Posts Tagged Critique

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

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Novel & Short Story Critques

Do you ever get that feeling that you can’t see the wood for the trees? You’ve edited and polished the words over and over again but you’re still not sure whether they’re any good? Or maybe you’ve had a string of rejections from the women’s magazines but can’t work out want you’re doing wrong?

Sometimes it helps to get the impartial opinion of a professional – someone who’s achieved success in the writing world and has a good idea about what editors are looking for. I’ve come across two such writers who offer critiquing services at reasonable prices:

  • Patricia Mcaughey is a successful romantic novelist from Plymouth and she writes as Patricia Fawcett. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and the West Country Writers’ Association. It was through the West Country Writers’ that I met Patricia at their annual Congress. Patricia charges £25 to critique the first 3 chapters of a novel plus the synopsis. A critique of a complete novel is £50 and Patricia is happy to look at any genre except children’s, horror or science fiction. She prefers to receive hard copies of manuscripts through the post but can be contacted via email in the first instance – Patricia currently has a website under construction.


  • I’ve mentioned Joanna Barnden before on this blog. Joanna is a successful womag writer, Open University tutor and runs very inspiring writing courses. Joanna’s critiquing service costs £10 for one story (including a re-read after you’ve improved the story following her original comments) or £50 for 6, either sent in a single batch, or one after another over as long a period as you wish. The second way often works best as you can use it as a mini-correspondence course to improve your general writing techniques. This price applies to stories of 3000 words or under; for longer works she would be happy to quote on an individual basis. As well as critiquing the story Joanna will also give market advice. Joanna can be contacted via her website or email –

Alternatively, why not have a go at the Laurel House Creative Workshops competition which provides every entrant with a 400 word critique of their story. Entry fee is £4 and the winner will receive £100. Closing date 4th July. Full details here.


Short Story Critiques

A couple of weeks ago a follower of this blog contacted me for advice on obtaining a critique for a short story she was working on. Understandably, she didn’t want to pay a fortune and nor she did she want to risk the story being hijacked by someone else.

For a short piece of work like this the critiques offered by competitions are reasonably priced. These include:

  • Writer’ Forum – a monthly competition with an open theme and maximum word length of 3,000. The critique is an extra £5 on top of the entry fee. I’ve used this service once and received a one page report covering: Presentation, Title, Opening, Dialogue, Characterisation, Overall. It pointed out my overuse of clichés, incorrect use of the word ‘indiscrete’, problems with characterisation and the fact that the ending was too ‘sudden’. So for £5 I had a lot to work on to improve the story before it went off to another competition.
  • Meridian Writing run quarterly competitions and offer a basic critique for an extra £3. This is usually an A4 page in length. They are also offering critiques for noncompetition entries with the fee varying on whether a basic or detailed report is required and the length of the story.
  • Flash 500 Competition is another quarterly open themed competition but the word limit is 500. The optional critique is £10. These competitions are run by Lorraine Mace and she also offers critiques on non-competition pieces (any length and including articles and non-fiction books), see here for more details.

A subscription to Freelance Market News includes a free critique on 3,000 words of prose or 120 lines of poetry. It costs £29 for 11 issues and includes free monthly writing competitions plus 20% off entry to The Writers’ Bureau Short Story and Poetry Competition.

Does anyone else know of a critiquing service that is good value?

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