Thursday, September 20, 2012

Out of the Blue

by Janet Hayward Burnham from the September 17, 2012 issue

Tagline: Lucy was certain she would never love again. Then Paul dropped into her life...

In a Nutshell: Lucy is getting over a break-up that came from out of the blue when "a man in a hardhat landed in a sprawl on the sidewalk in front of her." They end up going to coffee and sharing stories about their similar break-ups. Afterward, they make plans to have lunch together the next day.

Observations: There were a lot of things I wanted to point out with this story.

I thought the title and the premise were clever and cute. It makes me think of one of the ways you can get ideas for stories--think of a catchy title and then brainstorm a story from that title. I have no idea whether Burnham did that, but it's a possibility.

I liked Paul's line, "I was too close to the edge, and I slipped. Luckily, I'm half-mountain goat." Humor in a WW story, for me, is always a plus.

We see "heroic" qualities in Paul here:

She nodded, noticing the concern in his blue eyes. He'd just fallen from a ledge, but he looked concerned about her.

And when she's telling him her story, we are told he's a good listener. It's a good idea to portray your hero as someone any woman would want to fall in love with.

Lastly, when Paul tells the story of how his girlfriend dumped him, there is no angst.

He had a similar story to tell about his longtime girlfriend meeting a man on a business trip. "They were seat mates on a flight to Chicago." He shook his head. "An hour and a half flight to the Windy City, and just like that, she was out of my life!"

Remember Woman's World likes their entire magazine to be upbeat, so even though this had to have been tough for him, we see he's bounced back. I think this might be to balance the sort of "downer" feeling the story starts out with where it describes Lucy's break-up.

The only criticism I had was the repeated use of the word "dropped." The author might have only used it three times, but it's in the tagline as well, so by the time I got to the ending, it felt over-used.


Photo by Monkeyatlarge (cc)

32 comments:

Tamara said...

Yes, Kate, sometimes I find myself wondering whether I've over-used a certain word in my stories. I employ the "Find" feature to see how many times I've used it, and sometimes it's too many.

Mary Jo said...

Tamara, that is a very good tip. I never thought of it. I think all of us have a favorite word or two that we use all the time. With me, it is just this and just that until there just isn't room for any more.

Kate, is there any way to submit our stories to the magazines in the UK that actually publish fiction and do beautiful illustrations? Maybe they don't want to hear from American writers. If all of your readers would send letters to the American women's magazines, requesting a return to popular fiction, maybe it would have an impact.

Pat said...

Loved your comment on the downer side of this story, Kate. Although I enjoyed the characters, I did wonder about them both having been dumped. I had decided the humor balanced it out for a WW story.

Kate Willoughby said...

Tamara, it wasn't just the word "dropped" it was the whole idea that he "dropped into her life." I see it in the title and I think it's clever! Then it's in the tagline, and in the middle of the story, and by the time I get it at the end of the story, I'm like, hmm. This USED to be clever.

Mary Jo, I'm sure there is a way, but I don't know what it is. The Writer's Market used to be a resource for freelance markets, but I don't know if they still publish that or if it contains markets outside of the US.

Unfortunately, I only have 93 followers of this blog and I'm not sure that's enough to convince any publisher to change their publication. ;)

Pat, yes, deciding how much to describe a negative event in our WW stories is always a difficult one. I advise any writes who have not cracked the nut yet to err on the side of less.

Bernadette said...

In response to Mary-Jo's comment, http://www.womagwriter.blogspot.co.uk/ is the blog of a UK womag writer (of course!)which contains submission guidelines for many UK and international magazines. Unfortunately, many of them require postal submission and SAEs, although some relax that once you have had an acceptance, and some will respond by email even if the submission is postal.

It's a pain getting the international stamps for returns (as it is for UK writers trying to get into Woman's World!) but worth a try.

I had no response at all to my last 3 subs to WW, despite the SAEs, and it's been a year now so I guess they were lost in the post. Oh well, never mind.

Mary Jo said...

Bernadette, thanks for the website address. I will take a look. I wonder if WW will even consider submissions from outside the US when the guidelines state that they do not want any foreign locales. Do you write American settings? Even when I submitted a story set in Hawaii, which, in case they don't know, is a US state, it came right back to me.

