Category Archives: Outlets for Writers

5 Things I learned from short story judging

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Judging Panel clipart

The shortlist came out last week for the Hysteria 2017 Writing Competition – so huge congratulations to all those who feature in either the poetry, flash fiction or short story categories. All of these will be published in the forthcoming Hysteria 6 anthology, so it really is a great competition for showcasing talent in women’s writing. You can see all three category shortlists on the Hysteria blog.

I’ve already blogged with tips for entering short story competitions here but I thought it might be useful to mention a few things I’ve learned from the judging process too. I judged in the short story category, but the anthology will include comments from the judges in all three categories, so will be useful to read if you are intending to enter the competition in the future.

The Hysteria competition uses a panel approach, using several judges in each category. Every judge reads every story, and the overall winners are those which receive the highest combined rating from all judges in that category.

So, here’s a brief summary of five things which struck me about the judging process:

  1. There are an amazing number of good writers out there. The vast majority of  stories submitted were competently written, and professionally presented. There were some great voices, good dialogue, interesting settings, and thought provoking themes. Nonetheless, when judges are reading multiple entries, each story only has a brief opportunity to make an impact, and probably only 10-15% of the entries stood out as being really special. These were the stories which made you momentarily forget you were judging in a competition, and instead simply read for pure pleasure.
  2. I was a little anxious before the process began, wondering if I would be able to make a valid judgement about other people’s work. I worried about how to go about the process – should I read several stories at the outset to give myself an internal ‘benchmark’? Would I be more generous on one day than the next? Would I be out of step with the other members of the panel? In fact, the format of the process meant that it was surprisingly straightforward to come to a conclusion about the various aspects of a story’s merit. And Linda Parkinson-Hardman, who co-ordinates the competition and edits the anthology, says that in her experience, the judges are, for the most part, surprisingly in alignment.
  3. I now completely understand why editors are so adamant that short story submissions should not dwell on depressing subject matter! Reading several gloomy stories in a row is a dispiriting experience, however well-written they might be. There is though a difference between tackling difficult subject matter, and writing a depressing story. There were examples of stories which addressed traumatic domestic situations, bereavements, injustice, mental instability and so forth, and yet managed to do this while still creating an engaging and entertaining story. These were great to read.
  4. This competition required submissions to be made online, and the uploading process caused a few problems for a small number of entrants. Be very careful when you complete an online entry process. You need to ensure you have uploaded the final version of your story with any corrections dealt with. You need to upload to the correct category, and you need to make sure you have uploaded the complete text – especially if cutting and pasting. You don’t want to spoil your story’s chances through a silly formatting error.
  5. Finally, there were a couple of stories which I absolutely loved which didn’t make it to the final shortlist. If you were unsuccessful in this competition, please don’t think that your story was unappreciated. Yours might have been the one which made me wish I could show all my friends! This is why it’s so important to keep writing and keep submitting – your story has to be read to have a chance, and the next editor or the next judge might be the one who thinks your work is amazing.

The final winners in each category will be revealed when the anthology is published. If your story is on the shortlist, I wish you all the very best of luck. And thank you for submitting your story to the competition, and therefore giving me the chance to read it. It was a great experience, and I’ll certainly be looking out for similar opportunities in the future.

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3 Writing Competitions for Your Diary

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For those of you who might benefit from a writing goal to help with motivation, or new writers who are thinking about sending some work out into the big wide world, here are three writing competitions which might appeal:

  • The Fiction Desk – Newcomer Prize 2017 for short stories (1,000 – 7,000 words) – deadline 31st May, £500 to the winner (entry fee £8)

http://www.thefictiondesk.com/submissions/newcomer-short-story-prize.php

  • Reflex Fiction: flash fiction (180-360 words) – deadline 31st May, £1,000 to the winner (entry fee £7)

http://www.reflexfiction.com/flash-fiction-submissions-entry-form/

  • Hysteria Writing Competition – deadline 31st August – 3 categories:
    • Poetry – max 20 lines, £75 to the winner (entry fee £3)
    • Short Story – max 2,000 words, £150 to the winner (entry fee £5)
    • Flash fiction – max 250 words, £75 to the winner (entry fee £3)

https://www.hysteriauk.co.uk/

And if you’re thinking of entering any of these, and are looking for some tips, I’ve blogged about my experience previously here:

https://jennyroman.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/short-story-competitions-5-tips-for-success/

Best of luck!

 

Reflex Fiction – Flash Fiction Contest

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If flash fiction is your thing, and you fancy having a go at a competition with some decent prize money, you could do much worse than trying Reflex Fiction.

Reflex Fiction is a quarterly on-line competition for stories between 180 and 360 words.  The closing date for the current contest is 31st May, and there’s £1,000 up for grabs for the winner (though the entry fee is fairly steep for a flash comp at £7). You can find the details here:

http://www.reflexfiction.com/flash-fiction-contest-schedule/

While the prize money might be one of the attractions, another great thing about the contest is that, after they have announced the long list for the current competition, they publish one story a day on the site working their way towards the final winner. So even if your story doesn’t make the final cut, there’s a chance it will be selected as one of the “almost made it” judges favourites.

