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The Short Story Synopsis – How to Get It Right

Much is written about crafting the novel synopsis and agent pitch but there’s far less on how to sell a short story to the women’s magazine market via a synopsis.
Writer, S. Bee has put together some good tips for those of us trying to make sales in this ever decreasing market. Here is her advice:

Six UK women’s magazines require a short synopsis – either with the story itself, or before the story is submitted.

  • The regular, fortnightly Yours
  • The Yours Fiction Special
  • Take a Break’s Fiction Feast. (N.B. This has a closed writer’s list and takes all rights.)
  • Spirit & Destiny. This magazine requires a story pitch upfront. If they like the sound of the story, they ask for it to be emailed for consideration. They also take all rights to accepted stories.
  • My Weekly require a brief synopsis to head up the story. This magazine has a closed writer’s list.
  • During the current lockdown, The People’s Friend is asking for writers who have previously been published by the magazine to email a synopsis. Writers new to the magazine should continue to submit by post.

Possible reasons editors ask for a short story synopsis:

S. Bee

S. Bee

  • It allows the editor to quickly see what kind of story it is – sweet romance/comedy/crime/revenge, etc.
  • It explains the plot, so the editor can decide whether or not the story will work for that magazine.
  • It’s useful for the illustrator/picture editor – so consider including significant details about the age and appearance of characters or the location.

Below are six steps to getting the synopsis right:

  1. Keep to the word count. If the guidelines ask for 200 words, don’t ramble on. Don’t start with: ‘This is a story about…’ Provide a clear outline of the story from start, middle and end.
  2. Do I reveal the ending? There is some debate around this. Some writers do (I’m one of them) but some choose not to. It’s entirely up to you.
  3. Run it past a womag writer/ reader friend before submitting. Asking other womag writers to read your work before submitting is useful. I run a womag writers’ email critique group; we read each other’s work and give constructive feedback. Not only can others point out the flaws in the story, they might be able to spot the flaws in your synopsis too.
  4. Themes/ Genres There’s no need to include the theme or a genre in your synopsis. The word count matters, so don’t fill your lines with: ‘This is an empty nest/ moving on/ dealing with bereavement story.’
  5. Get to the point Imagine you are an aspiring scriptwriter who steps into a lift with a movie producer. You have an amazing opportunity to pitch your story – but only 30 seconds to do it. Cut the waffle and focus on the chain of events in your story: The main character has a problem/conflict. How do they overcome this problem? What complicates it? How is it solved?
  6. Get over the dread writing of them. It can seem like a synopsis cruelly chops our work down and removes the heart of the story. But without it, there’s no chance of a sale to the above magazines. The more synopses you write, the more confident you’ll become.

Women’s magazine writer, TW, has kindly provided me with an example synopsis:

Music manager Ross King is visited in his office by Beth and Sam, who are members of one of his most successful pop acts.
Beth and Sam are in their early twenties, slim, blonde and beautiful. They are very excited, as they have met a potential new member of the group, Penny. Ross has a shock when Penny enters the office, as although she is also slim, blonde and beautiful, she is over forty. Ross thinks the group’s young fans won’t accept an older woman as part of the group. He’s forced by politeness to watch Penny audition (sing and dance) and recognises that she is very talented. After some tough argument, Ross agrees that Penny can join the group.
The girls are so keen on her joining them that Ross suspects – rightly – that there is something they are not telling him about Penny, and at the end of the story the girls reveal what this is.

The above story was published in Take a Break’s Fiction Feast. Note that the twist ending wasn’t revealed in the synopsis.

Practice makes perfect. Writing a synopsis – whether it’s for a short story, a novel, article or a play – is a specific, highly valued skill. Give it a go and increase your chances of a story sale!

 

Paws for ThoughtS. Bee is the brains behind the lively short story anthology Paws for Thought. It is available on Kindle and raises money for the RSPCA.
To find out more about S. Bee and her critique group, Fiction Addition, please visit her website.

