Guest Short Story Writer, Samantha Tonge - Reading between Rejection

Having sold almost 30 short stories to woman’s magazines (small potatoes compared to some of their writers, and I’m still learning), I might be in a position to offer some advice, on how to break into this market. However, I suspect anyone who regularly reads this blog realises, by now, that the key ingredients to success for getting published in any area of writing are mostly:
Hard work

And, of course, an unlimited supply of your particular poison -  caramel Tunnocks bars are my latest – to see you through the good and bad times.

More specifically for the womag market (that’s what it’s called) I would add:
Always carry a notebook – you never know when an idea might strike
Read the tabloids – I am often inspired by their tales and surveys
And, of course, get to know the market. A brief summary of the various magazines, according to my opinion is:

Take-a-Break Fiction Feast – interested in a diverse range of stories – crime, humour, twist-in-the-tail, romance, supernatural

Woman’s Weekly – slightly more literary, often deal with ‘issues’ – the 2 stories I’ve sold them touch upon bereavement and mental health.

The People’s Friend – cosy, moral, uplifting family stories, about the young and old, nostalgia, romance, inoffensive in every way.

The Weekly News - will take the quirkier stories, likes twists-in-the-tail, plus from the male POV as their readers are from both sexes.

Perhaps it might be more useful, though, if I take you through some of my rejections and what I actually think they mean, when an editor has said that my story is…

Too flat/level – whilst the scene and characters don’t need to be big, the story mustn’t be too slight. What are the stakes? Is there any conflict? What revelation is there by the end? Does the main character change?

Not engaging enough – do we care enough about the characters? Is the story visual? Does the plot suck us in so that we want to read on?

Too stilted – read your story out loud, especially sections of dialogue that run to more than a sentence – would a real person actually say that?

Too real – if the story is in anyway based on your own experience, don’t make it sound too autobiographical. Perhaps write it in the 3rd person instead of the 1st. Remember, it is fiction, not a memoir.

Finally, there will always be what I’d call random reasons, for rejection.
-       we’ve just bought a story like that
-       our readers don’t like pretend characters (huh? No one told me Father Christmas wasn’t real!)
-       our publisher owns Friends Reunited and wouldn’t like the number of times you’ve mentioned Facebook.

I guess sometimes, you just can’t win!

Womag writing is rewarding, fun and an excellent way of earning money from short stories. Whilst it’s a shrinking market, with many of the magazines now preferring celebrity gossip stories to fiction, the magazine fiction specials have their fanbase and fingers crossed, will ride out the recession.

For anyone interested, there is a Woman’s Weekly roadshow 13-15th September 2012, near the Trafford Centre in Manchester, where you can book yourself into seminars on how to write fiction for them:

Best of luck!
Samantha Tonge has sold short stories to Take-a-Break Fiction Feast, Woman’s Weekly, The People’s Friend and The Weekly News. Currently, she has stories appearing in the 1st Sept and 8th Sept 2012 issues of The People’s Friend.
Also, Samantha writes romantic comedy novels and her agent is currently seeking homes for Doubting Abbey and Must Love Ghosts. She has two children, two kittens, two rabbits, and, um, just one husband.


Pat Posner said...

Great post, Sam!

I think your 'reading between rejection' breakdown was spot on.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Pat! Well, as you may know, you learn to read between them after receiving, ahem, quite a few:)

Sam x

Alana Duffy said...

Great post, Sam. I especially like the 'reading between rejections'. Sometimes it isn't until after I have recieved a rejection that I slap my forehead and wonder why I hadn't spotted that problem before sending the story off, lol. But in general I try and learn from all rejections I receive (which is a lot). I think that's all we can do :)

Alana x

Anonymous said...

Hi Alana,

Yes, i agree, sometimes it seems obvious - after subbing - why the story has been rejected, and that is very frustrating! But, like we often say, any feedback is great as it's the main way we can learn - from our mistakes!

Sam x

Gillian McDade said...

Thanks for visiting Strictly, Sam. I admire your success and perseverance. I can't for the life of me write a short story. I just can't!

Anonymous said...

I used to say that, Gillian, and then after 4 years of writing novels, managed to write one for a competition. I came nowhere, but it seemed to spark a part of my brain that suddenly realized perhaps it could think of a beginning, middle and end within 1000 words!

Go on, try it!

And thanks for having me:)

Sam x

Tina said...

Good post Sam - I always knew you'd get there one day :)

I think the good thing about rejections is we all learn from them. Yes they smart at first, but we learn to grow a very thick skin and most importantly not to tale it personally. It's not a rejection of us or even our writing, but of the story itself for - as you pointed out so well - various reasons.

May you continue to have lots of success :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks Tina.

Yes, you are absolutely right, Tina, very valid point and one that's quite hard to take on board, when you are starting out, because it always feels so raw.

One recent rejection said my story was 'dull' and i didn't even flinch. Blimey, must have a rhino hide, now:)

Sam x

Caroline Green said...

What a great post. So much valuable advice here, thank you Sam!

DT said...

Thanks for an insightful overview, Sam. I always found magazine stories a bit of a mystery, but I can see a little more clearly now.

Rejects? I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention...not!

Debs Riccio said...

I'm the same as you, Gillian, I can't for the life of me work out what's a short story (in my head) or part of something longer. I get so confused I end up doing neither :/ Great advice, Sam, thanks for stopping by *rushes out to get People's Friend*

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Caroline!

Let's agree not to count, Derek:) I've a nasty feeling, including novel rejects, i'm well into teh hundreds now. But then Stephen King had 700 rejects, so i'm in good company!

Thanks for asking me, Debs:)

Sam x

MaryJ said...

Thanks Caroline.

Fascinating with great insight. All best and thanks for sharing.