21 August 2021

Surviving in a Woman's World

This is a topic I've covered before here at SleuthSayers, and even at the Criminal Brief blog before that, because writing stories for the weekly magazine Woman's World seems to be one of the things I'm often asked about, at meetings, signings, conferences, etc. With all the ups and downs in the publishing universe, WW has somehow kept a big circulation over the years, and the part of the magazine I'm most interested in--its short mystery stories--still has a lot of readers.

The occasion for my writing this post today is that I recently sold my 120th story to Woman's World. Not a usual milestone, I know, but since I have no idea how long this lucky streak will last, I decided not to try to wait until 150 or 200 or something equally round.

Also, for those interested in writing for WW, some things about the magazine have changed since my recent columns on this subject, so I'll try to cover those, along with a summary of WW's content preferences, regarding their short mysteries. And I'll include some story statistics, in case that helps.

First, the changes

Over the years, there have been a lot of adjustments to things like story length, format, and payment for the stories in Woman's World. When I first started submitting to them in 1999 (via snailmail) the maximum wordcount for their mini-mysteries was 1000 and the wordcount for the romance stories was 1500. Eventually the romances went down to 1000 words and then to 800, where it remains today. The mysteries went down from 1000 words to its current max of 700, BUT the last two dozen or so mysteries I've sold them have been even less than that; those stories were all between 500 and 600 words each, which is what the editor seems to prefer. (Don't blame me if you write a 550-word story and they reject it--but that length has worked for me.)

The format of the mystery stories is the biggest change, though this happened a long time ago and you probably know about it already. My first mysteries for WW were traditional stories with regular beginnings, middles, and endings, like the romances--but in 2004 the head fred at the magazine, whoever that was at the time, decided to go to an interactive format in which the reader is invited to solve the puzzle. In fact, the mysteries now don't include the solutions at all; there's a separate "solution box" at the end of each story, which usually appears printed upside down on the same page. Note: the wordcount of your manuscript should include both the text of the story (not the title and byline) and the text in the solution box. Also note: the romances have not changed format. They're still traditional short stories, which many feel are easier to write than the solve-it-yourself format of the mysteries. I don't agree. I think the romances are harder to write and harder to sell, but that's just me.

As for payment, the romance stories once paid a flat rate of $1000 each (thankfully, the only two romances I've sold them were in that era), but that payment has since been lowered to $800 and then to (I believe) $720. That's not as big a reduction as it sounds, when you consider that the required wordcount is now only around half what it used to be--so the payment per word has actually increased. Payment for mysteries was once $500 each, and remained so for many years, but was recently lowered to $450. Still almost a dollar a word, though, so it's hard to complain.

The final change I'll mention is that WW now has a different fiction editor than the last time I visited this subject. The first editor I really knew and worked with was Johnene Granger, who held that position for a long time and was one of the most capable and professional editors I've ever known. After Johnene retired Patricia Riddle Gaddis--also a wonderful editor--took over, and recently the reins were passed to Alexandra Pollock. Alex and her colleague Maggie Dillard have been great to work with as well.

My WW statistics:

Number of mysteries: 118 

Number of romances: 2

Series stories: 112

Standalones: 8

Titles changed by the editor (aargh): 59

Titles unchanged (yay!): 61

Third-person stories: 119

First-person stories: 1

Past-tense stories: 120

Present-tense stories: 0

Female protagonist's POV: 37 stories

Male protag's POV (male member of a male/female team): 82 stories

Villain's POV: 1 story

Multiple protagonists (team): 98 stories

Single protags (for standalones, or when the other partner is sick, out of town, etc.): 22 stories

Whodunits: 33

Howcatchems: 85

(N/A for the two romances)

Single villain: 114 stories

Multiple villains: 4 stories

(N/A for the two romances)

Stories in which the good guys win: 115

Bad guys win: 3

(N/A for the two romances)

Stories involving murder: 25

Robbery/burglary: 72

Other crimes: 21

(N/A for the two romances)

Stories changed at editor's request: 9

Stories accepted unchanged: 111

Local/familiar settings: 113

Other settings: 7

Holiday-based stories: 10

Regular stories: 110

1999: 3 stories published

2000-2009: 28

2010-2019: 80

2020-2021: 9

WW mystery hints & tips

NOTE: These are mine, not the magazine's.

