Monday, 30 November 2009

Sally's new competition calendar

For those of you who like entering writing competitions, check out Sally Q's new competition calendar, here. Hundreds of competitions listed by closing date. Invaluable resource for writers, bookmark it NOW!

Monday, 23 November 2009

Get your name in print!

And raise money for an excellent charity at the same time. Here, novelist Kate Long is auctioning the chance to name a character in her forthcoming novel. What a fantastic idea, and a great cause! If you can't afford to bid please do pass this message on, or consider making a direct donation to Quintessentially Foundation.

I quite fancy reading about a character named Sleb Ritty. So to save poor Kate the challenge of working him into her novel (he's a journalist with no sense of morals or ethics, writes for the tabloids by the way), get over there and outbid me!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Woman's Weekly - more fiction specials

As of next year, Woman's Weekly are planning to publish ten fiction specials a year rather than eight. That's good news for us - they'll need to buy another fifty stories a year to fill the extra issues. Great to see one fiction market increasing! And it's not that long since they increased from six to eight a year. Proves good fiction is really popular!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Discussion time

One reader of this blog left the following questions under a recent post, and I thought it might be worth having an open discussion about these points, so I've copied her comment here:

What are your views about the length of time taken by mags to respond? Not that one can do anything about it except stop sending. Six months seems unfair and unreasonable. So does the delay in payments once accepted. How would editorial staff like to wait months for their salaries?

Six months is a long time to wait for a response. It's even longer to wait for a non-response (I particularly hate My Weekly's policy of not sending rejection notifications and just telling you to assume it's a rejection if no news for six months). To be fair, some magazines do respond much quicker than that.

And the delay in payments is irritating. You end up spending valuable writing time chasing payment. At the moment Take A Break seem a bit behind - I'm awaiting payment for one and have heard of other writers who are also owed for several stories.

So, come on, what do you all think? Let's have a rant and a moan. You never know who might be reading this. This blog allows anonymous coments so feel free to make full use of that facility!

Friday, 13 November 2009

Early work

I was updating my submissions spreadsheet yesterday and found myself scrolling back up to the top, and my beginnings as a writer back in 2003. I log all submissions on this spreadsheet, in date order. Hits get highlighted in bold so it's easy to see the fallow periods when lots were submitted but nothing sold.

It was interesting looking at the lists of old, unsold stories. Those I wrote in 2003, 2004, 2005 got sent out 3 or 4 time, and always came back. I had the occasional hit during these times - a fluke vaguely literary story got shortlisted in a few competitions; I had a few unpaying internet publications; and my one and only Woman's Weekly sale back in 2004 (anyone know who you have to sleep with to sell another??)

Then there are the good periods, with lots of bold-highlighted lines on the spreadsheet. Stories subbed March-May 2007 looks particularly good - 9 hits from that period. Mid-July to November that same year was terrible. Everything came back unloved and unwanted.

Those early endless rejections taught me perserverance. I could have given up, but I didn't - because I enjoyed writing and the few acceptances had given me such a buzz I had to do all I could to recapture that feeling (though nothing ever feels as good as the first sale!)

And all those unsold early stories? When I re-read them now I can see why they didn't sell. Stories which start ok then peter out with no real resolution. Stories full of cliches, adverbs and dialogue tags. Stories with too many characters. Experimental stories written in weird and wonderful formats. Stories which should really never have seen the light of day. I feel vaguely sorry for the magazine editors who had to read them. But I thank them too, for not black-listing me and for accepting some of my stories once I'd learned enough craft.

BUT - those stories were my apprenticeship. They earned their keep, because through writing them, editing them, subbing them and getting them back again I learnt what works and what doesn't. I learnt how to structure a story. How to balance description and dialogue. How to tighten a story, reducing it to just the right number of words, where every word counts and every word works. I got better at writing. I'm still learning.

And a few of those stories contain half-decent plots I can reuse. I've rewritten one (a complete rewrite, starting from scratch I mean, not an edit) and sold it. I think there are others which could be resurrected and used. (Here's one, the second story I ever wrote: unknown woman turns up at the door with a sob story about needing to take her son to a hospital appointment but no money for petrol and she won't be paid till Friday. Does your MC take her on trust and lend her money? Or not and live with the guilt the woman might be genuine? Feel free to use this if you like. We'd all write completely different stories from this starting place, and though they wouldn't all sell, the best ones might.)

Although I know of a few writers who sold the first story they ever submitted, most follow the kind of path I have. It's slow and sometimes tortuous. And once you begin to sell there's no guarantee you'll keep selling. I've just logged today's rejection from Take A Break, sob sob.

