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How To Sell Confessions Stories – Fast!
by Julie Williams

Your confessions manuscript can sit on someone’s desk for years. No contract means no payment, and you can’t submit to another publication. So take your story up a notch! I’ve had many stories accepted within weeks. What’s my secret? Giving the editors exactly what they want. The following tips should help you.

  1. Create an eye-catching title. This guarantees the editor will want to read your manuscript. But a good title alone will not suffice – the content of your story has to grab her attention almost immediately. However, don’t get too attached to your titles – they are frequently changed.
  2. Devise a strong opening. A story about an alcoholic mother started with the words, “I fell apart after my husband died.” This first sentence laid out the plot and the problem for the editor, so that she’d wonder; how did Jodie fall apart? Does she overcome her pain and loss? Is it possible for her to move on? To find out, the editor had to read the whole story.
  3. Stick to one main problem. Confessions don’t need sub-plots. But if possible, let your character make more than one wrong decision along the way. This heightens the angst for the reader/editor, particularly if they know another bad choice will only make things worse.
  4. Make your characters real. A former editor of True Confessions said that confessions do not have to be 100% accurate as long as there is an element of truth in them. Whatever confession you can think up is sure to have happened to someone, somewhere. So give your fictional characters jobs, homes, families and friends. You need just enough detail to be convincing.
  5. Don’t have a cast of thousands. In “Single, White Psycho,” I made my main character the youngest of five daughters. However, throughout the story she interacted with only one sister. And choose names carefully to reduce confusion in the readers’ minds, but remember these may be changed.
  6. Use realistic dialogue. Editors look for everyday language, not Shakespearean English. Give each character their own “voice” to distinguish between them.
  7. Justify the bad decisions. Editors/readers want to know why your characters chose the path that led to their life crisis. Were they deprived of a parent’s love? Did they fall into bad company at school? Do they have poor self-esteem and if so, why?
  8. Explain the changes. Let the editor see the steps your character takes to grow, and how they overcome the obstacles in their way. People don’t wake up one morning and have an epiphany. First your protagonist has to acknowledge that she has a problem. Then she has to figure out a way to get herself out of it. This could be by joining a group (e.g. A.A.) or talking to a friend/counselor/trusted family member.
  9. Follow the subject matter through. If your character reaches for outside help, you teach the readers that they can get the same kind of support if they need it. Editors like to feel they are passing on useful information through their magazines’ stories.
  10. Suggest education. Lack of knowledge (whether schooling or specific to the problem) can be one reason why people make wrong choices. The more information they have, the better they can tackle their problems. If poverty is the root cause of your character’s unhappy life, then attending night school or community college can help lift them out of the poverty trap. If he/she chooses to be better educated, it shows readers that they can improve their chances of success, too.
  11. Add children to the mix. Not only can we all relate to problems with kids, but also they can cause chaos in a story. Think of their reactions to a divorced parent’s blossoming relationship. Are they scared to have a new daddy? Or is a marriage in jeopardy because one partner feels neglected now that the kids are a priority. Children can also be a catalyst for change when your character realizes she is teaching her children the wrong actions through her own behavior. Editors like stories containing conflict between parents and children.
  12. Locate the perfect setting. If you decide to set a story somewhere you’ve never been, then research it. You only need enough background to make the place sound “real.” Or set your story in a fictional town in the state you live in and know well. Confessions editors like stories set in middle-America. Inject local color by mentioning hot, steamy Texas summers or riding the T into downtown Pittsburgh. Or use a small town where everyone knows everyone else. (This has endless possibilities for friendly interference.)
  13. Stay current. What is the latest buzzword in the news? Terrorism? Write about a new neighbor acting strangely. Gangs of teenagers robbing local apartments? Maybe you suspect your own son or grandson is involved. Kidnapping? The loss of any child can be devastating. If your confession’s theme is something that is taking place right now, or has recently happened, chances are good that your story will be snapped up for publication.

As writers of confessions stories you know these do not have to have Hollywood endings. However, try to leave your readers with some hope that your character will have a better future. And your own ending will be more than satisfying when you receive fast notification of a sale.

© Copyright 2008, Julie Williams

Julie Williams

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