Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Sin, Suffer, Cash The Checks

Writing Confessions with
Seekerville Guest Blogger,Michael Bracken.

Confessions, a unique genre of women’s fiction published in True Confessions, True Experience, True Love, True Romance, and True Story, are written “by,” for, and about “real” women. A confession is a story about a woman confronting and resolving a problem. This might be dealing with a parent’s death, overcoming financial difficulty, or finding love when life seems to conspire against that possibility.

The protagonist of a confession confronts her problem and resolves it either directly or indirectly through her own actions. The more emotionally-charged the problem, the greater the reader’s involvement and the more “confessional” the story seems. While the structure of a confession is essentially fixed, variation in subject and theme are permissible.

A typical confession is written in the first-person from a lower- or middle-class woman’s viewpoint--though confessions written from a male viewpoint or from the viewpoint of an upper-middle class woman are published occasionally--and are written in a colloquial manner, as if the narrator is speaking directly to the reader.
Confessions have evolved over the years. The fundamental plots of the first confessions were often described as “sin-suffer-repent.” These evolved into “problem stories” in which a woman confronts a problem and then overcomes it directly or indirectly through her actions. During the past few years more and more “confessions” appear to be “romances-told-in-first-person” and the unique qualities of traditional confessions are disappearing. This may be the result of a major romance publisher purchasing the magazines from the previous publisher, or it may be the result of an influx of romance writers with little or no knowledge of the confession genre.

Confessions follow standard story structure: each has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A traditional confession begins with the narrator confronting her problem. This is followed by background information explaining how the narrator came to be in her current situation, the narrator’s attempts to solve her problem, and the results of her attempts. The conclusion comes from one or more of the narrator’s attempts to solve her problem. Many confessions have happy endings; the rest are “lesson learned” stories where the narrator sums up the moral of the story and the reader flips the page, thinking, “There but for the grace of God...”

Confessions that resemble “romances-told-in-first-person” begin with a “meet cute”--which is how many chick flicks and romance novels begin--and follow a girl-meets-boy, girl-loses-boy, girl-gets-boy back plot structure. These types of confessions inevitably have happy endings.
Problem stories and romances can be blended into a single story to create a hybrid confession, one that, if done well, contains the best of both story types.

Confessions are presented as if the stories are true, as if the events described in them actually happened. Don’t be fooled: They aren’t true and they didn’t happen. Even so, a good confession always has a fundamental truth as its core and the events described could have happened. For example, a confession about two seemingly mismatched people meeting and falling in love might have as its core the idea that love conquers all. This couple might meet at an oncologist’s office where the man is a nurse and the woman’s father is a patient. The plot revolves around their developing relationship and the continuing decline of her father’s health. Does the father die? Perhaps; it could happen. Or, does his cancer go into remission? Perhaps; it could happen. Or, does somebody give the father a miracle cure? No. There is no miracle cure for cancer and the moment you inject it into your confession, your story has lost its veneer of reality.

Confessions come in various lengths--I’ve sold confessions of less than 1,500 words and more than 25,000 words--but a new confession writer might want to aim for a story between 2,500 words and 5,000 words. A confession that falls within this range is long enough to have a good plot (and maybe a sub-plot), a reasonable setting, and sufficient character development, but is short enough that the writer doesn’t lose control of the story and go wandering off on too many tangents.

Writing confessions isn’t for the impatient. Editors may be slow to respond to submissions, with response times occasionally measured in years and months rather than weeks and days. The magazines purchase all rights, and payment--five-cents/word at True Story; three-cents/word at the other magazines--is made more than a month following publication and can be late.
On the other hand, a highly productive writer who masters the problem story, the “romance-written-in-the-first-person” story, and the hybrid, can become a frequent contributor to the confession magazines.

I know.
I’ve been selling to the confession magazines since 1981.

Sometimes referred to as “The King of Confessions,” Michael Bracken is the author of 11 books and more 1,100 short stories, articles, essays and poems, including more than 170 confessions. Additional information about Michael can be found at his Web site:
Anyone who comments all six days will be entered into a drawing for a $25.00 Amazon Gift Card.


  1. Michael,

    Good morning! I thought I knew what confessions were, but I was wrong. That's what I get for making assumptions. Thanks for educating me. I've never read one so I may have to check them out.

    Would you please let us know the range of sensuality in these types of romances, or is that a major part of the stories?

