You’ve written a literary masterpiece. The characters are awesome (one of them is called Breathless Muffler), the setting is exotic (thousands of miles away from Milton Keynes) and the conclusion mind blowing (the main protagonist turns out to be his own daughter).
You randomly submit your short story to various magazines and competitions.
None of them publish your work.
Because, like many writers, you’ve neglected something that’s very important.
If you want to make money out of writing, you have to treat it like a business. I know, this isn’t what you want to hear. Writers like to write because it’s fun. They don’t want to spend time trying to be a salesperson, because it’s the opposite of fun and a little bit scary.
Well, you’ll be pleased to hear that you don’t have to be a salesperson to succeed. You simply have to do some market research. It’ll give you a much better chance of becoming a published writer. And market research can be fun.
Before you write a story or a poem, you have to understand who you’re writing it for and tailor it to that market. This is a very simple technique to employ and gives you a much better chance of being published.
How do I know?
Because I’ve done it.
And it works.
I’ll use a real life example to illustrate the point.
Short Story Case Study
Writers’ Forum is a popular UK writing magazine with global readership. You’ll see it on the shelves of WHSmith and other high-street newsagents. It’s widely distributed and widely read. The magazine runs a monthly short story competition with a £300 first prize. I decided £300 would be very nice to have, so I entered.
The first time I submitted a story it was rejected. Why? Because I didn’t research my market properly. I’d bought a copy of the magazine, but skim read it. I didn’t read it carefully.
After that first rejection, I decided that it might be sensible to peruse the magazine in more detail. I read the winning stories. I also read the judge’s comments. They’re detailed in this particular publication, giving a lot of information about what they like and don’t like.
From doing this basic research I discovered that Writers’ Forum will consider publishing any style or genre of story, which is good as I write quirky, humorous tales that aren’t suitable for every market. I also found out that the judge favoured stories with a hopeful ending and that their standards are high.
I then wrote two more stories with this in mind and submitted them to the magazine. The first was shortlisted. The second won the competition and was published in the magazine.
If I hadn’t undertaken this research, I would’ve struggled to win or be published through the competition. You can read the story that won the competition on my website.
When Entering Competitions, Read & Obey the Rules
This is another super simple tip. It’s so obvious, you may ask why I’m bothering to write about it. Well…
Years ago, I was involved in the initial reading stages of the inaugural GKBCinc Short Story Competition. In the first 6 month entry period we received 209 entries. 92 of these (44%) didn’t obey the simple rules. This was a free to enter competition and, in my experience, you find less care is taken when there is no entry fee, so the percentage of rule breakers tends to be higher.
I now run To Hull And Back, a well-established humorous short story competition with multiple cash prizes and an entry fee. Last time the competition ran, I received 582 entries. 59 writers broke the rules (just over 10%). I’ve found that figure varies between around 7% to 30% each time the competition is run.
I undertake a full write-up of the contest every year, including stats of entry numbers, rule breaking, numbers of stories written in the 1st person, 2nd person, 3rd person etc. You can learn more on the To Hull And Back competition results pages in the ‘notes’ sections.
By simply reading and obeying the rules, in the first instance, you would have automatically made it into the top 56% before your story had even been read. In the second, you’d have been ahead of between 7% and 30% of the competition.
Conducting some basic market research greatly increases your chances of being published. Competitions and magazines often favour a certain style. If you read previous winning entries and judges or editors comments, you are much more likely to achieve publishing success.
While conducting your research, you will read some great writing and can learn how to improve your own writing.
Let me know how you get on.
Trish and I would love to hear about your success stories. I’ll look forward to receiving and reading your comments.
Do you have something say about poetry? An essay on being a poet, tips for poets, or poetry you love? TrishHopkinson.com is now accepting pitches for guest blog posts.
In November 2019, Victorina Press published Chris’s short story collection, Book of the Bloodless Volume 1: Alternative Afterlives. The book was an Award-Winning Finalist in the ‘Fiction: Short Story’ category of the International Book Awards.
Chris runs a popular fiction writing blog that attracts over 300,000 visitors each year. He judges the To Hull And Back short story competition and publishes thousands of writers’ stories in support of charity via his flash fiction writing challenges.
He’s a member of Stokes Croft Writers and Clockhouse London Writers.