But the only certain thing in this game is, if you don't write you won't improve; if you don't submit you won't sell. Keep at it, keep smiling, and good luck!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Double down under!

I'm grinning ear to ear today, having sold two stories to That's Life Fast Fiction (Australia) for their Summer issue, out in December.

I've also heard of three other blogging pals who'll be in that issue. All four of us are in the Story-A-Fortnight group, and most of the stories bought by TL are from that group. Proof that getting together with other writers to motivate and encourage each other, as well as critting each others' stories, definitely works!

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Subbing under a pen name

A blog reader left a question on the Submissions Etiquette post asking about how to present submissions when using a pseudonym.

I realised I didn't know the answer, so I asked a woman who does - Sally Quilford (that's not her real name, but is the name she writes under. And she'll always be Sally to me!)

And here's her answer:

When I send out stories to magazines, I always add a cover sheet. I start with the title, word count and my pen-name, centred and in bold and about size 18 font, about five lines down the page, then put the address in ordinary size 12 font about another five lines down, but on the left, as so:

Title of Story

(word count 0000)


Pen Name

Real Name
(Writing as Pen Name)
My Street
My Town
phone number

That's always been enough for me when dealing with professional editors, who are used to dealing with pen-names.

Blogger won't format this quite as Sally sent it, but you get the idea. Thanks, Sally!

Friday, 6 November 2009

Fame at last!

Can't keep this to myself another second.

The latest issue (99) of The New Writer contains both an article by me and an article about me.

The former is a little ditty likening running to writing, written while I was training for that triathlon back in the summer. The latter is a piece by my good mate Sally and is all about me - me the womagwriter blog that is, not me the person! I'm chuffed to bits she's been inspired enough by this blog and all that it stands for to write an article about it. Many thanks to all those who provided quotes for her article, especially Della.

If you don't already subscribe to TNW, there'll be no better time to do so than now (not being in any way biased of course, ahem). Next issue will be the 100th and I know there's a very special edition planned.

I'm also in the latest TAB Fiction Feast, just out, along with several writing buddies. A good week for me, publication-wise. :-)

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Guest blog post: Cally Taylor

I'm delighted to welcome Cally Taylor to this blog today, as part of her world blog tour following the publication of her book, Heaven Can Wait (which is brilliant, by the way!)

As most visitors to this blog are short story writers, I asked Cally to write about her background as a short story writer. So, over to Cally!

Like most writers I’ve written short stories since I was a child but it wasn’t until 2005 that I started to write them ‘seriously’. ‘Seriously’ is a strange word, it implies I was messing around with writing until 2005. In a way, I was. I mostly wrote for myself and wouldn’t have dared send a story I’d written to a magazine or a competition. Competitions and magazines were for ‘proper’ writers, not dabblers like me. Or that’s what I thought.

2005 was the year I discovered the BBC Get Writing website (now defunct). I was drawn there by a competition I’d seen on the TV – to complete stories written by famous authors – and was looking for hints and tips. I found lots of great advice but what I hadn’t bargained on were the forums where you could post your work for critique. Initially I lurked, actually I lurked for quite a long time, because I was scared to post my work online for other people to judge, but I grew increasingly curious. How did my stories compare to the ones that had been posted by other people? Were they any good? Was I any good? Tentatively I posted one of my stories and waited for the onslaught.

It didn’t come.

Instead I received some really positive comments (as well as some helpful suggestions about how I could improve the story). I started critiquing other people’s stories and posting a few more of my own. Before I knew it I was a fully fledged member of the site. The more I participated the more fascinated I became with the craft of creating a great short story. I bought books on the subject, read online articles and nosed around on competition websites to see what the winners’ stories were like. Gradually I started to improve as a writer and when one of my stories was included in the first BBC GetWriting anthology I was over the moon. Yes it was ‘just’ a downloadable PDF, but I’d been published!

When BBC GetWriting was closed due to cuts I looked for another forum where I could continue to grow as a writer. I’d sent off some of my stories to competitions and magazines and hadn’t had any luck so knew there was still a lot to learn. Finally I found a forum that had a fantastic, if scary, reputation. The leader of the group was a well respected short story writer – and hugely knowledgeable – but he had a reputation for being very...well...blunt... and I ummed and ahhed for ages before joining. I learnt a lot – a hell of a lot – about the importance of openings, theme, pace, language and characters and gradually my story ‘hit’ rate (getting accepted for publication or winning a prize in a competition counted as a ‘hit) began to increase. I had a short story published in a charity anthology by Leaf Books in December 2005, a piece of flash fiction accepted by Aesthetica in January 2006 and won a small flash fiction competition in February. In April 2006 I won my first short story competition (Bank Street Writers). So far so positive, right? The truth is the blunt critiques were starting to knock my confidence. Yes I was getting work published, and even winning competitions, but all my (anonymously critiqued) stories were receiving similar feedback – not literary enough. Too ‘womag’. Too ‘light’. I started to doubt myself and my ability. Maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a writer?

