Tuesday, 3 January 2012

House Styles - guest post by Sarah England

I'm delighted to welcome Sarah England to my blog today. She's a women's magazine writer who has also recently published a novel - Expected - available as an ebook on Amazon . (I've read this and can confirm it's funny and witty and definitely worth a read!)

I asked Sarah to write a post on any topic of interest to women's magazine writers, and was very pleased when she sent me this, as it's not something I've ever covered on this blog as far as I can remember.


House Styles
When I first started writing short stories for magazines about 5-6 years ago now,I simply wrote whatever came into my head. Rejection after rejection followed.Eventually - you know the thing: ‘if you don’t succeed then read the instructions’ - so I did a brief correspondence course and reluctantly started reading what the magazines were actually printing. Shortly afterwards I had my first success with My Weekly, and have since had over 100 short stories published in magazines, newspapers and anthologies. So what cracked it?

Well each magazine has a definite house style. Some magazines I know I will never be published in because I simply cannot get into their mindset. But others I can. I like writing comedy and The Weekly News publishes short stories with lots of humour and a sharp twist, so I often write for them. But I also like having a long rein with character i.e. they don’t have to be nice all the time - and that’s where Woman’s Weekly comes in. With Woman’s Weekly I feel that my characters can explore the wicked side of life. They can find themselves in tricky situations and not always handle them well. In short - the stories can push boundaries. And so can I.

It hasn’t been long since I had my first story taken by Woman’s Weekly, and then they took one after the other - everything I wrote hot off the press as it were. What happened was this - I started to read the Woman’s Weekly Fiction Specials in detail - every story, every style, every author. I got into the mindset of the reader, and most importantly the writers. Real life was screaming from the pages, so was humour, and nostalgia, and complex family scenarios. There were no twists at the end - ‘the ha! ha! Fooled you’ - type. And no spine chillers as such. Instead I found subtlety and a gradual increase in pace; atmosphere and character leading the reader down a long and winding path to a natural conclusion. Suddenly - it all fell into place!

Of course there is still the tricky aspect of finding more and more characters and plots - which is never easy - but what helps is to draw on your self, your background and your experiences, because your reader will be able to relate to that. And then add in character quirks and challenges for them to tackle. Keeping your reader entertained - that’s the key! If your story isn’t credible and your characters act in unrealistic ways then the reader will not be happy. And nor will the editor.

So to come full circle - I’d advise finding a house style you are happy with. If you like old-style romance then I’d recommend People’s Friend as a good place to start. If you have a knack for short tales with a twist I’d concentrate on Take a Break. But take a lot of time to get into the zone. These magazines sell thousands and they know what works for them.

Finally - once you know you want to tell people stories then try everything until you find what you are good at. I just love making people laugh. Which is why I wrote ’Expected’ now on Amazon kindle ebooks. Here’s the link if you’d like to take a look.




So there you are - match your style with a magazine and hopefully your hits will soon mount up! Thanks Sarah for this post, and good luck with promoting your novel!


(Post updated 1/7/13 to include new cover art and new Amazon links for Expected. Now also available in paperback.)

26 comments:

Patsy said...

It's true, the stories published in each magazine vary a great deal.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Brilliant post, Sarah - thank you for reminding us of the importance of getting into correct mindset!

Pat Posner said...

Great post, Sarah. Thanks to both of you!

Anonymous said...

Good post, Sarah. Thanks. Given your success with Woman's Weekly (Very well done!) I wonder if you or any of the other writers could tell me whether once that letter from WW arrives that says 'We like your style but this story isn't quite suitable..." whether you then submit to the person who sent the letter? Thanks

DeniseCovey_L'Aussie said...

Hi Sarah. It was brilliant to read this post. There is no shortcut if you want to get published in magazines. Lots of reading then lots of writing.

Congrats on having so many stories published.

Denise

Anonymous said...

Great post, Sarah, you are very inspiring!

sam x

Amanda said...

Great post, Sarah. :-) (Thanks Womag)

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Sarah for writing and to Womagwriter for bringing us this wonderfully informative and interesting post.

SarahE said...

Dear Anonymous - yes send your next story to the person who wrote you the letter - For me it was Clare Cooper and once I did that she then started to send me a checklist with the reason for rejection ticked. The reason was usually 'other' with a comment - ie just not us! I kept trying and a year later (!!!) I got that email saying YES! it was like joining an exclusive club - euphoria... Good luck - you are on your way if you got that letter! Sarah x

Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah - thanks so much for getting back to me. I really appreciate it. I've really studied the magazine and purchase it regularly but just haven't had any luck with acceptances despite writing in their house style (I think!). I'll do what you suggest and maybe if the stars shine brightly enough and cast a little magic I'll one day join that WW exclusive club too. Well done on your fabulous record of success and thanks for sharing with all of us. Good wishes for the New Year. Anon

Maggie May said...