Don’t forget there’s lots more information about writing fiction for women’s magazines at https://womagwriter.blogspot.com/

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Free Food in Lockdown

During lockdown social media has been full of pictures of banana bread, sourdough starters (whatever they are!) and other delicious things produced by the nation’s bakers. In between the chocolate beetroot cake and lemonade scones, I’ve been trying some of the free food that nature has to offer:

Nuts from the Monkey Puzzle Tree.

Monkey Puzzle Tree Nuts

Monkey Puzzle Tree Nuts

When we moved into our house 24 years ago there was a small monkey puzzle tree in the garden. Nearly a quarter of a century later, there is a HUGE monkey puzzle tree in the garden and, for the first time ever, it has produced nuts. A quick internet search confirmed that these nuts are edible if boiled for ten minutes. They taste a little like chestnuts and are very moreish …

Broccoli Stalks.
Like most people I used to cook the green bushy broccoli top and discard the stalks. However, if you slice the stalks very thinly, they can be successfully stir-fried or roasted in the oven and there are even recipes specifically for broccoli stalks.

Blackberries.
Obviously, blackberries aren’t a completely new food for me but I’ve never really taken advantage of the easily available abundance of this fruit until this year. Last week we picked A LOT of blackberries and now have stewed blackberries in the freezer and ten jars of blackberry jam in the cupboard. The pips are a disadvantage compared to strawberries and other jamming fruit but spread over toast they don’t cause too much of a problem.

What has all this got to do with writing?
Not a great deal, but it does nicely lead up to me telling you that the food and drink website pellicle.com is accepting paid pitches for its blog.
Tip: My wine-related pitch was turned down because they are stocked up on wine articles for the next six months – so you might want to peruse the website and come up with a different topic.

Bon Appetit!

Blackberry Jam

Blackberry Jam

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Readly – Unlimited Magazines to Read

Freelance writers must study their target publication before starting work on a short story or article.

It’s essential to find out the following as an absolute minimum:

  • Are freelance contributions accepted? Look at the bylines, list of contributors etc.
  • What’s the word count for the slot in the magazine you are aiming at?
  • What’s the tone/style/age range of the publication?
  • What topics have been covered recently? Potential writers will have to come up with something different.
  • What’s the name and email address of the feature editor? This will allow an idea to be pitched in advance before writing up the whole article.

It’s difficult to discover the above without reading several copies of a magazine. If you’re aiming to write for several different publications, buying all the magazines can become very expensive.

I’ve just discovered the joy of Readly. For a monthly subscription of £7.99 Readly gives access to a wide range of magazines plus a couple of newspapers as well. You can read as many publications as you want across up to 5 devices including laptop, tablet and phone. Perfect for a writer to study the wide magazine market.

The Readly website currently offers a one month free trial but it’s sometimes possible to get a longer trial elsewhere. I found a two month trial via Money Saving Expert but unfortunately that’s finished.

However, electronic reading doesn’t beat curling up with a proper, paper copy of your favourite magazine. Use Readly for market research but please continue to buy your favourite magazines on the high street – otherwise there’ll be no markets left for us to write for!

 

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Two Poetry Opportunities

A well-crafted poem is a beautiful thing. Unfortunately I’m not clever enough to create one but I know that several of you are capable of writing beautiful and clever poetry.

Here are two opportunities to get your skills noticed by a wider audience:

  • Tony Williams, the poetry editor of English: The Journal of the English Association, invites you to send up to six, previously unpublished, poems plus a 30-word bio to tony.williams@northumbria.ac.uk. Selected poems will be published in the journal. There is no payment but the journal has a large global readership who will see your bio. Poems on teaching/classrooms are particularly wanted before 31st May 2017. There is no deadline for poems on other subjects.
  • The Emma Press has a call out for submissions for poems about travel for an anthology titled In Transit: Poems about Travel. The anthology will be produced in collaboration with the Centre for Travel Writing Studies at Nottingham Trent University.  ‘Poems may describe journeys undertaken on foot, by bicycle, motorcycle, wheelchair, ambulance, bus, train, plane, boat or other mode of transport.’ The deadline for submissions is 28th May 2017 and In Transit is scheduled for publication in April 2018. Full details can be found on the Emma Press website.

Happy poetry writing!

