Posts Tagged Short story

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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Which is Easier: Short Stories or Novels?

For a long time, I avoided embarking on a novel because I was frightened of failure. Afraid of not completing the novel. Afraid of creating something that was complete rubbish. Afraid of not getting the finished manuscript published. But most of all, afraid of wasting months or years of my life on something that no one else would ever read.
So, I stuck to short stories and articles. There was still the risk of time wasted on writing stuff that would be rejected. But these were much smaller blocks of time and the odds were, that with enough pieces ‘out there’, some pieces would be accepted by magazines for publication. Some were. And some weren’t.

The pull of wanting a novel with my name on the cover grew. I buried my fear and started trying. As expected, it was difficult. My first attempts didn’t get past chapter three or four. But, with persistence, I completed a novel. It went on to win a competition and was published through Amazon. And gave me the confidence to try writing another. The Book Guild thought this next one had commercial potential and that too was published. The third novel got me an agent but not a publisher. Just before Christmas I finished the second draft of novel number four. This novel is now ‘resting’ before I read it again with fresh eyes to spot what does and doesn’t work in the storyline.

I promised myself a treat during this resting period – some short story writing! I was looking forward to this because I’ve always loved the buzz of achievement on completing a story and sending it out into the big wide world. In novel writing that buzz is rare.
This treat is turning into wasted time. With short story writing there’s no continuity between writing sessions. New characters and situations have to be constantly created – and that’s hard work. It’s far easier to slip back into the familiar world of a part-finished novel and bash out a few more pages. My productivity has plummeted and I’m looking forward to returning to editing the novel.

Which is easier – short story or novel writing? Or is the grass always greener?

Books by Sally Jenkins



NaNoWriMo & Nottingham Writers’ Club Short Story Competition

I did it! I wrote 50,000 words! 2013 NaNoWriMo Winner

I hit the NaNoWriMo target on 25th November – I had planned to write 2,000 words per day and, amazingly, I managed to stick to it.

Now the not so good bit. As soon as I hit 50,000 words I abandoned my routine. I had planned to keep going all the way to November 30th and thus amass 60,000 words. But once I knew I’d done enough to be a NaNo winner, I could no longer drag myself out of bed at 6:15 am to write 1,000 words before breakfast.

So now I’m gearing myself up to write the last little bit of the story, and then it’s the scary part – reading back through it all and discovering it’s all mumbo jumbo!

And if you’re looking for a new project now that NaNo is over:

Nottingham Writers’ Club are holding their first National Short Story Competition. The winner gets £200 and there are 15 prizes in total. ‘Emotion’ is the theme of the competition and the word limit is 2,000.

Entries can only be submitted between 1st and 31st January 2014 and, “All entrants must be non-professional writers. For the purpose of this competition, we define ‘non-professional’ as a writer who has earned less than £500 from short story writing during 2013”.

Request an entry form and further details here.

Finally, a quick shout out for Alison May. Alison is a fellow member of the Birmingham Chapter of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and has just had her debut novel published via Choc Lit Lite.
It’s titled ‘Much Ado About Sweet Nothing’ and is available initially in e-book format.
Congratulations, Alison!

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The Bath Short Story Award & Erewash Flash Fiction Competition

Here are a couple of competitions for you to mull over whilst you finish the Quality Streets and prepare for whatever 2013 might bring.

Help! I'm drowning in Quality Street!

Help! I’m drowning in Quality Street! (Photo credit: nataliej)

  • The Bath Short Story Award is a new international competition. The prizes are good – £500, £100 and £50 plus an additional £50 for a local winner. Stories can be on any theme and the maximum word count is 2,200. Entry fee is £5 and the closing date March 30th 2013. Enter by post or online but note that online entries must be in PDF format. Full rules are here.
  • Erewash Writers’ Group are running a FREE flash fiction competition on the theme ‘Start’ – which seems appropriate as we approach the beginning of a new year. First Prize is publication on the Erewash Writers’ website, a copy of Dan Purdue’s book
    ‘Somewhere To Start From’ and one free entry to the Erewash Open Competition 2013.  Second prize is one free entry to the Erewash Open Competition 2013. Word limit is 500 and the closing date is March 21st 2013.
    The judge is author, Dan Purdue and he offers some advice on flash fiction on his blog.
    Full competition details are here.

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Celebrating Charlotte – A Writing Competition

I came across the following competition on the blog Aiming For A Publishing Deal – many thanks to Charlotte C for highlighting it!

Deutsch: Die englische Schriftstellerin Charlo...

Charlotte Mary Yonge (1823-1901) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The competition is being run by Hampshire County Council and is asking for short stories (up to 1000 words) on the theme of Charlotte Mary Yonge. Charlotte was a best-selling Victorian novelist and her memory is kept alive by the Charlotte Mary Yonge Fellowship.Your story could be inspired by Charlotte’s life, one of her novels or maybe, a present day character discovering one of Charlotte’s books. There are 2 prizes of £50 Waterstones’ vouchers, one for under 16 and one for 16 +. Closing date is 12th December 2012 and you don’t have to live in Hampshire to enter. The full details are here.

Obviously this is a competition that will require some research but, on the plus side, that could deter many entrants – meaning that the field is smaller than that for many other competitions. And you may discover that you like Yonge’s books!

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Write Exposure & Words Magazine Competitions

Write Exposure has launched its first monthly competition. There are 3 categories – short fiction (up to 1200 words), flash fiction (up to 250 words) and poetry. Entry into each category is £4 or you can enter all 3 for £9.

The winner will be showcased on the website for a month along with 3 other ‘honourable mentions’.

