I had an email today from Woman’s Weekly, turning down a story. Ouch, it stung!
I was half expecting it, though. I can usually tell if there’s a ‘rejection’ in the pipeline because they take several weeks, rather than just a couple, to reply. (And yes, I know that’s still better than the months all the magazines take if you send stories by snail mail. I’m very lucky – I have ‘special dispensation’ to use email because they’ve accepted a few stories from me now).
This story got the thumbs down because “there were no surprises” (see 2, below) and I suppose, on reflection, they were right.
I studied the market for Woman’s Weekly for years before I got my first acceptance. I bought every issue of the Fiction Special and read every story – I still do – and I even had a spreadsheet at one point, listing the subject and character types in every story, so I could see what they published at a glance.
But obviously, I can still get it wrong.
So, as a little reminder to myself –and a helping hand for you if you’re also trying to write short stories for WW – this is (I think!) what they are looking for:
- A main character who’s not too young (most are over 30). They’re mostly female, although I’ve noticed more stories sneaking in with a male main character (but there’s always a woman in the story too).
- A surprise! That doesn’t mean every story has to be a ‘twist in the tale’ (see 6) but they don’t want an obvious or guess-able ending.
- No ‘boy meets girl’! For two reasons – one, they just don’t go for those obvious romantic stories but also, ‘boy meets girl’ is too young for their readership. ‘Middle- aged divorcee meets interesting man’, is a bit more like it.
- Character-lead stories. Read the stories they publish: the characters are usually more important than the plot.
- ‘Quirky’ stories. They like quirky, feisty, down-to-earth hero/heroines, with a sense of humour and irony.
- They don’t publish many ‘twist in the tales’ and those that they do, are still character-lead.
There’s a good example of a character-lead ‘twist-in-the-tale’ story in the current (29th Oct – 30th Nov) issue of Fiction Special (SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t yet read it!).
It’s ‘Karen Has News’ (page 7) by Steve Beresford, which starts with the heroine, Karen, full of the joys of spring, having just left the doctor’s with the words ‘Congratulations’ ringing in her ears.
As she walks home, dying to tell ‘Mark’ (whom we assume is her partner), she bumps into a ‘frenemy’, Angie, who comments on how ‘well’ Karen is looking in a ‘who’s-eaten-all-the- pies?’ kind of way. It’s an amusing scene and we’re really on Karen’s side – she’s an engaging and likeable character, so it’s an especially satisfying ending, when she finally breaks the news to her grown-up son, Mark, not that she’s pregnant (as the reader was probably thinking) but that she’s finally got a much-wanted job as a receptionist at the doctor’s surgery! (Let’s hope she’s not a dragon-in-training then, eh?)
It’s clever stuff. I enjoyed that story.