27 November 2016

Writing for WW & Other Mags

by R.T. Lawton

Here we are in theme week and it's my turn to relate any experiences of writing for Woman's World and other magazines. Since my experiences tend to be on the meager side, I'll count on the true masters of this craft, Michael Bracken and John Floyd to tell the full story when it's their turn.

My first three published stories for any market went to biker magazines; two to Easyriders and one to Outlaw Biker. Easyriders paid $250 each and Outlaw Biker paid $50. At the time, I was working undercover on bike gangs and reading those magazines for background information. Upon finishing a certain story in the first magazine, I decided it was so bad that I could create a better story. So, I sat down, wrote out a story in long hand, typed it and snail-mailed it in. Easyriders bought it and I became a professionally paid author. In a move to CYA, the byline on the story was one of the nicknames I used on the street, the check came in one of my undercover aliases and my wife worked in the financial arena where the checks had to be cashed.

One small problem. Agents weren't allowed to have outside employment, to include writing short stories. However, the agency had spent several weeks teaching us how to go undercover, essentially how to lie to criminals, how to acquire another persona and in general how to survive as a fake person. And, I will give credit to their excellent training, because no one found me out, to include the agency.

I also wrote several children's stories for the South Dakota Lung Association who put the stories in Time Out and Recess, two newspapers which were handed out to 3rd and 4th graders and to 5th and 6th graders. The majority of these stories had an underlying theme such as bicycle safety or don't smoke or don't bully other kids, that sort of thing. The director of the organization would give me a list of potential topics I could choose from and we went to press statewide to all elementary schools four times a year. Ah, when I think of all those little minds I was influencing. These stories were written under the phonetic alias of Arty and were strictly for charity work, although I did get the occasional doughnut and coffee in their office.

Later, I went on to write fiction and non-fiction for Deadwood Magazine, a colorful, slick-paper magazine dedicated to the promotion of the gambling town, Deadwood, up in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This editor wanted some fiction, but mostly she wanted articles about historical sites in the area that might be of interest to tourists and/or about old time characters who had lived in the Deadwood area. I gave her a short story about gambling, an article about the hanging of Lame Johnny (a stagecoach robber and Texas horse thief) and one about Arch Riordan (the marshal of Buffalo Gap who didn't abide the nonsense of criminals). Deadwood Magazine went under a few years ago, but before they did, they converted their files to digital, thus you can find those two articles on the internet. Surprisingly, even though I hadn't written for them for years, they left my name on the masthead as a contributing writer and it was still there for their last edition.

And now, we come to Woman's World magazine. As a member of Short Mystery Fiction Society, I was reading one of their chat posts years ago for various writing markets when Woman's World popped up as a possibility. At the time, they were paying $500 for a thousand-word mini-mystery. Later, the maximum word count dropped to 900 words and now it's down to 700 words. You had to write sparse. I usually started with about 1,200 words and then pared it down. Adjectives and adverbs were the first to go. There wasn't much room for character development and yet you had to create a character who made a strong impression on the reader, which was usually a female. To write that short was like writing in the format for a joke. You did the setup (the mystery) and then the punchline (the solution). The mystery portion was printed right side up in the magazine and the solution was printed upside down in order to give the reader a chance to guess the solution. They published ten of my mini-mysteries with my acceptance rate coming in at about 30%. Some of the rejections were a result of me feeling around to find the outside parameters of what they would accept, some submissions were rejected by their first reader, some by the column editor and every so often one would be rejected by the chief editor of the whole magazine. Never knew the reasons for the latter rejections, they just were.

But, never throw away your rejected stories. Keep looking for a market, even if it doesn't pay much. One of my $500 WW rejects went to Swimming Kangaroo, an e-newsletter. Between the newsletter's title and the editor's aborigine name, I thought I'd finally broken into international publishing. Thought I was now published in a foreign market. And then the $25 check arrived in the mail with a Texas return address on the envelope. Oh well, I did get paid in U.S. currency. Two other WW rejects went to Flash Bang, an e-zine for flash fiction, at ten dollars each.

What can I tell you other than never say die. The writing game is a hard mistress. Good thing that Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Woman's World paid me well, not to mention the recent reprint market.

Ride easy, until next time.

15 comments:

Art Taylor said...