Isn't there a way to print out foreign stamps from the internet? I would have to research that. I wonder if they take a credit card.

Only 93 "followers", Kate? My guess is that a lot more people than that visit your blog site. Anyway, I have always heard that a handwritten letter to a publisher (or a TV station) is counted as a 1000. I think they would take even a few letters seriously. I tell you, as far as subscriptions go, they can't give those magazines away. (Because they are mostly catalogs of ads.) Good Housekeeping wanted $7 for me to subscribe. I will write to them and tell them why I don't want the magazine.

Kate, thank you for your constancy in maintaining this site. I think you do a great service to your fellow writers and to Woman's World magazine.

Tamara said...

Bernadette, I'm surprised that WW didn't respond; that's one way in which they excel in the freelance markets -- they actually do read and respond to stories. I wonder what happened.

Kate, I see now what you meant -- the concept not the word.

As for UK, I wonder whether going online and writing "Paying UK Fiction Markets" in the browser would bring up possibilities. Anyway, I plan to try that, especially for my stories that I'm submitting to literary journals. I think their culture is enough like ours to make our stories publishable there, am I right? I could add a few "blokes", "ole' chaps" and "bloody" as an adjective -- just kidding.

Bernadette said...

Mary Jo, when I said I thought the stories (or responses)had been lost in the post, I was actually being serious. I had responses to earlier stories, one of which went for a second read. I would say my settings are pretty generic, so I don't think that's the problem - like everywhere else, it's just very competitive!

As for paying fiction markets in the UK womags, all the ones that are currently open are listed on womagwriter's site. I don't see that they would have any problem considering stories from US writers - they quite frequently publish some Austrailan friends of mine - and they do like unusual locations. Woman's Weekly publish a monthly fiction special which is available on Kindle so that would give you a good idea of what that mag is looking for.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Mary Jo, I live outside the US and have had one romance story published by Woman's World. I know of two other writers that also live outside the US that have as well. The main thing I make sure is to Americanise certain words, eg. color instead of colour, cell phone instead of mobile etc.

I've also tried getting stamps on-line but wasn't able to. Not sure what I was doing wrong.

Kate, as others have already mentioned thanks for this wonderful blog, it's very helpful.

Mary Jo said...

Bernadette, I took a look at the blog you suggested, and I cannot believe what I am seeing there. 300 UK pounds ($480 US dollars) for a 50,000 word novel? Do you know, if my math is correct, that is less than one US penny per word? Well, no wonder our English and Australian cousins are trying to get published in Woman's World. I say, more power to you. Writing is not just a nice little hobby. It is an art.

Bernadette said...

Yes, that is right, Mary-Jo!
However, many UK writers think that is pitiful as well and I wouldn't ever write for that market. (You can top up the earnings with on-sales to other publishers but you still don't get enough, in my opinion.)

The mags are more generous (though not as high as WW). At the lower end they pay £75-ish for a story, with the highest paying about £200 for a 1000 word story. Some of them pay more for longer stories (a 3 page story in Take A Break - approx 2500 words - will get you £325)or pay more when you have had a number of stories published with them. That's Life in Australia also pays quite well (and accepts email subs) and pays more for longer stories.

So it's not all as bad as it looked from that one blog post!

However, as everywhere, it is very competitive, with several mags having dropped fiction in the last few years.

Mary Jo said...

Bernadette, what does "on-sales" mean? I am not familiar with the term. Well, few writers are ever going to get rich, or even make a living. Have you ever read Stephen King's book ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT? A great book.

Kate, I vaguely recalled the WW story "Out of the Blue", so I finally went back and read it again this morning. I feel that the story didn't even begin until the fourth paragraph. The first three could have been summarized in a sentence or two. Where oh where was the editor?

Also, I get concerned with the logistics in some of these stories. In this one, the guy fell from a construction site and bounced right up with a smile on his face. So how far was the fall? Four or five feet? Very much higher (which it almost certainly was)and he would have gone SPLAT on the sidewalk, and the girl would have been calling 911. Well, maybe he was Spiderman.

Actually, I voted that I liked this story because I remembered that I liked the dialogue. If anyone cares for my advice, though, I would say leave out most of the sob story, or at least just insert a little here and there.