    Patience is something I'm short on so the long wait for acceptance is unappealing.

    By the way, I went ahead and put the coffee on but start with a sip to see if I made it correctly.

    Have a Krispy Kreme doughnut with chocolate icing for a change of pace (if you didn't make the most popular new year's resolution :)


  2. Morning Cathy and thank you for making coffee.

    I know I submit to the feature articles in the Trues for a nice fifty dollar check. But I will let Michael tell you about the features.

    You have to check out his blog ...or maybe he can tell us how many regularly sells. I am interested in your process Michael.

    You keep a lot of story starters going? You have monthly goals?

  3. I've heard of the confession mags, but haven't read any. I never considered this as a possible market. Thanks for providing insight into this market.

  4. No Krispy Kremes for Michael please. He's still recovering from quadruple bypass surgery!

    Those of us who "know" Michael from other online groups can testify that he was far too modest in terms of talking about his confession market publishing.

    Think he's been published at least once a month (sometimes more than once in the same issue) in most of the confession magazines for years! He's also widely published in other genres too (mystery, non-fiction.)

    Michael sets the bar high for the rest of us mere mortals both in terms of prolific production AND frequent publication!

    Best of all, he's never too busy to share what he's learned to help others get published too!

  5. Welcome to Seekerville, Michael! Thanks for your informative post. Love the title. :-) I'm with Cathy--how much sinning is the norm for confession stories?

    Thanks for the Krispy Kremes, Cathy.


  6. I always knew they weren't TRUE!!! You'ver got my mind churning over all the dreadful confessions I could make. As Cathy has just asked, what degree of sex is considered OK? Are we talking one foot still on the floor with the curtains closing discreetly, or what? Ginny

  7. Ginny, I would be interested in Michael's response on the sensuality level. But to be honest, besides features, I have only ever sold sweet romances to them. If something didn't sell to Woman's World I revised it by changing to first person and added the needed layers to increase word count.

    Sensationalism is the trademark for the covers but it doesn't seem to really reflect what is between the pages.

  8. Okay, Michael, you had me at "sin"!! What an eye-catching and intriguing title, not to mention the blog!! Great subject and great insight -- thank you for coming to Seekerville!

    Now let's see ... I have tons of juicy confessions I can make ... nice to know there's a way to cash in ... :)

  9. The coffee's good, Cathy S. Thanks!

    Michael, thank you for sharing all about the confessions.

    Tina, good job organizing this week. So many good leads!

  10. Sexuality in a confession rarely exceeds PG-13, but can, occasionally, range into soft-R. (The "black" confession magazines, which, alas, are no longer being published, required more sexuality than the "white" confession magazines do.)

    Let the story determine how far you go. Some stories don't require anything more than hand-holding on the beach at sunset to get the point across, while other stories may throw open the bedroom door for that threesome.

    But even when you throw the bedroom door open, be careful with your language. You can let the reader know what's happening without resorting to graphic language. Euphemisms abound.

  11. Okay, since the donuts are a no-no, we just had a fruit platter brought in for our most esteemed guest. Welcome, Michael.

  12. Michael really knows what he's talking about.

    Among other uses, this is a good way for a new writer to learn the basics.

    Page Traynor

  13. Good morning :)

    Thank you for the coffee...and Michael, thanks for the overview of confession styles.

    Do you have time to talk a little more about the short features? My first sale was a prayer--but I hadn't thought of the other short features as a serious market since they do have bylines and don't seem to repeat authors.

    Have you sold any poetry to the Trues?

  14. How about a nice whole wheat bagel and fat-free cream cheese for King Michael? ;-)

    Michael says the confessions aren't true but I've sold a few that save for the changed names and places are pretty much spot on. Of course, after I ran through the few wacko family members, I had to start making things up. LOL!

    True Romance does publish a "hot" issue each summer (or they have the past few summers that I've been writing for them) and you can ratchet up the steam level a bit. But as Michael said, euphemisms abound.

    I've had acceptances in as little as a few hours and as long as 5-6 months. Of course, if you submit a Christmas story in January, you'll have a wait. ::grin::

    Oh... wait! I'll have one of those Krispy Kremes.


  15. Michael:

    Excellent post. You got the writing of confessions down to the bare bones. Easy to understand, easy to follow. Have a great day.

