30 June 2018

100 and Counting


by John M. Floyd




A few weeks ago I reached a milestone, of sorts: I sold my 100th story to Woman's World magazine. Allow me to mention, here, how grateful I am to both their editors and their readers, for allowing me to keep spinning these tales. I hope they'll want to buy a hundred more.

I'd also like to thank Dan Persinger, Jacqueline Seewald, Teresa Garver, Kevin Tipple, and others whose recent mentions of my WW stories on Facebook and elsewhere prompted me to write this piece. Woman's World is a market that is often overlooked by mystery writers, but if you enjoy--and have a knack for--creating very short stories, it's probably a market you should try.

Background info

As some of you know, Woman's World publishes one mystery story and one romance story in every issue. The magazine has a circulation of around two million readers/subscribers, they operate under the Bauer Media Group, they're based in New Jersey, and they've been around since 1981. I'm told they receive about 4,000 short-story submissions a month.

When I started submitting stories to WW almost twenty years ago, their mysteries were 1000 words in length and paid $500 each and their romance stories were 1500 words and paid $1000 each. Now, mysteries are 700 words max and pay $500 and romances are 800 words max and pay $800.

In January 2016 Patricia Riddle Gaddis replaced Johnene Granger as Fiction Editor of the magazine. I can't say enough about these two ladies: both of them are smart, professional, and talented, and both have been very good to me.

Although WW's mystery stories are often referred to as mini-mysteries, the correct term is now "solve-it-yourself" mysteries. More about that later.

Observations

Almost all the stories I've sold to WW have been mysteries--but two were romances, published years ago. I think those 1500-worders were much easier to write than the current 800-worders, and I have a lot of respect for those who can consistently write those short romance stories. It didn't take me long to figure out which genre was easier for me.

My first WW stories appeared in 1999, in their April 20, July 20, and July 27 issues. Afterward, I sold them one story in 2000, one in 2001, three in 2002, one in 2003, three in 2004, six in 2005, four in 2006, three in 2007, four in 2008, two in 2009, four in 2010, six in 2011, seven in 2012, ten in 2013, six in 2014, eight in 2015, ten in 2016, thirteen in 2017, and (so far) five in 2018. More than you wanted or needed to know, right?

In 2001 I began featuring two recurring characters in my WW stories, which has worked out well. For one thing, since readers are now relatively familiar with the two protagonists and their quirks (my characters have a lot of quirks), I don't have to waste much time "introducing" them in each story. That allows me more words to devote to the plot.

Not that it matters, but 62 of my 100 stories sold to WW involved either a robbery or a burglary. Only 21 involved murders. The rest were a mix of kidnappings, arson, fraud, jailbreaks, assault, blackmail, embezzlement, forgery, etc. I think there's a reason for that, although I doubt I was aware of it at the time: WW has always liked lighthearted tales, and non-lethal crimes like theft and trickery and property damage are a bit less traumatic than homicides.

Still on the subject of statistics, 92 of my 100 sales have been series stories, the rest of them standalones. And only 19 were whodunits. Most were howdunits. I've often heard that to write mysteries for WW you should have three suspects, and the guilty person must be one of those three. That's bad advice. You can do that if you want, but you don't have to. The main goal should merely be to put together a crime puzzle of some kind, not necessarily a whodunit, and make it entertaining.

In 2004 the top brass at WW decided to move to "interactive" mysteries rather than mysteries with traditional storylines. Hence the new name "solve-it-yourself" mysteries, where a question is introduced in the story and the answer is provided in a solution box at the end of the piece. I confess that I lobbied against this idea--I liked the freedom and variety of the traditional storytelling format--but they'd already made up their minds. And, as I think I've said in the past, when the train you want to ride comes blasting through the station, you can either (1) climb onto it, (2) get squashed, or (3) get left behind. I hopped aboard.

As part of WW's transition from regular mysteries to interactive mysteries, I was invited by the fiction editor to write several experimental stories that would help to ease readers into the new format. The first of these ("Customer Service," Dec. 14, 2004, issue) included--get this--six clues that were not only highlighted in the text but were designated as "CLUES." (Did I mention that this was a "trial-and-error" transition?) Anyhow, i happily wrote the story, but I told them I didn't like the "announcement of clues" approach, and WW agreed. Afterward, the solve-it-yourself mystery became just a story and a solution box, and it remains so today.

Here's something crazy: On two different occasions, my stories were published under another writer's byline. (How did this happen? Who knows.) Both times editor Johnene Granger phoned me afterward to apologize, and I think she was relieved to find that the mistake didn't bother me at all. The checks came on time, the bank cashed them with no problem, and my ego survived the ordeal.

