Okay. I'm no expert here, but to my surprise and delight I have managed to get one short story published out there. I'm going to give you some advice that I found useful when I first started out writing short stories, and I still find this advice invaluable. So I hope it helps you too. I'm sorry if it's teaching you to suck eggs! That's not my intention. I'm well aware that there are many of you out there who know how to do it and are much more experienced than me. But I find going back to basics is just the ticket to start you on your way to getting your short story published. If anyone out there has any other nuggets of advice then please do comment!
1. Read as many past issues of your target magazines as you can get your hands on! Make sure you read the more recent issues too so that you can see the kind of stories they are publishing. Don't make the mistake of assuming that all women's mags are the same. They most definately are not. The kinds of fiction published in People's Friend is absolutely not the same as that in Take A Break!
2. Make a list of what strikes you about the stories in each magazine. What words spring to mind when you read them? Heart warming? Hopeful? Charming?Lively? Look at the words the magazine use in the story's byline (the description they give the story) these will give big clues as to the kind of story it will be - and you'd be wise to take these seriously and tailor your own stories to fit that criteria.
3. Look at the subject matter and the kind of language and dialogue used in the stories and try and keep your own stories to that formula. It's no good doing a story about divorce and submitting it to People's Friend. It's just not their cup of tea - but it might be okay for Woman's Weekly or Take A Break!
4. When you've read the magazines, (I would stick to targetting one magazine at a time, otherwise you may find your brain getting confused. If I'm writing for People's Friend, I immerse myself in People's Friend Land for a few weeks. It's the only way I know that I can get completely into their particular brand of fiction and write a short story anywhere near what they are after!) look at their submission guidelines and follow them to the letter. Don't set yourself off on the wrong foot by annoying the fiction editor and writing in purple ink on green paper when they want it typed and double spaced on white paper. Follow the rules - you have a better chance of having your story read if it's clear and neat.
5. Read your story out loud and to an audience of anyone you know who reads the magazine you're targetting. If you're shy and can't bear the thought of doing this, at least give it to them to read. (I hate doing this but it has to be done!) It will give you some idea of how good, or bad your story is! You will also be able to hear how naturally and well your dialogue flows.
6. Before you send it out, read, read and READ your story again. Hopefully you will have been able to put your story away for few days at least to give it time to settle and will now be able to edit it for grammatical and spelling mistakes. My favourite trick is to change the name of my characters half way through the story - please try and avoid doing this if you can!
7. Before you post it, don't forget to check you have everything in the envelope: the manuscript, covering letter, front sheet with all your details on - name, address, phone no, email address, name of story, word count etc - SAE. Please please PLEASE make sure you put sufficient postage on (including the SAE) Editors will not be going down to the local post office depot to collect your manuscript! If they accept your manuscript by email all the better.
8. Don't sit there forlornly by your phone/letter box/computer waiting for the editor's ruling on your manuscript, and don't accost your poor post person either! You could be waiting some months for a reply from the editor. Patience is the name of the game here. But if you haven't heard within six months then I would definately politely give the editor a nudge to see what happened to your story.
9. The time that you will have waiting for news from the editor would be better spent writing more short stories to send to other magazines. That way if one of your stories gets declined then you'll have other stories out there waiting to come in. It will also ensure you get good practice writing better short stories.
10. Don't lose heart when the rejection comes in - and it will. It's not you and it's nothing personal - how can it be? The editor doesn't know you from Adam, and they haven't googled you and rejected your story because they don't like your hair style. DON'T GIVE UP! Practice and persistence are the key. Good luck.
I always think that writing a short story is like baking a cake. You have the basic recipe, you put the ingredients in the bowl and mix them all together. You put the cake tin with the cake mixture in it into the oven and let it cook for a while. You then take it out and sample it. Mmmmm you think, that doesn't taste too bad, so you offer a slice to an editor. It may be to their taste or it may not be - at least you can have fun making different cakes.