ou don't know my name, but chances are you've read stories like mine. Maybe you found them hidden under your mother's mattress or in your grandmother's sewing basket because they didn't want anyone to know they read those magazines.
Maybe you saw the enticing titles on the cover of a glossy magazine in the grocery store and spent your allowance to claim the treasure and share it with your very best friend.
WHO AM I TODAY?
You don't know me, but I'm the perfect Santa enchanting all the children. None of them suspects there's a woman inside that red velvet suit. Neither my priest nor my husband knows my other secret. I'm Jewish! By the time you finish reading my story, you'll know why I thought I had to live a lie and why I'll always tell the truth from this day forward.
My name is Claire, and I'm an alcoholic. Drinking almost cost me my precious grandson. Hitting rock bottom was the worst thing that could possibly happen to me...and the best.
I may be deaf, but I'm sure not dumb. Any fool could see my husband loved that dog he rescued from the animal shelter more than he loves me.
My sister showed up at my front door without warning or invitation years after I thought I'd escaped the nightmare of living in my twin's shadow. She was dying and needed somebody to look after her family. I was pregnant with a baby whose father would never pay a dime of child support much less show up to visit. Her ridiculous sounding plan made perfect sense. We had to play the changing places game one more time.
I love my husband with all my heart, but I can't compete with the ghost in our bed. Angela, the ideal mother and perfect wife, makes it all too clear she wants me out of her house. Now!
Nobody would know or care if I disappeared from the face of the earth. Suicide is a sin, but surely God would understand there's no other alternative.
Over the decades, I've slipped into the hearts of characters and told their deepest most intimate secrets in stories with titles like: "Relax," He Said. "This Won't Hurt a Bit!", "The Little Boy Who Made Me Believe in Love Again," "The Face in the Mirror Isn't Mine," "An Abortion for Christmas," and "God, Help Me; I'm Allergic to Sex!"
“They have to sound like something that could have happened to your reader or her best friend.”
DO TRY THIS AT HOME, BUT DON'T THINK IT'S EASY
Writing for the "Trues" looks simple. Just pick a suggestive title, crank out an average of three to five thousand words, and wait for the checks to start rolling in. Right? Wrong!
The key to selling to this market is creating a story told in first person by a narrator (nearly always female) your readers can care about even when they don't approve of the life choices she makes.
MAKE SURE YOUR STORY PASSES THIS TRUE TEST
Despite the outrageous titles, the stories must be crafted masterfully enough to pass an important and difficult test. They have to sound like something that could have happened to your reader or her best friend.
Readers of these magazines believe they're sharing the real life experiences of women just like them (or just like they might be if they were placed in similar circumstances).
When one of the True magazines published a poignant tale of a mother coping with the illness and death of her toddler, notes of condolence and checks flooded the mailroom. The editor wrote a column thanking readers for their concern. She told them the checks would be donated to a children's charity and promised to forward the touching notes to the "child's mother."
That's why writers don't get bylines in these publications (except for articles and features). Susanne Rose can't tell Claire's story. Only Claire can.
HOW TRUE ARE THE TRUES?
While guidelines specify realistic stories, most of the contracts specify the works are based on actual experiences and/or interviews. Even though writers know all good fiction is based on what might happen in real life, it's wise to keep a record of what provided the springboard for your stories. Tuck a newspaper clipping into your story file or document the conversation that inspired you.
“Traditional confession stories followed a uniformly simple pattern of sin, suffer, and repent.”
THE FIRST QUESTION MOST BEGINNERS ASK
Where do you get your ideas? Everywhere! There's a gold mine of possibilities in your daily newspaper. From bold-faced headlines about women who give birth without ever realizing they're pregnant to advice columns featuring letters from women who can't seem to help falling in love with their daughter's boyfriends, you're bound to find something to spark your imagination. A snatch of conversation overheard in an elevator or checkout line might send you sprinting for the keyboard.
Chances are, there are plenty of story starters in your circle of family and friends. One of my father's relatives married late in life. Her husband was killed in a tragic accident shortly after their wedding, leaving her as the only parent to his young daughter! A friend told me about "recycled" Roy who married and divorced one family member only to show up at the Thanksgiving table several years later married to her cousin!
NOT YOUR GRANDMOTHER'S "TRUE" STORY
Traditional confession stories followed a uniformly simple pattern of sin, suffer, and repent. Today's stories run the gamut from modern day versions of the old form to stories that might just as easily fit into the pages of any woman's magazine. Some are happily ever after romances while others present resolutions that only offer a brief taste of hope.
INVITE YOUR READER TO THE TABLE
Whatever the story you choose to tell, imagine your reader sitting across the table from you. She's your best friend, the kind of friend who will lend you a shoulder to cry on and encourage you to make it through the darkest of times.
Your well chosen words can allow that reader to "live" your narrator's triumphs or sorrows. Just be sure you make her care every page of the way to the end!
THE GOOD OLD DAYS ARE GONE
Once upon a time, there were more than a dozen "True" titles from a variety of publishers available at the corner supermarket.
These days, there are five. All are published by Dorchester Media. You may feel like you're on a scavenger hunt when you try to locate copies. Try different parts of town, subscribe, or arrange to purchase single copies.
WHAT YOU REALLY WANTED TO KNOW
Payment for stories is sent approximately two months after the cover date of publication and ranges from three to five cents per word for all rights. Each magazine has several nonfiction features that pay a flat fee. It's not unusual for pros to have multiple stories/features in the same issue.
READY TO SUBMIT?
Manuscript packets (including a hard copy plus a disk or CD with the story saved in .rtf or .doc format) should be sent to:
Dorchester Media, LLC
200 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016
Phone: (212) 725-8811 (might come in handy to check on staff changes, etc.)
Here are the editors as of February 1st:
Heather Josepowitz, Senior Editor
Lauren Lund, Managing Editor
TRUE EXPERIENCE/TRUE ROMANCE
Gia Portfolio, Editor
Nicole Scarmeas, Associate Editor
Lauren Lund, Senior Editor
Heather Josepowitz, Senior Editor
Seasonal material should be sent 3-4 months in advance of issue date. Be sure to identify time sensitive materials on the outside of the envelope. For example: "Christmas submission enclosed." Theme lists are available upon request as are writer's guidelines.
IS THIS VERY PERSONAL WRITING RIGHT FOR YOU?
If you can put yourself into a character's heart and tell her story so that it rings true and makes readers care, writing for the Trues may be an ideal way to get published and produce a steady cash flow while you try to crack those A-list byline markets.
It's also a nice change of pace for writers who've been published in a variety of venues.
Other markets may pay more, but you'd have to hunt a long time to find readers as caring as those who read the Trues.
Susanne Rose has been published in TRUE CONFESSIONS, TRUE EXPERIENCE, TRUE LOVE, TRUE ROMANCE, TRUE STORY, and many of the other "True" titles no longer being published. She conducted a live chat and week-long workshop, "Burn Those Bunny Slippers and Become the Successful Writer You Always Wanted to Be!" for the 2008 Muse Online Writers Conference. She blogs Thursdays at Sweeter Romantic Notions: http://srnwrites.blogspot.com/
Her Champagne Rosettes (short stories) are available at The Wild Rose Press: