Not got much time for writing? Fancy trying something short and sharp? Have a look at these competitions for 500 word stories. But beware, just because they’re short it doesn’t mean they’re easy. It’s very difficult to get a beginning, middle and end, plus a bit of character development into 500 words.
- The Flash 500 Competition is a quarterly competition with an open theme, the next closing date is the 31st March and there is the option of receiving a critique on your story. Entry fee is £5 and there is a £250 first prize plus publication in Words with Jam
- Emerald Writing Workshops also run a quarterly competition with the next closing date being 28th February. The theme varies and the for the current competition the story must be set in an airport. Previous winning entries plus the judge’s comments are available on the website. Entry fee is 5 second class stamps for a total prize fund of £75.
- Spilling Ink Review have a flash fiction competition for stories up to 500 words in length. The closing date is 1st April 2011 and it is an open theme. Prizes are £250, £125 and £50 plus a free copy of their annual print anthology. Entry fee is £5
But if they all sound like too much hard work then take the easy option and enter my free prize draw instead.
The prize is something money can’t buy – a special day with National Trust staff at either an outdoors location or behind the scenes at one of the NT properties in the winners’ chosen region. In addition the winners in each category will have their poem published in the autumn 2011 edition of National Trust Magazine. The winners and five runners-up will also receive a copy of Ode to the Countryside – the NT collection of poetry celebrating the British landscape.
The judge is the poet and broadcaster Ian McMillan. He says, “The open air, the layers of landscape, the endlessly changing weather and the way that buildings and places can evoke memory are all grist to the poet’s mill.”
So it should be easy to find plenty of inspiration to get you going!
There are two categories – ‘Under 16′ and ’16 and Over’. Only one poem per entrant is allowed and each poem should be no longer than 20 lines. There is no entry fee.
The closing date is 31 March 2011 and entry is by email or post. For full details of where to send your poems click here.
And don’t forget, there’s only a week to go before I draw the winner of the Stieg Larsson books. Details are here.
The Brit Writers’ Awards is a major competition with a massive £10,000 prize for the eventual winner and it’s principally aimed at unpublished writers. It promises a glittering awards ceremony for the finalists which will be attended by major publishing houses, celebrities and international media representatives.
The entries will be judged in 8 different categories:
- Short stories
- Stories for children
- Published writer of the year
Tempted by the size of the prize fund and the description of the awards ceremony I entered this competition last year (its inaugural year). I was disappointed with it on several counts:
- From the beginning I was sent emails trying to sell me tickets to the awards ceremony
- The closing date for entries was extended (which doesn’t seem fair to those of us who had worked and submitted to the original date)
- The announcement of the results was postponed more than once
- Postings on the Writers’ News Talkback Forum indicated that the awards ceremony was disappointing
When I saw the announcement of the 2011 awards I decided that my grumbles might just be down to teething problems in the competition’s first year and, since Writers’ News subscribers qualify for free entry, it might be worth giving it another go (especially since there is no set theme and therefore I could choose one of my existing stories to send in).
Then I read that Writers’ News/Writing Magazine have withdrawn their association with the Brit Writers’ Awards because they were ‘increasingly concerned at Brit Writers’ development into a financial operation’. apparently they have introduced something called ‘Your Book Your Way’, a paid scheme that helps authors self-publish but using partners approved of by Brit Writers. They are also behind the ‘Publishing Programme’ that offers 15 writers a year’s editorial development and guaranteed publication – at a cost of £1,795 per participant.
So now I’m not so sure about entering. Has anyone else any experience of this competition? Do you plan on entering this year?
The Brit Writers’ Awards are a big step up from my claim to fame this week – a letter in the Jan/Feb issue of Tesco Magazine and it wasn’t even the star letter so I didn’t get my hands on the prize of a weekend break in London. But if at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again – so I’ve just whizzed off another one to them. For some hints on writing letters for publication click here and for my free prize draw click here.
The Weekly News prints three short stories a week. However, it is a market that is sometimes overlooked by writers targeting women’s magazines because it is published in newspaper format and can be difficult to find in the newsagent. I buy my copies in WHSmith or Tescos.
The Weekly News is aimed at a family audience of males and females across all ages. The short stories accepted for publication reflect this. It is not a market for romance or anything too ‘female’ orientated. In an interview for a past issue of Writers’ Forum Jill Finlay, the fiction editor said, ”We like funny stories or happy endings but also something slightly darker, edgier – blackmail, the occasional murder – but please, more black humour than shock-you crime.”