  1. Don't go over the max wordcount.
  2. Use a lot of dialogue.
  3. Don't include sex, excessive violence, or strong language. Aim for PG, or light PG-13.
  4. Use humor whenever possible.
  5. Include a female protagonist. If on a team, she should either be there or assisting from afar.
  6. Include a crime--not just the hint or threat of a crime.
  7. Your mystery does not have to involve a murder and it does not have to be a whodunit.
  8. You do not have to have three suspects. I can't tell you how many times I've heard that you do.
  9. Avoid religion, politics, and anything controversial.
  10. Avoid technical jargon.
  11. Don't put pets in jeopardy.
  12. Play fair with the clues.
  13. Make the good guys win in the end.
  14. Use domestic/familiar settings, not international/exotic.
  15. Keep the solutions short. WW sometimes edits mine to be longer, but they start out short.

This column started out short, too. I know this was a lot of info and a lot of numbers, but the requirements set by Woman's World are a bit different from most of the stories we write. FYI, I don't submit as many mini-mysteries as I used to--I write mostly longer now--but the short-short ones are still fun now and then, and WW remains a good market. If any of this helps any of you to sell a story to them, I'm thrilled.

Let me know!


  1. You're absolutely amazing, John. Congrats for the 119th time!

    I think WW used to have three suspect mysteries, but that seems to have faded away, which I think is an improvement.

    Again, well done!

    1. Thank you, Leigh. As for the three-suspects thing, I think that sometimes ignorance really is bliss, because I didn't even hear about that supposed rule until after I'd broken it twenty or thirty times. The main thing is, present some kind of puzzle generated by the crime--one that the reader has enough info to solve on his/her own. And creating those puzzles is what makes this kind of story fun to write.

  2. Replies
    1. Hope this helps, Jeff. Thank you as always, for stopping in at SS.

  3. Great advice, and congratulations! I am in AWE!

    1. Hi Eve--thank you! I think part of what makes these stories fun is that they're SO short, and so different from the kind of stories you and I and most mystery writers are used to. In a way, they provide a good break, between writing the longer stories.

  4. 120 Stories...wow. Congratulatins.
    A superb tutorial, too.

    Thanks for another great lesson.

  5. Thanks, Steve. Remember, those were spaced out over many years. And, as I told someone a while back, I always feel that every one they accept might be the last, so it's a little surprising to me as well, that they're still interested in my stories. It was a lucky day for me when I created those two ongoing characters, back in 2001.

    Take care, and keep up the great writing!

  6. cj Sez: I always learn something when I read your columns. Thanks!

  7. Hey cj--thank you for stopping by. Glad this helped. I'm afraid I still can't predict, after all these years, which stories I send in will be accepted and which won't. I just try hard on each one and keep fingers crossed.

    Keep me posted on all your writing adventures.

  8. Congratulations on your phenomenal run with WW.

    1. I've been fortunate there, Bob. Thank you so much!

  9. Thank you for these tips. You’re always looking to help other writers, and that means a lot.

    1. Leone, thanks for stopping in at SleuthSayers. Hope you'll find the hints useful.

      As for helping others, I try--but I'm sure I'll never be able to repay my fellow writers for all the assistance and advice I've been given, over the years. The writing community (and especially mystery writers, it seems) are a selfless and generous group.

  10. Thanks for this! I've submitted a few stories to WW, but haven't gotten it right yet.

    1. Keep trying, Tracy! The one thing I learned long ago is that good stories get rejected every day. Don't give up!

      And keep me posted.

  11. I think killing a Boy Scout would go over better than killing a dog. Not for WW of course, but in general. :)

  12. I think you're right, Jody. Don't hesitate to stab Aunt Ruthie with a butcher knife if you need to, in a story, but leave her poodle alone. I don't disagree with the feelings, regarding pets in jeopardy, but I do disagree with the overreaction.

    Oh well.

  13. Two things about you impress me, John. First, your ability to write and sell hundreds of stories, and they all feel fresh. Second, your generosity in sharing your expertise--not lots of verbiage about creating characters, etc., but the nuts and bolts of what the magazine seems to want and how to go about it. A great help to many of us, me especially, since I've never sold WW anything.

  14. John, I've really enjoyed your WW stories, so congrats and keep em coming! I haven't tried them as a market but this piece was good inspiration and has good insight, so I'm going to see if I can come up with one. Thanks for the tips!

    1. Hi Adam -- Thanks for the kind words! Glad you've liked the stories. I realize this isn't a market for everyone--the stories are way different from what you and I are accustomed to writing--but you might find you enjoy it. Do give them a try. (And let me know what happens.)

      Best to you always, old friend. Take care!

  15. How kind of you, Susan--thank you. There is of course no formula (unfortunately) to selling to any particular market--but I hope this might help. I also hope you'll submit something to WW, or submit to them again if you already have.

