Thursday, 19 October 2017

Interview with womag legend Clare Cooper

Clare Cooper's last guest post was so popular that I simply had to plead with her to come back. I'm delighted that she's not only agreed to an interview, but has offered to answer some of your questions too!

There's a new fiction editor at WW now and preferences and requirements vary from magazine to magazine, but I feel there are more similarities than differences between womag short stories. Do you agree?

Definitely. I think everyone wants to read stories that engage them and draw them in, stories with warmth and integrity, believable characters in believable situations that resonate with the reader. I know I do!

What do you think are the key ingredients to a good womag story?

Everything I have said in my comment above. Something to make you think, laugh and cry, to coin a cliché. The ones I remember most of the many thousands I read were those that made me cry and that struck a chord in some way.

How many stories did you receive at Woman's Weekly in an average week/month?

Impossible to say for sure. Several hundred maybe. It varied hugely; for instance, summer holidays and Christmas would see a slight dip in submissions.

And you were there for 29 years! I've done the maths and factoring in your holidays, that works out at... umm, LOTS. I'm guessing that, due to space constraints, you sometimes had to reject stories which didn't really have much wrong with them?

Holidays or not, the stories still had to be read! We would never return a story we liked enough to publish unless, for example, it was a Christmas or other seasonal story that had just missed the deadline, in which case we would ask them to resubmit it in good time the following year, if they still wanted to.

Another scenario would be if we had just bought/were about to publish a story on a similar theme. We would have to hang on to the new story for a very long time before we could use it, which would be unfair to the writer as they could try to sell it elsewhere first. Especially since, under the new Desknet payments system, stories can’t be paid for until they are assigned to a specific issue.

One of the reasons you gave for rejection was 'well-worn theme'. Which themes cropped up far too often?

Brace yourselves! Relationship break-ups, retirement, weddings, age-gap stories of both sexes, difficult stepchildren, school reunions where the narrator hopes/dreads bumping into someone they used to lust after, or the school bully (or both), or they turn out to have been the school bully themselves, lonely elderly people being befriended by their new neighbours’ cheeky young children, bringing them out of themselves and becoming their surrogate grandparent, blind date stories, or ones where the narrator’s partner was “stolen” by their best friend and they have a chance to make it up years later - or not! Evil mothers-in-law. Awkward daughters-in-law. “Surprise” anniversary parties. Affairs from both sides. Adopting rescue animals and ending up with the man/woman from the rescue centre, or the vet, or someone they meet while out dog-walking. Someone sorting through the contents of their loft, reflecting on the past, etc. People you thought were real but who turn out to be ghosts. Confirmed bachelors set in their ways being forced to look after someone’s pet or child and having a change of heart. Wives getting their own back on their miserable, mean husbands, to the point of murder sometimes (I would write in the margins: JUST LEAVE HIM)!!

These are the ones that spring immediately to mind but there are many more! Of course, there are no new themes under the sun, it’s how the writer tells the story that matters and we have used all of the above themes ourselves over the years.

What were the most common reasons for rejection?

The dreaded well-worn theme. In other words, no real surprises, which was another way of saying too predictable/guessable. Stories that seemed to be about more than one subject, disjointed and hard to follow. Stories that were, to put it bluntly, too soppy, twee or sentimental for our market or where the plot is too slight. Endings that tailed off in a limp, unsatisfactory manner. They are hard to do for a lot of people and we often tweaked them ourselves. Sometimes it was only a matter of adding a line or swapping the final two or three paras around to strengthen the whole thing. Ex WW Editor, Diane, hated endings which were, as she put it, “Wrapped up in a bow”. In other words, “And they all lived happily ever after.” Too neat, too cosy, too safe. So long as there was some hint of resolution, or hope on the horizon, that was usually enough. Never anything too hopeless, downbeat or miserable, though.

