In 1992, I was a UK betting shop manager and aspiring travel writer. With more experience in odds than words, I journeyed to the local library for knowledge. Fully educated in query letters, contracts, copyright and the prospect of rejection, I joined the local writer’s group. It was run by novelist Elizabeth Lord who was very supportive and offered helpful criticism. Not everyone was so positive. My husband (now ex) derided the prospect of me being a writer. Undaunted I posted five query letters. My husband found it highly amusing when two rejections arrived. ‘I told you so’ he laughed. Then three commissions came and promptly wiped the smirk from his face.
My first travel feature was published in Cat World in March 1994. It didn’t pay a huge amount but it helped to get more work. With a growing collection of published features, I wrote a proposal for a travel book about Belgium. Moorland Publishing accepted it. I quit my job to concentrate on writing. Unfortunately the publisher went bust just before publication. It was a disaster. I’d been so busy with the book that I’d stopped writing features. Frantically I tried to get some commissions. One of my main sources of income, a travel magazine, had just had a change of editor. He planned to radically change the magazine and promptly ditched all the freelance writers. This taught me the vital lesson that it is important to have a variety of projects on the go. To earn extra money I started teaching an evening course in feature writing at the local adult education college. The course was hugely popular and I was soon teaching to three groups of aspiring writers.
Following my own advice to write about what you know, I decided to write about gambling. In addition to being a betting shop manager, I had also worked as a croupier for London’s top casinos. My experience meant I was privy to inside information about gambling so I came up with the idea of a book to share this knowledge. I had a tough time getting it accepted. Around 50 publishers turned it down.
Hodder & Stoughton Educational finally commissioned the idea. In 1995 my first book, Teach Yourself Successful Gambling, was published. The book proved to be a big boost for my career. Publishers started contacting me with ideas and projects. A year later a further four books were commissioned. Ten years into my writing career, I’ve just completed my ninth gambling book. Next year I will be working as a consultant on a book about Belgium so the hard work on my first travel book was worthwhile.
My advice to freelance writers is to write for as many markets as possible. As you become more successful you can be choosy. An effective way of getting repeat business from editors is to always submit your work before the deadline. Don’t worry about rejections either. One of many rejections I received was a two-page essay from a publisher, claiming to be an ‘expert in these matters’, telling me that gambling books do not sell. Thankfully I ignored his advice.
Belinda Levez is author of eight gambling books including: Teach Yourself How to Win at Horse Racing New Edition (Hodder & Stoughton Educational 2001), Teach Yourself How to Win at Poker, New Edition (Hodder & Stoughton Educational 2001), and The Casino Handbook (New Holland Publishers 2001). She is also editor of several websites including How to Win and Casinonet .