Sunday, 18 September 2016

Guest post by womagwriter Sharon Boothroyd

Sharon from Kishboo magazine is today's blog guest.

I was reading the October's issue of Writers' Forum magazine recently.
As a womag writer, I've been eagerly following Douglas McPherson's excellent ongoing series about how writer Helen Yendall won The People's Friend serial writing competition.
However, I was really taken aback to discover that PF Fiction Editor Shirley Blair has her own stories featured in the magazine, published under a different name.
This fact was revealed when Helen attended a PF workshop.
Douglas doesn't make a big thing of it – in fact, he skips over it quite breezily - but when I brought this up with members of my online womag writing group, there were quite a few reactions.
Several people wondered who actually edits Shirley's work before it's published? 
Does she award herself a fee for her stories?
With so many talented womag writers around, I feel puzzled why a Fiction Editor finds it necessary to include their own work in their own magazines. 
As another member of my group pointed out, they are in 'guaranteed publication' position. Is this practice fair to womag writers?
Fiction Ed Karen Byrom of My Weekly used to be a My Weekly short story writer. Is she still one? 
And do Fiction Eds submit their work to other magazines?
We womag writers realise we are competing with other writers, but I didn't realise we were competing with work from Fiction Editors too.
What do you think about this?


suzy doodling said...

Makes me wonder why I bother - then again I haven't for a long while as I get tired of stories being rejected.

Anonymous said...

Ooh, this is a tough one. On the one hand, if they are writers then like us they must feel the desire to write, just as strongly as we do. And they know what sort of stories they are missing from the mag. Why should they not write, particularly if they have a team of editors who can comment? On the other hand it does seem unfair to those of us submitting in good faith. Surely it's a question of numbers. If it is only the occasional story then we should not feel threatened by the few insider stories. (Anon 1)

Anonymous said...

I think it’s unfair because they are in a position to edit and publish their own work. You can bet they won’t get rejected. I’m thinking they do it more often than we think. I’ve submitted to them before, but doubt I’ll ever do it again. (Anon 2)

Anonymous said...

A lot of non-fiction articles are written in-house. Should short stories be any different? Karen Byrom of My Weekly writes both fiction and non-fiction for My Weekly. (Anon 3)

Anonymous said...

I agree it’s probably no different to in-house staff writing non-fiction features, but it is certainly demoralising for the many fiction writers hoping to get published. More demoralising, however, are the payment rates. I submitted two stories to People’s Friend, and received two rejections. I was disheartened… until I read a hint somewhere of what they were actually paying authors! If correct, the phrase ‘slave labour’ comes to mind, with rates nowhere near NUJ rates for freelance writers submitting non-fiction to national publications. Oh, but Womag writers write for pleasure, not for money, someone will say. But this is not a hobby magazine. It’s part of a profit-making business, with regular sales of well over 200,000. Maybe more writers should leave the editors to write their own stories, and direct their talents elsewhere! (Yes, yes, I KNOW that will never happen…) (Anon4)

Patsy said...

I hadn't thought of it as being similar to in-house writers producing non fiction, but now I think about it there isn't really any difference - other than that being far more common.

Shirley said...

Hi, may I step in here to explain?
Yes, I sometimes write short stories and serials for The People’s Friend. I’ve worked in fiction for more than 40 years and love it. And I’ve always written it, too. Like any writer, I have a writing itch that needs scratching. Some of that finds an outlet in helping writers develop their stories to be the best they can be. But some of it finds its way into short stories and serials. I have lots of ideas; some I send out to writers, some I work on myself.
My contract of employment prohibits me from writing for any other publisher, so no, I don’t write for other magazines; I’m not allowed. Novels are out, too. That only leaves The People’s Friend that I can write for, or My Weekly.
That same contract means that anything I write is automatically copyright of my employer. So that’s one big question answered: no, I don’t get paid a fee for any work I have published.
Editing my own work? No way. “Guaranteed publication” position? I wish. We all have too much respect for The People’s Friend for that to be the case.
The process for me is the same as for any writer. I submit a story – or a serial outline – to the fiction team. I sit on tenterhooks while it works its way through the assessment process. I feel chuffed as anything if it’s accepted. I work with one of my colleagues if they have suggestions on how it can be improved. It skips the payment process because I don’t get paid for it. It gets illustrated. And it goes to the production desk who treat it like any other piece of copy and edit it to suit.
Am I taking up space that could be filled by another writer? I guess that could be argued, but at the same time I’m in the unique position of seeing if and where a gap might be developing in our stock. Sometimes I have an idea and fill that gap quickly myself, and sometimes it’s an idea that I know one of my writers will write better, and I send it to them.
I’ve never hidden the fact that I write; it says so in the booking form for our workshops, and when I’m asked at the workshops, as I am every time, I say yes. I choose to use two pen names. Is that deceitful? Why do any of us use a pen name?