    Take care, and thanks again!

  16. Congrats again, John, on your long career with WW mysteries and of course, all your writing! I've had a few mysteries published by Woman's World and they are fun to write, but much more difficult for me than the romances. However, I do love to work that part of my brain and put together (sometimes working backwards) the short puzzle that a WW mystery is at its core. One thing I did want to mention, I think you noted that the solution is printed on the page upside down--and it is, but it's on the bottom of the Romance story page. I guess they want you to keep turning the pages! I'm always working on a romance idea or two, but right now I have a mystery in mind that I should be sending out soon. Thanks for the notes!

    1. Hey Mary Ann. Thank you! And thanks for correcting me on the location of the solution box. The ones I remember most were on the same page as the story, and--you're right--I've noticed they've started making the reader go to a different page now to see the solution to the puzzle. (Question: Since it's on a different page, why bother to print it upside down?)

      I so admire you for being able to put together and sell those romances. The romance stories I did manage to sell to them relied heavily on misdirection, etc., so I guess I'm just not a typical romance writer, period. The mysteries, for some reason, seem to be much easier for me. Devious mind, I suppose . . .

      Thanks so much for your comment. Keep in touch!

  17. John, you're a marvel—but you already know I think that. There's a traditional Yiddish blessing, "biz hundert un tsvantsik." Most people think it's short for "May you live to 120," but we know it really means, "May you publish 120." Congratulations!"

    1. Ha! Thanks, Liz. You and your Yiddish sayings.

      The 120 figure really snuck up on me--it's hard even for me to believe I've cooked up that many story ideas, much less managed to sell them. But it has honestly been great fun, and mainly because the goofy characters I came up with are fun for me to be around. I feel that I know 'em pretty well by now.

      Thank you again, dear friend, and keep up the great writing! Will be thinking of you tomorrow when Henri makes landfall. We're used to hurricanes, down here, but it's strange to hear of one aimed toward your area. Wishing you the best!

  18. You remain an inspiration. The success is well-deserved.

  19. Thank you for this, John! I've been subscribing to Woman's World for several years & have read many of your excellent stories there. I only ever submitted one story to them & that was two editors ago. Never heard back so I guess they don't want it! 😎

  20. Hi Elizabeth. Thank you--I'm pleased that you liked some of my stories!

    Yes, they never respond if they decide to reject a story. If I haven't heard back from them in several months, I just reformat that story and lengthen it and send it someplace else.

    I hope you WILL submit something to them again (and let me know how it goes)!

  21. Hi John,

    Thanks for sharing this wealth of info. I’ve got a story submitted to WW, so fingers crossed. WW says if you don’t hear after six months, your toast. Any idea what the average time is before you’ve received a thumbs up?

    Also, I’d love to read some of your WW stories. (Research. 😀) Besides trying to dig through WW archives, is there another way to track down some of your 120?

    Thanks again!

    1. Hey Dan--good luck on your submitted story! I would say the average time is more like three months than six. If you haven't heard back from them in three, I think you'd be safe to consider it rejected and send that story elsewhere. If you really want to do it correctly, wait three and send them a polite withdrawal note.

      As for finding my WW stories, I published a collection of those several years ago, in a book called FIFTY MYSTERIES. It's available via Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Fifty-Mysteries-John-M-Floyd/dp/0983538670 and via my publisher at https://dogwoodpress.com/product/fifty-mysteries-the-angela-files/. The stories there are presented in exactly the same format as in the magazine, with the 50 stories in the front of the book and the solutions in the back. If you choose to get it, please let me know what you think.

      Thanks again, Dan. I wish you the very best in all your writing endeavors!

  22. John,

    I would have never thought of Woman's World as a potential market for short stories if it hadn't been for this article. I looked at the magazine's website, but didn't find the submission guidelines. Can you point me in the right direction, please?

    Many thanks.

    1. Hi Jay -- Guidelines are hard to find, for WW. If you're on Facebook, send me an internal message, and meanwhile I'll find a file containing submission guidelines that I can send to you. Also, there's a Facebook group called WW Writers that has what I believe are updated guidelines.

  23. Love it, John, have added to my permanent reading list. If I ever get writing short stories again...working on 2 novels now and don't seem to have the bandwidth for more. But...you never know!

    1. Judy, I hope you will try writing some of these stories sometime--remember, they're really really short so you won't have to take a ton of time out of your schedule.

      Good luck on both the novels, and congrats once again on the recent (and wonderful) anthologies that you've edited.


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