    Mary Ellen

  16. Great post.

    I'm trying to Euphamize a few pesky friends right now in my mind.

    My main concern.....if I write their story...will I get caught!!!!?????


  17. I have sold a few confessions over the years. The ones that were rejected--I never knew why which made it hard to correct my flaws.

    Why does it take so long for their turn around? It seems either a story should be accepted or rejected or maybe put on hold with notice rather quickly. It is hard for me to keep producing without hearing something back. However, this week I am learning here that I should just keep going and going.

    Also, Michael, the male point of view is not used often but is used you said. Would you say a story with a male point of view would catch an editor's eye for being unique or would it have a lesser chance because they are not as popular?


  18. Very interesting. Thanks for the info, Michael. I never would have thought about writing for these magazines before.

  19. Michael, a while back you held an online course in writing the confession (which filled up before I got to join). Would you talk about that a bit, specifically about whether you'll be holding another one soon? Thanks! Sherri

  20. Hi Michael,

    Great post. Are there certain protagonist age groups the magazine's target?


  21. Mary, I broke into the confession market writing light poetry, but haven't written any in years. I've also sold a few essays to the confession magazines, including frequent contributions to the Manspeak column in True Confessions. But I concentrate on writing fiction, so someone else might be better able to address your questions.

  22. Marilyn, I hope your family isn't litigious! While I've written and sold many stories based on something a friend or family member has said or done, few of the people I know lead lives that neatly compartmentalize with beginnings, middles, and ends, with underlying themes or morals. I have to add all that stuff to turn the comment or event into an actual story

  23. Hi Michael

    They say ‘confession is good for the soul’. When you write a confessional, do you have ‘helping the reader’ as a goal? Or is it just entertainment?

    BTW, my theory is that TV killed the sin confessionals. With all the “tell all” Jerry Springer-type shows, what’s left? I think romance saved these magazines and is giving them a new life. What do you think?

    Great post.



  24. The turn-around time for submissions to the confession magazines has been slow the entire 28 years I've been writing for them. Even so, Dorchester, the current publisher of the remaining confession magazines, seems to turn submissions around faster than the previous publisher.

    I can't speak to the underlying reason for the slow response times, but here're a few thoughts:

    1. The editors don't generally send acceptance letters. They send contracts. They don't send contracts until they have tentatively assigned a story to a particular issue.

    2. If you send a holiday-themed story and the editor likes it, it will be held until an appropriate issue. For example: If you submit a Christmas story in November, you've already missed the deadline for that year's December issue. Your story will be held until the next year's December issue. So expect a 10+ month wait for mis-timed submissions.

    3. If your story is an odd length--too long or too short--they might hold it until they have a hole to fill.

    4. I work on the editorial side for some non-fiction publications. If the confession magazines are anything like the publications I work with, they are chronically understaffed and look at slushpile submissions from unknown contributors last. The more you contribute, the better the editors will know your work, and the more likely it is that your response times will improve.

  25. Good morning, all!

    Cathy, great coffee. Don't you just love a nice arabica bean???


    With a hint of amaretto, I think. And just enough oomph to keep me going this afternoon. Well done.

    And Michael, you've given us food for thought. Nathaysha came to talk to a local writers' group two years ago, and she offered a lot of good insight into the 'trues'. What a fun, quick-paced market.

    As long as you don't enter the check factor into the quick-paced scenario, LOL!

    Hey, I'll take one of those Krispy Kremes. To die for. My first Krispy Kreme was in Penn Station in NYC while delivering some kid to a college interview. Krispy Kreme didn't exist in upstate NY at that time...

    And now the one within 30 minutes of me has closed. Drat.

    I miss those glazed donuts. So plumped with air. Light and greasy at the same time. How do they DO that????

    So yeah, toss me one and then I'll have an energy burst to fuel the afternoon.

    Michael, thanks for not only sharing, but advising. You appear to be in full command of your forum.

    And my theory on quadruple bypass?

    It took THIS long to need it, what harm can a couple of donuts do???



  26. Bookie, I think male-viewpoint confessions need to be extra-special in some way. After all, these are women's magazines aiming for a female readership. What story could a male narrator tell that a) a female narrator couldn't tell and b) that a woman would want to read?

    Write that story.

  27. Tina,

    My process is simple: Write a lot, sell a lot.

