Monday, 25 July 2011

Writing stories for magazines

Over the past year or two, I've tried to hone my craft by completing short stories for the few magazines out there that still publish fiction.

At the outset, I had no idea what I was doing. Pulling together a few stories I'd already written, I sent them off to magazines that published fiction. Of the first nine, just one was accepted. I realised I had a lot to learn, bought some more magazines, did some online research, and started over.

Of the online information available, Womag ( is the unsurpassed Queen of How to Get your Short Story Published. Her blog has all the guidelines from the different magazines that publish fiction and she and her 450+ followers are involved in campaigns to keep the short story slot in magazines.

Thanks to Womag and my ever-patient husband who reads everything I write, I'm getting a much better hit rate. Every acceptance makes me feel like I've won the lottery. In the midst of agent rejections and the continued absence of a bidding war over my latest novel, seeing my name in print and receiving a few pounds for my efforts feels amazing. And, in the process, I've found that short stories are really helping me to learn how to manage my time, come up with new ideas, and adapt my voice.

Now, I read each magazine carefully, think of stories that might appeal to their demographic, and write specifically for that publication. The People's Friend, the Weekly News and Yours magazine have accepted my stories, and I feel like I now understand what they're looking for. Women's Weekly is still proving elusive, but I'm going to keep trying.

Wish me luck!

Monday, 18 July 2011

The Cirencester Writers' Group

I mentioned last October that, after the Cheltenham Literature Festival, I was setting up my own Writers' Group. I thought I'd take some time to put down the two common pitfalls of writers groups - both of which I've tried to avoid in my own.

Pitfall one: amateur hour
Let's face it, nearly everyone has plans to write a novel at some point. We all fancy ourselves as expert graspers of the English language (is 'graspers' a word? Oh well) and believe that we have something to say that will thrill everyone else. However, most people with such a dream fall at the first hurdle, which is to put anything down in writing. A goodly number fall at the second hurdle, which is to put anything down in writing that is readable. Then, nearly all the rest fall at the third hurdle, which is to put anything down in writing that is publishable.

People who are going to fall at hurdles two or three are those who tend to attend writers' groups. I have, however, met a woman who wanted to join my group, despite telling me that she was an artist and had no plans to be a writer...she just liked 'creative people'. Oddball. Anyhoo, I wanted to find those people who were on the way to the finish line, rather than those who were never going to make it past hurdle two or three. After all, if I want to make it, I want advice and support from people who are likely to make it themselves.

So, when I asked people to join my writers' group, I specified that it must be for people who are serious about their writing. Only those who were intent on reaching that finish line of publication were invited.

Pitfall two: style wars
I want to write commercial fiction. I see no shame in this. Why on earth should I? Wouldn't all writers want their work to be read and appreciated widely? Well, no. Unfortunately not. Many writers (even published ones, but I've personally found many unpublished ones to be worse about this) think that the sign of good writing is that nine-tenths of the population have no idea what they're rabbiting on about. Not me. The last thing I wanted for my writers' group was a wannabe writer looking down their nose at the rest of us while we groped our way through their muddy prose, informing us that we didn't have the intellect to understand.

So, when I asked people to join my writers' group, I specified that it was for people who wanted to write commercial fiction. And, by commercial fiction, I meant anything that sells well.

The story so far...
So far, it's gone really well. I started off with fourteen names and email addresses at the Cheltenham Festival, and ended up with seven people turning up regularly.

Like all groups who gather, we tend to wander off into chat when the opportunity presents itself, but I feel like I've learnt so much from each of the people who've joined. We each share our work and invite comments, and I've found that I put time and effort into the feedback I give as well. One of our number has even secured an agent! (yes, I admit, I'm madly envious, but it just spurs me onwards!)

And, you never know, perhaps in a few years, a publisher or agent somewhere might wonder about how it came to be that so many new authors hail from around the Cirencester area...

Sunday, 10 July 2011

The RNA and the future

I've just returned from one day at the Romantic Novelists Association's (RNA) annual conference. With a three-month-old baby it was always going to be a struggle to get there, but I made it for the Saturday (thanks to a week of diligent pumping...tmi?...and a very supportive husband who willingly hung out in Caerleon with the baby, bringing her to me at lunch for her midday feed and juggling bottles and hot water for the interim ones).

It was well worth the effort. Not only did I get to rub shoulders with some impressive authors, agents and editors, but I also attended various workshops that helped get me back thinking about how to make my book 'the' one for publication.

Earlier this year, I submitted my novel (currently titled Sister Swap, previously More to Life, previously the Sisterly Conspiracy, previously the Golden Rule...can you tell I have trouble choosing titles?) to the RNA's New Writers Scheme. For the bargain price of £103, you get membership to the RNA and a full critique of your entire manuscript. Although the feedback is anonymous, you are guaranteed to be read by someone who knows what they're talking about. I received about four pages of written feedback plus comments all over my first three chapters. Excellent. I have been rewriting it in the odd minutes my baby sleeps but have since come to the conclusion that I need something more...

And that's a hook. A really good, grabbing hook that means any agent or editor who looks at my cover letter not only goes 'hmm...' but 'wow'. So far, I am sorry to say that this has not been the case.

I don't think there's anything terribly wrong with my book. I think it's quite funny, interesting and light. But it's not a first novel. Not yet, anyway. So, I have to decide whether to rehaul it (current options include shelving an entire character, and hence a third of the book) or starting over.

I have a lot to think about, but I'm determined to remain positive. After all, if I can come up with a good enough hook and a new book, perhaps Sister Swap can be my second novel...? :)