Writing Magazines for Free

Many short story writers seek additional sources of writing income. This is probably more important than ever as WOMAG markets continue to contract and, in some cases, pay less than they used to. Allas is the most recent market to close to English authors as they have lost the editor who translated stories into Swedish.

There’s a list of potential cash sources for story writers on the Writing Magazine website. Numerous WOMAG writers have also written short books on how to make money from fillers, and you will regularly find articles on writing articles in writing magazines.

Interestingly, though, not mentioned on this list is making money from those magazines themselves! For several years now, I have gained back my subs for Writing Magazine and Writer’s Forum. Occasionally I have won the story competition, but that’s not such an easy feat when hundreds if not thousands enter every month. If you get the star letter in Writing Magazine, you get a copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook (around £18 for a real copy or you can pay a little more for online access!). This of course only saves you money if you were planning to buy the yearbook anyway.

Writer’s Forum, however, offers a year’s subscription for the best news item every month, and for the star letter. On top of that, there’s the First Draft column where you can submit 250 words of a published novel with deliberate mistakes for the reader to find.

One of my published First Draft entries.

This column pays £25 and has been my main source of getting my subs back. I try to submit to this every month and usually get a couple published per year. I recently noticed, however, that I haven’t submitted anything to them for a while. There are several reasons for this, including difficulty finding suitable material.

You need to find 250 published words that unequivocally contain no grammatical or punctuation errors. You’d think after many editing rounds that all traditionally published books would qualify, but no! I’ve lost count of the times when I’ve got halfway through typing out the chosen passage into Word only to find something that is wrong already. Even JK Rowling gives me a problem as, in my experience, she almost always puts a comma before ‘because’. This is (usually) wrong because ‘because’ usually introduces a dependent clause and these are not separated from the main clause by a comma. If you want to know more about commas and ‘because’, there’s an article here.

Anyway, I’ve a new book by Marguerite Kaye to work with, and I can usually rely on her to get it right. I’ve just sent off the first 250 words with 20 errors inserted. So fingers crossed…

Historical Short Stories

Lucy, fiction ed at The People’s Friend, has just published a blog on submitting historical stories to their team. She makes some good points including:

  • Any story set before 2010 is now considered historical!
  • TPF publishes many more contemporary stories than historicals
  • the World Wars and Victorian era are by far the most popular periods for their writers to set historical stories
  • TPF rarely take anything set before Tudor times

Shirley, the previous fiction editor, said that few themes can’t be expressed in a contemporary setting. I agree, so not surprisingly, most of my sales to TPF have been for contemporary stories. But the first serial of mine they published was set in 1819 and featured the Peterloo massacre. And the first pocket novel they accepted from me was set at the time of William IV. (No, I didn’t know there had been a William IV, either. I discovered this during my research).

William IV, the Sailor King. Brother of George IV, uncle to Queen Victoria

I’d chosen these time periods because interesting events occurred then. I live in a village in Greater Manchester that sent a large delegation to the fateful meeting on Peter’s Field. I often wonder whether the people who lived in my house in 1819 walked all that way and what they thought of the awful events they must have witnessed.

And 1832 was at a turning point in British social history where the rise of the industrialist coincided with the decline of the landed gentry. In June of that year, Earl Grey (yes, he of the tea), the prime minister, finally succeeded in passing The Reform Act, doing away with rotten boroughs and establishing more constituencies in heavily industrialised areas such as Manchester and Birmingham. Unfortunately it also formally excluded women from voting, but that’s another story.

Of course, both events fed into my plots.

I’m currently thinking of setting a story at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries – that’s Tudor, so that should be fine. But the one set in Gwynedd in the 1250s – the battleground of Welsh Princes and English kings – might have to wait!

A story set in the time of Llewelyn ap Gruffudd
(1223-1282) might be pushing it!

So, if you’re thinking of submitting a historical story to TPF, here’s my advice:

  • does it need to be historical? Could you tell the same basic story in a contemporary setting?
  • try to set your story outside the popular time periods of the world wars and victorian times to help it stand out
  • have a good reason to set your story at a particular time period and…
  • make sure it is relevant to the story. Don’t choose a random year such as 1952 unless the story involves something that happened in 1952. Perhaps your character is living through the appalling smog (that killed 4000) or goes on a demonstration to protest about the arrest of Nelson Mandela. You may wish to set it in ‘the 1950s’, though, if it’s related to some social issue – the rise of rock’n’roll causing friction between parents and a teenage girl, perhaps.
  • make sure your time period is accepted by The Friend. Don’t send one set in Rome under Julius Caesar, for example.
  • and then make sure you hit all the other requirements for a People’s Friend story. What are they? Read the blog and, more importantly, the magazine.

Now that’s progress

My last post questioned whether to continue writing pocket novels for DC Thomson after ALCS stated writers can no longer claim secondary fees for this companies periodicals. This decision has since been reversed. There is a review going on at ALCS apparently, so what will happen in the future is anyone’s guess. For me, however, that means finishing Natural Instincts, the pocket novel Tracey Steele has asked to see ASAP.

I’ve imposed a deadline of the end of August to finish the manuscript. I already have a full draft, as I submitted this as my last New Writer Scheme manuscript. It needed work and I couldn’t face it then. I’ve thought about what needs to change, gained more experience and am smoothing out the flaws like a professional ironer now. Crucially, my critical readers are enjoying it immensely (either that or they are being kind!).

So, I figured this was a good time to stop and review this year’s writing goals, which I set for myself instead of resolutions last December. This is how I’ve done.