    My goal this year, and for many previous years, is to average one sale per week. I have reached the point in my career where almost everything I write sells--eventually--but to maintain that sales average I need to complete and submit slightly more than one manuscript per week.

    My process is unlike any other writer I know:

    I write beginnings. Lots and lots of beginnings. Sometimes it's a grabber opening sentence. Sometimes it's a paragraph. Sometimes it's the entire first scene.

    That opening sits on my computer until I can figure out the next scene. Sometimes I write a story straight through, but more often it sits and waits for days...weeks...months....years until I add the next scene. And then sits again until I know the next scene. Andthen sits again...

    I have more than 100 partially written stories on my computer. Some are only a few lines long. Some are nearly complete.

    Because of my quadruple bypass and because of medication I was taking until Christmas, I've had only two new story ideas since September. On the other hand, I've finished five stories since Christmas, all from partials I found on my computer.

    (Note: I write in many genres so my goals aren't limited to confessions.)

  28. Rose,

    Most of my protagonists are in their 20s and 30s, which seems to match up nicely with the cover models, but I've sold confessions with narrators in their teens all the way to post-retirement age.

    Tell a good story and make sure that the narrator is age-appropriate for the story.

  29. Vince,

    My first goal is entertainment. When I can, I work in information that might be helpful to the reader. For example, I've written stories about diabetes and cancer and hope some of the information I included might benefit readers.

  30. Thanks for a wonderful and informative post Michael.

  31. Sherri,

    My online confession writing course turned out to be less of a "course" and more of a "mentorship."

    I started out with "lessons." I wound up editing and commenting and making revision suggestions on the participants' stories-in-progress.

    One participant finished and sold her story. A few more finished and submitted their stories but have not yet received responses. A few participants never completed their stories.

    The deal was this: I'll help you write a submittable confession. If it sells, you pay me 25% of whatever you get. If it doesn't sell, I get nothing and you get some free writing advice.

    I might be willing to do it again, but only for a couple of writers at a time, and I need to know the participants are serious. If you're only in it to write half a story, it wastes my time and yours.

  32. Bookie wrote, "I have sold a few confessions over the years. The ones that were rejected--I never knew why which made it hard to correct my flaws."

    I've sold almost every confession I've ever written. (The ones that haven't sold are currently under submission.)

    Here are a few tips, based on my experience and on some of the unsold confession manuscripts I've read over the years.

    1) Read the confession magazines. Understand the genre. Don't presume you know it just because you read romance novels.

    2) Write in the first person. Always. Without exception.

    3) Make your narrator female.(Unless you have a seriously compelling reason to use a male narrator.)

    4) Don't mix genres. No flying saucers, no supernatural beings, no time travel, no private eyes walking the mean streets, etc.

    5) Learn spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Demonstrate those skills in your manuscript.

    6) Submit clean manuscripts, whether hardcopy or electronic. That means you've proofread your manuscript and corrected every error. That means your electronic manuscript isn't filled with stray codes and that it is consistently formatted.

    7) If a manuscript is rejected, study it. Can it be better? If it can, then make it better before sending it out again.

    8) Keep your manuscript circulating. If one confession magazine rejects it, send it to the next one. If they all reject it, hold onto your manuscript. Sooner or later an editor is going to change jobs. Send the story to the new editor. Her taste will be different that the taste of the editor she replaced and, just maybe, she'll like your story just the way it is.

    9) Keep writing and submitting.

    Good luck.

  33. Wow, I've never even heard of these. They sound extremely interesting.
    Thanks for the low-down.

  34. Hey Michael - thanks for the great post.

    And to those of you who were laughing, my comment yesterday was kind of tongue in cheek because I actually did think those were true confessions.

    Call me naive but I read my mom's True Story castoffs when I was a teen. I never did buy or read any more when I moved away and I never heard a rumour that they weren't real.

    I'm a BAC so when someone says it's true, I take it literally.

    Now, I have nothing but respect for writers who can get their work published and I don't want you to think I'm getting on a podium or anything and I can certainly write a hundred or so confessions about my back-sliding days, but I don't think I could honestly sign my name to a fictional confession and sell it as a true story to people who think it really is.

    Ouch...I can feel the darts hitting me but honestly - where does it say they aren't real?

  35. Anita,

    Many readers think the stores in confession magazines are literally true. But "true" is just part of their name, and the stories do contain fundamental truths if not literal truths.

