Thursday, 20 May 2010

SHORT STORIES - HELP, PLEASE

In a rare turning of the tables - and arguably a dereliction of duty - I am asking you for help. Or at least the short story writers among you.

As you know, I'm writing a book based on this blog. I've just got to the section about short story-writing. Now, I don't need you to tell me how to write short stories, but about the market for short stories, both in the UK printed market and on-line (world-wide), and how you have managed to achieve some success in this form.

I do have my own answers to most of the questions below, but my knowledge of aspects of this market is a little out-of-date, especially in terms of women's magazines and also internet opportunities. So, I'd like to pick your brains.

Please note:
  • I am only looking for people who write for what we might call the "commercial" or "light reading" market, rather than the more "literary" end. (Sorry about these terms.) I already have several experts to talk about the literary market. So, if you write for coffee-break magazines, and focus on light fiction, I want to hear from you.
  • I also do NOT need to know any more about flash fiction - I have masses of stuff on that.
  • I need you to be quite serious about short story writing, whether it's your main type of writing or a side-line to something else. You'll see that some questions relate to paid writing and others to free online forums - both are relevant.
  • If I quote from you, I will acknowledge you. If I need to cut your words, I will contact you to agree the wording. 
  • It will not be possible for me to use all of your contributions and some of you will probably duplicate each other. I will try my very best to give credit to everyone who has helped.
  • Please DO pass this post on to anyone you know who writes short stories seriously.
  • Please only answer the question(s) that really apply to you. It would be much more helpful if you just made one or two points than try to answer everything.
  • Please indicate briefly in your comment what level of success you've had / in what type of magazines / how important this income / outlet is to you.
OK. Here are some questions I'm considering. Please take your pick.

RE having short stories published for publication's sake - ie without payment and probably on-line:-
  • If you do this, how often and what benefits do you see to it? Can you identify good results?
  • Can you name some good forums for on-line publication - preferably ones that aren't about to disappear into the ether?
  • Tips / risks?
Re writing for profit / payment:- 
  • Do you manage to place stories for paid publication reasonably successfully? Is your success rate erratic or have you developed a good system / found your niche?
  • What are the markets outside women's magazines?
  • Is the market for short stories in magazines healthy? Growing or decreasing?
  • How important is it in terms of income, or is it mainly for your writing CV and satisfaction?
  • How systematic were / are you in identifying the right magazines? Tips about this?
Anthologies:-
  • Do you have any short stories in published anthologies (printed or on-line)? How did this come about? Were you paid?
Other:-
  • Anything else worth saying about the outlets / markets for short story writing?
  • Do you ever give up copyright or have you ever been asked to? Do you feel you know your rights adequately?
  • Have you used your proven success in short writing to gain a publishing deal for a full-length work?
Thanks, all!!

24 comments:

Kate said...

Hi Nicola,

I've had about a dozen short stories published. They're in the SF/fantasy/horror genres, for which there is quite a healthy market, here in the UK but more so over in the States. So I will try to answer some of your questions.

I've sold to a mixture of print, on-line and anthology markets. The anthologies generally pay better. Some of the magazines only pay in copies and some only offer a token payment.

I've yet to crack one of the 'big' markets. These are the magazines that count as 'pro' sales, such as Azimovs, and a sale to one of these counts towards membership of the SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America). These generally pay in excess of 5c/wd. However, I've been quite happy with the credits I've managed to collect.

The market research is quite straightforward - there are a couple of very useful market listing websites - ralan.com and duotrope.com which I use to start with. I also look at the publishing credits of writers I enjoy and see where they've sold their work.

I like to think that having a few publsihing credits will help me to find an agent for my longer work but it hasn't yet.

Hope this is of some use to you. Happy to answer any more questions you might have.

Suzanne Jones said...

The UK market for womag stories is definitely shrinking - and competition is getting tougher as more people try to break into this market.

I've sold about a dozen short stories to magazines such as The People's Friend, The Weekly News, That's Life!(Australia), and to a couple of magazines that no longer have a fiction slot. But I still consider each hit a fluke and am very aware I might never sell anther story.

The money's very welcome, but sadly isn't enought to make me consider giving up the hated day jobs.

ClothDragon said...

