A ‘Helen-Fest’ & A Short Story Workshop @ ChipLitFest

Helen HuntOn 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….!

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17 Responses to A ‘Helen-Fest’ & A Short Story Workshop @ ChipLitFest

  1. That’s odd, and a bit cheeky, but never mind, it’s a story in tabff, so well done. Sounds like you had a great time. So unoriginal of them though, of all the names they could have picked?

  2. Well, I don’t mind about them changing it to third person – it hasn’t really changed the story, it’s just a slightly different viewpoint but I agree, it’s odd to choose my name! But maybe they thought I’d be pleased?! (and the Helen in the picture is quite ‘glamorous’ so I perhaps I should be!!!)

  3. kathmcgurl says:

    I know they don’t like present tense but I’ve certainly sold them plenty of 1st person stories which they have published unchanged. Only once kept my title though. Well done on the sale and the lit fest sounds like it was lots of fun!

  4. Bernadette says:

    Helen is indeed very lovely and I’m sure her workshop was great.
    Well done on keeping the story title – it does happen sometimes but seems to be quite rare.
    As far as post-sale editing goes I’ve had stories published with barely a comma changed and I’ve had others altered beyond recognition (naming no editors!!), to the point where you wonder why they bought it in the first place! As Helen said, you have to take it on the chin, but the first kind are definitely nicer.
    As for the character name change, Helens are obviously ‘in’ at the moment!

  5. philippabowe says:

    Helen, excellent to have your story out. But i’m horrified to discover that mags are allowed to edit so extensively – to me, the change from first to third person is huge! I wouldn’t be able to cope with that at all…I’m amazed they’re allowed to do it – even tho’ they have bought the story, you remain the author and your name is on it (i assume??), I would have thought any major editing would have to be run past the author, but apparently not. Glad you enjoyed the festival, how great to have a literary festival on your doorstep!

  6. Philippa, I am spoiled, actually – as well as Chipping Norton, there’s the Stratford Literary Festival (25 mins away, running at the moment!) and, next week, the Chipping Campden Festival..er.. I’m almost too embarrassed to tell you this.. but 3 miles away! (I could walk!). And yes, the magazines can do what they like with your story once they’ve bought it! I was surprised they’d changed the pov but the story itself is unchanged so It’s fine! (and the photos are nice!)

  7. Tracy Fells says:

    Envy you being close to this festival, Helen. The only story I’ve ever sold to TABFF was in the first person (they changed the title), but I’m beginning to think it was a fluke … as everything else has come back regardless of POV!

  8. Linda Lewis says:

    I once sold a story about an April Fool trick a wife played on her husband, and they took out the4 April First reference entirely and just had it as a prank. I stopped reading my published stories a long way back. Sometimes, it’s better just to bank the cheque.
    Great to see you in FF by the way, especially as I’m in there too!

  9. Yes, you are Linda – next to mine!! (and in first person!) Enjoyed your story. Sweet – and a bit sexy!! (and why not?!)

  10. What an interesting post. I’ve given up on TAB. I think I simply don’t write what they want.

  11. Jan Baynham says:

    Thanks for this interesting post, Helen. Congratulations on getting your story in TABFF! I agree with some of the others that changing from 1st to 3rd person seems very drastic but I have heard that it’s quite comment for titles to be changed. The festival sounded great.

  12. Thanks for this lovely bundle of useful info on writing for women’s magazines – its encouraged me to have another go, thank you.

    • Ooh, Elaine, I like the way you’ve described my humble post as ‘this lovely bundle’! Made me go all warm and squidgy inside! Good luck with your writing for the mags!

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