Friday, 30 September 2011

Bad girl anti-chicklit

When I get my Kindle, which will be next week for my 21st-ish birthday, I'm going to download Sally Q's pocket novels onto it first. I missed them when they were out in print, and don't feel old enough to borrow large print books from the library just yet, so at 98p the Kindle downloads look like a bargain.

Then I'm going to download womag writer Sarah England's book Expected, now available as an ebook. She describes it as humourous bad girl anti-chicklit, which sounds like just the thing to make me chuckle embarrassingly while on the train to work...

I think this is where epublishing comes into its own. To provide a market for writing which is overlooked by mainstream publishers - such as novellas or quirky books publishers are too afraid to take a chance on. We can easily buy the marketing-backed books on the 3 for 2 tables, but books on a smaller budget need word-of-mouth and benefit from the instant accessibility you get with downloads. I wonder, would themed short story collections do well as ebooks - what do you think? Would you buy them?

Wednesday, 28 September 2011


If I can work out how to do it I'll make this a sticky page at the top of my blog.

There are dozens of 'how to write' books out there - here are a few I recommend for writers of women's magazine fiction. I own and have read most of these.

How to Write and Sell Short Stories by Della Galton
Does exactly what it says on the tin. If you're aiming at the womags then this is definitely the first book you should buy. Easy to read, no nonsense style, lots of quotes by women's magazine writers - read the book to join the club!

Wannabe a Writer? by Jane Wenham-Jones
Well, do you? Jane will tell you how to become one, and she'll make you laugh as she does so. A really great read.

Wannabe a Writer we've heard of? by Jane Wenham-Jones
The sequel. These days, getting published is not enough. Then you've got to get out there and market yourself. Jane tells you how, in her inimitable style.

Write On! The Writer's Help Book by Adrian Magson
Presented as a series of articles on all aspects of writing, from finding an idea to finding a market, this book is sure to inspire you. If you're a beginner writer this one's a must. If you're a jaded old hack, this book will revitalise you.

Write to be Published by Nicola Morgan
This one's more for novelists than short story writers, but if you want to know how best to approach agents and publishers then this one's for you. The first half of the book covers making your book the very best it can be; the second half covers sending your book out there into the big wide world.

Writing from Life by Lynne Hackles
Write what you know, they say. Well the thing you know best is your own life - Lynne tells you how to turn your own experiences into profitable prose, both fiction and non-fiction. This book is packed with writing exercises guaranteed to get you going.

Love Writing by Sue Moorcroft
A complete guide to writing romantic or erotic fiction, from chick-lit novels to womag stories via pocket novels and serials. Sue has published hundreds of stories and several novels, as well as being a writing tutor, so she knows what she's talking about.

A 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance by Kate Walker
Kate writes several romantic novels every year for Mills and Boon, so she's got the art down to a fine tee. Or a fine 12 points. She makes it all sound so easy. Follow her advice, and maybe you'll find it is!

Diamonds and Pearls, edited by Elaine Everest
And finally, study the market, say all the writing tutors. If you're targetting women's magazine fiction, what better way than to read a collection of stories by the best women's mag writers around? Proceeds from sales of this book go to a breast cancer charity.

Gosh, don't they all look pretty? And have you any idea how long it has taken me to put this post together?!?!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Commissioned stories only please - for discussion

There's a worrying trend in some of the magazines on the fringes of our markets (eg Candis, Woman and Home) whereby they include fiction but only commissioned stories from novelists with new books out. That's fab for the novelist, who'll no doubt sell a few copies of their novel to readers of the mag, but a bit rubbish for the short story specialists. They may sell dozens of stories to TAB, Woman's Weekly, My Weekly etc but these commission only mags are effectively closed to them.

I suspect there are three main reasons for magazines following this policy:

1. A story by a well-known novelist might attract more people to buy the magazine, or at least to read the story.
2. The editorial staff believe stories by published novelists will be better quality.
3. By commissioning stories, the editorial staff won't have to wade through an enormous slushpile to find decent stories to publish.

Let's look at these reasons in depth.

1. A story by a well-known novelist might attract more people to buy the magazine, or at least to read the story.
That's undoubtedly true if the novelist is a really big name - Fay Weldon, JK Rowling, Annie Proulx. But probably not true for mid-list or first-time novelists. Indeed, readers might be more familiar with certain short story writers, if they also read some of the other women's mags. Indeed, long before I began writing short stories, I was familiar with several names from reading the magazines, including Della Galton and Teresa Ashby. (And my mum considers many of the regular names to be old friends.)