Another reason for rejection is “too far-fetched and unlikely”. Often, we would say this and then the writer would come back and say that it really did happen to them, or a friend of theirs.  My reply to that would be a true event doesn’t necessarily always make for a good, “proper” well-rounded story.  Sometimes we just have to accept that truth really is stranger than fiction and leave it at that!

Can you offer any tips to make sure a story grabs the editor's attention for the right reasons?

As with novels, you can usually tell from the opening sentence if a story is going to grab you or not. Certainly, by the end of the first para/page you will have some idea. We would always advise writers to study the magazine over several issues to get a feel for our tone and style. At the end of the day, though, you have to write in your own voice, as Fiction Editor Gaynor used to say. Read other people’s stories but use your own voice to tell yours.

Did you see any avoidable errors which resulted in stories not being accepted? 

Yes, a lot of people don’t realise that magazines have to work weeks and weeks ahead of the printed issue, so for Christmas stories it’s never too early, as I always used to say. By now, the Christmas and New Year stories will have been chosen and worked on for both Woman’s Weekly and the Fiction Special. Easter, Mothers Day, Valentines Day, etc - get them all in well before Christmas!!

No contact details and even, in some cases, no name or title on the story, let alone pages not numbered and words not counted used to drive us potty. Imagine the scenario: You have just printed out 30 or 40 stories which have been emailed to you and now you have to marry up story and writer, write their details on the copy, go back into the story to check the word count and write that and the page numbers down as well. A laborious and time-consuming job which happened far more often than it should have done!

However, for the unsoliciteds, our assistant Maureen kept a large file marked “No details” and it was sadly full of stories such as these. So those people who grumble that they have never heard back from a magazine should realise this could be the reason why!

Despite the frustrations involved, we would never outright reject a story just because it wasn’t presented correctly. That would be pointless. Or if the number of words wasn’t right for our needs. In that case, we would ask the writer to go back and either trim the story down to a one-page, or increase the wordage to a two-page, if the plot could take it. A comment I often heard was, “Do you read them all?” My response to that was always, “What on earth would be the point if we didn’t?” We needed the stories, simple as that. The only stories we rejected outright were the hand-written ones, as they were almost always impossible to read and, in any case, if accepted would have had to be either scanned and corrected or typed up by us.

Was there any 'magic' ingredient which would improve a story's chance of success?

There’s no magic ingredient, sadly. Just a well-written story that grabs the reader from the start. Presentation is important, of course, but the best presented story in the world won’t make it if it’s not well written or doesn’t hit the mark.

Sometimes contributor letters asked for particular styles or lengths of story. Was there anything which was generally in short supply?

While it could fluctuate at times, we always found the one-page stories to be the hardest to get right. To fit everything into just under a thousand words yet still have a fully-rounded story in there, with not-too-obvious a twist (or slight bend) is incredibly difficult to do.

Writing is hard. We know that. And on that cheerful note, I wish you all the very best of luck!


If you have writing related questions for Clare, please put them in the comments and she'll select some to answer. (Please use a name or nickname to help her with replies.)





Wednesday, 18 October 2017

In the Moment magazine

In The Moment magazine is a monthly publication which will consider unsolicited fiction submissions.

"Short story submission guidelines


We don’t accept idea pitches but we are happy to receive ready written stories for consideration. The word length we require is 2,000-2,400 words. We are looking for fiction whereby the main protagonist is a woman (not a child), where the story is thought-provoking and moving and where there is a positive resolution (a ‘moving on’, a hope for better things to come) at the end of the story. As the story is featured in our ‘Take A Moment’ section we are looking for a poignant, calming read. We don’t mind if the story has been previously published or not.

Non-fiction


We do accept pitches for features (not full articles) from freelance writers."

The email address is - calmmoment@immediate.co.uk

I'd like to add a few words of caution ... 

Firstly, this is a monthly magazine and won't be buying many stories. If they're flooded with submissions they won't be able to cope, so it's in not in anyone's interests for writers to send in a whole batch of submissions.