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Call for Poems about Britain

The Emma Press is after your poems about life in Britain. They are looking for “poems about customs, rituals, festivals, holidays, celebrations and regular events that take place in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, on a micro level (what one person or one family might do) as well as on a larger scale.” Successful submissions will be included in an anthology about customs and rituals in Britain.

A maximum of three poems may be submitted and in order to submit you must be a member of the Emma Press Club. As far as I can see, this means that you have to have bought one Emma Press book in the calendar year you submit (& I think this can be an e-book costing £3.50) and this entitles you to enter submissions for the entire year. So it doesn’t appear to be any more expensive than paying a competition entry fee – and you get something back for that fee!

The closing date for submissions is 26th March 2017 and I suggest you read the full terms and conditions.

The customs, rituals and events of Britain is a very wide brief – why not grab a pad and pen and brainstorm some ideas?

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Womag fiction is wanted by readers …

Much is written in the blogosphere and on social media about the diminishing market for women’s magazine stories. I haven’t submitted any womag fiction for a while but am still interested in the area and mentioned it in a talk I gave a couple of weeks ago. womag stories
The group I was speaking to consisted mainly of retired, but very active, women. I told them how my writing career had moved through articles, short stories for women’s magazines and on to longer fiction.
At the end, several of them told me how they’d stopped buying some of the magazines when the fiction was replaced by celebrity/real life stories. One lady said that she really enjoyed the Woman’s Weekly Fiction Specials because they were ‘proper stories with a beginning, a middle and an end’ and they gave her something nice to read before she went to sleep at night. Several mentioned that they liked the mix of things in My Weekly.

It makes me wonder whether the magazines that dropped fiction had a noticeable increase in sales afterwards or whether it brought them no obvious benefit. They certainly lost readers from the group I spoke to.

(By the way, if you’re wondering about the significance of the flower photo – this beautiful array of colour was a gift following my talk.)

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Finding an Agent

Yesterday evening I braved the torrential rain that hit Birmingham and attended a Waterstones event on how to get a literary agent. The speakers were local authors Gemma Todd, Liz Tipping and Stephen Aryan.

Here are their stories (in brief):

Gemma Todd (writing as G.X. Todd)worked her way logically through the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. She noted down all the agents working in her genre and then researched them further on the internet, looking specifically for anything that she could use to personalise each agent’s covering letter. Her first novel went out to 17 agents and received some positive comments but no offer of representation. So, she put that book aside and wrote another. She repeated her submission exercise with the second novel but also going back to the agents who’d made positive comments about the first book.
After six months of submissions with her second novel, Darley Anderson agreed to represent Gemma.

Liz Tipping found her agent, Juliet Mushens at United Talent Agency, accidentally via a Twitter appeal for ‘hilarious romantic comedies’. However, at that point Liz’s novel wasn’t finished. When it was complete, she went back to Juliet plus other agents she discovered via the internet. Liz said that she chose to submit to agents who looked ‘friendly and nice’ in their photos and, to make the experience less daunting, she turned it into a challenge to amass one hundred rejections rather than one acceptance. She also put her book on the now defunct site Authonomy and received interest from Harper Collins editors. Liz signed with Juliet Mushens and is now published by Harper Collins.

Stephen Aryan wrote eight books in several different genres over fifteen years before he was signed by an agent and published. When he started his first hunt for an agent at the turn of the century things were much more difficult because the internet was in its infancy and all submissions had to be posted rather than emailed. Now he advises using social media to follow agents that interest you and using #askagent to ask questions. Stephen was also signed by Juliet Mushens and spent a year working on the book with her and then another year working on the book with the publisher.

The overall message from the evening was positive with a theme of: ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again’. And also a reminder that the wheels of the literary world turn very slowly.

Happy agent hunting!

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Writing for The Weekly News

On Saturday The Birmingham Chapter of the RNA held a Writers’ Day and I was asked to do a session on short stories. I chose to talk about writing tales with a twist for The Weekly NewsThe Weekly News

The official guidelines for The Weekly News are on that treasure trove of information, Womagwriter’s Blog, but here are some of the other points that I made in my presentation:

Research the market. The Weekly News can be hard to get hold of but I find it more readily available in smaller newsagents and convenience stores rather than WH Smith or large supermarkets. Ask your newsagent to reserve a copy for you. Alternatively, stories that have been previously published in The Weekly News can be found in these two e-collections: House Guests and Other Stories and Old Friends.

