ON WRITING

“It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years of writing. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.” Andre Dubus

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Publication Party - Session Four - Helen M Hunt, short story writer extraordinaire


Welcome to our fourth Publication Party! Last session with Alex J Cavanaugh was met with the usual enthusiastic response from all of you aspiring authors. Now we've settled into the routine, we'll all just grab ourselves something to eat and drink and get right into this session.

But first, congratulations to last week's prize winners.  Random.org chose 2 Aussie girls this week - nice! Amie Kauffman won the novel, Belly Dancing for Beginners by Liz Brynski, and Lynda Young won Relentless by Dean Koontz.

Today we have a change of pace, from published novelists to published short story writer. Writing short stories is my bread and butter. Publishing a novel can take years, but if you learn the craft of the short story you can hone your writing skills, get published (hopefully) and earn quite a tidy sum. That is why I've invited Helen to speak to us today. Helen gets her stories published in so many magazines (I can't even pick up my favourite fiction mag in Australia without seeing one of her stories looking at me) so I have asked her to tell us how she achieved such stupendous success in a relatively short time.

For those of you who don't know the very English Helen, here is a short bio:

Helen Hunt writes short stories, book reviews and features for magazines.
Her short stories have appeared in Woman’s Weekly, My Weekly, The Weekly News and Take A Break Fiction Feast in the UK, and That’s Life Fast Fiction in Australia.


She has also had real life stories published by My Weekly, This England and Evergreen magazine, and articles in Writers’ Forum and The New Writer magazine. Helen is also in the early stages of writing a novel.


You can find her writing blog at http://fictionisstrangerthanfact.blogspot.com and her book review blog at http://bookersatz.blogspot.com .

I was delighted to be asked by Denise to take part in her Publication Party. We’ve been following each other’s blogs for a while now and it’s been great to learn so much about the life of a writer on the other side of the world from me.


Denise has asked me to share some thoughts about my journey to becoming a published short story writer.


I started writing just over five years ago and short stories have always been my first love. I went on a course at my local adult education college in September 2005 and wrote my first ever short story. And that was it, I was hooked on writing short stories and haven’t stopped since. I carried on writing stories and slowly got better and learnt how to write stories that other people might actually want to read.

Eventually my story ‘Shredding The Label’ was published by Momaya Press (a wonderful press based in the UK and US which runs a prestigious competition every year – http://www.momayapress.com/ ).This was a very significant moment for me as it was my first fiction publication.


Since that first publication, I have continued to write short stories and also short non-fiction pieces. I have been fortunate to be published by magazines such as My Weekly, Woman’s Weekly, Writers’ Forum and This England. There is still nothing to beat the feeling of having a story accepted and published.


Although I spend quite a lot of time now writing non-fiction and I’ve started on a novel, I’m sure I’ll continue to be inspired to write short stories as no matter what other writing I do, the characters and situations that turn into short stories keep appearing in my head. There is a very special feeling of achievement from writing a complete short story in a relatively short space of time, editing it until it shines and then sending it out into the world to see how it fares.

My tips for writing short stories for the women’s magazine market:


  • I would advise initially concentrating on targeting one or two magazines. All magazines have different requirements and like slightly different types of story. It’s more manageable if you look at a limited number of magazines in great depth at a time.
  • Always remember that magazines are looking for stories that are similar in style and tone to the ones they are currently using, but at the same time they need to be different enough to catch an editor’s eye.
  • Write lots of stories and keep sending them out. It’s helpful if you can set yourself a quota. For example, I’m aiming to write one new story a week at the moment. If one magazine rejects a story, look at it again, tweak it if necessary and send it elsewhere. Just because one editor doesn’t like it, that doesn’t mean another won’t love it. Once you are writing to a publishable standard, the more stories you have out there, the more chance of acceptance you have.
  • Join a critique group, either online or in the real world. It’s great for support and motivation and essential for feedback. Make sure that at least some people in the group are being published in the area you are aiming for.
  • Beginnings and endings of stories are very important. You need to grab an editor’s attention with the beginning of your story and leave them with a smile on their face or a lump in their throat at the eFor further information and advice I highly recommend:
Womagwriter’s blog, (http://womagwriter.blogspot.com/ )
Teresa Ashby’s blog (http://teresaashby.blogspot.com/ ) and
Della Galton’s website (http://www.dellagalton.co.uk/ ).


