Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Guest post - Sharon Boothroyd on how she began writing

A few posts back , I wrote about how I began writing and how I had some invaluable early encouragement from a magazine editor. I asked then for posts from blog readers about how they got into writing, what made them start and what kept them going.

Here's Sharon Boothroyd's story:

I began writing seriously in 2010, when I managed to get a story published in Debut, the then sister magazine of Scribble.(Sadly, Debut folded a while ago –  however, Scribble still lives on!). 

I also entered a short story competition run by Linda Lewis. I didn't win – I wasn't even a runner up – but part of the entry fee included a critique from her. One sentence rang out – 'You write well.' From a high profile womag writer such as Linda, this was fantastic praise! 

I was chuffed to bits!

We kept up an email correspondence (on and off) and she has always encouraged me to never lose faith. 
She even decided to include my name and my question to her, in her 'Short story success' column for Writer's Forum magazine in October 2010, which was lovely to see!

Since then, I've continued writing and subbing regularly, and of course, reading and studying the stories in the magazines I hope to be published in. 

I realise that it's not an easy market to break into. When the rejections pile up, I take a break from stories, and focus on other projects for a while.

Then my mind is refreshed and I feel ready to start again. It's great to get paid for work, but I'm happy to write on a voluntary basis, too. Each writing success, whether big or small, is an achievement I feel immensely proud of.  
I know there's a lot of high quality womag writers out there, yet somehow, even in my more darkest, depressing moments, thanks to Linda, I've never lost my passion to write.

Three years later, we still keep in touch.

I haven't sold as many stories as Linda... but you never know what's around the corner! 

I love the way writers support each other. Does it happen in other professions to the same extent I wonder?
Sharon, by the way, is one half of the team which set up A Quick - a short story reading app for Android phones.
Sharon's website
Sharon's blog

Friday, 25 October 2013

Dear Editors

This is an open letter to all staff at the women's magazines dealing with submissions.

I've heard of a few cases recently where story submissions sent by post have been rejected and returned, and the writer has ended up having to pay excess postage.

This has happened for two different reasons:

  • Lots of stories have been stuffed into a single SAE, taking the weight over the limit.

  • An A5 SAE supplied by the writer has been taped onto an A4 envelope. The stamp supplied by the writer was only sufficient to cover small letter costs.

As you can imagine, it's very frustrating for a writer (or anyone!) to get one of those notes from the postman, saying they need to pay £1.50 or so to retrieve the letter. (You have to pay the excess postage plus a £1 admin fee.) The recipient has no idea what the letter will be until they pay the excess and collect the letter or have it redelivered.

So, please, if responding by email is not possible, please put a single rejection in the supplied envelope. If the writer has sent an A5 envelope, simply fold the submission. It will easily fit with one fold.

An alternative is for writers to stop supplying SAEs, and instead supply a stamped, addressed postcard marked with the story title and the word Rejection. The magazine staff could then simply post this and bin the story itself - if that would be acceptable to all?

Obviously none of this applies to those magazines who now use email only for submissions and responses, but there are still a few who prefer postal submissions (Take A Break, Woman's Weekly in particular). That's ok, we're happy to send by post, but we'd really prefer not to have to pay to get rejections!

Friday, 18 October 2013

The circle of writing

I got home last night to find a fab new review of Short Stories and How to Write Them, from Sally Zigmond. The review's on Amazon, and she's also put a lovely endorsement of the book on her blog. I went to bed last night with the biggest ever grin on my face. This review really means a lot - because she may not realise it, but Sally and I go wayyyyyyy back...

In the summer of 2003 I had just begun writing. I'd started a novel, and then an idea for a short story pinged into my head. Actually these days I would recognise that the idea was not a story - more a monologue - but I was new and inexperienced and excited, so I sat down and wrote it. It was from the point of view of a woman with advanced Motor Neuron Disease. She could no longer move, and lived out fantasies in her head. A family friend was dying of MND at the time, and I had her in mind as I wrote the story. When I'd completed it, I liked what I'd written and wondered, in the naive way of new writers, whether anyone would want to publish it.

I thought that the well-known women's magazines were probably not the best place to send my first ever story, and that I should start with a smaller market. So I searched online for women's short story magazines, and came across Quality Women's Fiction (QWF), then edited and owned by Jo Derrick. They paid £10 for a story, and I thought that seemed reasonable for my first ever offering, so I emailed it to them. Sally Zigmond was the submissions editor at the time.

