Charity Trustees

Thanet Creative writers are soon to become a charity. As part of that transition, we will be appointing trustees.

Trustees are an important part of a charity. A good selection of trustees can make a huge difference. A good board can help turbo charge the effectiveness of a charity.

According to reachskills.org.uk:

At its heart, being a trustee puts you at the centre of the action for the organisation you are involved in. The more effective the board of trustees, the greater difference you and your organisation will make.

If you feel like reading some more Ian Joseph from Trustees Unlimited offers advice on the questions trustees must ask to ensure they are fully aware of what they are getting into.

How much time will it take?

The amount of time it takes being a trustee differs from one charity to another. For Thanet Creative Writers you will probably be looking at a few hours a month, usually on one evening.

What are my responsibilities?

The trustees act on behalf of the chairty. In the case of Thanet Creative Writers the board literally reprisents the interests of all the members. In practice though, your repsonsibilities may be limited to asking the difficult questions and voting fairly.

Some trustees may be asked to hold items or money in trust (thus the name) as the charity will not be able to own them itself. Again, in practice this is not likely to make much difference to you as we will be setting up a seperate group bank account when and if we have a surplus of spare cash.

Chairty Commision Trustee guide has more details.

One more thing – It is you duty to speak up if you disagree. If you disagree with a decission the board makes then you need to go on record as objecting. If you are in the meeting it can be as simple as saying I’d like to go on the record as disagreeing.

It might seem quite minor, but it can be very improtant that the records ofthe charity reflect if a choice was unanimouse or if there were other ideas.

However, most boards try to reach full agreement on issues, if they possibly can.

Who can be a trustee?

Pretty much anyone can be a trustee. Unless you are bankrupt or were recently found guilty of fraud.

For Thanet Creative Writers, you need to be a member which means applying to become a member or being there on Thursday as we transition into a charity – in which case you are automatically a member. You can read more here

Take a look at the TCW Tustee Nomination Form if you would like to stand for election as a trustee. But be quick the forms need to be returned by the end of Wednesday.

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Why TCW are becoming a charity

red and black pens

In February 2017 Thanet Creative Writers will be transitioning to a charity. For most people, this change means business as usual but there are some features of us being a charity that might make a big difference.

In this (rather long) article I will try to break down exactly what it means to be a charity, what you can get out of us being a charity and how to get the most out of this change.

Charities are important

Charities are an important part of our country. They exist for the public good. In fact, it is impossible to be a charity if you cannot prove that you exist for the public good.

What is a charity?

A charity is an organisation that operates for the benefit of others. Specifically, a charity must be:

  1. Not be for profit
  2. Have exclusively charitable purposes
  3. Operate for the public benefit

Thanet Creative Writers (TCW) runs for the benefit of writers in Thanet and not, in any way, to make a profit. Our hope is to make Thanet (and by extension, the world) a better place by encouraging people to embrace this satisfying and worthwhile pastime. If some of our writers can go on to make a living from their work then this is even better.

Integrity and Credibility

It is generally seen as easier to raise funds from the public at large for a charity rather than a small independent group. This due to the positive image of integrity and credibility charitable status presents.

Help and guidance is available to charities from the Charity Commission. This, in itself, should provide the public with reassurance and help to show that we are sincere in our desire to further the interest of Thanet’s writers.

Furthermore, the model of charity that we have chosen, with elected trustees and open accounting, should help to foster transparency and show that we are an honest and reputable collective.

If course, just being a charity does not automatically mean any of that yet it is the right foundation to build an honest and open community for the betterment of writers in Thanet.

Governing Document

Charities are defined by their Governing Document. This is a technical and legal statement that says what the charity is, what it will do, and the bylaws under which it will operate. The website charityexpert.net has a more detailed explanation.

The Governing Document provides a clear set of rules that describes how the organisation will behave. Thanet Creative Writers has, so far, run on the rules of discussion and common sense. That is fine for a small group but as we grow so our structure needs to grow with us.

The attempt by a few members to take over and control the group, last year, demonstrates that without some set of guidelines eventually there will be chaos and anarchy. While a bit of personal chaos can be good for the creative mind, generally it is preferable to have a degree of order within a community organisation. If for no other reason than so that we all know where we stand with each other.