As I’ve said, beginnings and endings are both key to selling short stories. So I will be offering a critique of the first hundred words of a short story to one of the commenters on this post. Please also feel free to ask questions in the comments and I will pop back and answer as many as I’m able to.


Thanks again to Denise for inviting me to be a guest on her blog.


Great to have you with us Helen.

Now before I move onto the prizes I recommend How to Write and Sell Short Stories by Della Galton. It has made all the difference to my success in the short story realm.

PRIZES! TODAY everyone who comments and leaves their email address will be in the draw to win EITHER a book of short stories or a critique by Helen of the beginning of your short story (100 words):

About the book: A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li was the winner of the Guardian First Book Award 2006 and has been made into a film. It is a collection of short stories telling of life in modern China facing up to a history of repression. It is told through apparently insignificant lives - brilliant.


So thank you all for coming today. Before you leave would you mind doing the following:


leave a comment with your email address if you want to be in the draw for this week's book prize or critique by Helen or the GRAND PRIZE and giveaway books and writing paraphanelia at the end of the series (you must comment on each post to win, starting at the first post. If today is your first day, go back to the previous sessions, read and leave a comment. I'm keeping track...)
•tell us whether you'd like to win the book or the critique
•ask Helen a question
•if you're published (book/short stories), tell us about it in the comments
•tell us if you'd like to find a Crit Partner. If you have nominated to be in the CP pool, please fill out the questionnaire you have been sent and return pronto!

Thanks for coming everyone! Winners for this week will be posted at the next party Wednesday February 9. Don't forget you have until Monday February 8 at 8 pm NY time to enter for this week's prizes.


Next Wednesday February 9 we have the amazing storyteller Lisa Maliga, author of Notes from Nadir coming to our party to speak to us. Don't miss what she has to say!

Here are the links to the previous Publication Parties if you'd like to catch up!

Session One - Author Christine Bell
Session Two - Author Clarissa Draper
Session Three - Author Alex J Cavanaugh




55 comments:

  1. What great advice, thank you! I won't enter the competition this week, since I was lucky enough to win last time (yay!), but I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading about the way a short story writer goes about things--very different to those of us tackling novels!

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  2. Hi Denise, Hi Helen,

    What an engaging post! Thank you so much Helen for sharing and passing on so many links and tips (that's my morning taken up!)

    Do your stories have a similar genre? And is your novel the same or are you exploring something different?

    I'm learning so much with these parties, Denise, thank you.

    margo.benson@yahoo.co.uk (book please - still too scaredy cat for critique!)

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  3. Helen is a wonderful story writer and friend and her critique is well worth having - and won't be at all scary I'm sure!

    I won't go in the draw as I'm lucky enough to be in a critique group with Helen already. To everyone else, please go for it - her comments are always thoughtful and pertinent.

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  4. Amie - yes, short story writing is a very different discipline.

    Margo - my stories tend to be quite angsty stories about family relationships on the whole. I don't really do romance, but I have had a couple of more light hearted stories published. I would say my novel is probably a bit darker than women's magazine fiction, but still very much about exploring family relationships.

    Bernadette - thanks so much for your kind comments.

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  5. Isn't it great to hear from a short story writer. You still need the determination whether short story or novel. I'm glad you're getting so much out of these parties!

    Denise:)

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  6. Sounds like Helen Hunt has a accomplished a lot in 5 years. It's smart to publish in magazines first. You build up a bunch of writing credits + you get your name out there.

