Monday, 3 August 2015
To Read or Not to Read
An interesting question was posed on a Facebook group recently. How many writers read the magazines they write for?
This was my response: 'Shh... no.'
As you can imagine, it raised a few eyebrows - so I thought that I would write a blog post to clarify my response.
There seemed to be two threads to the question and I shall address each in turn.
Firstly - Should writers buy the magazines to support the publication that buys their work?
Obviously writers will have their own opinions on this but here is my stance: I do buy any magazine I have a story in but this is so that a) I can keep a copy for myself and b) I have one to show my friends without them feeling obliged to buy one themselves. Funnily enough, this has indirectly helped to support The People's Friend (for whom I write regularly) as one of them liked reading it so much that she has now started to buy the magazine herself on occasion.
At the end of the day, writing stories is my only income (apart from my story collections) and if I bought all the weeklies I write for and all the specials, it would make quite a dent in it.
I feel I support the magazines in a different way - by writing good quality stories which I hope the readers will enjoy and which will, in turn, help to sell the magazine. I also give my support by helping to advertise the magazines on Twitter and Facebook and my blog and a few months ago had an article published in Writing Magazine about writing serials for The People's Friend for Writing Magazine and have contributed to a similar one soon to be published in Writer's Forum.
Secondly - should writers buy the magazines to use as research?
Obviously I wouldn't dream of telling writers trying to break into the magazine market that they shouldn't - but on the other hand (I know my People's Friend editor Alan reads my blog so he will have to put his hands over his ears now!) I have never made a secret of the fact that I never have.
To explain this, I need to give a little background to my writing career. While I was doing an online writing course, we wrote short pieces and stories and when the course finished, my lovely tutor suggested I try sending some of my work to magazines. I chose my favourites, and wrote a few more, then after reading the guidelines for each magazine (very important) I sent them out. I'd never bought any of the magazines and I hadn't ever read any of the stories. The reason for this is I love reading novels too much - I have a whole pile by my bed waiting to be read. I was lucky to sell a story quite quickly, first to The People's Friend and then to Take a Break Fiction Feast, followed a little while later by one to Woman's Weekly. What this did was give me a benchmark to work from for the next story.
What if I had read the magazines first? Well, I think that if you study the magazines too hard there is always a danger that you look at a successful writer's work and think, "I'll write a story like that." But what if you do? It's important to remember that the magazine you are studying already has that writer writing those types of stories in that type of style, so why would they need another writer doing the same?
Recently, I attended the RNA writing conference where an editor said that the problem with suggesting your novel was like someone else's was that the agent/publishers were looking for unique voices - not a clone of someone already on their books. I believe the same can be said for magazines. My style is unlikely to be the same as that of x, y or z because I haven't read their stories. My stories are unique to me... and that's how I want it to remain.
When I was a new teacher, working in an open-plan school, there was a teacher in the class next door who I greatly admired. I loved her teaching style and tried to copy it, hoping it might help me with my classroom management. It was a disaster! It wasn't until I had found my own style of teaching that I knew I was becoming a halfway decent teacher. I think I learnt a lesson from that.
I'd love to have my novel published by one of the top publishers (wouldn't we all!) or be represented by a top agent but does that mean I will read all of the books published/represented by them in the hope of emulating them? Of course not! What I will do, when the time comes, is read the biographies of the agents I'm thinking of sending a submission to, to find out what they are looking for and I will read the submission guidelines over and over to make sure I am doing it in the right way. And my novel? Well, I will allow it to speak for itself... in the same way my stories do.
So there you have it - the reason I don't buy magazines! Please feel free to add your own thoughts.