Our Governing Document is a fairly standard one. It describes what we want to do and how we will go about doing it. It describes how we will elect our trustees and what we will do if there is a disagreement. I see this as an important safety net to have in place before we try and start any further ambitious projects.

I see it as a personal failure that I saw the danger and did not push soon enough or hard enough for us to establish ourselves in a more formal setting. Our Governing Document has been crafted to rectify this shortcoming while being as light, informal, and flexible as possible.

The final draft of our proposed Governing Document is available in our Facebook group as a file. Click here to see it.

Funding Benefits

Currently, any expenses that Thanet Creative Writers’ projects might incur have to be paid for by whoever is running things. That hardly seems fair nor is it particularly scalable.

Certain sources of funding, particularly grants, are open only to organisations with charitable status.This includes “Gift Aid relief” on donations from individuals. This is of direct benefit to the writers and events that we support as we will be able to access or provide funding to help get things paid for.

Additionally, we may be exempt from VAT in some cases. This should make some things less expensive by a significant amount. That’s good because it means that we can do more for you with less money.

Read more on the benefits of becoming a charity.

Being a Charity Member

Charity members get to vote in our elections and may stand for trustee rolls. Members also get the most benefit from our charitable activities in terms of support.

You do not need to be a member to come to our events. That said, we feel it would be a great idea to think about being a member.

Benefits of membership include:

  • Priority registration to events with limited places
  • The right to vote in our elections
  • Access to all our events even those not open to the public
  • The right to have any relevant event you might run listed as an official TCW event
  • Access to any local discounts that we might negotiate

On that last point, discounts, this is an aspiration for us at present but should we realise this goal it would be for members only.

To become a member you need only make a donation of at least one whole pound each year. As members have a lot of power over the charity, full membership (where all the benefits are) has a short vetting process. You need to either be at the signing of the Governing Document on the 2nd of February, added by a trustee later, or sponsored by an existing member. While we are small and it is possible to know all members by name, that vetting process is likely to take a few seconds at most.

The benefits and requirements of membership are explained on the Thanet Creative writers: charity project page.

Being a Trustee

A charity cannot run without trustees. The trustees are elected each AGM and serve to carry out the business end of the charities aims and objectives. To become a trustee you must first become a member.

Being a trustee can be a hugely rewarding experience, especially when you see the difference that the charity is making. Also, and this never hurts, having spent time as a trustee looks great on your CV especially if you were able to help achieve something notable during your time as a trustee.

It should go without saying, but a trustee cannot be paid for the role. That may be a touch simplistic as there are conditions under which trustees can be paid for professional services but the charities commission will require a full and detailed explanation and justification. Sufficed to say, trusteeship is voluntary.

Read more (from the BBC) about the value of becoming a trustee.

Projects we already run

We already run a number of small projects. The most prominent are:

There are a lot more Thanet Creative Writers projects if you would like to read about them.

What being a charity means to our current projects

If you enjoy coming to Thanet Creative Writers: Tea and Chat or other events that we run then I have some good news. The change to charity means no change at all for you in terms of the events themselves. Tea and chat will continue as it always has.

However, it does mean that there may be money available in the future to run bigger and better events. It also means that if there is a problem there will be appointed and recognised people operating inside a fair and impartial framework that you can go to who will take care of the problem and help you get back to doing what you love – writing.

It also means that if you want to create something new then there is a framework within which we will be happy to help you make that something. It should be safe to invest time or money into a project know that there are safeguards in place which will keep things on track.

Finally, it also means that no new project should overwhelm existing ones. Should TCW launch a website, conference, or even a festival, then your current meetings and groups will not be overrun with talk of projects that you might not be interested in right now.

In short, becoming a charity means doing things the right way from the start.

Projects and event we would like to set up

Our members have a lot of idea of things that they would like for us to be doing. We have spoken over the years of setting up a literary festival, of running writers’ social events, of setting up a weekly poetry event for new poets, and of running training and presentation evenings. In addition to that, we would like to produce an anthology publication to showcase the best work of those that come to our events.