    Good luck with your novel.

    tmilstein at gmail dot com

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  7. Lovely inspiring post Helen with loads of great advice (and thanks for linking me)
    And I agree with what Bernadette says - Helen writes wonderful stories and definitely knows her stuff :-)

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  8. Denise - thanks again for inviting me to be here.

    Theresa - I think there's always a balance to be made between short term projects that bring in money and gain publishing credits in the short term, and longer projects with more deferred gratification. I am hoping that my short story career will stand me in good stead when I start to sub my novel.

    Teresa - thank you so much. I've admired your writing for a number of years, so your comments mean a lot.

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  9. Short stories are difficult for me to write, although I've had some success at publication with them. I don't write many anymore, except for flash. I love flash fiction and can write them in a flash, too, pretty much. Good luck with your novel. I'm still pounding away on mine. Nice to meet you. And thanks for hosting her, Denise.

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  10. Hi Denise, I'm so happy to see you are making good progress with the project. (Hi Helen, good to know you!)

    I've been undergoing therapy, but am now able to catch up. One of the things I've managed to do is to properly acknowledge the Award you've given me. The post is just up.

    Thanks Denise!

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  11. Great blog post. It is interesting to see a short story writer's perspective as someone who isn't very good at short fiction.


    Helen: since you've started a novel, how does novel writing compare to short story writing for you?

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  12. I was so looking forward to this party and it delivered! Short stories are something I'm very interested in, but I've not tried yet. I'd like to enter to win the critique (if I can save it for a few months to get something ready)! My e-mail is mkbickel [at] hotmail [dot] com

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  13. Yay for Helen! It's great to learn more about her - she's so successful! Great tips.

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  14. What a delight! Thanks, Helen, for the info. I'm not a short story writer, but I do have two published devotional books that require a very different form than my novel writing. Short can be daunting.

    Denise, enter me for the short story book. It sounds fascinating. ; )

    zanmariess [at] gmail [dot] com

    And thanks once again for this great publication tour. BTW, congrats on being a finalist for the Dominic's "No Fear" blog fest. You're beating me to pieces in the votes. : D

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  15. Carol – I absolutely can’t write flash fiction, so I’m very impressed at your skill in that area.

    Grandpa – Nice to meet you too.

    Dawn – I find novel writing very different. With a short story I can come up with an idea, and maybe a character or a setting and I can usually spin it into a story after leaving it to brew for a while. I find the novel requires more detailed planning and thought about structure. Progress is definitely much slower!

    Megan – If you’re interested in short stories, you should definitely give it a go and see how you get on. I’m certainly happy for whoever wins the critique to have it at a time of their choosing as long as that’s Ok with Denise.

    Talli – Good to see you here!

    Zan Marie – Yes, short can be daunting. When you have a limited word count, every word really has to work hard.

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  16. Really useful tips and links to other great information. i've been putting off giving this a go for a while now but i think you've given me a strategy to get started! Thanks.

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  17. Short story writing seems so much harder than writing a novel!

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  18. Grandpa suggested I stop by. I'm so glad I did. Have a wonderful week. You have a beautiful blog.

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  19. hi miss denise and miss helen! wow this party's been soooo much fun and i learned lots from all the cool writers. i could wanna know from miss helen how short is a short story? i dont mostly know so much about them. maybe i even did some and dont know it. ha ha. you already got my email. happy ground hog day!
    ...hugs from lenny

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  20. What great advice, thank you!
    I'm learning so much with these parties, Denise, thank you.

    I would love to win the book,
    nas_dean@ymail.com

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  21. Louise - good to see you here. You should definitely give it a go!

    Melissa - I think it's both harder and easier to write short stories. It's harder as you have to really concentrate on capturing the essence of an idea and plunging straight into your story. But it's also easier than a novel in the sense that you don't have that feeling of an overwhelming word count to tackle.

    Joylene - nice to see you.

    Lenny - that's a very good question. And the answer is - it depends. Flash fiction, which an earlier commenter mentioned, can be very short indeed. 100 words or even fewer. The type of commercial women's magazine story that I write tends to be somewhere between 700 and 2500 words, although some of the magazines that have fiction specials take longer stories as well.