2. The editorial staff believe stories by published novelists will be better quality.
I'm not making this one up. I think it was the editor at Candis who said this, as justification for switching to commissioned stories only. Hmm. I have no doubt that published novelists can write really well (and honestly, I have nothing against novelists, I am one!!) but it is the short story specialists who know the markets best and are aware of which plots are too overdone etc. There's a letter in the current Writers' Forum which expresses surprise at a story by a well-known novelist in Woman & Home magazine. I haven't seen the story, but the letter-writer says it relies on that hackneyed twist of using the main character's identical twin.
Similarly, when Best relaunched fiction in the summer, the lead story by a published novelist used the age-old MC-thinks-spouse-is-having-an-affair-but-it's-all-a-surprise-for-MC plot (going by my goldfish memory here).
Commissioned stories will certainly be well-written, but if the writers don't know the markets the stories could be so predictable they'll put readers off. It's the short story specialists who know how to put a new spin on an old tale, or how to come up with something completely original.

3. By commissioning stories, the editorial staff won't have to wade through an enormous slushpile to find decent stories to publish.
I can't argue directly with this one - it's obviously going to be less work to use commissioned stories only. I guess they'll have to pay more per story, but will probably make a cost saving overall, as the magazine may not need to employ a dedicated fiction editor. BUT - this goes back to point 2. A dedicated fiction editor wouldn't make the blunder of accepting a story which relies on a yawn-inducing twist - they'll have seen it done too many times before. And it's in that slushpile that the best stories by the best writers are found.

What do you all think? Are there other reasons for using commissioned only stories? Is it a trend that more and more magazines are likely to follow? Can we do anything to reverse the trend?

Feel free to comment anonymously if you want (remember, this blog is read by fiction editors as well as writers!) but please be polite and professional in all comments.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Shall I ask for a Kindle for my birthday?

Do you love them or hate them? Given that I will probably still buy paper books if only to inhale, is it worth me getting a Kindle for use on holidays and long train journeys?

Answers on a postcard please, or failing that in the comments below. :-)

Monday, 12 September 2011

Mail on Sunday start-of-novel competition

This year, the Mail on Sunday competition for the best first 150 words of a novel was won by a Bournemouth lady (Yay! Go, Bournemouth!) - Marion Richards. She's given me permission via her writing tutor, women's mag writer Hilary Halliwell, to publish her entry - see below. Well done Marion!

The next competition is now open - and here are the details.

You need to write the first part of a novel, between 50 and 150 words. Your entry must include the word 'row' - in any format, eg rowing boat, blazing row, row of tulips. Closing date is 28th October 2011. Send your entry to The Mail on Sunday Novel Competition, PO Box 150, Rochester, Kent ME1 9AG. You must include full contact details (name, address, phone no and email) on the same page as your entry. Judges are Fay Weldon, James Buchan and Sarah Waters (wow, two of my very favourite authors in that lineup!)

First prize is £400 and a place on an Arvon course. Five runners-up get book tokens to the value of £150-£300. Entry to the competition is free.

So, nothing to lose and loads to gain! Here's Marion's entry so you can see what impressed the judges this year. The word to be included was 'set'.


The word splits my ears.

A guard grabs my arm, marches me down concrete steps and throws me into this underground cage – like I’m no better than a wild animal straight out the jungle.

“It’s your home ‘til morning,” says the uniform. “They’ll be shifting you on tomorrow – somewhere permanent.”

“Where’s that?” I ask.

Uniform’s keeping the answer to himself and I’m left in this rathole wondering what’s gonna happen next.

“Make yourself comfortable, lad,” he says but I know he can’t mean it ‘cos there’s only a rusty bunk and buglife for company. He hands me a tin plate and mug. Then reels off mealtimes as though I’ve booked into some posh-nosh hotel.

His bit done, he makes his exit. The door clangs. The key turns.

Footsteps echo down the corridor. Uniform’s gone.

“It’s a set-up!” I scream. “A bloody set-up!”

But nobody’s listening.

Well that certainly grabbed me! Where's the rest, Marion?! Good luck to all who enter.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Pocket Novels Workshop

Sally Quilford, Queen of Pocket Novels, has put together a workshop to share her experience and advice re writing these novels. Full details below. If you're interested in writing pocket novels this workshop will be well worth attending!

Pocket Novel Workshop

Saturday 22nd October 2011
Chesterfield Market Hall, Chesterfield, S40 1AR
Cost: £35.00 to include unlimited beverages and biscuits!

How to Write Pocket Novels for My Weekly and Peoples’ Friend

Sally Quilford, the author of six pocket novels (to date) will talk you through the process of creating a 50,000 word romantic novella for My Weekly and Peoples’ Friend.

The workshop will cover:
The basic requirements: format, word length, characters, structure, narrative, dialogue etc
Writing a traditional romance – the conventions
The Morality of Pocket Novel World
Approachable Heroines
Rewarding Heroes
The First of a Million Kisses
Compelling secondary characters
How to come up with plots and sub-plots
After your pocket novel is published: Going into Large Print

(The running order of the workshop may vary from above but will cover all these points and more)

Requirements: The workshop is open to both men and women. If you have not done so already, try and read at least one novella from each line (My Weekly and Peoples’ Friend) before you arrive so that you have some familiarity with them. They are available to buy at Tescos, Sainsburys, Asda, WHSmiths and larger newsagents and cost around £1.99 each.

More details and how to book and pay for workshop

Send a message via Sally Quilford’s contact page at