At one point, after WW had published eight of my standalone stories and 23 installments of my "series," I decided to try sending them a story with two different main characters. The editor bought and published that story ("The Quilt Caper," May 17, 2010, issue), but then sent me a note saying she preferred I go back to my tried-and-true cast. Since Mama didn't raise no fools, I saluted and obeyed. My other two crimesolving characters, Fran and Lucy Valentine, did survive, though: they've now appeared in 56 stories, most of them in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Flash Bang Mysteries, Mysterical-E, Kings River Life, and several anthologies--but they've never appeared again in WW.

One of the best things about Woman's World is its professionalism. They've always gotten the contracts to me on time and paid me on time. Always. And they've been easy to work with, on proposed changes. They've also twice paid me "kill fees" (twenty percent of the full rate) when they found they were unable to publish stories that they'd previously accepted. (This happened in 2004, during the trial-and-error transition from one mystery format to the other.)

Another good thing is that the editor sometimes asks me to write a story--especially if there's a holiday coming up and they don't have a story in hand that they want to run. Several years ago, for example, the editor contacted me and said she needed a Fourth of July mystery. "And I need it by tomorrow," she added. I came up with an idea that night, wrote the story, sent it to her the following morning, they published it, and everyone was happy. That doesn't happen often, but when the editor asks me for something, I try really hard to deliver it. (I feel the same way about invitations to anthologies: if someone thinks highly enough of me to invite me to contribute a story, I'm not going to say no.)

A final observation, more about me than about WW: I don't write only short-short stories. Most of my stories these days seem to run between 3000 and 8000 words--several of those are upcoming in AHMM, EQMM, Strand Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, etc.--but there's something about the little mini-mysteries that's always been fun for me. Part of it's probably because I actually enjoy the re-writing and self-editing phase, the whittling away of all the extra and unneeded stuff that most of us plug into our stories. As you flash-fiction writers know, stories of less than 1000 words require a lot of this.

A word about editing

I must tell you, WW does like to edit my manuscripts. Usually just a word or two, but sometimes more. Example: In my story "Fun and Games," which was published a few weeks ago in the June 11 issue, my Sheriff Jones character and his amateur-sleuth partner Angela Potts have arrived at the local college library, where Professor Harriet Pinskey informs them that a golden statuette of a regal woman in Roman attire--presented to Pinskey's organization by a European billionaire--has been stolen from a display case. The following is some dialogue between the sheriff, Angela, and the professor:

    "What organization?" the sheriff asked.

    "An all-female academic society," Pinskey said. "MOLTH. It means: Move Over--Ladies Thinking Here."

    The sheriff grinned. "Why not 'Women'? That'd be appropriate: MOWTH."

    "You better shut yours," Angela said. "You're outnumbered."

Yes, I know it's silly, and certainly not necessary to the plot, but I love this kind of idiotic humor. Alas, the editors did not: that exchange didn't appear in the final, printed version.

On one occasion (in my story "The Train to Graceland," June 30, 2014, issue) my robbery victim was a young Chinese lady. For some reason, the Powers That Be at WW didn't like that, and I was asked to change the woman's nationality. I made her British instead, and all was well. I'm still trying to figure that one out.


Sometimes titles get changed, as well. Out of the 100 stories I've done for WW, 49 of my title choices were overruled. A few of their new titles, I must admit, wound up sounding better than my originals--but some didn't. I truly loved one of my titles, to a story involving the robbery and kidnapping of a guy named Ron. My suggested title was "Take the Money and Ron," which in all modesty I thought was pretty clever; their title, the one that made it in to the magazine, was "Candid Camera." Big sigh.

Tips

Here are a few things I would suggest a writer do, if he/she wants to write mystery stories for Woman's World:

- Include a lot of dialogue.

- Don't use strong language or excessive violence.

- Avoid politics, religion, social issues, or anything else that might be controversial.

- Don't put pets in jeopardy. Go ahead and whack Professor Plum on the head with the candlestick in the parlor if you like, but do NOT dognap his poodle. Around that corner lies immediate rejection.

- Inject some humor. Sometimes it gets edited out, sometimes it doesn't--and it usually helps.

- Be fair with the clues.

- Keep the solutions short.

- Lean toward cozy. About six months ago WW decided to focus more on lighter subject matter and less on murder mysteries. As a result, all the stories I've sold them so far this year involved domestic, non-violent crimes. Just saying.