What a terrific post, R.T.! I love the movement from biker mags to children's pubs to where you are today—a fascinating journey. (And glad they taught you undercover work so well.) :-)

O'Neil De Noux said...

I like Art's comment. Interesting journey. The writings the thing but locating the markets is, well you know.

janice law said...

Love the variety!
Your sales to Easyrider beat my ancient pieces for Tobacco Journal and Convenience Store News hands down.

John Floyd said...

Great column, RT! That's an interesting "inside" look, and should be helpful to anyone who writes for magazines.

I'm off now to search for those Deadwood articles--that sounds like my kinda reading.

Elizabeth said...

I enjoyed your column, R.T. I don't know if you knew Johnene retired at the end of last year & Patricia Gaddis, who I think used to be the first reader, is fiction editor now. And she accepts subs by email!! I hope to have something for her eventually.

B.K. Stevens said...

I enjoyed your post, R.T.,especially the parts about Woman's World. My acceptance rate there is probably around 30% overall, too, starting with half a dozen or so accepted stories before WW switched to the solve-it-yourself format, only two since then. Lately, my acceptance rate has dipped to 0%--I haven't decided if I should make one more try before officially giving up. Being able to submit stories online is convenient, but I wish WW would send out automatic messages saying stories have arrived safely. Especially since WW no longer sends out rejections, we can't know if our stories made it to the slush pile or disappeared into cyberspace. And I doubt inquires about a manuscript's status would be welcome. Well, I'll wait to see if John Floyd has new insights to offer he writes his post for this series--he is, of course, the ultimate source of wisdom on writing for WW.

R.T. Lawton said...

Thanks one and all for your gracious comments.

R.T. Lawton said...

Elizabeth & Bonnie, I'm hoping John will supply all the current info to submit to WW when he does his blog article. Otherwise, it's difficult to find that info. After a three year layoff, I may have to try WW again, especially since they have a new editor.

John, is the new editor the old First Reader? If so, I will have to skip trying to rework some of my old rejects.

John Floyd said...

R.T., Patricia was indeed a first reader before taking over Johnene's position on January 1. That doesn't mean you couldn't rework some of the old rejects, though. Patricia says she doesn't mind taking a look at stories that Johnene (Fiction Editor) might've rejected, BUT you don't (for obvious reasons) want to send her stories that might've been rejected by the Editor-in-Chief, who's still there.

Eve Fisher said...

Great post, R.T.! I, too, love the journey from biker magazines to Woman's World.

Jeff Baker said...

Loved the post, R.T.! I'll give thumbs-up to re-submitting rejected stories. I fired something off this afternoon that I'd gotten back in an e-mail this morning! "Keep on plugging away" as a friend of mine used to say!

Leigh Lundin said...

I think you could make a good argument that the writing contributed to your undercover persona, that your writing gave you street creds with the gangs. Yeah, that’s it. There you go!

And now you have street cred with women! Way to go, RT. And I can testify that one of your stories was read and enjoyed in France, so there’s that international angle. It takes a hell of a writer.

Elizabeth said...

And also in addition to mysteries, Woman's World publishes romances, which pay more & have a higher word count. Me, I couldn't write a romance if my life depended on it. The magazine gets many more romance submissions than mystery.

Melodie Campbell said...

Love the Persona! When I wrote fiction regularly for ComputorEdge, I used the byline 'Mel Campbell'. Did they get a shock five years later, when they found out I was female.

Elizabeth, two of the stories I wrote for Star Magazine were romance, and they paid $2000, I think. That was more than 10 years ago now, sigh. Hard to make that kind of money these days.

R.T. Lawton said...

John, thanks. I'll dig out my thick rejection file and match up which ones were rejected by the Editor-in-Chief.

Eve, the real fun was transitioning from biker stories to kid's stories, although to be fair, I did use short words and simple sentences in both. The bikes were different though.

Jeff, you got the right idea. Keep the inventory turning over.

Leigh, as you and I know, the reader in France was kind enough to supply some of the historical background for that particular story.

Elizabeth, my attempts at romance worked out fine, but not at romance writing. Go figure.

Melodie, for years at Woman's World, my Mini-mysteries were published under the name of R.T. Lawton. Then one year I must've made too much money because they had me fill out paperwork for a Form 1099 which required my full name. I do believe that surprised them, but then I understand why some female authors use only initials for a first name when they write and get published.