I've only recently started taking this writing for publication thing seriously -- writing stories from beginning to end rather than skipping from unfinished project to unfinished project. Since then I've had two stories published by Crossed Genres -- an online and print mag that pays what is called "token" amounts. $10 for the magazine credit and $25 for the story they reprinted in their year one anthology. Not nearly enough to quit anyone's day job, especially at the rate I write. I'm a Home Mommy who writes when the children let her.

I haven't looked much into other publication options, partially because the challenge offered by Crossed Genres (right now they're accepting stories that deal with "lies") helps give me a push to get words down. The good thing about Crossed Genres is that I was able to use that credit to get on Amazon as an author, which was sort of thrilling. I don't know if all magazines offer that or list each author printed in each magazine, but I think it helps that Crossed Genres lists each magazine separate instead of sticking to subscription prices in that market.

I did recently see an article in the blogs I follow that some of the bigger genre magazines are beginning to accept electronic submissions -- let me see if I can find it...

http://io9.com/5528453/asimovs-science-fiction-now-accepting-electronic-submissions

And I found this one,
http://www.duotrope.com/
some time ago though I have yet to really use it effectively -- as anything more than a time waster.

I haven't used my credits to help me get published, but I've only finished one novel length work and after a number of submissions and an honest critique from a helpful agent, I've decided it's not ready for publication and requires a major rewrite, but I'd like to finish book two before I go back to that one. -So I'm not ready for anything beyond the short story market right now. And because I'm new (or maybe I'm just slow) it took me a little more than a year to get close to finishing the novel last time and probably will this time too -- especially if I keep trying to create the occasional short story - to keep me submitting stuff - to feel like a real author.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

I have one short story published in an fantasy anthology (Firestorm of Dragons). I found out about this market through a writing group I belong to. It's a print anthology. I didn't get an advance, but I have received royalties from it.

Queenie said...

I've been writing seriously for the women's mag market for over two years, have submitted nearly 80 stories, and have sold four (which is a 1 in 20 hit rate so not too bad). I don't do it for the money, but to boost my writing CV, as I am currently submitting a completed MS to agents and I heard from other writers that short story publication can help unpublished book writers be taken more seriously. I belong to an online women's mag short story writing group, we critique each other's stories and also share market info which is enormously helpful. (It's a closed group, sorry if anyone's interested!) (BTW Nicola I've alerted the group to your post, so I expect you'll get more info from other members.)

Juliet Boyd said...

I've only been writing short stories for just over a year and have recently had two stories accepted for publication (and one 'nearly' for an anthology). One of these is with a women's mag and the other with Big Finish Productions, which is a Doctor Who story.

In my limited experience I would say you just need to keep your eyes open on the internet for opportunities, because there are a lot out there. Okay a significant portion are unpaid, but there are exceptions. I would not have known about the Big Finish opportunity if I hadn't been on Twitter. So, that's my tip, scour the internet - it's worth it.

Victoria Janssen said...

Re writing for profit / payment:-
Do you manage to place stories for paid publication reasonably successfully? Is your success rate erratic or have you developed a good system / found your niche?

Yes - most of my stories were sold on the first or second attempt. I write erotic short fiction, which is already a niche market; I studied the market by reading in the genre and sometimes wrote to spec, i.e., aiming for particular publications.

What are the markets outside women's magazines?

I almost exclusively write for anthologies. I have written for online markets a few times.

How important is it in terms of income, or is it mainly for your writing CV and satisfaction?

Short stories are a very small portion of my income. I have a regular day job (and also write novels). I enjoy the experimentation opportunities that short stories provide, and also the network opportunities with different editors and publishers.

How systematic were / are you in identifying the right magazines? Tips about this?
Anthologies:-

Very systematic. I read a wide range of anthologies, noting the tastes of their editors, before submitting. I also asked the opinion of a friend who's a veteran of short stories.

Do you have any short stories in published anthologies (printed or on-line)? How did this come about? Were you paid?

Yes, and I was paid. Full list is here: http://victoriajanssen.com/eppubs.html

Do you ever give up copyright or have you ever been asked to? Do you feel you know your rights adequately?

No, I do not give up copyright nor have been asked to do so. I know my rights adequately.

Have you used your proven success in short writing to gain a publishing deal for a full-length work?