Patsy said...

Thank you so much for replying and explaining the situation, Shirley.

Anonymous said...

Hello. Just stumbled upon this today. I worked on the staff of The People's Friend and My Weekly over 25 years ago, and I can confirm Shirley's comments above. It may seem as if a staff writer has an unfair advantage, but if they don't write for DCT, they're not allowed to write for anyone. However, when I worked on the PF staff were not allowed to write fiction for the magazine. Articles, yes, but not fiction.

As for the pay... After I left I worked as a freelance writer for some years, occasionally for DCT. I was paid top rates - £120 - £150 per story. I then went into a completely different career which took up all of my time, but following redundancy recently I considered returning to writing. I was shocked to see how little writers are now paid. Presumably the rise of staff writers has something to do with the decline in the amount of pay freelancers receive? As in, the editorial budgets have obviously shrunk considerably, and the Thomsons will be happy to let their staff write if it means they don't have to pay freelance writers. Forgive my cynicism! A02

Shirley said...

Hi, again. Have to ping back here to make it clear that staff aren't being asked to write in order to save the company money. That's not the case at all. I write because I want to. If I didn't want to, I wouldn't write - and there is no pressure, requirement or expectation either way. Any writer's stories only find their way into the magazine on merit, never on how much the text might cost. And in my lengthy experience here, our story rates have only ever gone up, not down.
We continue to be the one of the largest consumers of women's magazine fiction in the market, buying 600+ short stories annually, and have a long-standing reputation for the encouragement we give to writers. We wouldn't do that if we were trying to discourage you from writing for us.

Jackie Sayle said...

Well said. Thank you, Shirley. Also, how frustrating for you not to be able to sub your work elsewhere or write a novel. I think your writerly heart would probably burst without some kind of outlet. I know mine would! Good luck to you.

Elaine Everest said...

I don't see a problem. Many journalists write fiction and features for magazines and I know of staffers who write fiction for other publications. It called earning a living as a writer. In fact features pay more than fiction in many mags.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Shirley. I second Jackie's comment above. I write and occasionally sell short stories to People's Friend and I don't feel threatened by this 'revelation'. Surely there is enough room for everyone.
I've always found reading the Womagwriter's blog to be a positive experience and source of inspiration so I was saddened to see this rather negative and resentful sounding post.
Annie (anon 6)

Anonymous said...

I don't feel this was a negative or resentful post. It has raised some interesting points and generated some debate. Good. (Anon4)

Keith Havers said...

I don't have a problem with this. PF is a big market. Good on Shirley for taking the time to explain.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Sharon for raising this - and Patsy for allowing it. I've been reading another blog about this saying how it's no secret and us writers shouldn't be surprised. Well, I must be a special kind of stupid because although I've been writing for mags, including DCT ones, for nearly ten years I had no clue this was going on until a week or so ago.

Seems as though it hasn't been deliberately hidden or anything, just that lots of people didn't know and once they found out, some thought it seemed ... a bit like Mary Berry competing in Bake Off yet still deciding who gets to be star baker. Shirley's reply makes me see it's not quite like that and probably isn't really a serious problem. Without this blog post I wouldn't have known the full story.

Anne Other-Anon

Patsy said...

I didn't know until very recently either, Anne.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Well, I never knew that, Shirley, but you've answered the comments very well!

wannabe a writer said...

I'm really glad that Shirley posted a response to this discussion. All too often social media can become a one-sided approach and I think that Shirley has eloquently put forward her side of the story. Yes, its tough to get success as a short story writer in today's market and I am well aware of what it feels like to have my submissions rejected, but now I can imagine what it must be like to want to write but to be contractually prevented from doing so. As writers I feel it is important to see things from multiple points of view and I think that this discussion has only highlighted that for me.