Currently, the site is publishing stories from the Spring contest (which, incidentally was free to enter, though with a correspondingly smaller prize pot), and my piece Battered is today’s published story – you can read it here:

http://www.reflexfiction.com/battered-by-jenny-roman/

 

 

The Judging Panel – Hysteria 2017

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Regular readers of this blog will know I love short story competitions. The demands of sticking to a specific theme or word count, the inclusion of a special word or phrase, or even just having the focus of a deadline can all help with motivation. In fact, sometimes the more restrictions that seem to be imposed, the harder your story-telling brain seems to work to come up with a idea which will fit the bill.

I’ve tried my hand at entering lots of short story competitions in recent years – sometimes I’ve been successful, sometimes less so. But I’ve usually found that the discipline involved in editing a story to suit the demands of a specific competition has helped me to improve on the original idea or draft.

It seemed an obvious next step to try my hand at judging. I’ve previously assisted with short-listing for a competition, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and so when the opportunity came to become part of the short story panel on the Hysteria UK 2017 writing competition, I jumped at the chance. Being one of a panel of five seems less daunting for a first timer too!

Of course, short story judging is subjective, so even though we have a clear set of criteria to use while we’re judging, I’m sure there will be pieces which impress me but do nothing for another member of the panel, and vice versa. Overall though, I’m confident we’ll be able to make a good decision. And during this process, we’ll have had the opportunity to read a huge variety of stories – from which I’m sure we’ll learn a great deal.

If you’re a female writer, writing in the flash fiction, poetry or short story genres, you have until 31st August 2017 to submit your piece – head over to the website for details:

https://www.hysteriauk.co.uk/

If you’ve never entered a writing competition before, why not have a go at this one which supports the work of the Hysterectomy Association, helping women worldwide. There are cash prizes, and winners and runners-up will be published in the annual anthology.

And if you aren’t successful, it doesn’t necessarily mean your story wasn’t well-written or enjoyed by the judges. There’s still a story which sticks in my mind from my short-listing experience – the story in question didn’t make the final selection and, as it was judged anonymously, I have no idea who the author was, but years later I can still remember the quirky writing which I enjoyed tremendously. So keep writing, keep sending out your work, because there is an audience out there who will appreciate it.

If you’re interested in entering the competition, and want to find out more about the judges, they will each be interviewed in the coming weeks. You can read my interview on the Hysteria website here:

https://www.hysteriauk.co.uk/2017/04/17/meet-jenny-roman-hysteria-2017-short-story-category-judge/

#Hysteria2017 Now Open for Entries

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The Hysteria Writing Competition 2017 is now open for entries.

If you’re a female writer in any of the following genres:

  • short stories (up to 2,000 words)
  • flash fiction (up to 250 words)
  • poetry (up to 20 lines)

then this could be the competition for you.

The competition is run annually by the Hysterectomy Association, which provides information and support to women all over the world. They are looking for entries which appeal to their website visitors who are mostly women between 25-65. Stories should not be about hysterectomy itself, but can be in any genre except erotica or horror.

Entry fees are £3 per flash fiction or poem, and £5 per short story.

An anthology of winners and runners-up is published each year, so if you’re interested in entering, you can see what has been successful in the past.

For more information, visit the website: https://www.hysteriauk.co.uk/

Should there always be a happy ending?

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Voting has now closed for this year’s Costa Short Story awards, and the winner will be announced at the end of the month. The three finalists are:

  • Dirty Little Fishes
  • The Boatman
  • The Persistence of Memory.

Though voting is over, you can download them, either to listen to or to read here:

http://www.costa.co.uk/costa-book-awards/costa-short-story-award/

I’d be interested to hear what you think. They are all good, well-written stories, with good characters. But the subject matter in all three, it has to be said, is pretty gloomy. I find this quite striking as writers for the UK magazine market are actively discouraged from taking on gloomy themes. The women’s magazines look for something upbeat (or at least an upbeat ending, even if the themes tackled are sad), and entrants for the Writers’ Forum magazine monthly competition are advised in capital letters that stories “MUST BE ENTERTAINING/RIVETING NOT UNREMITTINGLY BLEAK” and should not rely on themes of death, abuse, etc.

A couple of years ago there was a reader’s letter in Writers Forum about the fact that stories printed in the magazine seemed to focus on the gloomier side of life, and Carl, the Editor, responded by “cracking down on stories that dwell on harsh realities” and so this accounts for the policy and the above instruction. His view was that “We point out time and time again that you have to think of the target market before you start writing, and so it is wrong of us to encourage writing for which there is no other outlet.” This is fair enough, as Writers Forum tends to be aimed at those writing for the domestic magazine market. But often when you read stories which are considered “literary fiction”, the themes are pretty bleak and if there is a move towards a more uplifting ending, it’s very subtle!

So, if we consider our target market, do we conclude that it is considered perfectly acceptable to focus on dark themes when writing “literary” fiction, but if you’re writing for the domestic market, you need to think positive?

 

Flash Fiction – One in a Million!