    Nas - you are very welcome.

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  22. This is wonderful advice.. thank you so much! :)

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  23. Theresa: Glad to see you.

    Teresa: Great to see you. I am in awe of your success also!

    Carol: I love Flash Fiction also. That novel takes a long time for sure.

    Grandpa: I'm glad to see you and to hear you've been having therapy. I hope this is helping. I'll be over to check out your post.

    Dawn: Hi!

    Megan: Glad to see you here. You can wait as long as it takes and suits Helen if you win.

    Talli: Hi!

    Zan Marie: Great that you stopped by. All power to writers of whatever persuasion.

    M Louise Kelly: I'm so glad you stopped by and found it useful. Hope you catch up on previous posts.

    Melissa: Thanks for stopping by.

    Joylene: I'm glad Grandpa sent you my way. Lovely to meet you. I hope you get a lot out of your visit.

    Lenny: Great to see you as always. Happy Groundhog Day to you too!

    Nas: Great to see you too. Good luck with the draw!

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  24. Haven't ventured into short stories yet.

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  25. Another interesting addition to the publication party. I'm a long time member of a critique group and think it is invaluable.

    I'm working on a novel and two novella's right now so I will pass on the critique. Good luck to all those who are entering.
    Nancy
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

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  26. This was a fun change to hear from a short story writer. Helpful information and thank you for sharing with us, Helen. I should go back to writing short stories again. It was my big love back in college then I just set it aside for the most part to think about novels. I see your point about the greater possibilities of writing short stories.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out and the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge 2011

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  27. Alex: You might think about it!

    Nancy: I hope your current projects are going well.

    Arlee: Short stories are fun.

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  28. Hi, Denise, Hi, Helen.

    Thank you so much for the advice Helen. I wrote my first short story about six months ago and entered it in OPEN CITY magazine in NYC. I was thrilled to be a finalist. I wrote Through Shades of Gray in two days and at some point I would like to write a sequel.

    I will try writing more and entering enter into the magazine world. I agree it's a great start to publication for a novel

    Denise,

    It's always a pleasure.

    email: mculi at aol dot com Book please,


    Michael

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  29. WritingNut – You’re welcome. Hope it helps.

    Alex – hi, thanks for dropping in.

    N R – Yes, I highly recommend critique groups for all types of writing.

    Arlee – You should give it a try again.

    Gideon – Well done on your short story success.

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  30. Awesome interview ladies, I'm loving this Publication Party!!!

    I'll pass on the prizes this week, but you're so right Helen, a fantastic critique group is essential for anyone who wants to be published!

    Rach

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  31. I finally got that award you gave me up. Along with a few others. So many new followers that I will do the survey and the ten things about me tomorrow.
    Nancy
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

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  32. Thank you, Denise and Helen, for your insight. When I began blogging my stories I didn't have a clue I'd be expanding one of those stories and sending it off to an editor. It's because of great blogs like yours I've not only become more confident but have inklings of where to go with my stories. So, a big thank you!

    Now, Denise, I love - adore - Queensland...but I don't like seeing Queensland in the news like this -- a cyclone! Holy Moley, this weather is too much. Hugs!

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  33. Rachael - I definitely wouldn't have ended up being published without my crit group.

    Kittie - good to hear you're making such excellent progress.

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  34. We don't hear enough about short story writers so this is a pleasant change. Great tips for short story writing too!

    Thanks too for the awesome prize! I'm trilled! :)

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  35. Michael: Great that you've had success with the short story!

    Rachael: Thanks!

    Kittie: I'm glad to help in even the smallest way. Thank you for being so concerned for our battered state. Just heard of the first fatality, a young man trying to use a generator. I have a lot of family in the north and am happy they're all safe, even if without power and tap water at times. At least they're alive to clean up!

    Lynda: I agree. I really wanted to do this! You're welcome!

