Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Same character in more than one magazine?

An anonymous visitor left an interesting question under another post:

This may be a strange question, but here goes anyway ... I have written a number of stories featuring the same main character.
If I sent a story featuring a character previously published in another magazine, do you think they would want it? Obviously the stories are different, it's just the character that's the same.

Suppose you've invented a super-sleuth Miss Marple type character, and sold a couple of stories featuring her to, say, Woman's Weekly. Could you sell the next story featuring her to eg Take A Break?

In terms of copyright I would think there's no problem at all. You've sold first publishing rights to the first magazine, but the character is yours and you've not sold any rights relating to use of the character. The next story is completely different so of course could in theory be sold to anyone.

But, I imagine that in Take A Break Towers, they read Woman's Weekly. And in Woman's Weekly Manor, they keep an eye on what TAB publishes. So would TAB refuse to buy a story featuring a character they've seen in WW? (Would they even notice?) And if the story did sell to TAB, would WW feel aggrieved that 'their' character has now been seen in another magazine, and therefore feel disinclined to buy more stories from this author?

What do you all think?


Suzanne Jones said...

This is a very interesting question. I've written stories about characted I've become really fond of and often been tempted to put them in other stories. Sometimes it's just too hard to say goodbye.


Jan Jones said...

I wouldn't risk it. No point biting the hand that feeds you. Better to ask why the original mag didn't want the story you are now selling somewhere else. It's just politeness.

Olivia Ryan said...

Hmm, this is something that's never occurred to me! I'm not convinced the original magazine would even notice, if it was a one-off. But if the character features in one magazine regularly, then I guess it would be kind of weird if they started appearing in a rival one too. I think questions might get asked then, and in that case I'd agree with Jan - not worth the risk, if you might lose a regular market.

Lydia said...

I'd say don't risk upsetting the apple cart. It's easy enough to change names and details and settings but still keep to essentially the same character. That way you get to carry on working with the character you love and the magazines don't feel their originality has been comprimised.

Tom said...

Hasn't Sally Q done this with her series currently running on her blog?

womagwriter said...

Lydia - that strikes me as a good idea. Keep the same character but change names and a few details. In your head it can be the exact same character but the magazines and their readers won't notice.

Tom - do you mean the Stoney End series? I believe those stories have sold to magazines in different countries, so there's only a very remote chance any reader would spot the same character appearing. In any case, Sally could sell the exact same story to both markets.

Old Kitty said...


Maybe you just change the name and tweak it a little so the same character doesn't appear in different mags? Only if the stories are completely different though! Just have like a cloned version of the same character but with tiny differences? Then again you might as well have a different character really...!

Oooh this is too difficult a conundrum for my tiny brain!


Take care

Simon Whaley said...

Sounds to me like one of those 'no problem in theory, but wouldn't risk it in real life' scenarios.

Legally, I can't see there being a problem. The mags buy the rights to publish a story, they don't buy the characters.

But, I can imagine the editors shying away from a story containing a character who they know appears in other magazines.

I think as a reader I wouldn't feel comfortable with this either. It would be like Phil Mitchell (Eastenders) walking into the Woolpack Inn (Emmerdale) with Gail Tinsley (Coronation Street). It might be novel the first time it happens, but after that the characters might seem out of place.

Colette McCormick said...

I think that I would be with the don't risk it brigade on this one. Why risk a good relationship that you've established?

Sally Quilford said...

Ask Womag says, I sold my two stories to opposite sides of the world - one to The Weekly News and the other to That's Life Fast Fiction, so I don't know if that's why I managed to do it. I haven't managed to sell another of my Angela Fairfax series to British mags since the first one to The Weekly News.

It's worth pointing out too that That's Life Fast Fiction changed some elements, including the name of the first person narrator, and my Stoney End became Stoney Creek.

Do magazine editors read all the other magazines? I can't imagine they'd have enough time. Even when I'm researching them I can't manage to read one of each every single week. And I'm not sifting through hundreds of subs.

Anonymous said...

If I were a magazine editor I would regard it as part of the job to read all the other competitors to keep an eye on the market, to make sure that stories I selected were not too similar to other magazines' latest, and to see whose work was popular at the moment... and maybe even to see if I'd rejected something I'd have been better accepting.

I'm actually squirming a bit over the original question. If I had thought, I'd have changed a name after something was rejected from one magazine. I shall say no more. (Blush).

x M

Tickle said...

People's Friend take stories that have characters that repeat. Pat Thornborough has written over twenty with the same Nun or Priest appearing in each one. These are a particular type of short story called character series. I would think that the mags would want these restricted to one mag. It makes sense. You wouldn't read part one of a serial in WW and then buy part 2 in TAB. Plus mags are strong on their identity (that's why we sell one story to one and another type to a different one). I think you could end up alienating both markets.

Anonymous said...

Hi all
Twas me that asked the orginal question.

I think, reading everyone's opinions (and thank you all hugely for your input) that I won't risk biting the hand that's feeding me. WW haven't actually rejected any of the stories (yet!), so it's not as if I'm doing it to 'spite' them - I just thought it would be interesting to offer a story to TAB and see what they think too, but in hindsight I don't think I will.

The stories are very British in their humour - very Alan Bennett/Victoria Wood so I would never offer them abroad as I'm not convinced they'd get my sense of humour.

Thank you all again for your comments xx

Tickle said...

People's Friend take these type of stories - Pat Thornborough wrote over 20 with the same character appearing in each - a Nun or a Priest from what I can recall. These are a particular type of short story called a character series. I think the mags would not want a character series story appearing in any other mag as they are all pretty hot on their own identities (that's why we sell a story to one when it has been rejected by a different mag). I think if you did this you could easily end up alienating both mags. It's a bit like writing serials - you wouldn't expect part one to be in WW and part 2 to be in TAB.

womagwriter said...

Thanks Anon, for an interesting question and thanks to all who've responded with such brilliant advice.

So the consensus of opinion is: don't risk it, or if you do, change names and some character details or sub to different countries.

marian h said...

Suzanne I have done just that. I wrote three with the same two characters because I didn't want to say goodbye. I sent them to WW but none of them sold. I felt quite sorry, for thecharacters' sakes. They had worked so hard at solving the three mysteries!

Diane said...

I really can't believe the fiction editors would be that bothered or that childish to get precious about it.

I don't think there's a problem changing the name, which is a good idea if you're worried about it, but so long as the copyright remains with the author, the stories could be reprinted in an anthology at a much later date and the same character would be the theme.

Why don't we ask what the fiction editors would think? They are, after all, human.

Sally Quilford said...

OK, just to throw something else into the consensus, I would risk it. In fact I have, and whilst I haven't had two stories featuring the same character accepted in different British mags, I've still given it a go, and as far as I know I haven't been boycotted for attempting it.

I have several Agatha Christie short story collections, featuring Poirot and Marple, and many are credited with the magazine in which they originally appeared. They weren't necessarily published in the same mags.

I don't know if things have changed since then, and I suppose if you're Agatha Christie you can do what you want, but I still can't see how it would be a problem as long as the stories were different, and they were 'stand alone'. i.e. they didn't rely on knowledge acquired from previous stories. So obviously you wouldn't send the first part of a serial to TAB, then the next episode to WW.

Sorry to be the one to disagree here. But then, most of you know me and rules ... ahem...

womagwriter said...

Yes, I expect Agatha Christie could get away with murder in her writing career...groan...!

I didn't mean 'don't risk it' as a rule, Sally. Was just summarising the majority opinion from this thread.

Sally Quilford said...

((())) I know x