear struck. What if it sucked? Lots of people said the first book was funny: the second book was darker, but I thought it still had a nice streak of humour in it – but what if it wasn’t enough? I found myself scouring the text to see if I could put in jokes (I didn’t, in the end, because I find that kind of writing tiresome, but Lord, the temptation was there). There’s more sex in this one: is it too sexy? Will people still like the characters? Will they feel let down? Suddenly all I could see in my head was a stream of reviews from people saying how disappointed they were – and the fact that I connect with a load of bloggers via social media means I’d be unable to hide from their scorn. Maybe I should just leave Dark Dates alone, treat it as a success and then move onto something completely different? It’s ridiculous given that my readers probably only number into the hundreds that I was working myself into such a state – how do properly famous writers do it? No wonder George RR Martin always seems a bit grumpy.
Fingers crossed...

In the end, of course, it boiled down to what it always does: having faith in the writing. When it comes down to it, I love these characters, and I’d write about them even if I was the only one who got to read the stories. They’re under my skin now and they aren’t going anywhere.

I sent the book, Wolf Night, to my beta readers who all came back with great feedback – but, importantly, also with comments on what didn’t work, and what needed to be made better (it’s good to have cheerleaders, but you also need people to be honest, especially when you don’t have the safety net of an agent or editor).

And so, after a lot of agonising, the book is out there. I’m trying to tell myself not to read reviews this time around (I can still quote the bad ones from Dark Dates) but I suspect I’ll fall at the first hurdle on that one – it really does matter to me that people like it, and don’t feel I’ve let them down. But I know it’s the best I could make it, and I know I’ve been true to the characters – and that’s all I can do, I guess. Anyway, I’m off to write the sequel now…
You can follow Dark Dates at

Celebrate Reading - by Peppa Piddleton

Books can be used for a variety of different things. You can place them in your bookcase in your house to brighten up the shelves, or if you are clever, you might want to read them. A row of books can make your home more appealing and perhaps add value to it - if Kirsty and Phil call round unannounced they will undoubtedly be impressed. If you are having visitors you may want to carefully arrange the books according to the colour of their jackets. For example you may want to place a pink one beside a pastel green one or a blue one beside a black one. If you are feeling more adventurous with your colour co-ordination skills, you may like to place a red book beside an orange book. You may also want to complete the overall appearance of the bookshelf by placing a few scented sachets on it.

More importantly, since you've bought the books with your hard earned cash, you may also want to read them. To do this you simply open the book gently with your hands and scan the words with your eyes and this will create a story in your mind. You can either read quietly or read aloud depending on who is in the vicinity and whether or not they wish to hear your voice. Remember to turn the page once you've finished the previous one.

Books can be read anywhere - in the comforts of your own home or while waiting for the train. You can also sit on the grass in the park with a book enjoying the sun which comes out in the summertime. Don't forget to pack a picnic rug. You can also enjoy reading a book in a coffee shop, but do remember to keep sipping your coffee before it goes cold. Books are fun to read and they come in many shapes and sizes. You can pick whatever size fits your hands best. They can also be found in public libraries which house a great number of books for people to borrow, read and enjoy. Of course, if you borrow a book from a library, you must always remember to bring it back before the agreed date.

If you manage to finish the book you may want to talk about it. To do this you simply invite a group of people round. They can sit on comfortable seats in your living room or lounge. A little tip is to offer them a drink when they arrive as they could be thirsty. The drinks can be served in glasses with ice or alternatively without ice. You may also want to serve some low fat nibbles such as twiglets to accompany the drinks. Once everyone has arrived you can start the discussion. You may want to talk about how pretty the cover is or how useful the book is to use as a base for a candle. You may also want to talk about what's inside the book. You can think about the characters and whether or not they made you laugh or you can decide which of the chapters you like best.

Books are also useful for a last minute present. A good tip is to colour co-ordinate the jacket with the wrapping paper. To wrap the book simply place it on top of the paper and fold up the edges carefully. You will need to have sticky tape and scissors ready. Once you have it wrapped you can tie a fancy bow around it and make it pretty.

I hope you enjoyed my quick guide to books. Whether you use them as ornaments to add value to your home or if you genuinely enjoy reading you can read more handy tips in my book Celebrate Reading.


Peppa Piddleton xx