Questions

Have you ever tried sending a story to Woman's World? Have you been published there? (Several of my fellow SleuthSayers have been.) If so, what were some of your experiences? Do you find these very short mysteries easier to write than the typical mystery tales--or harder?

If you've never tried it, give it a go. As I mentioned, most of my stories are longer rather than shorter--I honestly enjoy writing those, and we all know a longer story offers the writer a lot of working-room for the plot. But there's something I also like about trying to tell an entire story in a matter of only two or three pages.

You might find you like it too.








28 comments:

Art Taylor said...

Congratulations! And thanks for the background here on your history with the magazine and tips too, always!

John Floyd said...

Thanks, Art. WW isn't the first place we think of, when the subject is mystery markets, but it's been around a long time and--if you haven't tried them--it's worth a look.

janice law said...

Congratulations on your 100th! To make money out of short stories today is a real art.

John Floyd said...

Thank you, Janice! Yep, it's hard to get rich writing short. One of my writer friends likes to say his short-story income is in the low double figures--twenty dollars, thirty dollars, etc.

Melodie Campbell said...

John, I also wrote for Women's World and Star Magazine before I became a crime novelist - but in my case, it was mainly romance. Once they changed over to the solve it format for the mysteries, I stopped submitting. Just wasn't my talent. But I say the same as you: extremely professional.
I still have letters to the editor from those days...ones responding to my stories, that gave me resolve to keep writing forever.
I like what I'm writing now - However, I do miss those cheques for $1000!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

John,

This is a very valuable article--so helpful to those who would like to try the short mystery genre. It takes an amazing talent and imagination to create as many stories as you have done. You're an inspiration!

John Floyd said...

Melodie, I had a story in Star Magazine as well, long ago.

I admire your ability to write those romance stories. The two I sold them were fun, but I did find them harder to write than the mysteries. And I agree with you: I still prefer the traditional mystery story format over the interactive approach--but creating the puzzle is enjoyable enough that I continue to like it. And yes, those checks are always welcome!

Thanks for the comment!

John Floyd said...

Thanks, Jacqueline, for your kind words, here and elsewhere!

I think many writers find the idea of a super-short story too daunting to try--but it really is great fun. To get an idea of how to do that, I often tell writer friends to read the stories of Fredric Brown--he was a master of the short-shorts, in both mystery and SF. Bill Pronzini also wrote some great mystery short-shorts.

Thank you for stopping in at SleuthSayers!

LIsa Ciarfella said...

These mini-stories sound difficult to write, yet are super fun to read!

I had a couple of flash stories go up in April, 1,000 words each. That's tough enough! But to have these extra guidelines, clues, and a sort of open-ended end...well, what a challenge!

Will give it a whirl though and see what comes out!

John Floyd said...

Hey Lisa! Yep, it's a different kind of writing, but mostly it's just a very short tale with a clue or two contained within the story, just enough to help the reader figure out the answer--or figure out how the hero(ine) came up with the answer. I think planting those little clues is most of the fun in this kind of storytelling.

If you submit something to them--and I hope you will--good luck!!

Jessica Ferguson said...

Congratulations on 100! Quite an accomplishment. I’ve got nothing but a pile of WWs and an even bigger pile of rejections, but the stories are fun to write even if they are rejected. BTW, I’m looking forward to meeting you and hearing you speak in October when you come to our Bayou Writers Conference in Lake Charles. Can hardly wait!

Jeff Baker said...

Wow! Congrats on the streak, John! Well-deserved! I write a lot of flash fiction but not a lot of mysteries, and the latest I sent to WW was apparently rejected---I either sent it to the wrong place (their submissions guidelines are impossible to find!) or they rejected it without comment! Oh well, re-tool it and send it someplace else I always say! Again, congrats and as usual, thanks for the info!

Earl Staggs said...


John, this is terrific information and it's very generous of you to share it. I only submitted to WW once and received a polite rejection from Johnene. The tips you've given here are an encouragement to try again. And maybe again and again. Many thanks for posting this.

John Floyd said...

How kind of you, Jessica! I agree--those stories ARE fun to write. As for the rejections, I have a pile of those also.

I too am looking forward to the conference--see you then!

Jeff, thanks so much. Don't let that rejection bother you--just rework it, as you said, and send it someplace else. Best of luck to you.

John Floyd said...

Hey Earl! I didn't see your comment before I wrote the earlier reply. Thanks so much for stopping by.

I hope you will try WW again--I think you'll find Patricia just as kind and supportive as Johnene was. As I mentioned earlier, I have a ton of rejections, so don't be discouraged.