What a brilliant post Sarah and so relevant for me just now. I have decided that Womans Weekly Fiction Special has the stories that I most want to read and feel I could write, so I think I need to forget the others for now and concentrate on this one magazine. This has confirmed what I was thinking, so thanks for that.

Geraldine Ryan said...

Lovely post, Sarah! It's definitely horses for courses, isn't it? Though I think Fiction feast isn't a million miles away from Woman's Weekly, personally. FF also publishes longer stories without a twist. Thank Goodness from my point of view!

Kath said...

Damn, I never even thought of sending stories to the person who wrote me the "like your style" letter. I've just continued to submit in the normal way, without success. I last got one of those letters about a year ago - do you think it's too late?

Many thanks for your post with its invaluable advice.

SarahE said...

Hi Kath - never too late!! Go for it!
Geraldine - yes you are right re TAB FF - it was just a sweeping statement before I moved on to focus on WW! I'm only just starting to have some success with TAB FF myself - the Feb issue is excellent!

Sarah xx

Geraldine Ryan said...

Kath, all short stories subbed to WW go to Clare Cooper in the first instance so it doesn't really matter if you write her name on the envelope or just write Fiction Editor.

Sarah, I haven't read the February issue of FF. Must pop out and get one.

Lydia said...

Brilliant post. Completely true! I find myself more in tune with PF but I love to sub to WW with those stories that graze the darker side of life. If you can't tune into the outlook of a particular mag you'll never have success with them because you just can't "fake it". Editors can smell your insicerity a mile off! x

Lydia said...

Oops! Of course I mean "insincerity"! (Published author, moi?!)

Geraldine Ryan said...

That's true, Lydia! I have only ever subbed to PF once but of course it was a "no". It would be going against my own nature to try to attune myself to the PF mindset.

Anonymous said...

Hi all. Now as PF has been mentioned I'm hoping someone out there may be able to advise me. If Shirley contacts a writer by email and asks for a rewrite of a story which she'd like to consider is it the done thing to do the rewrite and email it back to her or should it go in the post? Thanks. Anon

Anonymous said...

Great post. Thanks Womag and Sarah. I guess a writer is really lucky if they can get into the midset necessary for a particular magazines style. I'm working hard to achieve the right sort of mindset and have had some success but oh how I long for a magazine that is willing to publish some quirky 'tongue in cheek' humorous tales like the mags were publishing twenty years ago. I know like Sarah points out that it's important to read the instructions and write what a mag wants but sometimes as much as I love reading short fiction I think the mags could do with a bit more variety. Anon

Geraldine Ryan said...

Anon 1 - this is huge encouragement! I would definitely email the rewrite!

Anon 2 - I think there are a lot of quirky stories in WW. Do you read the Fiction Special regularly?

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Geraldine. Your advice is most welcome. I'll email my rewrite. Well done on your wonderful success in the women's mags too! I agree that WW do publish some smashing quirky stories as do some of the other mags. It's just that the style that hooked me in many years ago was a sort of 'new wave' in women's fiction. All the new mags of the time - Best, TAB, Chat etc were publishing some very quirky little yarns that were very unrealistic but often a good laugh. Just like to add that as mentioned by both you and Sarah the Feb issue of TAB is great. Thanks again for your help. Anon

Geraldine Ryan said...

Thanks, anon - you're welcome. I hope your rewrite makes it!

Anonymous said...

Agree totally with Lydia's comment - you can't fake it. I write for the magazines I enjoy but you always have to remember you are writing to a brief. I used to write for Bella (with the lovely Linda O'Byrne as Fiction Ed) and also for PF. You could do totally different things with story and theme, but also you had to take note of the detail. Bella was much more colloquial. Incomplete sentences. And you could start a sentence with 'and' or 'but' ... PF would always prefer full sentences, more straightforward plot and a touch more upfront explanation.
I am puzzled sometimes by comments I read on blogs that suggest anyone doesn't read the magazines they sub to. I read both of mine (PF and WW) EVERY week plus specials. I read the entire mag cover to cover. I take note of it all with my writer's head on, but the day I stop actually enjoying them is the day I stop writing for them!

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