The write stuff
Got what it takes to be a published author? Chris Hallam shows you how you can find out for sure...
Everyone has a book in them. Whether this old cliché is true or not, most people think that they could, at the very least, have a decent crack at writing if not a book, then probably a short story.
Now, thanks to Old Mother Internet, they can. But with the internet swelling with an abundance of different short story sites, how are today’s prospective Charles Dickens or JK Rowlings of the future supposed to know which is good and which is bad? Here, I’ll attempt to narrow the field…
Writers are a tricky breed. Some seek fame, some hard cash, some just recognition of their talent or conformation that they can write well. Ultimately, which writing site you choose to go for will depend a lot on what you actually want from it. Do you want to gain more writing experience or learn from others? Do you enjoy the social aspect: sharing your ideas and writing habits with others? Are you prepared to expose your work to potentially demoralising criticism or would you prefer to keep it private? Do you want to make a fast buck from your writing - perhaps by winning a competition - or to develop your writing slowly over a long period?
Below is a mere fraction of some of the multitude of creative writing websites to be found, but there are many more…
Alt Hist: Historical Fiction and Alternate History
Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if Germany had won the Second World War? If America had never been discovered? Or if Tom Selleck had got the chance to play Indiana Jones instead of Harrison Ford? Well, this site welcomes submissions based around such counter factual alternative history scenarios. So knock yourself out!
The downside? Its website freely admits that it’s already behind on handling submissions. But just imagine: if President Kennedy hadn’t been assassinated, maybe this wouldn’t be the case…
BBC National Short Story Award
This runs annually, and first prize is £15,000, but you have to have been published at least once already. Unfortunately, the 2013 competition doesn’t seem to have launched yet (last year’s 2012 award had a special international theme for Olympic year). Still, it’s never a bad idea to start writing early.
Bath Short Story Award
The good news: despite its name, this is neither restricted to people living in the city of Bath or restricted to stories on the theme of people… er… having baths or anything bath-related. This is open until 30th March 2013 and features prizes ranging from £50 to £500. It’s £5 to enter and stories must be at least 2,200 words. And if you do have a story based around somebody getting stuck in a bath, don’t be discouraged. There certainly isn’t a rule about not submitting bath-themed stories either. Set in Bath.
Do you think you’re funny? Well, now’s your chance to prove it. Black Coffey offers potential authors the chance to have their work published in an ebook anthology. Three themed ebooks have been published so far on the subjects of ‘Office Life’, ‘Growing Up In the 70s’ and ‘Family Christmas Meal’.
Black Coffey seek short (up to 3,000 word) stories, humorously written and with snappy memorable dialogue and, dependent on the deal you agree to (their website is very clear on this), you should get around £30 if it decides to publish you. It also welcomes unthemed stories, presumably because its planning a more random anthology of stories at some point in the future.
Personally, though, I found it very difficult to submit either of my two entries through the site (this was in mid-2012) and had to join the Black Coffey group on Facebook before they could receive the story. It should also be noted that no themed stories are being requested at the time of writing, although keep your eyes on the site. However, unthemed submissions are always welcome at any time as long as they’re funny.
Money, money, money. Always funny. In a rich man’s world. It’s not all about cash, of course, but it’s worth mentioning that the Bridport Prize is one of the richest poetry and short story competitions going. The poem and short story comps each have a first prize of £5,000, a second prize of £1,000 and a third prize of £500. A further ten prizes (for each category) of £50 each are also available, as is a flash fiction comp (first prize £1,000) and a specific competition for Dorset residents only.
With such an attractive cash incentive (as well as the prestige - Bridport is one of the most highly regarded short story comps around) you are less likely to win, as there will be more competition. Still, it’s not about odds: high-quality writing will always win through.
Dark Lane Quarterly
If you know anything at all about Dark Lane Quarterly, you might be wondering why on earth it’s included here at all. It is, after all, a magazine, which openly revels in its love of paper, shunning the email and internet domination of the 21st century.
Despite this, it’s not unrealistic and does accept submissions of prose up to 1,000 words, as well as poetry and black and white artwork, alll via the new fangled medium of electronic mail.
It’s worth noting, however, that the print run of the magazine is small (about 500 copies) and you won’t be paid even if your admission is successful. Indeed, as is often the way, you may not be informed if your work is rejected. That said, for many wannabe writers, just being accepted and published will be thrill enough.
Many of you will doubtless just want somewhere where your writing can be seen and evaluated by other wannabe writers. Perhaps even more of you will want to have a look at other people’s efforts. If so, Great Writer, which began in 2005, should prove ideal. It’s free to join and has sections such as ‘Short Stories under 5,000 words’, ‘Poetry,’ ‘Comedy’ and a wealth of other genres.
Great Writer is arguably best suited to unconfident writers, since any writer who is sure of themselves will either be a) seeking to get published or b) at the very least trying to win some money, none of which are possible on here.
