Four Myths About Writing Short Stories for Magazines

Writing stories for magazines is easy – right?

Er – no – we all know that’s a myth. If you’re reading my blog, then chances are, you’ll know it from personal experience.

Once you have sold a few stories to magazines, they just buy everything you send – right?

Er – no – they still only buy the ones they think are perfect for them.

If an editor asks you to rewrite a story, they will then buy the resulting rewrite, won’t they?

Er – no – they wont, not unless it’s perfect for them second time round, or third, or fourth.

Once you break in there’s loads of money in it.

Er – no!

Just to illustrate these four points – and one more very important point I thought I would share with you the journey of a magazine story I wrote. Out of courtesy I’m not going to name the actual magazines mentioned in the following examples. I will give them pseudonyms, so please don’t think there are four new magazine markets out there you haven’t heard of -there aren’t – but the actual facts are true.

On 8 December 2011 I wrote a story (let’s call it A Special Day) and sent it to that ‘well known magazine’ Women Everywhere. On 20 January 2012, their editor sent it back saying they liked the story but not the ending, could I possibly rewrite it and they’d take another look.

“Of course,” I said, and offered them A Special Day mark two on 26 January, 2012. A week later they sent it back saying, sorry, we’re not keen on this ending, please could you try again.

“Of course,” I said, and offered them A Special Day mark three on 17 February 2012. A week later they sent it back saying, sorry, we’re not keen on this ending either. Thanks for trying.

“Thank you for giving me the opportunity,” I said, and (not to be deterred) on 12 March 2012 I sent mark three of my story to another well known magazine called Women Worldwide.  

They ignored it for several months. I didn’t chase it, but on 24 January 2013 I sent a different version (mark two) to Women Worldwide, with a note mentioning they’d had a previous version, but this was new and improved. A month later they sent back the new and improved version with a polite rejection.

Not to be deterred – I’m quite stubborn, me – I looked at all my versions and decided that the mark two version was the best and I sent it to another well known magazine, let’s call them, Universal Woman.  A week or so later they sent it back with the comment, we enjoyed this but it’s not for us.

Again, not to be deterred – did I mention I was stubborn? – I sent the mark two version to yet another magazine called All Women on 5 March, 2013. On 8 May, 2013 they sent it back with the comment, “We quite like this, but could you change the end?”

“Of course,” I said, and rewrote the end for the fourth time (yes there was actually an ending I hadn’t thought of yet) and I resubbed it on the morning of the 15 May, 2013.  On the evening of the 15 May, their editor came back to me and said, “Yes please, we’ll buy that one.”

“Thank you very much,” I said. “That’s excellent news.”

Alleluia might have been a more accurate description of what I was feeling at that moment. That story had started life in December 2011, had been given four rewrites and finally sold in May 2013.

This kind of thing doesn’t happen all that often, thankfully, but it’s not unheard of, and I think illustrates quite well what I mentioned earlier. Writing for magazines is not easy, it doesn’t matter how many they’ve bought from you before it doesn’t mean they will buy your next one, and they won’t necessarily buy your 2nd or 3rd rewrite, even if they ask you to do them. And – no I did not get paid a fortune for the story when I finally sold it. But I did get paid!

I would like to end on a note of hope. If you really do think a story has got what it takes, then don’t give up on it.  There is every chance you will sell it eventually. And it is – I have to say – very, very very satisfying when you do!

If you would like to know more about writing and selling short stories – please do check out my book, The Short Story Writer’s Toolshed here.

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