Jill is also a fan of twist in the tale endings and topical stories.
Stories range in length from around 800 to 2000 words. They are generally written in the third person and often from a male point of view.
I studied a couple of recent issues and in the first all three stories had a twist ending although they covered different topics:
- A story that appeared to be about a manned mission to Mars turned out to be children playing a game
- A story that appeared to be about a pilot flying a plane turned out to be a man driving to the airport and back in the middle of the night to lull the baby to sleep
- A disgruntled train commuter on her last journey to work before she switched jobs – to Customer Services Manager for the train company.
In the second issue I looked at, twists were popular again:
- A supermarket car park attendant issuing cash fines to customers parking illegally in disabled spaces turns out to be an ordinary woman just pocketing the money for herself
- A lady joins the gym to get fit for her 50th birthday party but hates it. However she does find a keep fit routine that suits her and is able to make a grand entrance to the party – as a belly dancer.
- A lady in bed and unable to sleep yet again because of the noise from the party next door. She finally cracks, gets up and goes to the shed to get something before joining the party – with two bottles of wine.
Some of the plots above may have lost something in my re-telling (apologies to the authors) but you get the idea of the type of thing that Jill Finlay chooses for The Weekly News fiction pages.
And if you’re visiting my blog for the first time, click here for details of my free prize draw.
The Reading Agency and BBC Headroom have worked with reading groups to identify a selection of ‘Mood-busting Books’ that should leave you with a smile. The list includes The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell and The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith.
I think it’s hard to write something that makes a reader a happy. It’s so much easier to make a story out of tragedy or misfortune – after all if everything is going swimmingly for your characters, where’s the conflict that we are told is an essential element of every piece of fiction? A death, divorce or double-dealing fraudster immediately threw up dozens of plot lines but it’s harder to make a compelling piece of fiction out of happy family life. Making your reader feel good is much more of a challenge than making them feel sad.
Judges of short story competitions often complain that there are too few entries that make them smile. Imagine wading through a couple of hundred stories dwelling on the harsher side of life – the one story that can make you laugh and raise your mood must make it to the short list.
So why not read one of the mood-busting books above and then practise some ‘feel-good’ writing - January is dismal enough without making it worse with massive amounts of melodrama.
To get the creative juices flowing, here are a few places to target with your smiley stories and pick-me-up poems:
- The Marple Short Story and Poetry competition is offering a special prize for the best humourous poem submitted
- East of the Web publishes short stories online and has a humour section – unfortunately there is no payment other than a page to publicise yourself, including links to your own blog/website.
- Chicken Soup for the Soul publishes inspirational books, comprising a selection of short pieces on a particular theme designed to encourage, comfort or amuse. They are currently looking for submissions around themes such as weddings, Canada and marriage. The full list is here.
And if you just want something to cheer yourself up during these grey weeks – enter my free prize draw.
The beauty of the internet is that it brings the world into our living-rooms. We can target markets across the globe without worrying about the cost of international postage and how to include a stamped addressed envelope for a reply.
Here are two American websites to which I’ve submitted work:
- Long and Short Reviews specialises in romantic fiction. Their main function is to review full-length novels, however every Thursday they publish a short story. Stories must be between 1000 and 1500 words and contain a strong romantic element and a ‘happy ever after’ or at least ‘hopefully happy ever after’ ending. Payment is minimal ($5 plus a free 1 month advert if you have a book that you want to promote) but they include a short biography with each story in which you can include your website/blog. Full submission details are here. I submitted a story originally written for the UK women’s magazine market. It had done the rounds here without success but I didn’t want to consign it indefinitely to my desk drawer. The story is available to read here on the Long and Short Reviews site. By the way Long and Short Reviews has a sister site, Whipped Cream, that deals with erotic fiction – so don’t be shocked if you see that mentioned in the submission guidelines on the site!
- The second market is a regular competition organised on the Readingwriters site. Each competition has a different theme and varying word count so you need to check the current requirements. I like these competitions because they are free to enter but offer a $100 prize and the judging procedure allows you to see how near (or otherwise) you were to winning. The stories that got through the first round of judging are listed on the website, then a bit later those that got through the second round of judging and finally the winner’s name plus ‘honourable mentions’ are published. The winning story is posted on the site along with a critique by the judge.
So why not send your work across the pond and see if you can make it big in the US!
Failing that, sign up for email updates to this blog and enter the prize draw for a set of Stieg Larsson books. For details, click here.