If we cannot do all that we would, at least, like to inspire others to do some of these things.

While we are doing that we would also love to support the many different writer oriented events and groups that exist in Thanet. We would like to help others who have innovative ideas for new events and groups to realise those ideas.

Becoming a charity, with the funding that this would allow us to access and the yearly donations of our members should allow us to make some of these dreams a reality.

Booking Specialist Speakers

How awesome would it be if we could get top writers like Niel Gaiman, J. K. Rowling, or Steven King to come and speak to us budding writers for an hour or two?

Who do you think they would be more willing to come and talk to – some local writers’ group or a legitimate charity with the funds to cover their expenses?

Becoming more

When I founded Thanet Creative Writers my only thought was that it would be cool to hang out with other writers. Things have grown since then and this change to a charity is in many ways simply a natural part of that growth. Thanet Creative Writers long ago stopped being about me and became about us instead. We are writers and we want to help other writers.

Things like dyslexia, dyspraxia, youth, age, career (or lack thereof) should not be things that stand between you and enjoying writing. If we can help remove those barriers, then this is a good thing that we want to do.

If you would like to be part of establishing Thanet Creative Writers as a charity then please come along to our launch.

Thanet Creative Writers’ Charity Launch event

Setting up your author platform

Nothing else will sell your book to an agent or publisher like the idea that you have already set up the marketing and they simply need to cash in on it.

When we talked about getting a good agent and took a look at the advice out there, one of the top points was building a platform. That means gathering prospective enthusiastic readers who would buy your book if it came out today.

A strong platform is like catnip to agents and publishers. It means ready success and, more importantly for everyone, profits.

Creating an author platform is no small task. However, long before your book is ready, there are some foundations you could be putting into place.

In a single post, I could not possibly cover even half of the basics so this is going to be a very broad strokes picture. I will go into more detail on specifics in the future and the chances are that sooner or later I will run a seminar or two on the subject.

So you do not miss out I suggest that you follow or bookmark this blog and like the Thanet Creative Writers page so that you get those updates as soon as they come out.

Building an author platform

This is perhaps the most important single nugget of advice that I can give you – start with something that you completely control.

Facebook, Twitter and all that are great but at the end of the day they are owned by someone else. If you spend all your effort building a platform in someone else’s sandbox and, one day, they close up shop then you have nothing.

There are two things you can control. One on-line and one off-line. Both have legal and security considerations and can carry a small cost but they are worth doing and doing right.

Building an online platform

An online platform should be founded on a website. From here you are going to build a presence as an author. I suggest a setup that allows people to subscribe and allows you to make regular updates.

Those updates are very important. Without them, your site will appear dead and your support will become stale and useless in a matter of months. A great example to follow is Neil Gaiman a popular author who maintains a very open dialogue with his fans.

As part of this site, you are going to need a unique domain name. such as, for example, amazingauthorbob.com (or whatever). I can help with that.

This website should be on hosting that you can directly control. Even if you don’t really understand the ins and outs of it all you, personally, should have access to the files and the database that make up the website.

Hosting is going to set you back a few quid a month. Best value comes from a Linux based hosting deal which offers FTP access, PHP and some sort of database (MySQL for preference). These technologies are likely to cost your host nothing at all so the price of your package will be low. Furthermore, you will be able to run a CMS (content management system) or blog platform (such as WordPress, Joomla, or WebGUI).

Before picking a platform, decide what you want to do with it and then select a platform that does those things really well. You can take a huge number of open source (free) solutions) for a spin at opensourcecms.com. Best of all most of these packages are entirely free if you host them yourself.

If you are not a technical person and find the thought of setting up your own website horrific, it may pay to hire a local geek to do that for you. The chances are, these days, that the average teenager could set that up for you with their eyes closed. Alternatively, some hosting packages come with the option to press a button and have the setup done for you.

The reason for suggesting a CMS or blogging system is that the interface for putting up content is a whole lot friendlier than doing it with raw HTML and CSS files. What’s more, you are in control of the content. Being in control of your own content means that you are free to work on things whenever you have time, rather than waiting for some busy designer to get back to you.

