Is it working?   6 comments

Although I haven’t got an easy timescale indicator to hand, I’d guess that it’s the last four months which I’d describe as ‘not the best in crosswordland for me’.

Making the decision to have crosswords as my main source of income wasn’t easy, but there was a stage a couple of years ago when new contracts – while not exactly arriving in swathes – were arriving with enough regularity to make me confident enough to take the plunge. It was a risk, because for it to work I had to turn some of those occasional contracts into something more frequent. But that presented a dilemma; to satisfy (potential) weekly spots I’d have to give the setting process my full-time attention and you can’t do that if your brain is knackered thanks to a long day in some office.

By now I should be setting for at least four quality dailies with a weekly spot on one and fortnightly in the others, supplemented by a modest number of weekly non-cryptic puzzles.

It hasn’t happened. The Independent is my most frequent spot – generally fortnightly – but the FT is once every couple of months, the Times even rarer, and despite the often impassioned pleas of solvers who insist (via the various blogs) that I should have regular spots on the Telegraph and Guardian I just can’t get onto those setting teams, and not for want of trying. Some time ago the Telegraph looked like a realistic prospect but somehow it just died, and I’ve yet to receive any sort of response from the Guardian.

The four ‘not the best’ months are so described because over that period there were three solid-looking offers that should have filled me with confidence and been a real financial fillip. All were weekly newspaper opportunities; a Saturday magazine’s general knowledge puzzle (offered exclusively to me by its existing setter; the editor went for someone else), the weekly prize puzzle in ‘i’ (Independent – offered to me but the newspaper editor decided to use crosswords from old stock) and a Codeword puzzle to replace something else in a Sunday newspaper (originally offered to me but it finally went to someone else). These three would have boosted the income by over £200 a week; not a huge amount, but very significant when it’s added to ‘not enough’.

So it’s decision time. Am I going to jack it all in and resign myself to just getting a 9-to-5 somewhere? There have been mornings when I’ve felt like doing exactly that, and my attempts at setting over the past three or four weeks have been really, really poor – although I’m not absolutely sure whether this is cause or symptom. Whatever, I’m in the middle of not finding much enthusiasm and perhaps the best thing is to do is just wait and see if it passes.

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Posted February 9, 2011 by Anax in Uncategorized

6 responses to “Is it working?

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  1. Keep at it, Anax, and she’ll come right in the end. The only crucial question is “Am I good enough?” and in your case the answer is yes.
    In which case, keep on marketing.. in this internet age, maybe you just haven’t tried enough countries yet? Is there any English language periodical or journal you haven’t approached yet?

  2. Oh lummie. You have a tremendous talent Anax and it must be so frustrating to get the knock-backs. Given the Indie’s taste for themes and Ninas I would have thought a more regular spot there would be the most likely path forward but I would have equally thought the Times and FT would be up for more. I really enjoy your work… although I have to ‘cheat’ quite a bit to get most of the answers I feel it is well worth the effort.

    My impression is that editors are a very conservative bunch, and so my hunch (only a hunch!) is that you’d somehow need to meet their needs better. How well do you know what the editors are looking for, and what they see as your strengths and weaknesses in terms of your appeal to solvers? Is there something you could adjust perhaps to make your puzzles appeal to a wider section of the audience?

  3. The knock-backs on the cryptic side aren’t too bad. Cryptic setting is mentally exhausting and often frustrating, and committing myself to 3 (or even 2) a week could be dangerous. For the record, though, those who have been most eager to see me on Telegraph/Guardian are those who enjoy my puzzles exactly as they are – and in any case I doubt I could become effectively a different setter for different outlets.
    No, the disappointment has been these ostensibly walk-in non-cryptic contracts which should have given me the breathing space to see cryptics as something I can relax with. Seeing all three snatched away has been very disheartening.

  4. Don’t really know what to say now, you’re one of the finest setters at the Indy (and that’s saying something). Quite why the Guardian isn’t interested I don’t know unless you’ve done something to upset its crossword editor. Perhaps they see your clever well produced clues as too difficult for their readers. Their loss, you dumbing down would be a shame but I understand they have their own target audience.

    I do hope you don’t give up – your submissions are always a challenging joy to solve. Good luck getting more work, I’ve had enough periods without payment myself recently and it’s not fun.

  5. Wow! Did not expect that as fine and admired a setter as you would feel the doldrums. I have seen Tim Moorey and several setters publish books on setting – is that something you have explored, even if it can be coauthored with someone that has been a heavyweight for decades – a Roger Squires for example? It is a crowded field I am sure, but you do have unique skills and can bring an interesting perspective. Also, I don’t know how effective other things are, but I see setters engaging in other xwd activities like organizing learning sessions etc. – do they appeal to you or is it even worth the effort?

    At the end of the day I guess you will have to ask yourself if since the time you decided to do crosswords 100% of your time, if there’s been a big jump in overall quality of clues / satisfaction with the clues and general happiness? If yes, then I guess if you can wait and see, it will be worth it. If the answer is more like not really, then you may have a real tough decision to make..Whatever happens, I sure hope that we will see your puzzles regularly.

  6. Where is the justice when the Telegraph continue to use setters who don’t seem to know what a Toughie should be and ignore talents like yours.

    You can console yourself with the fact that the three best Crossword editors around are the ones that recognise your talent and use your services.

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