On Sunday I went to an excellent workshop on Writing Stories for the Women’s Magazine Market, run by Helen Hunt, at the Chipping Norton Literary Festival.
I think I was the only person there (apart from Helen herself, of course!) who’d actually had some stories published in the ‘womags’.
Everyone else was, very sensibly, attending to gather information and advice, with a view to getting started. So, why did I go and what did I get out of it?
1) It was good to finally meet Helen Hunt. She’s one of those people that I feel that I know, because of social media and her column in Writers Forum but whom I’ve never actually met! (and she’s lovely, of course! And ooh, very organised. When I run a class or a workshop, I’m often rushing a bit at the end, to fit everything in but she timed it all to perfection and remained cool and calm throughout! Impressive).
2) I like to support a fellow writer and 3) a local literary festival (Chippy is only 20 mins from me.. er, or 22 mins if you remember to slow down for the speed camera on the way in).
4) I picked up quite a few tips and ‘refreshed’ myself. eg: I remembered I should be submitting to magazines I’d ‘forgotten’ about (OK, I know there aren’t that many that publish fiction these days but I’ve been neglecting The People’s Friend and Yours and I shouldn’t!)
5) I also got some great ideas for my own classes (which Helen very kindly said I was welcome to borrow!).
6) I met some very nice people – the novelist Liz Fenwick, who was also on the course, for instance (and who was nagging Helen H to get on with her novel. Ooh, I need a nag like that!). It’s always nice to be with like-minded folk, isn’t it?
7) Oh and last, but definitely not least, I had tea and cake, provided by the cafe downstairs, which was included in the price of the ticket and rather a nice surprise. Yum!
One of the things Helen said was that you have to be prepared for the magazines ‘editing’ your story. Now, in my experience, they don’t do this very much. After all, if the story’s way off the mark, they’ll just reject it, rather than spend their valuable time re-writing it! And usually, if they want a change, they’ll ask you to do it (and they might still turn it down, even then).
Sometimes they change titles, though. Helen said that Take A Break ‘always’ change the title. so, when I saw my first ever story in Take A Break Fiction Feast today (June 2014 issue), I was feeling rather smug: they’d kept my title, ‘The Secret Supper Club’! Hurrah.
But then, I looked a little closer. They’d changed my story from the original first person to third AND named the heroine ‘Helen’ – which makes it look like I’ve written a story about myself!
Not that it matters, of course, (and as, Helen H said, once they’ve bought your story they can do what they like with it and there’s no point getting all ‘precious’) but I just thought it was funny that, of all the names in all the world, they picked mine!
And, by the way, it’s a myth that Take A Break ‘never publish stories in the first person’ (as someone has just helpfully tweeted me). Helen Hunt had also been told that but she’s sold several first person stories to them and in the current magazine there are no less than 6 stories in first person!
So, why they changed mine, is a mystery….!