Bernadette said...

I'm not sure if it is a term, Mary Jo - I might have made it up! It's all explained on womagwriter's blog, but basically the Easy Reads only buy Cheap Paper Rights which means you can sell the novel again and there are companies such as Ulverscroft who will publish them as large print books for a one off fee. If they then go into libraries the writer gets Public Lending Rights payments, too, but I don't know how this works overseas. Some writers, such as Sally Quilford who has published several of these, also then publish them themselves on Kindle, so the total can add up to four figures. Still not a great deal of money, IMO, but if it is something the author enjoys writing then good for them.

Mary Jo said...

Oh, Bernadette, I am totally lost. It seems to be a whole different world outside the US borders. Do readers have to pay a fee to borrow a book from the library? I don't know how much a library card (entitling one to use the library and borrow the books) is now.

Bernadette said...

Don't worry about it, Mary Jo. As far as magazines go it's no different over here than over there! (Well, all mags have their own requirements/rates of pay etc of course, but generally the process is the same.)
Easy Reads/Pocket Novels are a bit different as they seem to be halfway between a magazine and a novel in the way they are sold/marketed. There are some good articles on Sally Quilford's blog about how it all works over here, but some things may not 'translate' overseas, I'm not sure.
And as for libraries, no, readers don't pay a fee in the UK. The government pays based on an estimate of how many times a book is borrowed, up to a maximum per author per year. (At least, they do at the moment but with all the cutbacks who knows where that will go!)

Tamara said...

"Spiderman?" Mary Jo. That's pretty funny.

Anonymous said...


I enjoyed the story, but agree with you in regards to the word "dropped." I've recently noticed I tend to overuse the words: just, already and one. Trying to be more aware of it now.

This might be a silly question, but here goes....when you submit stories to WW, do you include the words "the end" at the end of your story? Or do you feel that looks unprofessional when submitting? Also, do you think three words over the 800 wc is a big deal?

Thanks :)

Kate Willoughby said...

Bernadette, when you say SAEs, do you not put return postage on them? If you don't, that's why they're not responding...

Mary Jo, thank you for your kind words. :) Yes, the backstory on this story was a bit long, but it didn't bother me.

Anonymous, I do not include the words The End. I never thought about doing so. Maybe other people will chime in on this. (No, I don't think the three words over will make any difference at all since they won't ever print those.)

Anonymous said...

Thanks Kate for your advice. The three words over I'm talking about though aren't including the words "the end." Do you think the three words over would make that much difference?

Bernadette said...

Hi Kate - that's a UK/US 'lost in translation'!
You have SASE I think (Self addressed stamped envelope?). We have SAE (stamped addressed envelope). So, yes, I did of course put stamps on them, and checked they were the right amount for the weight etc courtesy of a kind friend who was on holiday in the States and got the stamps for me. And all of my older ones that were subbed in the same way were responded to, using the envelopes I'd provided.
I do honestly think they just got lost in one direction or the other! It does happen now and then and is no aspersion on WW.

Mary Jo said...

Hey, Anony, I not only don't include THE END in my word count, I also leave out the title and by line in the word count. None of those will appear in the print text. I always send in 800 words of text--on the nose. If you are concerned about being three words over, then go back and take three more words out. Come on, you know they are in there. If WW buys your story, Johnene will cut out at least another 100 words. If she can do it, so can you. Don't try to submit a story with a length (700 words) that will fit the WW print page, though. Once I sent two versions of a story, one the required 800 words and one 700 words. Johnene was really steamed. She wrote back, "I like to do my own editing!" as she rejected both versions.

Kate, I see you haven't gone back to requiring code words in the comment section. Are you having much trouble with anyone screwing with you?

Anonymous said...

I liked it way better when the stories were a 1000 words and the writers were paid $1000! It seemed easier to have that wiggle room to write in. Now it feels pressured and completely unrealistic. What really kills me is when I submit a pressured and unrealistic story and it is returned with a comment like, "I don't think this could happen." Well, neither do I but I don't think ANY of the WW stories could really happen!

Kate Willoughby said...

Anon, LMAO. Obviously, I suck at math. The End is two words! Ha ha haha! Three words probably won't make that big of difference if the story is good, but I guarantee you I could find 3 to cut.

