Stand out from the crowd, with Kate Blackadder – 27 October 2021

There’s an oft used phrase in sport, business or simply life in general.

“Fail to prepare: prepare to fail”

To avoid covering old ground from previous visits to the club, and her presentation at this year’s Scottish Association of Writers conference, Kate Blackadder captured this philosophy by sub-titling her talk Women’s Short Stories: Before and After.

Although she described a market undergoing a significant contraction, with some avenues being closed, Kate’s encouraging advice left us optimistic that we could get to see our work published, provided we gave some thought before letting our fingers dance across the keyboards. Having what you think are scintillating ideas is one thing; getting them accepted is another.

Reading previous copies of your target publication seems obvious but, does your idea fit with their existing range of stories, snippets and articles? Might your characters or settings jar with the readership they are targeting? Do the adverts give a clue to the kind themes in which readers will be interested?

Research, research, research.

Being familiar with the magazine’s submission requirements should also be a critical focus for research. One invaluable source recommended by Kate – over and above the wealth of material in the  document she prepared for us – is Patsy Collins of Womag – click on the link and be prepared to be inundated with information, suggestions and even more advice.

Womag and other writing (

It’s all about knowing where to look – for word lengths, use of particular speech marks, submission deadlines and so much more.

Bereft of ideas? Think of celebratory days. Need to stand out from the crowd? Don’t latch on to the immediately obvious. Got a seasonal idea? Remember to pitch or submit at least five months before to accommodate their longer-term planning. Is there an anniversary of a major world event looming up? Get a relevant story written the year before not the month before. Are you worried that the central theme of your idea may be taboo? Little is taboo, it’s how you handle it; and don’t show the traumas or tragedies as the main event. Is COVID a no-no? Not necessarily; again it’s how it’s handled and preferably in the background rather than the main focus.

And then we just write our stories.

After which Kate shared more sage advice.

Yes, and it’s always worth saying, and repeating, check, check and check again before submission for typos, spelling and grammar. Make sure you’ve been sparing with adjectives and ruthless with adverbs. Leave it, then read it aloud. Don’t give an editor the chance to be distracted from your story.

Submissions now are often only accepted by email – and not necessarily with a cover letter – just the title, word count and type of story in the subject line and the story attached with no formatting. Apparently it’s quicker for the publishers to format their requirements from a basic file than it is to undo all our quirks and errors to begin with.

Don’t slip into the traps of prevarication or procrastination – write it: submit it. That’s my own favoured message from the evening.

But then there’s rejection

Perseverance is clearly the by-word here. Kate shared examples of stories cut or stretched, even re-located. She’s changed names and nationalities all to fit another potential publication. Emerge to fight another day – having kept tabs on your stories so you can track and remember what’s been sent where. Maybe consider a competition instead.

Watch the recorded link of Kate’s Zoom visit on the website, with pen and paper to hand, to catch the advice that suits you.

Then, despite the wails of woe about shrinking opportunities, remember, The People’s Friend still publish six hundred new stories each year.

Let’s make the next one a story from Ayr Writers’ Club

Nigel Ward

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