Tuesday, 8 January 2019

The other side of the desk

I'm sure many of you will remember Clare Cooper from her time on the fiction team of Woman's Weekly. Today she's sharing her experiences of life on the other side of the submissions desk.

Wanted: Writers to fill pages in magazines. Must have thick skins and be prepared to take criticism, rejection and incredibly long waiting times on the chin. Must learn to bite their tongues and not get stroppy, or they will be sent to the naughty desk. Must accept that not everything they write is going to see the light of day but must put their keen disappointment to one side, keep the faith and carry on regardless. Is there anybody out there mad enough to take on such a seemingly thankless job?

As I have mentioned before on here, the best part of my previous job as Deputy Fiction Editor on Woman’s Weekly was reading and selecting the short stories that appeared in the magazine each week and also in our monthly Fiction Special. The second-best bit was contacting the writers to let them know we wanted to buy their story. We always marvelled at how our brilliant band of writers continued to rise to the challenge and provide us with a never-ending supply of great fiction.

Fast-forward a year (and a bit more) since I left my job. Let’s face it, my previous role sounds quite cushy from where I’m sitting now, not doing a great deal and spending unhealthy amounts of time on social media. I have an idea for a novel but I’m stuck on it at the moment. I don’t feel motivated. How do people get inspired? Where do their ideas come from? Where do all those thousands of words come from? Do they feel like failures if they haven’t kept to their self-imposed deadlines, while others are getting on with it and producing their third novel in the same amount of time? It feels as though the world and his wife are writing books and social media is full of them promoting their work and plugging their friends’ work, to boot.

It’s all rather daunting and disheartening and, while I am struggling to get my novel idea off the starting block, I have been mulling over something I wrote on this website at the beginning of 2018, about getting writing fit for the coming year. Inspired by some kind comments, I thought I would try and see if anyone would like to publish it. I have never had to put myself “out there” and sell something to anybody, other than within my old company and to people I already knew, so it took a lot of nerve and effort to write the email and send my feature off into the ether – well, to Jonathan Telfer at Writing Magazine, anyway. To my relief, he liked it and it’s going into the February issue. Then, blow me if he didn’t get in touch to ask me to write about something else – for the same issue, as it turns out. Typical! You wait a year, and then two come along at once…

Yes, the view from the other side of the desk is more than a bit scary and it’s very early days, but I’d like to think there will be more literary gems dropping from my computer keyboard at some point. If not, and I’ve peaked too soon, at least I now have a much better understanding of what it’s like for everyone else – and I respect and salute you all! I feel I have an awful long way to go. Now, where did I put the application for that seemingly thankless job?

The February issue of Writing Magazine containing Clare's article is available from newsagents now. You might also like to visit her blog Hampton Caught.


carrie said...

Well done Clare, and good luck with your novel :)

Clare said...

Thank you! X

John D said...

Clare, as one who has only ever been "on the other side" I know all too well how daunting a prospect it is submitting work to a publisher, plus there was no specific time when - or if - you might hear back. There must be some masochistic need in us writers to be rejected; but how I hated those emails from Maureen Street - you knew before you'd even opened it that it was going to contain bad news. And yet. Despite all those rejections it would only need one acceptance to put everything right. I managed two with WW whilst you were there but now I have shifted my allegiance to People's Friend and am doing so much better. I've already had one pocket novel published by them plus a number of poems.
It's not for the faint hearted this writing business. We nurture our "babies" thinking. of course, that they're beautiful. And then we are shown the door - usually without explanation - and are left bruised and confused by the whole experience. Yet something inside of us compels us to keep going, don't ask me why.
Good luck with whatever you do. I have you to thank for giving me my first break in this field.

Anonymous said...

Yes it's always daunting to be on the other side and to sub your work. I was never lucky with WW although I did know early on that maybe my style was suited to that particular mag. I must admit I have always done well with The People's Friend and have now moved to writing Pocket Novels which is another daunting prospect to move up from 2k of works to 50k is not to be taken likely. I have read your article in WW with interest so well done and good luck with your novel I'm sure you will find mojo soon.

Clare said...

John, it's really nice to know we gave you your first break! To be fair, we did always give feedback to our regular writers. I'm so pleased you have gone on to greater things. Good luck and best wishes for the future.

Anon: Thank you for your kind words. Congratulations on your successes and I'm sorry it didn't work out for you with WW. Yes, I'm hoping my mojo will put in an appearance very soon!

Celia said...

Go for it Clare!
BTW just for fun - John D said "how I hated those emails from Maureen Street" - me too and for years I thought she was an invented person, just a name to hide behind when bad news had to be sent.
WRONG! She really did exist! She was so helpful when I couldn't sort out that wretched Desknet payment milarkey.
So sorry, Maureen.

clare.cooper1959@gmail.com said...

Poor Maureen, lol. We knew you all had a word for it: "Maureened." Well, that was the polite version, anyway!

Patsy said...

I'm one of those who used to doubt Maureen was a real person. When I found out she was I felt a bit sorry for her. That didn't make me any keener to hear from her though.

Carolb said...

Congratulations on the Writing Magazine items Clare and all the best with your 2019 plans.

Clare said...

Lol, Patsy!

Thank you, Carol!

Unknown said...

Clare, I loved writing for WW when you and Gaynor were in charge. I never liked the rejections, but I felt so happy about the acceptances, mainly because I was being allowed to write in my own quirky style. (Not appreciated by the whole world--I've no idea WHY????)

You'd be a very good agony aunt for writers. Could you suggest it to your contact at the writing magazine? It wouldn't bring in much in the way of income, but could be fun and maybe a step towards something else.

There are loads of people who remember you from WW, you might even boost readership.

Lizzy (from Canada).

clare said...

Dear Unknown, thank you. Such kind words and I am flattered you think I could be a writing agony aunt. I like that idea.
Keep writing! Quirky is good!
Clare X