Prize money depends on the number of entrants. I couldn’t find it on the website so I contacted Cheslyn Baker, who is running the competition, to find out the ‘formula’ that would be used to calculate the prize. She told me that it would be 25% of the total entry fee received in each category.

The theme for the competitions will change each month. For November it is “I know your face” and the closing date is 30th November.

Please read the full details here before you enter. 

In most competitions we never know what percentage of the entry fees was paid out in prizes so this competition is being transparent in that respect. It is also being open about its judging. It will be using a panel of 3, one of whom is a ‘citizen’ judge and any of us can apply to sit in that third seat. See the website for details.

What does anybody think about prize money being 25% of the pot? Is it fair? Can we (the entrants) actually reach a fair conclusion on this question when so many other competitions only advertise a fixed prize rather than a percentage?

There is a lot of work in running a writing competition – including a large amount of administration as well as the actual reading and judging of entries. 100 entries would be required to win £100 – and I’m sure that a lot of competitions offering a prize of £100 receive more than 100 entries so maybe 25% is realistic.

By coincidence I came across another competition recently where the prize money is dependent on the number of entrants. Words Magazine is running a ‘winner takes all’ competition for short stories of up to 2000 words. Entry fee is £3 – so if 100 people enter the prize will be £300 (Closing date is December 31st).

Best of luck if you decide to enter either of these!

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Coffee Break Fiction for Women’s Magazines

Last week I was a guest blogger for the Writers’ Bureau. I chose to do my post about writing sub-1000 word stories for the womag market, in particular The Weekly News, My Weekly and Take a Break/Fiction Feast.

If you’re interested in writing for these magazines then read the full post by clicking here.  

Anyone who is a student (or a temporarily lapsed student like me!) of the Writers’ Bureau is eligible to apply to be a guest blogger – just log in to the student community section of the Writers’ Bureau website for details. If chosen you will get a link back to your own blog – so if you’ve got something to say, it’s worth having a go.

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Short Stories for the Weekly News

The Weekly News prints three short stories a week. However, it is a market that is sometimes overlooked by writers targeting women’s magazines because it is published in newspaper format and can be difficult to find in theThe Weekly News - short story market newsagent.  I buy my copies in WHSmith or Tescos.

The Weekly News is aimed at a family audience of males and females across all ages. The short stories accepted for publication reflect this. It is not a market for romance or anything too ‘female’ orientated. In an interview for a past issue of Writers’ Forum Jill Finlay, the fiction editor said, “We like funny stories or happy endings but also something slightly darker, edgier – blackmail, the occasional murder – but please, more black humour than shock-you crime.”

Jill is also a fan of twist in the tale endings and topical stories.

Stories range in length from around 800 to 2000 words.  They are generally written in the third person and often from a male point of view.

I studied a couple of recent issues and in the first all three stories had a twist ending although they covered different topics:

  • A story that appeared to be about a manned mission to Mars turned out to be children playing a game
  • A story that appeared to be about a pilot flying a plane turned out to be a man driving to the airport and back in the middle of the night to lull the baby to sleep
  • A disgruntled train commuter on her last journey to work before she switched jobs – to Customer Services Manager for the train company.

 In the second issue I looked at, twists were popular again:

  • A supermarket car park attendant issuing cash fines to customers parking illegally in disabled spaces turns out to be an ordinary woman just pocketing the money for herself
  • A lady joins the gym to get fit for her 50th birthday party but hates it. However she does find a keep fit routine that suits her and is able to make a grand entrance to the party – as a belly dancer.
  • A lady in bed and unable to sleep yet again because of the noise from the party next door. She finally cracks, gets up and goes to the shed to get something before joining the party – with two bottles of wine.

  Some of the plots above may have lost something in my re-telling (apologies to the authors) but you get the idea of the type of thing that Jill Finlay chooses for The Weekly News fiction pages.

Submission is by email only to Further detailed guidelines can be found on Womagwriter’s Blog.

And if you’re visiting my blog for the first time, click here for details of my free prize draw.



Are you ready for Christmas 2011?

Flashing Christmas Tree

Image via Wikipedia

No, there isn’t a mistake in the title of this post – I really do mean Christmas 2011.

Magazines and newspapers use lots of Christmas themed features and stories but it’s very hard to sit down in the middle of summer and write a tale featuring Father Christmas and snowmen. And how do you motivate yourself to do that article on Christmas Traditions when you’re buying suncream and bikinis? Don’t think you can put these pieces off until the nights start drawing in – by then Christmas issues will have been finalised and will be almost ready to hit the shelves.

If you want to be published during Christmas 2011 you need to start preparing now.

  • Cut out and file festive features from magazines and newspapers. The same Christmas topics come round year after year – you need to give them a fresh angle, a different viewpoint or add some fresh research of your own. Use the cuttings as an ideas springboard to go off on your own tangent – don’t copy them!
  • Study the short stories in magazines. Make a note of which publications go for the cute and cosy stories and which like something a little bit more realistic. Look at the types of characters in the stories and the settings.
  • Start a new notebook and label it Christmas ideas. Put one idea on the top of each page and work forwards through the book for fiction ideas and start at the back for articles. In the lead up to Christmas flesh out each of these ideas as much as you can with bullet points about what you might include in the article or how the story plot might develop.
  • In those lazy days between Christmas and New Year, push the Quality Streets to one side, turn off the television and write a couple of those stories or articles. It will be much easier to do it now whilst the tree is still up, the weather is cold and the radio is playing Slade.
  • Get out your new calendar, diary or phone and make a note to revisit these finished pieces in the summer. Proof read them and then get them submitted in good time.

If you’re really stuck for ideas here a few links to get you going:

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