I had a quick response from her, pointing out that if I'd bothered to read the submission guidelines I would see that they only took printed, mailed submissions.

Well, that was news to me. Submission guidelines? What were they? Did all magazines have them? Who'd have thought it!

So I went back to the website, found the guidelines, printed and posted the story along with a covering letter, and waited a month for the response.

When it came, it was a rejection, but Sally had taken the trouble to write half a page of feedback. I no longer have that email, sadly (owing a computer crash) but I remember that in amongst the criticism, Sally praised my writing style. She also pointed out that it wasn't really a story - there was no resolution - and she included suggestions on how to make it better.

Even in my dreadful naivety I realised that it was probably not the norm to get this amount of constructive feedback, and I treasured it. I rewrote the story, using some of Sally's suggestions, then resubmitted it to her. Still a rejection, but again, a lovely helpful email, and this whole experience gave me confidence that it was worth me continuing to write, and also taught me that I had a whole lot to learn.

I don't think I ever submitted to QWF again - I bought and read a few issues and as I progressed with writing, I realised my style was more suited to the women's magazines. But I never forgot Sally Zigmond's name, or the boost she'd given me right at the start of my writing career.

Fast forward a few years to 2007. By then I was beginning to have some success with the womags, and I decided to set up this blog. I had two aims:
1.  To put magazine submission guidelines in one, easy to find, place
2.  To try to pass on some of what I'd learned to other new writers

And fast forward again to 2013. I still regularly read Sally's blog, The Elephant in the Writing Room, and over the years have learned a lot from Sally. (I loved her novel Hope Against Hope and can't wait for her to publish another one.) I'm also facebook friends with Jo Derrick who now publishes The Yellow Room magazine.

So you can see why Sally's review of my book meant so much. It feels like we've come full circle.

How did you get into writing? Who or what gave you early encouragement? I'd love to hear your stories - if you've got a good one please consider writing a guest post for this blog!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Blogging, and Best

Two things I wanted to draw your attention to today.

Firstly the non-controversial one - help author Nicola Morgan out by taking 5 minutes to fill in this survey on blogs. What are your blog-reading habits? What makes you go back to a blog over and over? I must admit I want to see the results of this survey! I'm wondering if blogging has had its day. Everyone seems to be on facebook or twitter instead, these days.

And secondly, the magazine Best is holding a Christmas short story competition. Details are here. 1000 words, with a top prize of £1000. You need vouchers to enter but they can be printed off the internet, the first one is here. Sounds great, doesn't it? BUT before you enter do read Helen Yendall's post on her experiences of being a runner-up in last year's competition. It seems Best will publish the top 3 stories but only pay the winner. Make sure you're happy with this before you enter.

Personally I would prefer to see the prize fund split between all writers whose stories end up published. Because although there's kudos in coming second or third and seeing your story in print, kudos doesn't pay the bills and that story can't then be sold elsewhere (first rights will have gone).

What do you think? Would you be happy to be second, published, and unpaid? Some writers have asked Best the question both on their website and on their Facebook page, whether the runners-up will be paid, but so far no one's had a response.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Short Stories and How to Write Them

I'm delighted to announce publication of my second How To book - Short Stories and How to Write Them. Now available from Amazon as a Kindle ebook, priced just £1.53!

It contains fourteen of my short stories, all previously published in the womags. After each story is a discussion section covering topics like dialogue, story structure, point of view, making time to write, and many more. So it's in the same format as my previous book, Ghost Stories and How to Write Them and I hope will be as well received as that one was.

Please take a look, buy it if you like what you see, and if you enjoy it, please leave a review and tell others!

If you don't have a Kindle but would like to read it, go here to download a free Kindle reading app for iPhone, iPad, Mac, Android device, laptop or PC.

Also available from

Friday, 11 October 2013

Competitive Edge

Have you got it? Do you want it?

Head on over to Helen Hunt's blog. She's taking over from Sally Quilford at the Writers' Forum competitions page. Sally's been writing that column and compiling the comps calendar for five years now, and has done a great job. But it's time for a change, and Helen is stepping into her shoes to take over the column, now renamed Competitive Edge. It'll still list competitions and contain articles about the art and craft of competition entry, and I'm sure Helen will be a worth successor to Sally!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

New website!

