Thursday, 27 August 2009

Slam-dunkin' the Too Many Chasing Too Few Theory

My sales to the womags are definitely down this year. I used to sell 2 a month, now it's about 1 a month. I'm forever being asked how many stories I've sold recently (mainly by Himself who would like me to get a 'proper job'). My staple, and rather defensive, reply has been,

"Oh, well, there are just too many writers chasing too few slots."

But is that true?

Would it be more honest to say, "There're better writers than me out there and that's why my sales are down" or "I haven't written as many."?

I was talking with a writing tutor the other day and she came back with some interesting thoughts on the matter. And I have to say, after giving it some thought, I agree.

The 'Too Many Newbies Writing' theory:

Yes, creative writing classes are everywhere now and available for anyone to join. People are clamoring for places. Are they turning out great mag stories the editors are lapping up in favour of us old hacks? Is this fresh blood full of exciting new plot lines and imaginative twists?

Er no. In her experience (and mine from the little tutoring I've done)some students are there only because they bought into the idea that womag publication is easy. They've read Take A Break - Pah! Should be a doddle to scribble something like that! They've seen that advert on the telly/in the writing mags about the writer who joined a class and now has a turnover rivaling JKR. Great! A quick way to make a few quid.

I can guarantee that these students, who make up most of any class, will drop out after a few months. Of course, a few will trudge on relentless, but they'll never quite make it. Well, good on them for sticking with it.
The rest of the class will be the ambitious, truly creative sort who'll improve and go on to publication.

The 1000 or so submissions made per month to Woman's Weekly will be made up of a mixture of these three groups. My point? The percentage of publishable material being sent to mag editors is only marginally greater than it was a few years back. I'll wait for an editor to contradict me on this!

As for the 'Too few slots' theory:
Let's knock this one on the head, shall we? Okay, some mags have closed their doors to fiction. Bella, Woman, Chat to name 3, but how many did they publish a week? One? Maybe 2? And did you ever sell to them?

The good news is, the remaining mags have actually increased their slots. Take Woman's Weekly, as an example. There's the weekly, the bi-monthly and the seasonal specials.

And think how many foreign markets have opened up. When I started writing for publication back in 2000, I only submitted to the UK market, mainly because I was unaware I could sell overseas. Now there's Australia, Sweden, South Africa, Norway, Denmark, India, Ireland etc.

Only the other day I found a fresh market...or rather the market found me as the editor saw one of my stories in another mag and wanted it for her own - yes, I know that comes across as a bit of trumpet blowing there but I have an ego to sustain ;0) Anyway, I struck while the iron was hot and sent her more. She's rejected 2 as being too short for her current needs but is considering the others.

So my conclusion is, yes, there are better writers than me out there and always will be. But my recent failings have been entirely my own. I'm not selling as many stories because I'm not writing as many. I KNOW it's true. Think on!

There endeth today's lesson x


Julie P said...

I totally agree with you, Sue. Obviously I haven't been writing short stories for as long as you have so I don't really know what the market was like a few years ago, but I think the important thing for writers trying to get published in the womags is that you have to study the magazines first, then get the stories written and actually send them off!

Too many wannabe writers look on short stories as a piece of cake to write when they are so not! Then they give up at the first sniff of a rejection letter.

My personal favourites are those who, when you tell them you write short stories say, "Oh I could do that easy - I don't know why you get so many rejections - it's easy." Well come on then, I say, lets see your name under one of the stories in Take A Break!

I write my stories because I love writing stories - yes I am trying to get published and I've had loads of rejections (and will have a good many more) but it doesn't stop me from writing.

I'd be happy with one sale at all!

Julie xx

Sue Houghton said...

And how many times have we heard, 'I'd like to have a go at writing for the mags but I just don't have the time.'?

I know one male writer (who shall remain nameless) who thinks womag writing is the pits and to prove how easy it is he sent something off. It was rejected! He said it was because he's too good and so he'd proved his point. Hmm???

Julie P said...

Mmmmm I don't think your male writer friend who will remain nameless has quite got the gist of it! There can be a bit of money to be made from writing for the Women's mags plus it gets your name known out there. It's all writing practice. I am so glad he got rejected!

I suspect he was secretly infuriated when he got the rejection letter - tee hee."How dare that mere little lady's mag reject my story!" Heres to writing for the women's mags!

Julie xx

Happy Writer said...

Hi Sue, That leaves me in a pickle, as I still send as many stories as I used to yet my sales are down too. So I can only conclude that my stories aren't good enough anymore...sigh..

Someone I know also said, well if you can sell stories to magazines, I can too. So she wrote one, sent it off and got a rejection. She complained long and loud, believing it was good enough to be published. As far as I know she didn't try again.

Sue Houghton said...

Rejection doesn't mean it's rubbish. Often as not it means the mag has run something similar recently, or the word count doesn't fit anywhere in the issue they're currently planning. Loads of reasons that really are just bad luck. Right story, wrong time. Send it back a year later and it might well be chosen.

Olivia Ryan said...

I SO agree with what you've said here, Sue. One thing that is certainly true is that editors are (generally) taking longer to respond, than they did years ago. And that must be mainly because they've got so many more submissions to plough through. As I've said on my blog, as long as I've got lots of submissions 'out there', I (being optimistic by nature) always believe I've got some more acceptances to come!

But well done you, on being approached by an editor, unsolicited! That really is worth some trumpet blowing!

And lastly, I agree 100% about people thinking short story writing is a doddle. Having done both (long and short), I agree that writing short stories is a particular skill and certainly not easier - just shorter! I get quite irritated by people who say they'd do it if they had time. I point out to them politely that I had a full time job while writing most of my stories and novels - I just gave up watching TV. And as Julie said, the answer is: if you think you can do it - get on and try!