A question I ask at the
beginning of my writing workshops is what is preventing your stories
from selling to magazines? There are many answers to this but they
all tend to lead to one main obstacle that prevents us from selling
fiction to magazine editors. Focus.
Let me put it like
this. If a passing stranger was asked out of the blue to suggest a
gift idea they might suggest this.
questioning, consideration, research and effort might reveal enough
details about the recipient of this gift to reveal that what they
really want is this.
Without focus being
applied to the writing and sending of stories fiction editors are
likely to be faced with drills when what they wanted was a decent
So how do we focus?
Time is precious and
often there doesn’t seem to be enough of it to go round. However,
it’s important to invest the time to consider the needs of the
magazines and their readers to make the most of your writing efforts.
Look inside the
Visual clues exist on
every single page and in the tone and content of articles and
features. It’s up to us to interpret those clues and give the
editor the story they want and not the story we wanted to send. From
reading a magazine you might
- Determine the age group
of the reader. Some topics are universal and others are more relevant
to certain age groups than others. Have someone in mind when you
- Consider the magazine’s
content. Are there lots of diet and fashion articles or is emphasis
on homemaking? What are readers interested in?
- Read the stories in the
magazine on a regular basis to determine what is chosen. Does the
magazine use the first person point of view or the third? Are the
endings twist in the tale or happy ever after? Has a story
similar to one of yours already been used?
- Do the advertising
pages promote expensive or inexpensive products? Does your reader
enjoy a lavish lifestyle or are they budgeting? Write about a world
that your reader is comfortable in.
Like the business of
gift giving, sending stories should be personal and meaningful.
- Don’t recycle old
stories without thoroughly editing and shaping them to suit.
- Don’t send stories
that are thinly veiled vessels for your rants and gripes.
- Do read the fiction
guidelines that are readily available via this blog and all the
- Do respect word counts
and the advice given about what not to send.
The ideas you gather as
writers can be used to create stories covering a wide range of topics
and genres and can be placed in a variety of historical settings.
Guidelines let you know what isn’t desirable but the people who
manage the magazine spend time and money making sure they know who
their customers are and what they want. It’s a business after all.
With so many possibilities the main thing all the magazines ask you
to do is entertain their readers. Have them cheered up, moved
reassured or uplifted.
It’s a case of making
sure you cheer the editor up when you give her the equivalent of
Instead of depressing
her by giving her this.
Remember, it’s all
Carmen Walton is a
freelance writer and creative writing tutor who, when she takes her
own advice, sells short stories to women’s magazines. She will be
running a day long workshop on writing fiction for women’s
magazines on Saturday 26th September at Waterside Arts in Sale, near
Waterside Arts Centre,
Sale, Manchester. M33 7ZF