Monday, 30 January 2012


Quick post before I collapse into post-zumba bath and bed....

Helen Hunt has several workshops scheduled for the near future, all in the Northampton area:

3rd March 2012 - Insight into the Women's Fiction Magazine market
Helen has sold dozens of stories to a variety of magazines, and knows the best ways to make your mark in this tough and shrinking market. Cost - £35.

31st March 2012 - Moving On Short Story workshop
For writers who have attended the Insight workshop, or for those with some experience of the women's mag market who want to improve their skills. Cost - £40.

Both workshops include lunch, refreshments and a story critique. Fantastic value for money! Full details here.

Also coming up on 21st April is a Day Retreat for writers, to be held somewhere in Northamptonshire. Details to be confirmed, but the idea is to spend a day in the company of other writers, being inspired, exercising your writing skills and sharing your work in a supportive atmosphere.

If you're nowhere near Northamptonshire (and I can hear the Aussie and American blog readers saying, but what about us?!) then Helen is still taking bookings for her Hop on, Hop off Online writing course. The idea is you sign up for some or all of the modules, and do them online on a date which suits you. Details here.

For those within reach of Dorset, womag queen Della Galton runs a variety of Saturday and weekend courses. The next Saturday course is 28th April, on writing flash fiction. Cost - £35. Details here.

If your new year's writing resolution was to get better at writing and maybe sell more stories, why not sign up for a course or two and give yourself a head start? There is nothing more inspiring than a good course with a great teacher. And I can personally vouch for both ladies mentioned in this post!

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Guest Post - Nicola Morgan - and competition

I’m delighted today to welcome Nicola Morgan to my blog, as part of her blog tour to promote her new ebook – Write A Great Synopsis. I’ve read the book – it does what it says on the tin and should be part of every novelist’s e-bookshelf. Wish I’d read it before submitting my lousy attempt at a synopsis to an appraisal agency! Ah well, at least I know where I went wrong now.

As more and more writers seem to be self-publishing ebooks these days, I thought I’d ask Nicola a few questions about this.

WW: You’ve self-published a couple of books on Kindle – what kind of book do you think does well published by this route?
NM: Short books are perfect. Non-fiction where the author has direct contact with the target market is ideal and it’s hard to see why you’d want to use a publisher to do this for you, unless there are lots of pictures or something technical like that. Novellas and short story collections are very hard to place with trade publishers (though I think more publishers will tap into this market when they get their act together) but can do well as ebooks. But fiction of any length is hard to sell and writers should not think of publishing it themselves without understanding why it’s hard to sell and without being prepared to do some pretty full-on (and often unattractive, in my opinion) self-promotion or accept modest sales.

WW: Many short story writers have a back catalogue of published stories and might like the idea of self-publishing a collection as an ebook. Do you think there’s an appetite for short story collections as ebooks? What are the pitfalls to beware of when self-publishing ebooks?
NM: See above! I’d add that the temptation is for unpublished writers to self-publish just because they can. And before they are ready. However, in self-publishing as in publishing, mediocre or even dud writing can also sell well (and great writing can sell badly) though I hate the thought of that. Therefore I think the pitfalls are in some ways the same for publishing: underestimating the problems and fortunes of what makes a commercial success. If you believe your writing sings and you are as convinced as possible that it’s as good as it can be, do it. But if you feel you are still practising, my recommendation is to carry on practising for longer. You will get better and I’d hate for you to publish too early and then wince when you read it two years later. And don’t let the few(ish) major success stories in self-publishing give you a false impression of how easy it is. It is not easy. That’s why it’s satisfying.

WW: Agreed, anything worth having is worth working for. Do you have any advice on how to publicise self-published ebooks? (Or how to publicise anything!) Your blog has a huge following. What advice would you give to writers who are trying to build up their own following on blogs or twitter or other networks?
NM: Be active, be nice, be online, be generous, be patient and be yourself. Don’t prostitute yourself or cross the lines you don’t like others to cross. For non-fiction, “platform” is essential. So, for me with Write a Great Synopsis, my blog and Twitter will be crucial and have already paid dividends. For fiction, I’m afraid you need to be active on the forums where readers recommend books. I don’t have time and generally don’t enjoy these forums so I don’t frequent them and my fiction ebook sales therefore won’t fly. Mondays are Red (novel) sells about a quarter the number that Tweet Right (non-fic) sells, even though Mondays are Red has so many original print reviews to support it. But I’m happier with a modest number of genuinely interested readers than I would be with lots more that I might get if I spent a lot more time on marketing and chatting on forums. I suppose it boils down to this: know how it all works and work out what is right for you. And have appropriate expectations. It is very hard work – but then it’s very hard work being published anyway. There is also luck involved, in both models. Sorry, that wasn’t very helpful advice, was it?!

WW: It was honest at least! In the couple of years since I’ve been following your blog, you’ve written a highly acclaimed YA novel, a How to Write book, a guide to Twitter, Write a Great Synopsis book and republished your first YA novel. Wow, respect for all that! What’s coming next?
NM: Thank you! Well, I’ve written another YA novel which may or may not find a publisher (It takes a few risks. And, although you’ll hear that the YA market is vibrant, it’s really only vibrant for paranormal romance and I can’t tell you how this is NOT paranormal or romance…) I’m planning two more Crabbit Publishing non-fiction titles, first the provisionally-titled Dear Agent. And I’m writing a novel for 9-11s (I love that age group) which I’ve started but which I’m finding incredibly hard. So I want to devote some time to that.