Yes. My first published novel was an expansion of a short story, sold to an anthology edited by an editor and her agent. The agent approached me about writing the novel, which we subsequently sold.

Some of my blog posts on short fiction might be useful to you:

http://victoriajanssen.blogspot.com/search/label/short%20fiction

womagwriter said...

Hi Nicola

My blog focusses on guidelines and advice for those writing for the women's magazine market, so you might like to take a wander over there! I'll point my readers in this direction too, and will come back later this evening to answer your questions (I can hear sounds of dinner appearing on the table right now)

Anonymous said...

Hi Nicola
I've had about 20 stories published in mainstream woman's mags, including My Weekly, Woman's Weekly and People's Friend. Though I have a very good hit rate (about one in three) I took the decision this year not to write any more stories for commercial reasons. Firstly, the market has got much more competitive and the number of outlets is decreasing. Secondly, the amount of time taken by editors to make a decision was increasing - in some cases up to six months,even when you were a 'known' author. Thirdly, a number of mags decided to pay on publication rather than on acceptance which meant you could be waiting up to a year for remuneration. And fourthly, although the magazines claim they want something 'different', my experience is they don't really, and don't encourage innovative or new writing.

I started out writing short stories after publishing non-fiction as a planned career move, while waiting on my first romantic novel going through the submission process. When I was lucky enough to earn a publishing contract I continued with the short stories partly because I liked the challenge of doing something different, but found it just wasn't commercially viable, and resented the fact that I had to wait so long for my work to be rewarded. I think it's a shame, the way the market has changed over the last year, because it no longer encourages new writers and I think it can't be long before the quality of what is published suffers.

Julie P said...

Hi, Nicola

I've only had two short stories published in the same magazine in Australia but would like to add my comments for the following question: How systematic were/are you in identifying the right magazine? Tips about this.

I have a very systematic approach. But my starting point, a point that cannot be reiterated enough, is to read the magazines you want to write for, and not just the fiction. Read the magazine from cover to cover as adverts and illustrations can give writers such great information on the type of readers the magazine attracts and they type of stories they might prefer - helping you to shape your story to the magazine's style.

I also do a detailed analysis on the short stories in the magazine I want to write for noting: story length, pace, theme, title, point of view, characters, dialogue, tone etc. This gives me a better chance of hitting the target with my own stories as I can narrow my own writing style down to what the editor is more likely to buy!

Writing short stories for the women's magazines is a bit like asking if the chicken or the egg came first. Do you let your creativity run riot and write your short story and then try and mold into something the magazine might like? Or do you do your homework, analyse your chosen market and then write the story? I'd suggest the latter approach will make you more successful.

I find it essential to have a system when targeting magazines with my short stories as not all of the women's magazines publish the same style of stoty so it is incredibly important to write to what an editor of a certain magazine likes but change tack for the editor of another magazine.

It takes practice and perseverance but it can be done! And having had two stories accepted by the same magazine it's given me more confidence to keep submitting my stories to them.

Julie

Elizabeth West said...

I'm glad you asked this, Nicola, since I'm getting all kinds of good advice from reading other people's comments.

The story market (US) is a tough nut to crack. I only have one published credit and unfortunately it's in my college literary magazine, which is open only to students. I didn't get paid, although I did get a copy. You can read the story on my blog, on the Read Me page, if you like.

Two others are out now and I haven't heard back yet. I've got a novel querying and I would like to publish something to help that. Some money would be nice, too, even if it's only a little.

womagwriter said...

And some answers from me -

I've had about 30 stories published in the women's magazine market, and sell an average of one a month. The market for women's mag fiction is definitely declining in this country. Those mags who take a lot of fiction have probably increased the number of stories they take, eg WOman's Weekly increased the number of Fiction Specials a couple of years back; but many mags have dropped fiction altogether, the most recent casualty being The Lady. Writing is definitely not my main job, which is just as well. I do it because I love the feeling when the characters take over and the story writes itself, and I love the buzz of selling a story.

I think, no, I KNOW that researching the market is critical for success. If you don't read the magazines you just won't hit the right tone. And all the magazines are different, and take different types of stories. When I first heard someone say this, years ago, I didn't believe them. I do now.