    And consider this: If you buy a used car from "Honest Abe's Used Cars," do you really think Abe is honest?

  36. Actually, my husband's family does have a few litigious members, but they were heavily disguised in my stories. And I don't think they read the Trues anyway. LOL!

    I don't want to hijack Michael's blog, but I plan to teach an online course on writing for the Trues in April through my RWA chapter.


  37. I've always wondered what this market was all about. Thanks for the detailed information.

  38. Well, it's not a market for everyone, but it is a great market.

    I like the fact that they provide a contributer copy to their authors when they come out.

  39. Michael,

    Thank you so much for the post. It is so inspiring.
    I have submitted to the trues, but no sale yet. I need to study them more.
    BTW, does Krispy Creme have any sugar free or no sugar added doughnuts? I have to watch my sugar.
    Stay healthy, Michael and much more success to you in the coming year.

    Linda Cacaci

  40. Michael, this was fascinating. I never considered the Trues.

    Thanks much for covering it in such detail.

    PS Hope you're well on your way to recovery. The only bypass I want to have is the one that gets me out of Dallas traffic.

  41. Thanks so much for the original post, was great all by itself. But the information you've continued to add is pure gold!
    best, CatW

  42. Thanks for all your great info. We in Seekerville love learning about new venues for our favorite thing which is writing.

  43. Michael,

    You're amazing! And I'm glad to hear you're feeling better too. I have a question. I know the confessions aren't true, but what about the mini-pages like Happily Ever After, My Visit From Beyond and things like that. Are those made up too?

  44. I remember these confession stories from my tween years--many, many years ago! My mother didn't want me to read them, but I thought they were great and my first real peak into the 'adult world.'

  45. Wow, interesting, I didn't know anything about this market.

  46. Thanks for the insight into Confessions. I love learning about all these alternative writing markets.

    Bummer about the long waits, but, the longer the wait, the more faith I'd have in them trying to find a hole to fill it with.

    Very encouraging, Michael. Thanks for sharing.

  47. Hi Michael,

    As always, great info.

    You are the king of confessions!

  48. Hi,Michael:
    I had a misconception of what "confessions' were. Back in junior high school, I got in trouble when my mother found a confessions magazine in my room. I think it's time for me to find one again and see how the stories are, now.

  49. Shirley,

    Anything with a byline that isn't poetry is probably true. Everything I've written for the confession magazines that appears with my byline on it is true (or is a poem).

  50. Well, y'all, the coffee's gone, the Krispy Kreme doughnuts are nothing but sugar dust in the bottom of the box, and the veggie platter looks a little ragged around the edges. I guess it's last call for this party.

    I hope I answered all of your questions. If you've any more, please feel free to contact me through my Web site -- -- or my blog --

    Until we meet again: Keep writing. Keep submitting.

  51. Thank you sooo very much for being our guest, and for sharing so generously. All of us here in Seekerville wish you continued success and health.

  52. Thank you sooo very much for being our guest, and for sharing so generously. All of us here in Seekerville wish you continued success and health.

  53. I've heard about this market before, but never did much research into it. This insight is great.

  54. Michael,
    You are an exceptionally knowledgeable source for writers. Thanks for a post that offers more insight to the 'Trues' than I knew. I've benefited from your post here and others on the True Writers loop.

  55. I've always found it interesting that confessions, which sound as though they'd be true stories, are actually fiction. Thanks for such an informative and interesting post. I'll be checking out your blog!

  56. Thanks for the info! Definitely something to keep in mind.

  57. Michael is the King of Confessions. He's way too modest for his success.

    I've sold several confessions, all but two that I submitted. My stories were sweet romances, no sex but lots of tension. In my experience, the turnaround was pretty quick every time, usually within weeks, and I got paid promptly every time (a month after publication).

    One of the stories that didn't sell, I reworked--changing first person to third and expanding the story a bit--then, sold it to a ebook publisher, Wild Rose Press. I strongly encourage folks to take advantage of both.

    I like the short story market. Writing short and tight doesn't seem to be my problem. It's writing a longer, novel-length story.

  58. A friend just let me know about your site, and I'm LOVING it! Bookmarked it for future reading;-)

  59. Michael, I like what you wrote "You can let the reader know what's happening without resorting to graphic language." So true and I most often enjoy that in a story as much as more graphic. Way to go.

  60. All this tim I thought these were true stories. Great post.