Once again, it's great to have you here, old friend--many thanks.

Jan Christensen said...

Congratulations on 100 sales to WW, John. An amazing accomplishment. And thanks for all the tips and data you gave us. Very helpful. I sent one story for a solve-it mystery a few years ago and received a nice, personal rejection letter. I think I wrote another one, but didn't like it very much, so didn't submit it. I forget the details now. I can't fathom how you come up with enough different puzzle pieces for so many of these stories. You certainly have a knack for it. Again, congrats!

John Floyd said...

Thanks, Jan--good to hear from you! I'm also glad to hear you've tried WW, and I hope you'll try them again. As for how I come up with so many ideas, I really don't know. I'm a little surprised too, that plot ideas seem to keep popping up. I figure one day that well will run dry, but so far--thankfully--it hasn't.

Best to you and yours, and do stay in touch. I wish you good luck with all future submissions!!

Elizabeth said...

Congratulations John! Mr. Elizabeth bought me a subscription to Woman's World, so I won't miss any of your stories.

I like writing drabbles, six-word stories, & other flash fiction, so 700 words is a lot for me to try to fill up! I sold two drabbles to an anthology recently. I sent a mystery to Woman's World years ago & never heard back.

John Floyd said...

Liz, congrats on your drabbles--those are REALLY hard to write. Yep, 700 words should be a picnic for you.

Thanks for chiming in, here!

Kaye George said...

Mega-congrats! (Imagine the balloons and stuff from the FB congrats.) That's a stupendous accomplishment. I've tried a few times, but haven't stuck with it. You've renewed my resolve, though, and I will set aside a regular time to work on these. I'd LOVE to get into that market. Thanks for your generous advice!

John Floyd said...

Hi Kaye! Yes, I hope you'll try submitting to them again. Besides the exposure to a lot of readers, their payment per word is as high as anyplace I've ever seen. Please keep me posted, and thanks for stopping in at SleuthSayers!

Deborah Elliott-Upton said...

John, congratulations on the triple digit sales! As always, you are a great writer for us to read, study and use as a motivator! Great article!

Michael Bracken said...

I've read many of the mini-mysteries in Woman's World, and I've read your advice on writing them, John, but writing them still flummoxes me. I've only ever come close once, with a Christmas mystery that the previous editor liked but the publisher nixed.

I've written and submitted far more of the short romances, with even less success, but most of them have sold to other (lesser-paying) markets either as is or slightly lengthened.

On a slightly different note: Surviving editor changes is a bit of a crap shoot. I've been through several. Sometimes the new editor doesn't like anything and I lose a market. Other times—the best times—the new editor accepts as much or more than the previous editor. So, congratulations on surviving the editor change!

John Floyd said...

Deborah, you are too kind. I have been superfortunate at WW, but remember too that i've had at least as many rejections as acceptances! Probably more. At some of these markets, including the regular mystery markets, I think I succeeded because I just continued sending them stories until I finally wore them down.

And Michael, it's anybody's guess why editors like some stories and don't like others. A lot of my WW stories bit the dust because (as you said) the fiction editors liked them but the ed.-in-chief didn't. And, as you also said, it's always good to try those rejected stories at other markets afterward. As for the changes in editors, I've been lucky there: I didn't think anyone could ever fill Cathleen Jordan's shoes, at AHMM, but Linda Landrigan has, and the same goes for Johnene Granger and Patricia Gaddis at WW.

Thanks, both of you, for your comments!!

Unknown said...

John, excellent & very helpful info for us writers. I've been a WW subscriber for years and just recently decided to attemp writing for them. Your info is perfect timing!Thank you, Michele

John Floyd said...

Thanks, Michele!! I wish you every success with Woman's World. Keep me informed!

Craig Faustus Buck said...

An amazing feat, John. Congrats. I sent a mini-mystery to Patricia, but they didn't bite. They do, however, have a very active writers group on Yahoo! that Patricia monitors and participates in. It's called WWWriters.

And Elizabeth, I'll see you in the Drabble anthology! All stories have to be EXACTLY 100 words.

John, I love you bemoaning writing under 1000 words. My shortest was for a 6-word story anthology. Here it is: "I missed her. Shot him instead."

Cheers,

Craig

Marian Lanouette said...

This is excellent information, John. Thank you. I was submitting to them for awhile and got a really nice handwritten note from the editor pointing out what she liked about the mystery I submitted. They didn't accept it because they had just contracted a similar one. I stop submitting to fill contractual obligations for my novels, but your article has me digging my WW files out of the drawer. Love your stories in the magazine.