Secondly, although they'll consider previously published fiction, you must ensure you still hold the copyright. If you've sold the story anywhere which takes full rights, or are still within any exclusivity period (as required by almost all womags) then you can't submit that story.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The People's Friend Pocket Novels

I'm just having a tidy up of the blog to, hopefully, make it much easier to find what you want. The PF pocket novels didn't have their own category, so I'm adding that into the link list now.

(If you're not sure how to find particular guidelines, this page explains it.)

Coincidentally, since I created this post PF have been tweeting requests for submissions of 37.000 word pocket novels - not 42,000 as stated in the guidelines. I've contacted Tracey Steel and can confirm 37,000 words is now correct and that the guidelines will be updated soon.




Sunday, 15 October 2017

Your go

Does anyone have any womag news, questions, tips, advice or general comments they'd like to share?

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Beyond womags

I love writing short stories for women's magazines and can't imagine giving them up, but they're not my only reason for bashing the keyboard. I'm a romance novelist too (and I write articles on writing and have co-authored a writing book.)

My latest novel, a romance, is out now. 

Leave Nothing But Footprints

Jessica Borlase always gets what she wants. From cocktails in the exact shade of her manicure, holiday on Capri with friends, to a spacious apartment, her father's money makes it possible. She enjoys the luxurious lifestyle and is grateful for his support, but frustrated to always be treated as Daddy's pampered little girl. She tries to break free, by leaving Borlase Enterprises and studying photography.

Now what Jess wants is the utterly gorgeous Eliot Beatty; a world famous photographer who often uses his talents to benefit conservation projects. Her father attempts to bribe Eliot into taking Jess on an assignment in order to teach her the skills she'll need to develop a career. Although annoyed at the interference, she's delighted to discover this means two weeks with Eliot in the beautiful countryside of South Wales and close confines of a campervan. Trouble is, the man can't be bought.


Jess eventually manages to persuade Eliot to take her. She believes she can earn his respect and that she's ready for the hard work, long hours and living conditions far short of those she's used to. She's wrong on all counts. Can Jess learn to cope with the realities of the trip, and is Eliot really worth the effort?

Do you write anything other than womag stories? If so, what? 

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Stay calm!

I have news of another new (at least to me and this blog) short story market. 'In The Moment Magazine' publishes short stories and will consider those submitted by writers not yet known to them.

The guidelines are on the way – and I'm still hoping to get some for the new market I mentioned last week.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Magazine Fillers

Carol Bevitt has some useful advice for anyone interested in writing 'fillers' for magazines.

Amongst other things, she mentions replying to Facebook questions from magazines. I did that once and got paid after my answer (on whether people meant and kept their wedding vows) was published.

Friday, 6 October 2017

A change at The Weekly News

There's a new address for submitting stories to The Weekly News – jfinlay@dctmedia.co.uk If you've recently used the old address don't worry as that still works at the moment, but Jill would prefer you to use the new one from now on.

For details on the type of stories Jill is looking for, see here and here.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Story lengths – and a new market

Shirley Blair (fiction editor at The People's Friend) has explained the situation with 1,200 word stories. To sum up, to increase your chances and reduce the waiting time, submit longer stories.

My Weekly are asking (on their facebook page) if readers prefer serials or shorter stories.


Spirit and Destiny magazine want both ficton and non fiction stories.

Non fiction – "I would love to hear from anyone who has a tale to tell about something spooky, or an angelic encounter, or an experience which has led you to have a strong belief in the afterlife.
Contact Features Editor Tracie Couper at tracie.couper@bauer.co.uk"
Fiction – Starting from next January, stories of around 650 words will be wanted, on themes suitable for this publication. Contact Katy Moon for more information. katy.moon@bauermedia.co.uk
I've requested full guidelines and will post these as soon as I get them (if I do).

Monday, 2 October 2017

Guest post from womagwriter Cara Cooper

Following shortly after the one from Clare, I have another guest post by a C Cooper. This is total coincidence - I'll be very happy to receive posts from writers with different names!

