Monday, 27 April 2015

An Editor Can't Publish What You Don't Submit

Following on from last week’s post about gender submissions (where a publication only publishes material written by one gender because they only receive submissions from that gender), here’s another interesting observation from Shirley Blair, Fiction Editor at The People’s Friend.

In her post of 24th April 2015, called Find the Gap ( Shirley discusses some of the questions she was asked at a recent fiction writing workshop:

“Why don’t you include ‘techno’ stories?” someone asked. “Doesn’t the Friend like stories about mobile phones, etc?”

The question allowed me to make the point that we can only publish what you writers send me!

It’s one of those vicious circles. There haven’t been any stories about, say, mobile phones or Facebook in the Friend lately because it happens that writers haven’t written us any. So, when a new writer looks at our pages to see what subjects we prefer, they think, Oh, they never feature stories about mobile phones… They must not like them.

And that’s how we end up seeing an ever-decreasing selection of tried and tested storylines and themes coming in.

So, as well as studying the magazine to assess the style and tone that we do prefer in our short stories, sometimes it’s worth thinking about what you don’t see, too; find that gap and yours might be the very story I need to fill it.

It’s a point worth bearing in mind, whether you write fiction or non-fiction. Just because you don’t see a certain topic being discussed, it doesn’t necessarily mean the magazine isn’t interested in it. As Shirley says, if people don’t submit material on that subject she can’t publish it! 

Of course, the topic still needs to be relevant to the magazine’s readership. And in this example, it is. Many of The People’s Friend’s readership use mobile phones. In fact, occasionally you’ll see adverts in the magazine for an easy-to-use mobile phone. So, as Shirley says, analysing a publication for it’s style and readership is important, but don’t be put off writing about a topic because you don’t see it mentioned in the magazine. It could be that no-one’s submitted anything on that subject before.

Good luck.

PS - Just bear in mind that after this recent post, Shirley will probably be deluged with mobile phone and Facebook stories!

Monday, 20 April 2015

Gender Selection

There’s a letter in the latest issue of Writers’ Forum where a male reader has commented on what appears to be the editor’s female bias towards contributors. Naturally, the editor has denied this, and the reason is simple. More women are published in Writers’ Forum because more women send stuff in.

It’s a common comment I hear from students. Having analysed a publication (which is a good step to take) they then spot all of the articles are written by one gender and wrongly assume the editor has a preference. But if men don’t submit anything to the editor then the editor can’t publish anything by men, can they?

The solution is simple. Write something, or pitch an idea, and send it in. You never know, the editor may be grateful for your submission. I know women who have written for men’s motoring and health magazines and men who write for women’s magazines.

In the May issue of Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special (out now, by the way!), there are 20 short stories: 19 written by women and 1 written by a man - me! The editor was only able to consider my short story submission because I’d sat down and written something in the first place … and then sent it in.

While it’s great to see students analysing magazines in detail, don’t be influenced by the ratio of male/female contributors. (The only exception that springs to mind is a publication called Mslexia, which is written for women writers, by women writers - but even so - I’d still say to any men who have a great idea for its readership that they should still pitch it!)

Editors are interested in the ideas for their readership not whether the writer is male or female. So if you have a good idea then do something about it. Don't let gender influence whether you submit to the publication. Just do it!

Good luck.

Monday, 13 April 2015

No ... But Yes

I’ve just finished one of those jobs that started out as something completely different, and it highlights the importance of pitching.

A fellow writer was having problems getting interviewees to provide the documentation she needed in a suitable format and felt that an article on this subject would be useful. However, being too close to this subject, and because I have a little knowledge in this area, they suggested that I pitch an article on this topic to a magazine.

So, being a good boy, I did what I was told. I spent some time formulating my idea and analysing the market. The magazine often uses 1500-word features for a double-page spread, but sometimes uses 1200-word pieces if accompanied by a few photos, so I pitched the latter. Within a couple of hours the editor responded … with a no.

Bugger. But as I read the email he then went on to suggest tackling it in a completely different format … one I’d not seen in the publication before. Instead, he wanted a nine-photo illustrated piece, where each image was accompanied by a caption of no more than 30 words.

Of course, a commission is still a commission, so I set to work at turning my 1200-word structure into a 270-word illustrated piece. Which just goes to show the importance of pitching. Had I gone off and written the article I and my fellow writer wanted written I’d have been wasting my time. By pitching, I have a sale and the editor has the article they would rather have.

Meanwhile, I still have the original angle to pitch and there are other markets that might be interested in it. So who knows what might happen? It could transpire that by pitching first I’ll have not one but two articles on this topic.

Good luck. 

Monday, 6 April 2015

Contract Conundrum

Word on the wire is that Take a Break’s Fiction Feast has issued a new contract, and writers are querying whether it’s safe to sign. I haven’t submitted anything to Take a Break for a while, because I’ve been concentrating on Woman’s Weekly (and my latest success with them is in the May 2015 issue of Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special, out tomorrow - 7th April).

I'm glad to see writers are asking questions about the contract. That’s what you should do. And if there’s anything you don’t understand then query it. Query it with the editor, first of all, to see what they say. But if you can, seek advice from a reputable source, such as the Society of Authors, or the NUJ, if you are a member of these organisations. (And it’s at times like this when their membership fees really come into their own.)

If there is anything you don’t like about a contract, then don’t sign it. Walk away. Yes, it’s hard. It’s not what we want, but you have to look after yourself.

I’ve recently gone through a similar issue with the photographic agency I sell my photos through. Alamy issued a revised contract a few weeks ago, claiming that they were clarifying a few points that were confusing in the previous contract. This in itself is not a problem. Contracts need to be updated, as the world changes, in order to reflect those changes. But many photographers, including myself, were concerned at the interpretation of the new clauses in this contract. People were upset about the ramifications of accepting the revised contract. Several photographers got in touch with the Managing Director seeking clarification. (How ironic that this new contract designed to make things clearer did anything but.)

The Managing Director tried explaining, but the explanations didn’t really tally with what the contract suggested. So, many photographers began the process of cancelling their contract and walking away, and I began looking for alternative agencies that I could approach. Leaving a photographic agency isn’t easy, but there were articles appearing online offering advice about how to take your photos away from the agency in a way that captured as much information as possible to make submitting them to another agency much easier. Contributors began voting with their feet.

Then last week, Alamy sent an email to all of its contracted contributors:

We made some changes to your Alamy contract on 16th February that were due to come into force on April 1st. 

We've had some feedback from our photographers and it made us realise that some of the clauses didn't accurately reflect how we work, so we've made some changes. 

We're sorry we didn't do a good job of explaining this before.

Because we've made some further changes we're writing to give you 45 days notice of all recent changes. 
Having read through the revised, revised contract I’m happier. The really contentious issues have been dealt with satisfactorily and I’ve decided to stay, for the moment. The agencies contributors have been listened to. We had concerns. We raised those queries. And the company listened.
So, if you get a contract you don’t understand then get in touch with the company who sent it and ask them to clarify. (Keep a record of your requests and their answers, obviously.) And only if you’re happy with what the contract says should you sign up to it.
Good luck.