Bernadette, ah. I see. SAE same thing. Cool.I didn't mean to insult your intelligence. People of all skill levels come here... :)

Mary Jo, I AM getting some spam comments, but they must filter them because although I get the comment in my email inbox, they never show up here on the blog. Regarding editing, if I were an editor, I'd feel much more comfortable trimming than adding. Maybe that's her feeling, too. :)

Anon, I adored the 1000 word limit. And of course, the $1000 was much nicer too! I actually do think some of the stories could happen. I'll try to keep my eye out for those and let you know when they appear. :)

Mary Jo said...

Kate, didn't WW have the $1000 pay scale even when the word length was 4000 words, long ago? I think they cut back to $800 for economic reasons, not because of the actual word length. For a while, they were still paying $1000 for 800 words.

Yeah, you would think an editor would hesitate to "add" to a story, wouldn't you? But that word "augment" is in the contract for a reason. All I can tell you is that besides changing a few words here and there, Johnene took out most of the ending dialogue in my Elaine story and wrote in her own, changing the whole tone of the story. Needless to say, I believe I am the better writer.

I guess she didn't like my 700 word version of a submission because it was mostly print ready (in my opinion). Of course, she could have taken the 800 word version and edited it--to her standards. That, of course, didn't fly.

As with any kind of submission, it is considered best to follow the rules.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Kate and Mary Jo :)

And I completely agree with what Anoymous said. I liked the 1000 word count much better. There was so much more room for description, and a build up to the plot/budding relationship between characters. In all honesty (and this might sound strange) but I believe they should still pay the 1000 dollars because it is much harder to tell a good story with such a tight wordcount. Just my opinion!

I have another question to pester you guys with. I know it's just a persoanl preference, but I don't care for Courier New, 12 font. Much preferred Times New Roman. Would it look silly to write the cover letter in TNR and the actual manuscript in Courier. Trying to make it easier on the editor's eyes, but having a hard time committing to Courier New for the letter too.

What do you think? Would it look strange? What font do you typically use?

Best wishes!

Mary Jo said...

Two Anony's here? How will I know whom I am talking to? If your name is Joe, I am sure Kate will still welcome you to her blogsite. Or, I don't know, call yourself Veronica.

If you have checked the WW guidelines, you know that the only stipulation is "double-spaced legible size type". There is no mention of a preferred font, and if that has changed recently, I am not aware of it. I really don't know why Courier has come to be the accepted standard. I use Tahoma for my stories just because it is plain and I like it. The accepted size is #12. Any time I write a cover letter, it usually is in whatever font I have as a default. I think it is TNR.

Patricia has to go through hundreds of manuscripts every week. That's why they pay her the big bucks. Yeah, right! So please be kind to her eyes.

Betsi said...

I use TNR 12 for both the manuscript and the letter (when I send a letter, which is rare), and have had no complaints. Most publishers don't use those old rules from the days of the typewriter anymore, because everything is digital now.

Tamara said...

I think if the letter is a different font, it wouldn't matter. "The End" probably doesn't matter either. I center three little hearts at the end of my stories and do the drop cap at the beginning--all of which I'm sure doesn't matter to the editors; I just like being fancy. The drop to $800 occurred at a different time than the drop in word count, so it was probably related to the economy. I wonder whether they'll raise it if/when things pick up.

Kate Willoughby said...

Mary Jo, I have no idea what they paid when the word count was higher than 1100, because that's when I started paying attention and submitting. I seem to recall it was $1K for 1100, then $1K for 1000, then $800 for 800. But it really doesn't matter.

I use TNR for the cover letter, Courier New for the story itself. :)

Tamara, I doubt you'll see a pay increase unless they decided, miracle of miracles, to increase the word length again.

A girl can dream, can't she?

Betsi said...

For decades the Trues paid 3 cents a word, except for True Story, which paid 5 cents. The new owners have reduced payment for TS to 3 cents. Think about how much more a copy of a magazine costs now than it did in 1950! And yet, people keep submitting stories.

Kate Willoughby said...

"High school wasn't bad," he said, "but now is better."

Kate Willoughby said...

Damn. Wrong post. Ignore that last comment. LOL