Re anthologies, I have donated a couple of stories to charitable anthologies, eg 100 Stories for Haiti. I've not been paid for these.

The UK magazines mostly take First British rights, which means you can then sell the story again to an Australian magazine, or a South African one, or a Scandinavian one. I've sold reprints of a few to Australian That's Life Fast Fiction. I'd never give up copyright of a story. There are a few areas where you have to be careful - eg Woman's Weekly take Australian rights as well as British, as WW is on sale in Australia.

Colette McCormick said...

The first short story that I ever had published was in an anthology published by Accent Press that was being sold to raise funds for Cancer Research UK, a cause particularly close to my heart as I work for them. It was the cause that attracted me and I was delighted when My story "Elaine" was included in it. It also gave me the confidence to submit stories to magazines and I've had about 14 short stories published in the three years since then. I wasn't paid for the first story but nor were any of the professional writers that had stories in the anthology. I have been paid for the rest but writing is not my main source of income which is just as well as we would starve if it was.
Hope this helps
Colette

Rosemary Gemmell said...

I've had short stories published in various places including: My Weekly, People's Friend, The Weekly News, Ireland's Own, New Love Stories (US). I gives talks to other writers on the importance of market research and always make sure I know the kind of story an editor publishes. I'm being more successful this year because of it. I also have a blog providing information for writers.

There are also writing magazine markets for stories such as: Writers' Forum, Writing Magazine and Writers' News. There are some good, paying markets online such as: storyfeedback.com; darktales.co.uk; glimmertrain.com (US); writers-village.org.

Competitions are one of the best ways to get noticed, if you win or are mentioned. Bridge House Publishing is becoming well known for anthology collections and they pay royalties. Hope that helps!

litrefs said...

UK literary non-flash non-genre story outlets?

Riptide and Short FICTION are the only prose-only ones I know of.


Staple, Stand, Ambit, Dream Catcher, London Magazine and Brand print prose and poetry.


Brittle Star and Tears in the Fence are excellent poetry magazines that print osome stories too.

HelenMHunt said...

My feeings are very similar to Suzanne's. I now write exclusively for the women's magazine market and it has definitely shrunk since I started with magazines such as Best and Woman losing their fiction slots.

The first piece of fiction I ever had published was to a non-paying market, The Momaya Press, but at that stage I was so thrilled to have something published I didn't care.

I feel that once you are writing to a publishable standard it is, at least partly, a numbers game. I try to write and submit a new story every two weeks and get rejected stories back out to alternative markets as soon as possible. There is huge competition out there, and sometimes it is a matter of the right story hitting the right editor's desk on the right day.

I see the good solid markets as being Woman's Weekly and Take A Break who both have regular fiction specials as well as printing stories in their weekly magazine and the DC Thomson publications (The Weekly News, The People's Friend and My Weekly) which all pubish a decent number of stories each week. There are also others such as Candis and Yours which only take a small number of stories but are worth a try if you have something suitable.

I do make a welcome extra bit of income from stories (as well as writing and selling articles), but it is by no means enough to live on and I have a job and a lodger to pay the bills.

Col Bury said...

Hi Nicola.

I've just completed a crime novel and I'm actively seeking representation. If it wasn't for building my confidence as a writer by submitting to online short story comps (& winning a few), plus having 20+ published on webzines then I don't think I'd have had the self-belief to complete the novel. The positive feedback I've received online has spurred me on immeasurably.

I also became the co-editor of award winning webzine, Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers where we encourage all writers to take the plunge and offer/receive constructive feedback.

I've been boosted by winning an online comp' for inclusion in Tonto Books latest short story collection, Even More Tonto Short Stories (out July 2010) where we get a free copy, plus various 'goodies'. The real lure was to be sharing the pages alongside established novelists within the anthology.

All the above have been essential exposure-wise, particularly in building that much-referred-to 'writer's platform.'

Hope this helps a bit.

Regards,
Col

Ps. If you need more info, my email is on TKnC home page.

Simon Whaley said...

Hi Nicola

I write full time, but mainly non-fiction articles and books, however, I do 'dabble' in the women's magazine short story market and have had over 20 stories published so far. In my experience, I would say that the market diversity is shrinking, although overall, the number of stories bought by this sector is stable. Magazines like Woman's Weekly Fiction Special are increasing publication frequency, so they need more stories.