WW: Tell us about the competition you’re running to promote Write A Great Synopsis?
NM: Sure! Would you like the chance of winning a critique of your synopsis from me? All commenters below (by Feb 15th) will be entered into the Big WAGS Competition, with chances to win a critique of your synopsis by the Crabbit Old Bat herself! One comment per person on each blog – though you can add to your chances by commenting on the other posts on the tour. Details of all stops on the tour will appear on my blog (Help! I Need a Publisher!) as they go out.

Thanks for having me, and good luck to all your readers. Happy synopsis-writing!

For details about the book, including buying options, go here.
The link direct to Amazon UK is here.

Thanks Nicola, and good luck with this book and all your other writing ventures.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Moving On

Della Galton's latest book, Moving On, does what it says on the tin. It explains in detail the differences between writing short stories and writing a novel, and it's not just about the length! It's a must-have for any short story writer who's thinking about trying a novel.

Using lots of examples, Della shows the differences between a story plot and a novel plot, and helps you recognise the form in which your latest idea would work best. She explains how important it is to really know your novel characters, why they need a full backstory, friends and family - even if you're not going to use this in the novel. She shows why using a single viewpoint is usually best for a story, while it could be too limiting for a novel. She covers beginnings, middles and ends, theme, structure and flashback and how their use differs depending on what you are writing.

The whole thing is written in Della's easy to read style, and comes thoroughly recommended by this writer. I just wish this book had been available a couple of years ago when I started writing my novel! I suspect I'll be referring to it a lot while I write the next one.

Available here from Amazon.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

My Weekly

Now that I'm back writing short stories for a while, I realised I needed to get myself up to speed with the kind of story the magazines are currently publishing. You can't rely on your memory of what they were buying a couple of years ago - magazines change all the time. Subtly, perhaps, but even so, the more you are acquainted with the type of story an editor likes, the more likely you'll sell to them.

So I bought a copy of the current My Weekly, dated Jan 10-16, and have just finished reading it, cover to cover. It was always one of my favourite mags, and still is.

There are five short stories in this issue, and a few thoughts struck me as I read them.

It's My Choice by Trixie Nisbet. Louise has moved in with new boyfriend Ben, who seems like a much better choice than her last boyfriend, though her mum doesn't think he's good enough for her. But things aren't going too well - Ben was a bachelor for too long and is set in his ways.
What surprised me here was the ending. It's not quite the traditional upbeat ending you expect to find in women's magazines. It's a realistic ending though, and refreshing, as it was unexpected.

Special Night Out by Helen Hunt. A 'moment in time' one-page story, following a woman making herself look as good as possible for a night out. Beautifully descriptive (Helen is so good at this kind of story!) and leaves you with a smile on your face, wholly approving of the main character's actions. I wanted to high-five her at the end!

There's Something About The Willows by Stella Whitelaw. A young couple buy a neglected old house after its previous elderly occupants died. They often find books left open, as though someone had been reading and has just left the room. This is a beautiful gentle ghost story, though we never 'see' the ghosts. What struck me here is that in the past, My Weekly would only take ghost stories if there was an alternative, rational explanation. There's none such in this story, and if there was, it would only spoil it.

You'll Never Guess by Hayley Johnson-Mack. Unusual and satisfying twist in the tail story. If this had been mine, I'd probably have tried it at Take A Break first, as it felt more like their territory than MW.

Off To See The World by Elizabeth McKay. Written in the second person, this reads like an open letter from a mother to her daughter who's just about to set off on her gap year travels. Second person?! I think this may be the first time I've seen this in a women's mag, but it's perfect for this story.

All great stories. Well done to the authors! And so good to see My Weekly branching out and taking a wider variety of stories than before.

I received My Weekly's latest writers' guidelines the other day. They're still not able to accept fiction submissions from writers they've not published before, sadly (though this doesn't apply to features or pocket novel submissions). And only one submission per author per month.

They're currently looking for Jubilee, Olympic and Wimbledon themes.
- 700 word coffee break stories (no twists please in this category)
- 1400 word light-hearted twist in the tail
- 2500 emotionally engaging stories
- Light-hearted romances in all the lengths

Fiction editor Liz Smith is aiming to give writers constructive criticism, coupled with a faster turnaround, this year (as reported in February's Writers' Forum). Which is all good news. I do wish she'd open up submissions to new writers again, however. Thankfully, other fiction editors such as Jill Finlay of The Weekly News, are actively looking to publish as many new writers as possible this year.

Right, well, I must get my January submission to My Weekly sent! I've a 1400-word light-hearted romance which might just hit the spot...

Monday, 9 January 2012

How to earn £10 in 10 minutes

Actually, I don't know how to earn £10 in 10 minutes. But I know a woman who does. And she's distilled her advice into a handy little ebook, which costs all of 89p.

Here's the book and here's the author, Linda Lewis, and here's how you download a free Kindle reader for your pc if you don't have a Kindle. A must for all filler writers!

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.)