Monday, March 16, 2015

Second Fluke Originality

Well, it seems that flukes can happen twice. What is a fluke? According to the OED it’s an unlikely chance occurrence, especially a surprising piece of luck.

I’ve just sold a second short story to Woman’s Weekly. It took me nine years to first crack this market (and that’s why I always bang on about being persistent), and it’s only taken me another year to crack the market again. How lucky is that? Cracking it the first time was a fluke so cracking it a second time just proves flukes can happen twice. Or does it?

I’d almost given up on this market, before I made my first sale to it last year. Nine years is a long time. And I know of writers who’ve spent longer than me trying to break into this market and have yet to succeed.

I was chatting to a group of writers as a workshop recently, and one said that, “You’ve obviously discovered the formula for this market.” I wish I had, because then every story I write for this market would be accepted! But there is no formula, as such. I do, however, think there is a mindset, though. It’s all about getting a feel for the type of material the publication uses, what their readers want, and then, being able to add a twist - and I’m not talking about tales with a twist, where the plot misleads the reader into thinking something else. By adding a twist, I mean a twist of originality.

Every writer, whether we’re writing fiction or non-fiction, has to present their thoughts in a way that comes across with a freshness, that might not be completely original, but is different enough to make it stand out.

The story that has just been accepted is written from a groom’s point of view in the run up to a wedding. It’s not a completely original idea, but having read the magazine for the last few years I couldn’t remember reading a story on this theme with a man as the main character. (Nor one where the groom keeps asking the vicar to lie!)

This was not the first submission I’d made since my last acceptance. It was actually my fourth. But, looking back now, those previous three submissions were all very similar, and perhaps too contrived to be a Woman’s Weekly story. While readers want the comfort of picking up a publication that has a similar feel to it each month, they still want the contents to be engaging, and different enough to be entertaining.

So, there are several lessons to be learned from this experience:

1. Never give up. As Thomas Edison once said: “Many of life's failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up."
2. Look for any different angle. With a short story this could mean a different point of view, a slightly unusual setting or a quirky character. With non-fiction it could be an obscure anniversary, a tenuous link (I’ve just sold an article about Portmeirion - in Wales - to a local county magazine in Surrey), or a different perspective on a well-known topic.
3. Be yourself. While it’s good to adapt your style of writing to fit that of your target publication, don’t let it adapt the way you think. We’re all unique, and it’s our uniqueness that can help us identify those original angles for our work.

Good luck.