Talk to writers who've never written for this market and you get what I call the 'Mills and Boon' response. They think it's formulaic, easy to do and not real writing. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Writing for the women's magazine market has helped me. As someone who is trying to get a novel published, I've used writing for this market as a means for improving my fiction skills. And the fact that I've sold stories to magazines here in the UK, Ireland and Australia and New Zealand, tells me that I am learning that craft. I sent my novel to an editorial agency for critiquing purposes and one of the strengths they picked up on was my dialogue - something that writing short stories for the women's magazine market teaches you.

Hope that's of help.

Simon

Sam Stone said...

Hi Nicola,
Daniel Blythe asked me to stop by to see if I could help. I'm a published author of Horror/Fantasy - I have had some short stories published but it is quite difficult to get into the market. Depending on the genre there are several magazines that might interest you. There's Murky Depths Magazine www.murkydepths.com/ Interzone/Black Static in the horror/Fantasy/sci-fi genres. Also there are several small press publishers that regularly look for talent to appear in their short story anthologies. Try NewCon Press, Ashtree Press, I've recently made a deal with another publisher - but email me for that info as I'm not going public with it yet. sam@sam-stone.com (But he is a small press publisher that looks for talent in all genres)

Hope this helps.

Sam Stone
www.sam-stone.com

Nicola Morgan said...

Thanks, everyone - excellently useful. And thanks, too to those who have emailed me. I'll be writing the section soonish and will get back to you if i need any more details.

What a lot of talents out there!

Olivia Ryan said...

Hi Nicola
Not sure if I'm too late. I'll try to answer quickly!
* I've never written without payment.
* I do write fairly successfully for women's magazines, alongside writing my novels. (I write my short stories under my own name, Sheila Norton). And yes, I think I found my niche a long time ago - I do much better with the more 'mature' mags like The People's Friend, Woman's Weekly etc. (wonder why!).
* Outside of women's mags, I don't know of other markets but haven't tried too hard to find them.
* I think the short story market has shrunk considerably since I started writing for the mags in the 1990s and the competition is fiercer.
* The income isn't huge, but it does complement my income from the novels (which isn't huge either!). I enjoy it too, and it's satisfying when I get a sale.
* I continue to try different mags from my usual markets whenever I can, and I do try hard to 'fit' a story to the right mag. When I get a rejection I re-work it to suit another magazine and re-submit. Often means changing the length as well as adapting subject matter.
* Never had a short story in an anthology, although I have tried twice (Bridgehouse).
* The confidence I gained from having short stories published (after winning 2 competitions) definitely helped me to get started with writing novels.

Hope this helps. Feel free to contact me if you want more, and good luck! - Olivia/Sheila

Cara Cooper said...

Hi

My name's Cara Cooper and I have had four stories published in People's Friend. I have also had 5 pocket novels published by them and My Weekly. I endorse much of what's been said. Short stories are a terrific way of keeping your hand in whilst you are waiting for replies on longer pieces of writing you have dispatched full of hope. The long, long wait is a horribly barren time during which your confidence can slip. Also, the imagination is wierd. It's like a flowing river. If for some reason I stop writing for a while, I find that like a river getting clogged with pebbles and sand, my imagination can dry up. I always get ideas while I am writing or revising a story. If I stop writing I seem to stop imagining. I have always written for payment. One of the greatest changes to this market I believe which is already happening is the e-download. Mills and Boon the last time I looked at their website were for example looking for long shorts 10-15,000 words in supernatural and historical genres for the e-market. It's one of the few areas where I believe opportunities are expanding rather than contracting. This is a great blog and I believe the need to maintain some sort of web presence all helps with sales, even of short stories. I've just started blogging very inexpertly at http://www.thoughtsfromalockedroom.blogspot.com. If anybody feels like doing a charitable deed today they could go and have a look! Good luck with your endeavour Nicola.

Nicola Morgan said...

Olivia and Cara - thanks for your additions to this mountain of excellent info. It will all be absorbed and I'll contacted all those who I quote directly. (But nor very soon!)

Nishant said...

I like to think that having a few publsihing credits will help me to find an agent for my longer work but it hasn't yet.
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