My 2021 writing goals: figure edited out as it’s so embarrassing low. And wrong!
  1. I completed the WordPress block editor tutorials in December and am no longer completely baffled by the new editor. So Tick VG
  2. Hmmm. Can’t remember even writing this goal. What did I do in April?
  3. I have submitted at least one story each submission period and sold two stories to My Weekly. Tick VG
  4. Done awaiting reply
  5. Ah, it was all going so well for the planner, but I’ve got a few empty weeks now. That’s probably why I’ve stopped doing my physio regularly. So, could do better.
  6. As for earnings, I’m not quite there yet. Two more stories, or one pocket novel should do it and I’ve got five months of the year left.

So, what did I do in April? I’m sure I did camp nano, but I can’t remember developing a new pocket novel idea. This is what my camp NaNoWriMo project says:

My last two projects for NaNoWriMo

It seems I worked on my serial idea. Was I already thinking about the pay disparity between pocket novels and serials? Did I have an inkling there was a severe drop in earnings potential for pocket novels just around the corner? Who knows. I have, however, taken an existing pocket novel project and potentially sold that instead, so I’m sort of on target for number 4, too.

But the point is goals help keep you on track for what you want to achieve, but they should not be set in stone. If one becomes unachievable, or another becomes more important, then change to what suits you and your needs now. the important thing is that they appear relevant and achievable when you set them. Don’t go writing ‘I will write the world’s biggest blockbuster by this time next year’ because the chances of you doing that are very nearly zilch.

If I sell Natural Instincts, the pocket novel I’m polishing, then I think I will have achieved goal six, too. All in all not bad. But then I’ll have to think up some more goals for next year.

This writing life, eh? It’s all go.

Is it worth it?

I’ve just submitted my fourth pocket novel proposal. Natural Instincts, a romance set in a vet practice in rural Lancashire, has gone to Tracey at The People’s Friend. As I’ve done a first draft of the book, I hope she wants it.
But, future submissions are in doubt.
Since DC Thomson switched from the Publishing Licensing Society to the Newspaper Licensing Agency, this means writers can no longer claim ALCS payments for stories and pocket novels published by any of their magazines (including The People’s Friend and My Weekly).
That will mean a huge drop in secondary income for some. For pocket novelists, it’s another reason to seriously consider not writing for the sum offered. As Ulverscroft seem to be taking fewer and fewer pocket novels for publication in large print too, one might ask what is the point?
I’m certainly asking it. There are other things to consider, of course, and one of these is the practice of writing a longer piece of work to a publishable standard. I can always then self-publish these afterwards (and will).
However, it is going to take some serious thought. £300 for several months work???

Really???

Begin at the Beginning

A fellow writer recently asked for feedback on a story The People’s Friend had rejected. As it was her first submission to them, she got the standard rejection email which, frankly, is unhelpful. “What,” she asked, “didn’t they like about it?”

I’m not an expert by any means, but do have some idea about why stories are rejected because I get more detailed feedback now I’ve got an editor there.

I identified a few reasons they passed on it, one of which was the opening. She started well by naming the main character and their problem. But then came a conversation with several other people. Who are these people and where are they talking?

This was not clear. So I used the WOMAG writer’s old trick of formatting the story as 3 columns per page as this gives a reading experience similar to what you get in the magazine. It’s surprising what a difference this makes: slow passages stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.

It wasn’t until the second column that we realise the three ladies are work colleagues. That was too late for me, but was it too late for TPF?

I decided to do some research and analysed the beginnings of the first three stories in the latest issue of The People’s Friend:

story 1story 2story 3
Main character introducedFirst sentenceFirst sentenceFirst sentence
Character’s problemunfolds over the first pageunfolds over first pageunfolds in first two columns
settingdate stamped at top of story.
seaside setting described in first few paras
first couple of sentencesfirst couple of sentences

There’s a clear pattern, isn’t there? It’s little things like this that are important when you’re writing for a specific market. Your research goes a lot further than story length, subject matter and tone. The nitty-gritty of structure is vital, too. And, if I’m honest, I was surprised the problem often got introduced so late.

I went back and looked at the first three stories I sold to TPF, too. Here’s the start of the first one:

Don stared out of the conservatory at the slight figure kneeling on the patio. Early evening sun glittered in her hair and she talked quietly to herself as she worked with her brushes and paints, oblivious to the fact she was being watched.

He felt a hand on his arm, turned and saw his wife holding out a mug of coffee.

Character and setting are established in the first 14 words, with the next few sentences painting a more vivid picture.

Here’s the opening of the second story:

Jo showed the stripe on the blue wand to Niall and bit her lip. Yes, they wanted more children, but not right now. They didn’t have room. Literally.

I don’t state categorically Jo and Niall are at home, but I think we can assume this from what’s happening. So that’s the characters, problem and setting all in the opening paragraph.

And the third one:

“No!” Lizzy plunged her fingers into her hair and stared at the mess on the floor. Her boyfriend rushed into the kitchen and she threw herself against his chest.

Setting, character and drama in the first two sentences! Not to mention the first hint of the problem (Lizzy is a cake decorator who has overstretched herself and dropped Leo’s Valentine proposal cake: of course this is only the start of her problem – she comes to doubt that James is the one for her).

I hadn’t realised I had been following this set pattern until I sat down and did this research today, but it’s something I’ll bear in mind for the future. And it underlines how important it is to study your market – not just by reading the stories but by analysing them thoroughly.