Cara Cooper is a lovely lady who writes lovely stories - and was very kind to a certain seaside writer when she worried she'd get lost in London on her way to a workshop. (OK, I'll admit it was me and I have no sense of direction.) Anyway, over to Cara ...

As a writer I feel we are often like old fashioned mangles! There’s a lot of squeezing involved. First there’s the effort of squeezing a story out of your poor old brain when all it wants to do is laze in front of the Bakeoff. The next lot of squeezing comes in trying to get as much as possible out of the precious words you’ve crafted. That in itself is an art and there are various ways to do this.
When you first get into the writing game, acronyms like PLR and ALCS and can be a mystery as they were for me. Linking into writing groups on social media can be invaluable for learning what’s what. So can organisations such as the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA) or the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) both of which I have found really helpful. 

Meeting people both in person, and online in this way was how I discovered I could sell the large print rights of my pocket novels and the magazine serials I had written to Ulverscroft  http://www.ulverscroft.com/home.php
They are a great company, not least because of the very nice people they have there. Also, their ethos is to bring large print books to libraries the world over. It’s excellent news for us writers. This is because a pocket novel only spends a couple of weeks on the shelves and an episode of a magazine serial is out there for even less time at only one week. However, an Ulverscroft book can be available for years. When you’ve toiled hard over your pocket novel or serial, it’s nice to know that you can increase its life by submitting to Ulverscroft. As you’ll see from an earlier post on this blog, (just put Ulverscroft in
the search box) they are only interested in previously published works of around 25,000 to 70,000 words. Do however check with the original publisher first to check what rights you have sold them and what are available to you to sell on. Also some magazines may ask that you send your original manuscript to Ulverscroft, not the version into which they themselves have had editorial input.
 
As well as seeing your book on library shelves with covers that have excellent artwork, you will earn PLR (Public Lending Right) on loans of your book which is a nice bonus. Another bonus can be applying for ALCS (Authors Licensing and Copying Society) payments which you can do by logging on to their helpful website https://www.alcs.co.uk/

I didn’t realise that I could apply for ALCS payments for longer titles and missed out. But at least I have learnt for future publications. Good luck in applying to Ulverscroft, just contact them with a brief blurb and see what they think.

You can find more of Cara's books here.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

People's Friend word counts

In my last post, I said that I'd recieved a rejection from The People's Friend. In my case the word count wasn't the issue, but writers have mentioned that they have been rejected for that reason. In her blog post, The People's Friend fiction editor Shirley Blair explains which word counts she is currently looking for and why work which doesn't fit these categories might be rejected.

Btw, The People Friend isn't the only womag which accepts unsolicited fiction - there are at least half a dozen more. Scroll down the page to find 'magazine guideline - quick links' for details of all the womags I'm aware of.

UPDATE 5th October 2017

Shirley Blair has more to say on this subject here.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Rejection reaction

I've just had a rejection from The People's Friend. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised as so far that's the result of all my submissions to this particular market, but this one made it as far as Shirley (the big boss) so I was more optimistic than usual.

Naturally I'm disappointed - no one wants a rejection - but I'm already thinking about suitable ideas for another story to send to The Friend. This is the only one of the magazines which I submit to that hasn't accepted anything of mine and I'm determined to complete the set!

What do you do after a story is rejected (I'm rashly assuming that you do, at least occasionally, have work rejected). Does it make you want to give up with that piece, or that market, or are you spurred on to try again?

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Woman's Weekly - the inside story!

I'm thrilled that Clare Cooper (who was until very recently deputy editor of Woman's Weekly Fiction Special and deputy fiction editor of Woman's Weekly) has agreed to give us an insight into what went on in the WW offices.

