How To Improve Your Chances of Getting Your Fiction for Women’s Magazines Accepted for Publication
One of the most frequent questions I’m asked whenever I mention I am a publisher and writer is “Steve, I’ve tried writing for women’s magazines but just can’t make a breakthrough. All my short stories get rejected. What am I doing wrong? How can I improve my chances of getting my work accepted?”
My stock answer is “Have you researched the magazine you’re writing for, and have you read lots of the fiction they publish?”
The usual answer is “Yes, of course I have. I know that.”
To which I reply “How many published stories from that magazine have you read, would you say?”
Now I have to admit their next answer does vary quite a lot, but I would guess that on average they reply “6 stories”. I actually had one chap say to me “I don’t read rubbish like that, but my wife told me what the stories are like.” That’s true. Honest.
Okay, I think we all know what I’m going to type next…and that is the best answer I can give anyone who is genuinely serious about writing fiction for a specific magazine “Research the magazine. Get to know EXACTLY what they’re looking for in fiction. Read as many magazines as possible, even the non-fiction, get a feel for their style, their attitude, their readership. Find out if they have Guidelines for writers and get that guideline and read it every day until it sinks in”.
Let me give you an example. My own first efforts at writing fiction – for that classic U.K. magazine Take A Break.
It’s a few years back now but the same lessons apply. I was doing some writing, nothing specific, but I rather fancied having a go at writing for Take A Break. A friend told me they paid £250 for each story. Roughly 1,000 words. Minimum 900, maximum 1,100. And it had to have a twist in the story at the end.
So I thought I would give it a try. I had never read the magazine in my life. I went down to W H Smith and bought a copy and read the short story which fit neatly onto one page with a nice humorous colour illustration. And yes, it did have a clever twist in the story at the end, which sort of intrigued me. I liked clever gimmicks like that. I must admit there and then I really wanted to give it a go.
So did I start writing? No. I bought the magazine whenever it came out and read it and read it, cover to cover, as I say, even the non-fiction. I scoured charity shops looking for back issues of Take A break and found a few, then a breakthrough came when I stumbled upon (literally) a cardboard box full of Take a Breaks in a charity shop in Wakefield. Bingo. I was in business.
I made a list of all the character names, particularly the female names. I made a list of how many characters appeared in every story….you name it, I made a list. I categorised what subjects worked well, what kept re-appearing, who the author was. I must have had over 100 magazines to go through.
By the time I’d done my research I could have read a short story from that magazine and told you who the author was before I even looked at the name at the bottom of the story. I knew all the various styles and how the stories were constructed. How they definitely had a good beginning, a solid middle where you could play with the humour, and a clever, but not contrived ending. And so I wrote my first story and sent it off. Looking back now it wasn’t my best, but amazingly it sold. First submission – first sale. £250.
Even my second story sold. Looking back I think my third was rejected but my next one sold again. This was a fantastic feeling. Writing became easier, and like all things to do with writing, the more I did the better I became. But it was all down to the research beforehand. I could not have done it without that cardboard box of magazine that I paid a pound for!
So…do your research, please, absolutely know your target magazine inside out. Read everything in it not just the fiction, and get the writer guidelines. Construct your story in exactly the same way the published stories are written, and then give it a go.
I can’t guarantee you’ll have instant sales, but if you keep at it you will……trust me, you absolutely WILL have a great chance of being accepted and published.