Using an online platform

Now that you have a website with a domain name of your own, you have something that you can put on business cards. Not only that but if you set things up right you also have a custom email address with that domain name in it. Custom email addresses look more professional and inspire trust.

I am sorry to say but from the moment that you launch this platform you are committing to putting out something fresh at least once a week.

Make friends a with a cheap digital camera as photos bring content to life.

If you are part of a local writer’s group, you might consider promoting them. This shows that you are active as a writer and also is reasonably pretty likely to result in reciprocal promotion down the line.

There is one more thing that you need to set up and promote on your site – a contact form. With this you will make connections with possible fans and, assuming you get permission, you will start to build your list.

Building an offline platform

Offline, your best platform is your author’s address book. In marketing terms, we call this your “list”. It is a list of people that you have permission to contact. Ideally, people that will be pleased to hear from you.

As a safety measure do not store this list only in your web hosting. If anything goes wrong with the hosting, you want to keep hold of the list.

I could write from now up to the end of the year about list building, about ways to get people to subscribe to your mailing list, of getting people to sign up for newsletters. Of all that. What it boils down to is networking your behind off.

When you have a book signing, after you are published. Being able to email local fans and get them there will impress the publisher (and your agent) and also get you a lot of credit with local bookshop owners who will be very pleased to have you back next time.

Extending your platform into social media

Now you have the foundations in place, it is time to look at social media. A well established social media outpost represents you, as an author, in the social space but also serves to point people back to your site (home).

Social media users are not at all tolerant of spam – spam in this instance is posting the same thing more than once and also posting very similar things. Mix it up and keep it interesting. Share pictures (use that camera I suggested) as well as links to your new content on-site.

Each site has different amounts of effort required to make it work. Twitter, for example, is somewhat over-posting tolerant and is highly forgiving if you take random days off. Facebook (pages), on the other hand, are extremely intolerant of over posting and goes stale if more than 24 hours are left between updates. Choose what works for you.

Ideally, you are looking to start, not with big numbers, but quality fans or followers. Quality here means: Reacts to and interacts with you.

Try to connect with communities that are interested in the type of book you are finishing.

Conclusion

I could easily write a book about each area that I just covered. There is just so much that could be said. The most important is that building a good platform will make your work easier to get published.

On a side note, you are already doing a lot of free work “for the exposure” so don’t let anyone take advantage of the fact that you are just starting out. Big operations and small will often try to get you to work for nothing more than a link home. You are a professional writer – or will be once published – professionals get paid or at least make an even trade.

Finally, do not let all this distract you from actually writing but try to make a little time to build a valuable platform. You will be glad that you did.

What tips would you add?

Do you have an author website – tell us about it?

Do you promote on social media? Which sites worked best for you?

Thanet’s Writers’ Groups: Early 2017 Summary

pens in a row

Last year we posted a list of writer groups that take place in Thanet. Thanks to the wonderful feedback from readers we have been able to expand on that list.

Like our 2016 list, this is every writers’ group we could find. Some cost money but most are free, some are selective about who can come, some are open to the public, and some only meet sometimes. No matter what your level of writing or the distance you can travel there is bound to be a group that is a good fit for your needs.

Thanet’s Writers’ and Poets’ Groups

Ageless Thanet has activities free for people 50+ who live in CT9, CT11, and CT12. They include Creative Writing, Life Writing, and a Film Project. For more information about any of the activities please call 01843 601550

Arts in Ramsgate run writing classes priced at £7.50. Facilitators for this are Karen Bellamy and author Katerina Dimond. They meet in Harbour Street Ramsgate. You should book in advance. More details about the event. (A big thanks to Thanet Poetry Posse for some solid fact-finding there).

Broadstairs Writers’ Circle meet on the first and third Monday of the month (except August) at the Brown Jug Inn; 7.30pm to 9.30pm.

Dead Island Poets. We know they meet in pubs around Thanet for open mic poetry nights and are run by a lady called Penny. As I still couldn’t find a page to link to your best bet is to follow the Thanet Creative Writers group were Dead Island Poets events tend to get shared. Next meeting is at the end of the month.