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If you’re a writer of short stories or flash fiction, you may be interested in the “One Million Stories Creative Writing Project” at:

http://www.millionstories.net/index.html

As their homepage states, “It is our mission to discover, select and showcase some of the very best new short fiction being written today, and then publish it right here for you to enjoy…”

They have a specific page dedicated to flash fiction, called The Sharp End and they have just published my 100 word piece, “Sunburn”:

http://www.millionstories.net/TheSharpEnd.html

The One Million Stories Project is open for submissions now. They are looking for anything between 50-5,000 words.  Check out their guidelines here:

http://www.millionstories.net/contactus.html

And of course, if you like my flash piece, you might want to read my short story collection Beyond Words available here:

 

 

Writing Ambitions for the New Year

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We’re five days into the New Year, so plenty of time to have broken a few resolutions if you made any! I tried not to, instead I’ve bought myself a pin board and have pinned up all my “To Do” lists and “Aims & Ambitions” so I can see them every time I sit at my desk. I’m hoping this will keep me focused. (I’ll let you know how that goes…)

That’s the other thing – I’m making an effort to sit at the desk every day and achieve something. (I’ve been doing this since before New Year, so I don’t think it counts as a resolution.) A competition entry, a sub to a magazine, an idea for a future piece, an edit of something previously abandoned. I’m aiming to find a home for as many stories as possible (and by now, there seem to be hundreds stored in my Dropbox files!). I also found out about the Pomodoro Technique last night on Twitter’s #writingchat – it’s a very simple approach to time management  which breaks down tasks into 25 minute chunks with an enforced break. I think this might work for me (as someone who is very easily distracted!). Find out more about it here:

http://cirillocompany.de/pages/pomodoro-technique

I have, though, achieved one of my writing ambitions this week: I’ve had a mention on Shirley’s blog (Fiction Editor at The People’s Friend). My story “A Promise to the Past” appears in the first issue of 2017, and is the first story Shirley mentions in her “sneak peak” summary – you can read Shirley’s blog post here:

https://www.thepeoplesfriend.co.uk/2017/01/03/fiction-sneak-peek-jan-7-2017-issue/

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As you can see, the story is (as always) beautifully illustrated (by Jim Dewar), and my heroine is rather glamorous (I’m always a little startled by this!). Hoping this will be the first publication of many during 2017 – but it’s definitely a good start.

Anyway, my 25 minutes is up, so I’ve got to go! Happy writing…

 

 

Online Story Outlets – Fictive Dream

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In the words of Bob Dylan, the times they are a changin’, and whilst there may be fewer print outlets for short stories writers than there were in the past, on the web there’s a proliferation of ezines, blogs and pages devoted to flash and short fiction. At the moment, publication via these outlets generally won’t earn you any hard cash – and it’s up to the individual writer to consider whether or not they are happy for their work to appear for free. An established writer may not see much benefit, but if you’re new to writing and hoping to build a list of writing credits, or simply want the buzz of seeing your work “out there”, it’s a step on the literary ladder.

There’s also a case if, like me, you’re hoping to make links, and promote your other work. Having a story on a website devoted to the medium may bring you to the attention of a few more readers who otherwise wouldn’t have heard of you. If they like your free story, perhaps they’ll click the link to your Amazon author page, or start following your blog.

“Fictive Dream” which was launched six months ago, is one such online magazine dedicated to the short story, and is open to submissions from both emerging and established writers. Editor Laura Black is looking for “stories with a contemporary feel that give an insight into the human condition…  They may be on any subject. They may be challenging, dramatic, playful, exhilarating or cryptic. Above all, they must be well-crafted and compelling.”

In a recent email to her writers, Laura writes, “From the start, it became clear that the calibre of the Fictive Dream writer was going to be high. Almost all of you are experienced authors, many with short story collections, novels or plays already behind you. However, it’s also great to be including talented new writers in the early stages of their writing careers. “

Today sees the publication of my story Raspberry Ripple – I’m excited to see this story appear on “Fictive Dream” and hope readers enjoy it. Of course, I also hope that they’d like to read more of my work, and decide to visit this blog, or download one of my ebooks, but anything which encourages interest and enthusiasm in the short story gets a thumbs up from me.

To read Raspberry Ripple, or find out more about “Fictive Dream”, including their submission guidelines, visit https://fictivedream.com/

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

Popshot Magazine -Submissions Open

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I was lucky enough to receive a subscription to Popshot magazine for Christmas, and I’ve been really impressed so far.  Popshot is devoted to literary fiction and poetry, but if you’ve seen an issue, you’ll know it’s beautifully designed and illustrated so there are also submission opportunities if you are a budding artist.

There have been 15 issues released so far (subscribers get three issues a year – I’ve had “The Curious Issue” and “The Adventure Issue”) and submissions are now open for their 16th issue, on the theme of “hope”. For more info, click here. You have until 24th July to submit.

    

If you’re interested in submitting, you can also get an online edition (including a free preview) but I have to say, the print magazine is so gorgeous (and reasonably priced – £6 for an individual issue, £10 for a year’s subscription) that I still think a real, tangible copy is the best!