Actually, between you and me (ssshh) this isn’t so very
generous really as I have already been paid for these stories. All bar one have been published in leading women’s magazines – mostly Women’s Weekly for whom I write regularly. I tell you this, not for head swelling- promise - but because quite a few writers ask me the secret to writing short stories which sell.
They also make the mistake of assuming that I write romance…which in fact I don’t.
What I explain is that you need to be very professional in your approach if you want to earn from short fiction. This means researching the markets and reading different magazines regularly to get to know their readership and their fiction preferences.
Those who want only to write literary stories, with no nod to markets, should of course look away now. You
can write without rules. As dark as you like (optimism entirely optional). The Bridport and all the other wonderful prizes and literary magazines are for you. I love a challenging literary story with the best of them. But I write for a
living and I have yet to meet a writer who earns very much from this sector.
So - many years ago I examined the women’s magazine market and began to see where my writing might fit in. I realised very quickly that romance was not for me. All respect to those who do it well; it just isn't my first choice as a writer. Very occasionally I will do a comic story with a nod to hearts and flowers but mostly I write challenging relationship stories and this is where you may be surprised.
The first story in my collection Moments is called The Jam Jar and I am incredibly proud that Woman’s Weekly ran it for it deals with a tough subject and not at all sentimentally. I chose a hindered narrator….and pushed the boundaries. All credit to Women’s Weekly . We had some very moving letters in response.
Because – here's the thing. Sure; women’s magazines want stories that will move readers. They want fiction to be ultimately uplifting. Hope needs to hang in there. But they also want range and good writing and they don’t want stories written to formula.
For myself I like writing relationship stories which explore what we learn from very difficult experiences. How tough stuff makes us grow.
But my memo to self is always to draw a firm line between strong emotional landscape and indulgent sentimentality. How?
I will give you an example from the television programme The Hours. Being a journalist ( 25 years in newspapers, magazines and TV news) I loved this series. There was a scene in the last one where an editor and foreign correspondent had been searching for their child – left behind in France for safety during the
war. Presumed adopted.
They followed some false trails, trying to find her and eventually discovered that she had died.
After confirming this terrible news, the male editor asked his former lover to leave the room. He began to tidy items on his desk. Straightening papers and staplers and the like. His former lover refused to leave. “You do what you need to do,” she said. His compulsive behaviour over the tidying became more and more extreme . Straightening. Tidying. Straightening. Tidying.
By the time his emotions finally exploded and he began to destroy the room, I was in bits.
For me portraying strong emotion in film and in literature is not about describing people weeping. It is about
describing what we all do to try desperately to hide what we are really feeling. The final story in my collection Dust is an example of this.
So. If you are looking to get into the commercial short story market – do have a look at my stories and let me know what you think. The Jam Jar is my personal favourite. There is just one in there which is clearly experimental (way too dark for the commercial sector). You will be able to guess which one easily.
The rest should help to illustrate that it is not only romance that leading magazines are looking for.
Happy writing. And just click on the MOMENTS book link opposite to download the collection. Or
click here FREE STORIES .
(And if you fancy a current story - my piece Balloons is in this week's Feb 19th Woman's Weekly. )