Hilderstone Writers’ Circle is, as far as we can tell, run by Maggie Solley at Hilderstone Adult Education College, Margate. I don’t have any further details but the contact number is 01843 860860.

Isle Writers gather 2.00pm – 4.00pm on the third Wednesday of each month (except December) at Broadstairs Library.

Inspirations hold their meetings between 11am and 1pm at Westgate Library on the fourth Saturday of each month (except December).

TCW: Poetry is an as yet unnamed poetry group that Thanet Creative Writers are looking to establish. The focus is will be on helping new poets find their voice.

Thanet Creative Writers hold a number of events throughout the year. Matt hosts a weekly writers’ gathering at his home each Tuesday at 7:30pm (address at the bottom of most pages on this site) called Writers’ Tea and Chat. The group has no fixed agenda and is there for whatever writers feel they need to talk about. This tends to be review and feedback but not always.

Thanet Poetry Posse are an online only group where people share Thanet poetry related things.

Thanet Writers (a group founded by, but no longer affiliated with, Thanet Creative Writers) meet every Thursday at about 8pm at the Chapel to critique work and discuss the running of their website.

Third Thursday Writers’ is run by Peggy Rogers and is a University of the Third Age (U3A) group. There is a waiting list to join in so you’ll need to make contact in advance.

Writers’ Circle is run by Maria Brown and is a University of the Third Age (U3A) group. You should probably use the contact form to find out more information.

Writers Unleashed meet in the Ravensgate Arms, King Street, Ramsgate at 8pm on the second Monday of the month. The group is aimed at writers of Poetry, Prose, Flash Fiction, and Song to read or perform or listen to others.

I’ve tried my best to get as much useful information here so you can find a writers group that suits you. Things change and the details were as reasonably accurate as the sources I was able to look them up on when I wrote this list.

Over to you

  • Have I missed any writers’ groups out? Then tell me in the comments.
  • Do you go to a writers’ group? What’s it like?
  • Anything else? You know where the comments are.

What this version of Careless Whisper can teach about telling stories

This is Careless Whisper on an acoustic guitar and it sounds amazing.

What has this got to do with writing? More than you might think.

It is often tempting to think that in order to “make it” as a writer we have to come up with entirely original stories, fresh settings, new and different characters and do something that no one has ever thought of before.

However, as demonstrated by the video above, taking a classic and putting it into a new setting can make something entirely great and unique to you.

  • Take Firefly as an example. The old done-to-death cowboy story but set on a spaceship. One of the greatest TV series that ended too soon (in my opinion).
  • What about A.I.: Artificial Intelligence? A.I. is pretty much an update of The Adventures of Pinocchio but set in a post-apocalyptic North America.
  • Edward Scissorhands is just Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein set in 1960s suburbia.
  • The Lion King, songs aside, is more or less William Shakespeare’s Hamlet told in the form of an animal fable.
  • The 1996 film, Independence Day is near enough a reworking of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds with a more modern setting. In both cases, a virus saves the day.

This is something you can do too. Take a classic, strip it down to the themes and narrative mechanics and rebuild it in a new setting.

Don’t copy; reinvent.

For example, what if you took Cinderella’s story – just the core elements – and set the whole thing aboard a pirate ship? Or recycled it in space? Or made it a young boy’s coming of age story set in the 1960s?

For example, what if you took the biblical parable of The Good Samaritan and respun it to tell the story of a white supremacist saved by a Caribbean man and the friendship that followed? You would have the platform to explore what it means to be a good neighbour as well as tell a very compelling story.

Reframing a classic is a time honoured tradition. Here is a list of reframed classics. Here is another list.

Why not try it for yourself? Find a much loved old classic and let it inspire you to tell a whole new story.

Here’s a geeky TV show theme tune on an acoustic guitar to show you anything can be reinterpreted into any setting and, with a little (or a lot) of skill, be amazing.

If you want to hear more amazing acoustic covers the guy in both these videos has a channel full of great tracks like this. Check it out.

Getting a good literary agent

Getting published is not easy. Getting a literary agent helps but getting an agent is no small task.