The twist should come as late as possible in the story and will often turn the tale completely on its head BUT the reader should not be lied to. The story should make complete sense whether read with the twisted ending in mind or the ending that you hope the reader will assume is coming.

Types of Twist

  • Character Identity – the small boy nervous about going to school turns out to be the headmaster
  • Character Motive – the head juror is pushing for a quick verdict not because he’s in a hurry to get home but because he’s actually committed the crime and therefore wants the defendant sent down ASAP
  • Location – the stranded climber is not on a mountain top but is on a climbing frame in the park

Things that (seem to) work for me:

  • Having a male main character (both sexes read The Weekly News)
  • Aiming at the lower end of the 1200- 1500 required words. These stories pull the wool over the reader’s eyes and the fewer words, the easier that is.
  • Keep the time period for the story as short as possible (I’m talking seconds/minutes rather than days) to keep it snappy

I know that a lot of you are successful Weekly News writers and probably have your own personal set of ‘rules’. You might prefer to keep them secret from the competition(!) but if not, do they differ greatly from mine?

Finally a shout-out to some of the people who helped Saturday go with a swing:

Marilyn Rodwell who ably orgainsed the whole day
Bella Osborne who taught us how to plan our novel (and gave us post-its to play with)
Lizzie Lamb who talked about her self-publishing and marketing experiences
Alison May who educated us about editing and said it’s OK to hate your first draft
Helen Barrell who talked about all things social media
and fellow blogger Maria Smith who came and introduced herself to me – lovely to put a face to a name.

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Tips for Hand Selling Books

The benefit of making a book available in paperback (instead of e-book only) is the ability to ‘hand sell’ copies i.e. sell direct to the reader.  Since the publication of Bedsit Three I’ve been taking my first steps in this direction. As well as selling to friends, family and acquaintances, I’ve done two small-scale book-signings linked with local charity events and last week I practised my ‘author speech’ for an audience of 6 writers (who all bought a book).

It’s hardly the big time but I can now celebrate emptying my first box of 50 paperbacks and starting on the second. Empty Createspace boxThere are a couple of events lined up for March – and it feels good not to depend on Amazon for all my sales!

I’ve learned a few things along the way too:

  • Get a foot in the door at charity events by offering to make a donation for each sale
  • Don’t be surprised if people proudly proclaim, “I never read books”
  • People will buy books for odd reasons – I made one sale to a lady who wanted it because we share a surname and another to a lady whose daughter’s married name is Sally Jenkins
  • Decide beforehand what dedication you will write in the books – will it just be ‘Best wishes’ or something else?
  • Take a pen that writes smoothly
  • Take a float of change
  • Don’t be disheartened if you only sell a few books. Keep that smile on your face and be pleasant – every event is a networking activity too and you never know where it might lead.

It’s important to make the most of all sales channels but in my opinion selling by hand is far more pleasant than dreaming up clever things to put on social media.

What does anyone else think?

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Literary Short Story Markets

On Saturday I went to the annual Writers’ Toolkit run by Writing West Midlands.

One of the sessions was ‘The World of Short Stories’. On the panel were Louise Palfreyman and Lisa Blower.

Louise and Lisa both write what I would describe as ‘literary’ short stories and they gave a long list of journals worth targeting. Among them was Popshot Magazine, which I mentioned in my last post plus a range of others including:

Ambit
Granta
Lighthouse
The Best British Short Stories (annual anthology)
Unthology
The Paris Review
Under the Radar
Short Story Sunday
Thresholds
Comma Press

Lisa and Louise also mentioned the benefits of entering competitions and, when asked about the mechanics of short story writing, gave this wonderful quote from Raymond Carver, “Get in. Get out. Don’t Linger”.

My writing veers more towards the commercial than literary but a virtual friend of mine, Tracy Fells, blogs with a more literary leaning – worth a look!

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