I remember my first day on Woman’s Weekly. I was packed off to an induction course and then, later on, introduced to everyone on the magazine. As we went round the office (separate rooms for each dept in those days and treble the amount of staff – a stark contrast to how it is now), I remember feeling slightly shocked yet also impressed that most of them had been there for many years. I was taken aback at how OLD so many of them were, having just come from a very “young” publishing company myself, but also taking it to be a very good sign. Little did I know that I, too, would become one of the “oldies” one day and end up staying there for 29 years! Yes, I was there BC – before computers.

My boss, Gaynor Davies, who was there for 37 years, termed the phrase “The knitted handcuffs”. Once you had settled in and found your niche, it would take something quite extraordinary to winkle you out of your comfort zone.

People often mock women’s magazines, saying that they are shallow and trivial, yet we had many letters and emails from readers telling us how our magazine had helped them. I particularly remember the letter we received from a lady in Northern Ireland. She said that another bomb had just gone off nearby and Woman’s Weekly kept her sane in an intolerable situation.

Almost every week, the Champagne was cracked open to celebrate yet another rise in the sales figures. The Cookery dept would put on a spread and, round about October/November time, everyone would gather in the kitchen to devour roast turkey and all the trimmings, which had just been photographed for one of the Christmas issues.

At the end of each week, Cookery would put out all the food they had left over from testing and cooking from that week and there would be a rush to get there for first pickings. When they had an ever-popular traybakes special in the magazine, the scrum was almost unseemly.

A previous editor remarked that the fire alarm going off would elicit groans and grumbles and everyone would reluctantly amble out of the building to the designated safe space. A cry of “Cake!” echoing down the corridor, however, and it was every man and woman for themselves.

When anyone could finally bring themselves to leave the magazine, there was always a big leaving do: lunch, gifts, flowers, cake, a card with a mocked-up WW cover with said persons’ face on it along with suitable coverlines, and a vat of Pimm’s so huge you could almost take a dip in it, traditionally made by the Knitting dept for reasons lost in the mists of time.

When I joined, I was told about the famous Woman’s Weekly birthdays. They were pretty special: presents, cards, flowers, everyone singing “Happy Birthday” to you, a long lunch with 30 or more staff and a birthday cake baked especially for your tastes. So, chocolate for me, always, but for Gaynor, who couldn’t eat wheat or dairy, a fabulous concoction of different flavours of fruity sorbets and ices. I wish I had kept the email that came round, some years ago now, in which Cookery very apologetically explained that, due to staff and budget cutbacks, they could no longer make a birthday cake for everyone. The word “Spoilt” hovered in my mind at that point. In a sad way, though, it was the marker for many more changes and things were never quite the same again.

Still on the subject of food, a gang of us would troop up to the canteen every day (on the 29th floor, with dizzying, jaw-dropping views to distract you from your meal), where the carvery used to cost just one pound. The salad bar was of the “all you can eat” kind and a particularly greedy colleague used to pile her plate so high it was embarrassing. Her nickname was “Desperate Dan” and the till staff were often overheard making rude remarks about the size of her plates. There was always laughter, though and ours must have been the liveliest table there, especially on the day when a rather buxom colleague dropped an earring into her cleavage and, quick as a flash, our sharp-witted production editor, Alan, said, “There’s gold in tham thar hills.” The entire table erupted.

Magazines held regular staff sales of clothes, shoes, knitting, fabrics, cushions and other home-related goodies, books, make-up, wine, cameras, horsey items and anything and everything relating to the many magazines in the company. Manners seemed to fly out the window at these and I once witnessed a woman running around the tables in an effort to beat the rest. And two women in a very unseemly grapple for a bottle of perfume. It got so bad, an admonishing email was sent round informing everyone that, if they didn’t behave, the sales would cease.

Proceeds from our own sales throughout the year went towards our Christmas party, sometimes held outside the office if we had had a particularly good year, or inside if not. Dismantling and removing the computers, setting up the bar on one of the desks, draping tinsel everywhere and dancing round the photocopier (tapes provided by staff; DJ Kevin from the art dept) are all fond memories for me.

