Casing Up a Publication for Subbing

girl_writerAll advice given to writers is clear about the need for them to research the publications in which they wish to be published, but vague about how to do it.   We are supposed to be able to work out the formula for what is a hit and what is a ‘I think we’ll pass on this one’ just by reading the stories and poems carried in the ezine or magazine.  Well, Dear Reader, this writer can’t do it this way!

The idea is to work out what sorts of pieces the publisher is taking, as editors always publish the same sort of thing… don’t they?   Where ezines and magazines publish only two, three or four stories or poems in each issue, I think it’s impossible to gain the overall flavour, especially where submissions have been written to a theme.  Moreover, publications evolve over time and editors may change from issue to issue.  The printed magazine, Mslexia, for example, invites guest judges to judge competitions; the winning entries make up a large portion of the mag.  They are not going to stop publishing stories with a liberal, feminist viewpoint, but the angle of the liberal, feminist viewpoint will be different.  Also very occasionally an editor is wowed by something different and says to himself/herself ‘I’ll have that’.

So what is the poor writer supposed to do?  Just send any story anywhere?   Some of us have done just that.  A writer I know once send an industrial fiction story (with violence and swearwords) to ‘People’s Friend’ – and got a polite letter back saying the story ‘wasn’t right for PF’, more or less the same letter as the rest of us get.   (He’s now a published novelist, by the way.)

There is advice available about writing for certain genres; for instance, womag writers make great use of womagwriter’s blog and some creative writing sites offer oldman_writergeneral guidance about specific publications.  Linda Lewis (in ‘Why Short Stories Get Rejected’, published by Amazon, which I reviewed on 4 March 2013 ) has set out a few rules for evaluating womags:

  • Consider the tense – past or present?
  • How old are main characters?
  • What type of story is it?
  • What percentage of the story is dialogue?

I suspect that this is the way to go, but adding more questions of your own, specific to the publication, the genre and your own story, and I’m going to do this before I sub again.

Speaking as a writer who hasn’t shifted much recently, I’m very interested to know how other writers decide where to sub.


Review of ‘O Pioneers’ by Willa Catha

This book can be found on Amazon here.

‘O Pioneers’ starts with five year old Emil Bergson crying because his kitten is stuck up a tree and seeking the help of his sister, Alexandra.  At the end, the reader realises that this opening scene is an allegory for the novel as a whole.

When I readfredericksburg_room2 an old fashioned novel like this one, which was published in 1913, I wonder why I bother with contemporary fiction. This is the story of a woman farmer, Alexander Bergson, pitting her wits and holding her own with the land and her small village community.  Where’s the explicit sex?  There is none.  When does mc get drunk?  She doesn’t.  What drugs does she do?  She doesn’t.  Where are the self-destruct actions which typify many a spoilt, self-indulgent and navel-gazing modern novel characters?  Alexandra keeps her head at all times… as you would expect of a pioneer.  She is a protagonist who never let the reader down.  For modern examples, think of Anita Roddick and Karren Brady, single-minded, strong-willed and a good business head.

So what was there to write about?  Loads.   Like all best novels, ‘O Pioneers’ focuses on a family within a small community of Swedish immigrants, two characters in particular – Alexandra and her brother, Emil.  Other characters are kept to a minimum, a few, like ‘Ivar’, the eccentric horse-doctor, very distinct, whereas the rest, like Alexander’s two older brothers, were kept in the background.  Many points of view are used.  Midway through, I thought that this was going to be a story about the ups and downs of farming, good years and bad years, but it’s more than that, about how someone copes with the success  she had fought for.

All writing manuals advise fiction writers to allow their main characters at least one flaw and Alexandra did have one – she was too phlegmatic and unimaginative to put two and two together when two characters are getting too close.  Her reaction when she does find out is completely true to the period in which the novel was set and – inevitably – very non pc.  The emotional punch is consistently understated, but the author doesn’t shirk from killing off the person most dear to mc .

Like all older fiction, there was quite a lot of ‘tell’, evidence that this technique can be used effectively.  However, unlike many works of this era, ‘Ofredericksburg_room1 Pioneers’ did not include vast tracts describing scenery, but the atmosphere was implicit, with frequent references to ‘the old country’ and ‘proper Americans’.  I was put in mind of the later L M Montgomery novels.

So do I recommend it for reading?  Yes, emphatically.   Did I learn anything as a writer?  Yes.  It is possible to write an interesting and engaging novel about goodies.

The photos in this post are not of Nebraska, where ‘O Pioneers’ was set (because I haven’t been there), but taken by my husband at the Pioneer Museum in the delightful ‘German’ town of Fredericksburg, in Texas.


Review of ‘Austenland 1’ by Shannon Hale

This book is available on Amazon here.

I picked this Kindle book at random some time ago, probably because it was reduced in price – I can’t remember. Until I looked it up on the Internet later, I had no idea it had been made into a film, or that there was a sequel. While I was reading it, the story actually felt quite complete.

When I started reading it on the plane, quite a long way into our eleven hour flight, it engaged me right away. Here was this young American woman, living in New York, with a Mother and a jolly great-aunt. Said young girl had a Jane Austen obsession, more particularly a Mr Darcy fixation, which was getting in the way whenever she met a potential boyfriend. In her will, Great Aunt Carolyn left her a trip to a Jane Austen holiday in Kent, as a sort of rehab, to allow mc (whose name was also ‘Jane’) to get over Mr Darcy and on with her life in twenty-first century New York.

This novel was unashamedly genre fiction, but very well-written genre fiction.
The author got into all her characters very effectively, showing attitudes and emotions very effectively through their actions, how they looked, how they moved, or even shifted their position – in the same way as Christopher Isherwood did, actually. For the largest part, she concentrated on the small party of characters in the ‘Jane Austen house’, all of whom were distinct, plausible and well-drawn.

On the other hand, Shannon did ‘tell’ quite a bit, about Jane’s interest in basketball, for instance, which turned up quite suddenly half way through the story. Even more annoying were her frequent changes in points of view – within chapters and even within scenes. Also, although most of the action was supposed to take place in Kent, nothing in the descriptive passages made me feel I was in England, that Shannon had visited Kent at the time she wrote this, or had even researched it.

Would I recommend this book? Well, yes, I enjoyed it. It was a light enjoyable read, but nothing more than that.

Meanwhile here are one photo of Saigon… Beg it’s pardon. Ho Chu Minh City. I’m told by the locals that you should always write Ho Chu Minh City but it’s funny that when they themselves say it out loud, it always comes out as ‘Saigon’.  And a couple of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Man asleep on motorbike in Saigon.
Man asleep on motorbike in Saigon.
Lilies at Royal Palace, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Lilies at Royal Palace, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
One of the buildings at the Royal Palace.
One of the buildings at the Royal Palace.