I've created a new website under my own name. It's here. Please pop over and say hello there! I'll be blogging about once a week on that site, about me, life, writing, whatever comes to mind.

Don't worry, I'll still keep this blog going, for any news or articles relating to writing fiction for women's magazines, but it'll be lovely to see you all over on the new blog as well.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Guest Post - Sam Tonge on being published by AlfieDog

I'm a big fan of Sam Tonge's blog where she interviews not only other writers but people connected with women's magazines such as fiction editors and illustrators. Her writing is going from strength to strength, and she has a new short story collection Sweet Talk just out, published by Alfie Dog Fiction, available as both an ebook and a print book. 

In this guest post she talks about her experiences of publishing through Alfie Dog, and why she chose this route rather than self-publish.

Alfie Dog Fiction is an innovative short-story publisher, offering hundreds of stories available to download, plus collections, some of which are out in paperback. They have just published my short story collection, “Sweet Talk”, so I thought I would share my experience with those of you who are considering submitting your stories to them - and those of you who, like me, have never been through the process of publishing a book.

Back in June, I started off submitting my individual stories to Alfie Dog Fiction, most of which had been previously published by women’s magazines. Each one accepted was posted on the site, and available for download for 39p a time – I would earn 16p from each sale. Not a huge amount, but, to my mind, more than I’d earn if said sold stories were left to languish in my computer files.

Having had a number accepted, I approached Alfie-Dog Fiction’s editor, Rosemary Kind, to see if she would be interested in putting together a collection of my feel-good stories. Several of my fellow magazine writers have self-published their own collections, but this was never an option for me. I considered it better to have Alfie-Dog’s platform to sell my book from, as well as my own, plus, of course, the benefit of Rosemary’s experience as an editor and publisher. Also, unlike some of my fellow writers, technically, I lack confidence and knowledge regarding the self-publishing model. I didn’t want to have to invest a large amount of writing time learning how to correctly – and professionally - format the cover and contents, get the book onto Amazon, buy the IBSN number, etc.

To my delight Rosemary was interested and our first task was to decide on a title, to be taken from one of the stories we were considering. I suggested what I thought would be the most uplifting, appealing ones – “Sweet Talk” or “Bluebirds of Happiness”. Rosemary liked both, so I canvassed friends for their opinions. In retrospect, what luck that the majority chose “Sweet Talk” because this meant we had a wide range of covers to choose from, and - more importantly - when it came to asking retail outlets to stock the book, there was an obvious market: sweet shops.

The great thing about working with a very small, independent publisher is the input I’ve been allowed to have, at every stage. Rosemary offered me approval on all the cover choices, the font to use, positioning of the words… A journalist photographer friend of hers took a picture in Rosemary’s local sweet shop, which we both deemed perfect. Cover decided, Rosemary then selected 20 of my stories, covering a wide range of subjects and seasons. We discussed which should go first. I wrote the dedication, the acknowledgements, a paragraph about myself and the blurb for the back and Amazon page, all under the beady eye of Rosemary of course.

We began talking about how the sweet shop cover would really appeal to sweet and gift shops and I consulted writing friends who had successfully got their books into various retail outlets. I thought “Sweet Talk” might sell well as a gift, due to its feel-good nature and appealing cover. How exciting it was when Rosemary decided to invest in doing a trial print-run with my book - a first for Alfie Dog. This meant we would have 100 books to get into shops and that this would be feasible because we could offer a decent, attractive discount of up to 30%. If we’d not done a traditional print-run and tried to get the POD paperback version, from Amazon, into shops, we would only have been able to offer an unappealing - and frankly unworkable - 10% discount.

 Doing the print run meant we needed to add another story, to fit the printer’s page requirements. Then finally the order was made and several weeks later, I met up with Rosemary – and her lovely dog, Alfie - to pick up my copies. This was very exciting!

I love the look and professional quality of the physical book and have put on my thick skin to get it into outlets. So far, we have done deals with a gift shop, sweet shop and post office. I am waiting to hear from a book shop.

It’s been a fascinating journey and one which, in many ways, is only just starting.

 I hope this post provides a comprehensive view of Alfie Dog Fiction and the opportunities this inspired publisher offers.

Thanks Sam! The book does look good enough to eat and what a great idea to market it in sweet shops and as a gift. I've not had chance to read it yet, but it's on my Kindle, and up next.