Everything changed in June 2006 when I was called by the editor of “Woman’s Own” magazine. My story “Wish You Were Here” had beaten thousands of other entries and I’d won the runner up prize and publication in the magazine! I was gobsmacked. People like me didn’t get stories into women’s magazines – professionals like Della Galton and Teresa Ashby did. The day I went into a newsagents and bought a copy of the magazine with my story and photo in it was one of the happiest days of my life.

I continued to write stories but something inside me had changed. I stopped worrying about whether my stories were literary or not and started writing what I felt compelled to write, in a style and voice that came naturally. I continued to enter my more literary stories into competitions and kept the commercial ones back. I searched the internet for fiction guidelines for the womags (this was before lovely Womagwriter created her fantastic blog) and started to believe that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t a one hit wonder and I could get another story published in a women’s magazine.

I sent my stories out, dozens of them, to Bella, Best, Take a Break, Woman’s Weekly etc and..nothing. Brown envelope after brown envelope plopped onto my doormat. What was I doing wrong? I wasn’t actually reading the magazines that was what! I bought armfuls and studied them, getting a feel for the types of stories, themes and tones the editor liked. And I wrote more stories and sent them off. I’d set myself a challenge – I WOULD get another story published in a woman’s magazine, no matter how long it took.

Finally, in April 2007 I did it! My Weekly sent me a letter asking if they could publish my story “Secrets and Rain”. Could they? Of course they bloody could! (it actually took them two years to publish it but that’s another story...). I didn’t get another womag ‘hit’ until January 2008 when I received a call from Take-a-Break’s Norah McGrath asking if she could buy “The Little Box of Wishes”. It was a fantastic start to what was to become my most successful writing year, ever. I sold another four stories to Norah, a very short story to My Weekly and crossed some of my other ambitions off my list (to get a story in QWF, to place in the Writers Bureau competition – I came third - and get some flashes in the Your Messages anthology). Then, in September 2008, the most amazing thing happened - after a year of sending out my novel, revising it and sending it out again - I got an literary agent! One month later and I had a two book contract with Orion and a handful of foreign deals.

As I’ve been writing this guest post a couple of things have occurred to me about my writing adventure (I hate the word ‘journey’!):

1) I spent a lot of it feeling scared but overcame my fear so I could learn and progress as a writer (putting work up for critique, sending my stories out to magazines, sending my novel to agents etc)

2) I constantly gave myself challenges – get a story published online, get a story published in print, get a story published by a womag, win a competition, get a novel published - and whenever I achieved a challenge I’d come up with a new one*

3) I never, ever gave up. Not when my stories were being slated in the critique group, not when brown envelopes piled up on my doormat and certainly not when my agent told me my novel needed a lot more work before he’d even consider signing me. Yes those things hurt me, yes I went off and had a sulk or a cry (or a bottle of wine!) but I picked myself up and I tried again.

Yes you need talent to get a short story or a novel published but hell, you need a lot more than that. You need guts, determination, drive and resilience. And you need to believe - believe that one day it could be you. Because you know what? It really could be.

Cally Taylor

Author of “Heaven Can Wait”, a supernatural romantic-comedy about a woman called Lucy who dies the night before her wedding and tries to become a ghost so she can be reunited with the love of her life.

* One challenge I haven’t achieved yet is to get a story published by Woman’s Weekly. I’ve been trying for four years now and I’m not about to stop!

P.S. I wanted to ‘Pay Forward’ my big break with Woman’s Own by running my own short competition to celebrate the launch of my novel. Three prize winners will win a one-on-one consultation with the Darley Anderson Agency as well as some great prizes. You can find out more here:

Thanks Cally, fascinating story of your, ahem, 'journey'! I'm blushing here after your kind comments about this blog :-)

Cally has also kindly offered a signed copy of her novel to a person picked at random from anyone who responds to this post. Deadline 6pm Friday 6th November. I will put all names in a hat and ask one of my sons to pick one out. So if you'd like the chance to win a copy, post a comment below!