Monday, 24 January 2011

Apples and Pears - Markets for Short Stories

When I started writing I wrote short stories, and it became very clear that there were two sorts of short stories: those that won short story competitions and those that were published in the women's magazines.  

They were not the same thing at all, as different as apples and pears.

When I started teaching I had a student who was determined to crack the women's magazine market because it was the only one that paid.  This is true.  He'd come to my class because he was getting rejected. He suspected a female conspiracy against him because he was a man.  Not true.  A good story is a good story, regardless of the sex of the writer.  

What became clear was that his inclinations were to write literary short stories, apples, if you like.  But the women's magazine market wants pears.  It makes no difference if you've got a juicy Braeburn, a crisp Cox's Orange Pippin, or a woolly Granny Smith - they're not pears.  

He refused to accept this, and stomped off in a huff. 

The same is true the other way round - if you're writing pears, they won't get placed in a literary short story competition.  Another student was having great success with the womags - hardly a week went by when she didn't report another sale - but yearned to win a short story competition.  It didn't happen for her, although she worked very hard at her writing.  

If you want to write short stories then you need to know your market.  How? Easy - read. Read, read, then read some more.  Apples?  Or pears?  Work it out, then apply to your own work. 

8 comments:

Rebecca Bradley said...

A brilliant way of describing it, thank you. I think it is something I got mixed up with when I started writing short stories. As I've only been writing a short time, I'm not yet sure what my market is, but feel I understand it better for some apples and pears!

womagwriter said...

I'd agree on the whole, but I think both competitions and womags are more of a spectrum - there's some overlap in the middle.

There are some competitions, particularly those connected with the womags eg the ones judged by Linda Lewis or Della Galton, in which womag stories may do well. And some womags (eg Woman's Weekly) will take more literary stories than others.

As you quite rightly say, the most important things are to know what kind of story you write, and to study the markets so you know where it's likely to do best.

Sarah Duncan said...

Glad it's helped, Rebecca.

I was generalising about competitions; of course there can be huge differences between them depending on all sorts of variables eg the judges - one time I judged a comp and the organiser/preliminary judge told me I hadn't picked any of the ones she thought should win. Hey ho. She liked vague and wispy, I liked something more robust. Horses for courses...and study the market.

Jo said...

I'm not sure I agree with your apples and pears theory, Sarah. I know of several writers who have had success with literary short story competitions as well as womag fiction, myself included albeit a few years ago now. Sally Zigmond immediately springs to mind. I think it is possible for the same writer to do both and have success in both areas. It's a question of adaptability, experimenting with styles and studying the market.

Sarah Duncan said...

Jo, I didn't mean a writer could only write apples, or only write pears - lots of writers work in several different genres and styles.

But - as a generalisation - the womags want a particular sort of story, and a very literary story may be wonderful but it still won't be accepted by them.

Similarly, a story that would be snatched up by a womag, would probably not do well in, say, the Bridport Prize.

Writers can win the Bridport and get published in the womags, but it won't be with the same story.

Jo said...

Sorry, Sarah, I misunderstood! Duh! That'll teach me to read your blog as soon as I get up in the morning!

Pauline Barclay said...

I can see why you are such a great teacher.....I lovely Blog! x

Sarah Duncan said...

Not at all. Jo - my fault for not making myself clear.

And thanks Pauline!