"How would you define womag fiction?" is a question I was asked recently.
The simple, although perhaps not very helpful, answer is, "It's any fiction which is published in a magazine aimed at women."
They do have other things in common. Usually they'll be an easy read – no overly complicated sentences or words requiring use of the dictionary and Google searches in order to follow the plot. There are exceptions, but generally they won't be shocking, or seriously disturbing – though they might surprise you and make a reader think. They'll be intended to appeal to women – but not just women. Many womags have male readers and are a keen to encourage more. Usually the stories have a happy ending, and generally the main character will have brought this about themselves, rather than relying on a handsome man to save her (often, but not always, the main character is a woman.)
Perhaps it's easier to say what they're not? They aren't all the same. They're not all written to a standard formula. They don't comprise just one genre or style. You're as likely to read a tearjerker as something which makes you laugh, a modern ghost story might well be in the same issue as a historical romance.
The lengths are different – anything from around 500 words to 25,000 for some serials. Then there are pocket novels, at twice that length, which are still often considered womag, despite not actually being printed within the pages of a magazine. Word length is the easiest thing to know you've got right. Simply get your computer to count the words in your document and compare it to the guidelines (found in the quick links in the right hand column of this blog.) A few words out will usually be fine, but the closer you can get your story to the required length, the easier it will be for the editor to fit it on the page(s).
Sometimes editors will also give guidance on the type of stories they'd like and subjects they do, or don't, want covered. Again the guidelines might help. Sometimes editors send newsletters, or write blog posts (Shirley Blair of The People's Friend has her own blog) with this information, or you may get clues from editorials or even rejections.
Reading the fiction in a particular magazine is, I think, the best way to get a feel for the genres and subjects they're likely to publish. If you can, do read several issues – and make sure they're current ones, not those your great-granny bought when she was courting!
Reading the magazines also helps with what I think is the hardest aspect to get right – the tone. With some the stories will all be warm, maybe even quite gentle. Others will feature some with a bit of edge or darkness to them. Some editors prefer traditional stories, with a single POV and linear layout. Others like twist endings, or something a little more experimental, even quirky.
Relationships are always a popular topic for womag stories. These can be romances, friendships or stories about families. Keep It In The Family is my latest collection of 25 short stories, all in this latter category. Most of them have previously been published in womags.
Do you agree with my description of womag fiction? Do you have anything to add? Can you think of any genre or category of story which couldn't be adapted to suit a womag?