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  36. Very cool! I've tried a couple of short stories, but haven't written many of them.

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  37. I think I could do with a crit partner. My e-mail adress is mishagericke@gmail.com

    :-)

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  38. Hi Helen,

    Late to the party and little excuse beyond the task of writing a book review whilst suffering the dowsides of a barking cough! Not a happy bunny.

    I really admire short story writers: so much achieved in a few paragraphs, and yet still a beginning, middle and end. ;) I've only ever bashed out STs for blogfests, not for publication as such.

    Good luck and continued success in getting them little pleasers out there.

    ((((waves to Denise))))

    best
    F

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  39. Lynda – Glad you found it helpful.

    Su – Good to hear you’ve given short stories a go.

    Misha – Good luck with finding a crit partner.

    Francine – thanks, short story writing is always good fun.

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  40. What a great and encouraging read. Thank you Helen and L'Aussie. I seem to be a short story writer too. I have always thought it was because I ran out of steam, or didn't have the talent to expand my story ideas. Helen has made me feel much better about this. Thank you again! And for the great links.

    I would love to be a part of a critique group. Please add my name to the list, says she nervously.
    ormondann at gmail dot com

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  41. OMG. I can't believe I forgot to swing by on Tuesday :(

    Thank you for an excellent insight into the world writing short stories for a living. I shall point a few of my blogging friends in this direction.

    The book for me, if I'm lucky enough to win.

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  42. Ann – short story writing is definitely an art in itself.

    Ellie – I hope you found it helpful.

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  43. I'm glad you're all finding what Helen has to say helpful. I've noted those who're wanting a CP. An email will be winging your way soon!

    Denise:)

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  44. That was great Helen. Thanks for the womens magazine links, and tips. I'm starting to enjoy short stories, and would like to see more ways of getting them published.

    I'd love a crit of the short story I'm currently writing. donnahole at gmail dot com.

    .......dhole

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  45. Great advice, as a Brit I recognise all those magazines, well done Helen. I have written one short story for a magazine which is now a play rather than a story and I would love to explore that avenue a bit more. Picture books can be gruelling. There is a far quicker turn around with a short story. Thanks for the links too! I'd love the critique.

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  46. That was a great interview. This time next week I shall be meeting Della Galton herself in the hopes that she can knock my short stories into shape. I'm so excited. Thank you Helen and Thank you Denise for a wonderful post :O)

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  47. Donna – glad you’re enjoying the short story form.

    Kangaroobee – it’s great to explore a variety of different sorts of writing.

    Madeleine – say hello to Della from me. She is a wonderful person and attending her courses certainly helped me get published.

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  48. Fantastic post! Thanks so much for this because I've been thinking more and more about magazine and how the whole magazine freelance publishing thing works. I'm bookmarking this and coming back to study it in detail.

    Jai

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  49. This was really an informative and interesting post. Thank you so much. I haven't given short stories a try yet, but maybe I will!

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  50. Arriving very late, apologies, but what a great post L'Aussie and Helen. And some great short story writing advice - thank you.

    XX

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  51. Jai – you’re welcome. Glad you found it helpful.

    Kari Marie – thank you. Yes, definitely give it a try.

    Suzanne – lovely to see you here!

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  52. Great that you're all getting so much out of it.

    Madeleine: I'm so jealous. I'd love to attend one of Della's workshops. Meanwhile, her book is so good!

    Suzanne: I was going to come by with a reminder. Great to see you here!

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  53. I know, I know: I'm late. But I have a really good excuse - I've been writing. It's great to see so many genres of writing being examined at these pub parties. Short stories - well as Mr Powers says "It's not my bag, baby". I need more time and pages for my stuff but I take my hat off to those who have perfected the art.

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  54. You're doing everything I tried to do years ago, Helen. Times have changed in the magazine publishing world in the past decade, but this is still the way to do it. Congratulations on your successes!
    Ann Best, Author

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  55. Elissa - writing is always a good excuse for being late.

    Anne - thank you very much.

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