Readers trusted us to the point of madness. One woman wrote in to our problem page with the name of the tablets her doctor had prescribed for her. She didn’t know what they were for, and wanted us to tell her! Given the lead times for the magazine, the poor soul may well have been dead by the time the issue came out, if indeed her letter was even printed. But I imagine someone would have told her to go back to her doctor or, at the very least, speak to a chemist.

Our problem page editor was also the Mother of our union chapel. During one meeting in her office, her phone rang and it was a reader whose tampon had got stuck. In front of everyone, the editor talked the distressed reader down, inch by inch.

One year, we raised funds for “Wells for Gambia” which was a charity set up by the author Philippa Gregory, who used to write for us. One day, we received through the post a very small, thin envelope which was tightly packed with what amounted to a thousand pounds, in notes, with no covering letter. The girl who opened it was shaking. I can see it now and I often wonder who had sent it – and in such a casual fashion!

We had cover-mounted gifts in those days – remember those?! On one occasion, it was dried mashed potato that had exploded when it got damp in the warehouse and on another, a comb complete with ready-supplied lice.

There was a rather nice bike on offer in the magazine once and I can still see our deputy editor, John, riding it up and down the corridor to test it out.

Jiffy bags or, sometimes, boxes of books for review arrived in to the office on a daily basis – like Christmas every day. And even more so when we did the Christmas books pages. One year, my task was to package up books and send them out to selected celebrities to review. After a couple of weeks, I had to ring them all up to get their reviews over the phone – not everyone was on email in those days. I particularly remember how lovely Pam Ferris and Lynda Bellingham were.

We used to run serial writing competitions many years ago. The awards ceremony lunch included speakers such as Maeve Binchy and Rosamunde Pilcher, who were both charming, and our workshops in the early days invited publishers, agents and such literary luminaries as Philippa Gregory, Fay Weldon and – er - Edwina Currie (who was much prettier in the flesh and actually very nice - softly spoken and unexpectedly modest).

Still name-dropping: When our Features dept, knowing how I feel about him, asked me to interview Pasha Kovalev from Strictly over the phone for a short feature in the magazine, I nearly dropped through the floor. I had rather been hoping for a face to face interview, but it was only a very short feature after all and the interview was over in minutes. I wished it had been somewhere more private, and was very aware of everyone around me earwigging (damn those open-plan offices!), so had to keep it polite and professional and to the point. I still have his number, though… any offers?!

Over the years, I was able to write a few short stories for WW and also other magazines in the company, under another name, plus a couple of small features. Writing is a big passion for me, along with reading. I hasten to add that I was rejected, too, by my own magazine and others. Not everything I wrote was accepted, so I do know and understand how it feels!

There were some heated debates in our dept over stories we disagreed on. I didn’t always win them but I put up a good fight on behalf of the writers, who trusted us with their precious words. I always felt strongly that someone should speak up for them and, of course, as we often said in our regular round robin letters, we were very grateful to receive the amount of stories we did.

I miss the daily contact with the writers and I miss reading all their wonderful stories, some of which struck such a strong chord with me, they have stayed in my mind for years after I read them. There is an immense amount of talent out there and I am so proud of them all.

Fiction has always been an important element of the magazine and I sincerely hope that it continues to flourish under the new regime.


All together now: “Keeeep writing!!!!”

Monday, 11 September 2017

Woman's Weekly contributor copies.

I've had a message from Danni Dawson - the new fiction editor at Woman's Weekly.

"Further to the changes in staff at Woman's Weekly, I'm afraid there is no longer anyone in the office to send out contributor copies of Woman's Weekly. It's possible to tell which issue your story will be published in when you receive your desk net notification.  Please check."


Saturday, 9 September 2017

Which do you like?

When it comes to reading short fiction, which is your favourite magazine?

Do you subscribe to any? If not, where do you get them?

(btw, if you've run out of short stories to read, you might like to consider downloading my latest collection from Amzon. £1.99 for 25 stories, or free to read with kindle unlimited.)