If you’re trying to find a way of structuring your novel take a look at The Other Hand by Chris Cleave, which was shortlisted for the 2008 COSTA Novel Award. It is a compelling story about two very different women. Their first meeting is brief and takes place before the story begins but two years later their lives collide again.
Point of view in the book alternates, a chapter at a time, between these two main protagonists. Each character’s version of events deals with the present day and also includes flashbacks over the previous two years. But the really clever bit in this book is the way author drip feeds information to the reader – just as we think we know the history of these two women, another surprise is dropped in.
Chris talks about the structure of the book on his website and the difficulties that he encountered. He says, “Using two narrators is difficult though. To differentiate their vocabulary, grammar and idioms is quite straightforward if you make an effort to understand and inhabit the characters, but the hard thing is how you handle the overlaps and the gaps in the characters’ knowledge. When both narrators have witnessed an event, which one will you choose to recount it? Or will you let both of them tell it, and play with their different perspectives on what they’ve seen?”
Chris’s difficulties are compounded by the fact that he is a man trying to get inside the minds of two women from very different backgrounds. But Chris sees that as an advantage – because he must concentrate so hard to become a character so different from himself, there is no danger of him accidentally using his own voice instead of that of his characters.
He describes a novel as an intricate engine and says, “if you change one little piece here, it can throw the whole thing out of equilibrium way over there.”
The terrible events in this book haunt the reader because they are probably happening to someone, somewhere, right now. I’d love to tell you more about the story itself but the blurb on the back of the book reads, “once you have read it, you’ll want to tell your friends about it. When you do please don’t tell them what happens. The magic is in how it unfolds.”
And how the story unfolds is all down to the clever structure – something the Telegraph describes as “a feat of literary engineering.”
It’s a book well worth reading (if you’re in the US, this book is available there with the title ‘Little Bee’).
And if you fancy some free books to read don’t forget the easy to enter prize draw running on this blog. Click here for more details.
If you’d like to get published in the weekend newspapers have a look at my article in the February 2011 edition of Writing Magazine.
It’s extremely difficult to get a feature in one of the weekend nationals unless you have a well-established track record in journalism. However, many of the papers have ‘filler’ slots and actively ask for people to fill them. To list just a few:
- Confessions of a Tourist in the Sunday Times
- What I’m Really Thinking in the Saturday Guardian
- Just Back in the Saturday Telegraph (which I seem to have missed out of the article)
There’s also the letters’ pages to consider (the tabloids tend to pay whilst the broadsheets don’t) and have a look at your local regional weekend papers – these are often easier to break into than the nationals, especially if you have a story with local human interest.
As always market research is the key to success with any of these markets – buy and read several issues before you submit. It’s essential to get the tone and content of your piece just right.
If you’d like to know more about this area of writing then have a look at the full article in Writing Magazine.
Don’t forget the prize draw running on this blog at the moment, click here for more details. If you’ve already entered and haven’t received your confirmation email, please check your spam folder.
I plan to do this in 2 ways:
- Include information that can be ‘used’ (e.g. markets, competitions and writing tips etc.) in as many posts as possible
- Hold a prize draw
The draw prize is the 3 best-selling books in the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson. If you’ve already enjoyed these novels about Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo, then they’d make a great gift for a book-loving friend.
To be in with a chance of winning, all you have to do is use the box to the right of this page to sign-up for email updates. This means that each post on my blog will be sent directly to your inbox. You can un-subscribe at any time (although I hope you won’t!).
Simply enter your email address at the Email Subscription heading to the right of this post. You will receive a confirmation email asking you to confirm your subscription and then, hey presto!, you’re done.
Everybody on the subscription list on Friday 4th February will be entered into the draw – including those of you that already subscribe. I will contact the winner via email and when he/she has confirmed their name and address, I will announce the result here. I will also give a plug to the winner’s blog, book or anything else (writing related) they wish to publicise.
Please note the books can only be posted to UK addresses (excluding the Channel Islands).
N.B. If you prefer to manage your blogs via RSS Feed you can still enter the draw. Just add this blog to your feed, contact me via the form on my ‘About’ page and I will enter you into the draw.
Another couple of things I’ve thought of since originally posting this:
- If I can’t get hold of the winner within 14 days of the draw taking place then I reserve the right to re-draw (so let me know in advance via the contact form on my ‘About’ page if you’re going away).
- If your confirmation email isn’t coming through – check your spam folder in case it’s hiding there
Best of Luck!