That said, this isn’t actually a flaw in the site; it’s just how these sorts of thing works and anyone seeking to tip a cautious toe into the potentially chilly waters of creative writing will find ideas, feedback and ideas aplenty, all within a sociable online environment.
Don’t be fooled by the name. Scribble may sound like it’s for kids, but it actually takes itself seriously as ‘the short story magazine’, as opposed to just ‘a short story magazine’. It accepts stories up to a maximum of 5,000 words in length on any subject for £3, which rises to £5 if you want to receive a critique too. If you subscribe to the magazine, however, you’re entitled to unlimited free entry to all competitions.
Oddly, for a website for a magazine about writing, Scribble’s website is surprisingly badly written. A trivial issue perhaps, but I found it very off-putting and it hardly filled me with confidence about the likely standard of its critiques.
Make no mistake: Shortfirepress knows exactly what it want and, to be honest, expresses it better than I could: “We’re looking for great literary/upmarket fiction, which is plot-driven, has an original voice and is fresh and vibrant… word counts should be from 2,500 words to 15,000, but everyone of those words must count - no flab, please.”
So that’s us told! All submissions should be emailed.
The Fiction Desk
The Fiction Desk specialises in producing quarterly anthologies of short stories. It accepts stories of between 2,000 and 11,000 words. It’s free to submit, but you may wish to add an optional £2 fee to speed up the time of response.
The New Writer
The New Writer runs various ongoing short story competitions. Short stories of 500 to 5,000 words and micro fiction (that’s a bit like flash fiction except it tends to be even shorter) up to 500 words on any subject or theme, in any genre except children’s stories. Entry fees: £5 per short story (unless you subscribe to The New Writer magazine, in which case you can enter twice for this much) and £5 for up to two Micro Fiction entries (or three for the same price if you subscribe to the magazine).
Words With Jam
Okay, the title may sound odd, but it’s one of the few magazines in the UK to accept short story submissions and pay for them (it also welcomes reviews and articles but isn’t currently offering payment for those). The downside? Yes, it does pay for stories but not a huge amount - around £10.
This is better than nothing, though (which is precisely what many are offering). And it does tend to run a bigger short story competition with significant cash prizes usually late in the year.
This is the website for the magazine Writer’s Forum. The magazine has ongoing short story and poetry competitions with prizes of £300, £150 and £100 to the first, second and third prize winning stories published in each issue. Stories can be on any theme but must be between 1,000 and 3,000 words. All can be entered online.
Entry costs £3 for subscribers to the magazine but £6 to non-subscribers. For an additional £5, optional feedback can be obtained on your story or poem from one of the magazine’s resident experts. I submitted a story and a poem and found the feedback very helpful for both. However, as this amounted to a total of £11 each, this was arguably quite a pricey way of getting my work assessed.
Writer’s Hub accepts short story submissions of up to 5,000 words (like many of the sites featured here, it also accepts poetry submissions too). Feedback probably won’t be provided, but anyone in the world is allowed to enter.
What’s the story? A few tips...
Stop right there! You may now think you’re ready to submit your masterpiece. Before you get going, though, bear in mind the following issues:
What do you want from your story? Money? Fame? Glory? Do you want it to be read by as many people as possible or do you just want to test it on other aspirant writers? Think before you enter.
Don’t get burnt! Madame Internet can be a cruel as well as a kind mistress. If you’re submitting your work for the approval of other users, bear in a mind, a small but vocal minority are liable to rip you to shreds however good you are. After all, had the web been around in the 16th century, it’s possible William Shakespeare might have given up before he ever got started.
On the other hand, your critics may be right. Be tough, but don’t shut yourself off from constructive criticism. After all, had the web been around in the 1970s, it’s possible Jeffrey Archer would never have written anything, so it’s not always a bad thing.
Most competitions or sites have different rules concerning copyright. Some won’t mind if you submit stuff you’ve had published elsewhere before, some will, so check out the rules on the site beforehand. And if you intend to expand your little story into a masterpiece, don’t let the story be published anywhere that might prevent you ever using it anywhere else again.
Read the rules generally: a surprisingly high number of entrants miss deadlines, exceed maximum word counts or fall into other silly traps. It’s no good blindly entering the same story into a thousand comps at once, if your own heartbreaking work of staggering genius does not meet the criteria of the competition.
Similarly, while some comps are very broad, many have very specific themes - perhaps horror, science-fiction, romance or perhaps that they should feature a character called ‘Bradley’. Look at the website or magazine beforehand and, if possible, get a feel for the types of stories it’s published before. If the site is based on stories aimed at children, it isn’t going to appreciate this year’s answer to Fifty Shades of Grey.
Try not to libel anyone or plagiarise works already published. See my latest book Harry Potter and the Case of Copyright Law for more information on this (this is a joke, just in case any lawyers happen to be warming their pitchforks at this point).
Look further! The sites listed here would barely cover the beak of a penguin sitting on the tip of the iceberg of all the creative writing sites that can found online. There are tons of good websites, so don’t limit yourselves to the ones on these pages. Good luck!