For example, 5 Easy Ways to Keep Your Work from Ending Up in an Agent’s Trash” by Bethany Cadman (author of Doctor Vanilla’s Sunflowers) lists not following the submission guidelines, poor spelling, and bad query letters among the reasons writers get rejected.

Assuming that you avoid the common mistakes here is a selection of advice from writers about getting a good literary agent.

Forbes contributor Nick Morgan, writes Here’s How To Catch The Eye Of A Literary Agent. One of the key points here is that it pays to build your platform. We are going to look at building a platform another time because it is a truly huge topic. I have spent my entire life learning methods you can use and even I feel like I am still something of a novice sometimes.

When it comes to platform, the basic advice is this – build a collection of followers who will be delighted to hear from you and would very likely buy your book when then do. As I said, more on that another time.

A sad but true fact is that Science fiction, a genre close to my heart, has suffered from more than its fair share of fraudulent scammers (pretending to be agents) over the years. Science Fiction Writers of America has a solid article helping you to find a real agent and identify scammers (hint: a real agent does not ask for upfront fees). Read it here even if your genre is something else entirely.

Jane Friedman has compiled a fantastic in-depth look at how to get published and specifically what you need to do to get a good literary agent. How to Find a Literary Agent for Your Book looks at how to assess your work’s commercial potential, how to decide if you even need an agent, and how to research agents. There is so much more in there, just go read it.

Writers & Artists have a huge selection of articles about getting an agent including advice for first-time writers, getting your foot in the door, and why you should beware of vanity publishers.

Piers Blofeld, a literary agent, tells you how to get an agent in the video below.

One of the most important things that Piers Blofeld says that you need is a cover letter. You’d know this if you had not skipped the video (in which case you are missing out scroll back up and watch it now). Below, agents talk about the best, or at least most striking, cover letters that they ever got.

I hope that when you are ready to seek out a literary agent for your new masterpiece that this guide will help you find success.

Have you been published? Did you self-publish, go directly to the publisher, or did you use an agent? What advice would you add?

The muse is strong with this one

Sometimes a simple conversation can spark a the most profound ideas. As writers, when the muse comes calling it is a rare and beautiful thing. However when we are already working hard on something it is easy to ignore our muse.

I have always held that when inspiration strikes – when Lady Muse graces us – we writers should run with it while we have the chance.

For me, this happened just recently. I was talking with Sam, one of the writers that comes to the creative writer’s group that I host and I said something like:

When the muse is with you, make the most of her.

To which Sam replied that I should put that on a t-shirt. The muse was strong with us in that moment and I did just that.

May the muse be with you

I also put it on a mug along with:

May the muse be with you

Mainly because I am a total geek, like that.

In fact there is a whole shop being set up with these designs.

Now you can buy a t-shirt with that advice on it. Profits will go to the Thanet Creative Writers Charity to help fund things for writers in Thanet.

When the muse is with you...

Are you a Plotter or a Pantser?

Some writers like to plan while others prefer to just make it all up as they go along. There is no “right” way to write – whatever helps you tell your story.

Those that like to discover the story as they write it are sometimes called discovery writers or in more common parlance, pantsers (because they fly by the seat of their pants). While the polar opposite of a pantser is the plotter who like to know what story they are telling before they start.

Me, I do a little of both.

What about you?

Image credit: Story plotting by Jem Yoshioka, on Flickr.

Perfect or good enough

Who is this guy?

We’ve talked before about imposter syndrome. It’s one of the things that can hold you back as a writer – the feeling that you are faking it somehow. Similar, but not quite the same, is the drive to be perfect. There’s probably a fair amount of overlap.

One of the things I have been wrestling with lately is the balance between driving towards perfection and realising that “good enough” is a far better start than no start at all.

It is quite unlikely that anyone will create a perfect first draft and I know I would benefit from reminding myself that just getting a first draft written – even if it is terrible – is a huge achievement.

I’ve blogged about that just recently.

Read: What’s so great about perfection, anyway?

Do you let perfection stand in the way of getting started? I know I do sometimes. Tell us about it in the comments below.

What do you like to write?

We are all different. We all write our own stories but even so our stories tend to be of one type or another. Tell us about yours.

Please feel free to expand on your answer in the comments. Tell us about your work.