>… well, not necessarily lie per se, but if you can back something up with a spot of research …
And so I’d been writing short stories for a couple of years but I already knew that market was shrinking. We lost all of the Argus publications in one swoop – Hers, Her Story, Love Story, Holiday Romance, True Romance, etc – Loving hated everything I sent, and other avenues were closing down – Oh Boy, Patches, Jackie, Annabel (what a crime that was) (it closing down, not the magazine), My Guy. But everyone knew if you wanted to be a successful writer in that climate (I’ve worked through 2 recessions), you had to be able to write articles, or a blockbuster novel. Judith Krantz, Jackie Collins and Barbara Taylor Bradford were all doing particularly well. I decided that articles were more within my reach.
I’d sent a story off to Today’s Guide. It was a brilliant story, very funny and lively (even if I do say so myself), and it was called Guy Fawkes Jamboree. (Can you guess what it was about? Try to hang a story or an article on an anniversary peg, it increases the chances of success.) And it came smartly back. But I had a friend at work who was a Guide leader and she’d complained about the tosh that sometimes appeared in the magazine (her words, not mine … hey, she was the customer after all). So I studied the articles in a few copies and noticed they did a readymade slot all about badge work. All I needed to do was choose a badge, choose a section of the badge work, and voila – synopsis already made.
I wrote to them, saying I’d like to write one of their badge articles and were there any in particular that they hadn’t covered in too long. A letter came back, complete with sample articles, asking me if I could write something for the collector’s badge. Well, I didn’t collect anything, apart from match books, and I didn’t think that would be particularly interesting to Girl Guides (they were still called Girl Guides in those days, but are simply Guides today I believe). But my then boyfriend collected old bottles. So I wrote back telling them I’d been an avid collector of bottles for years – YEARS – and did they fancy an article on that? (I secretly hoped they’d say no and ask for something I did know about …) They wrote back straight away saying that would be perfect and how soon could I do it? I turned it around in a weekend, squeezing in a visit to the library too to back up what my boyfriend could tell me, and we already had photographs.
Today’s Guide accepted that article and asked if I had anything else I could send them … so I sent Guy Fawkes Jamboree, which they snapped up saying it was “ideal”, “very funny” and “lively”. (See?) I carried on writing articles and stories for several years for that publication and the new one it morphed into, Guide Patrol, and then the sister magazine for the Guide leaders, Guiding. I’d not only sold my first ever article, I’d also received my first ever commission, and that’s probably why I now have difficulty writing an article without a firm commission already in hand.
And what is the point to my story? Well, there are two, actually.
First of all, when people say you should write what you know, that isn’t strictly true. I prefer to say know what you write, and if you’re interested enough, you can learn about something new. Guide Patrol called me at work on a Friday once and asked how quickly could I get an article on bee keeping to them. I knew nothing about bee keeping, but I knew a man that did, and I had a very good local library, so that was another article that was in the post by close of business on the Monday.
And secondly, just because a magazine rejects a story doesn’t necessarily mean they reject it forever. Things are much tighter these days, but several times I’ve sold stories to magazines that were previously rejected. One of my more famous was when I was told “we don’t publish ghost stories”, and then a few months later they did exactly that. My ghost story went straight back, unchanged, and sold straight away. Others have gone back slightly tweaked, or with suggested changes made. But generally they’ve gone back unchanged.
And re-sales too – I sold the bottle article to 4 different publications, each one re-written to suit the new market with any new information that had since become available and some different pictures. (I also wrote a short story around the subject and sold that too.) And I held onto my rights in as many cases as possible for the reprint markets, although those have also shrunk by now.
So, you’ve had the “how I started” and the “how I sold my first story”, all rolled into one, and here is the “how I sold my first article”. Next it will be “how I sold my first book”, when it’s done … Then all we’ll need is the “how I sold my first novel”. Wish me luck …