Thursday, February 9, 2012

Writing 101 -- Part II, Submitting Short Stories

How do you to choose a short story contest right for you? How do you avoid the pitfalls?

As an offshoot of my local chapter of Sisters-in-Crime (national mystery writer’s organization promoting women writers), we’ve created the Coveted Dead Bird short story contest. This gives our members a chance to generate stories and hone their skills.

(Sisters in Crime does not condone contests within chapters because it pits members against each other—judges them, so our contest is kept separate.)

But our writers get excited to try and win that quirky upside down dead bird (not real) on a trophy because of its ‘prestige’—ha! We even have Sisters in Crime members from other chapters on the East Coast submitting, trying to get our Dead Bird.
One good idea is to check locally for writing organizations and clubs that are having contests. It’s a good way to get your feet wet if you have never submitted before. Some will even include a critique of your work, but not usually.

The reason I bring this up is because when you start to write short stories, you need the practice. The fundamental thing to remember is that a short story is not a short novel; it is a story that cuts to the point and gets out quickly. No time to ramble. Don’t try to take a scene from your novel and make it a short story—it usually doesn’t work. Although I wrote a short story that I’ve been encouraged to expand into a novella- but it will have to undergo significant changes. It's harder to do the reverse.

Check where you are submitting, they often have previous year winning stories posted—you will do better if you read their previous winners to get a feel for what they’re looking for. Also key—find out who the judges are if you can; what they write, what they like to read, etc.

You MUST follow guidelines to a T. If it says 150 words, then don’t send 151 words—and count the words, don’t use a computer word counter. You can be eliminated before you even get read if you don’t follow the directions. I usually print off the submission guidelines and when I think I am ready to submit, I check off the guidelines to be sure I have met each one exactly.

You will most often have a submission fee, but when starting out, I don’t recommend entering contests that charge a lot. I am always suspicious of that unless they are offering a huge amount as the winning prize, which then means the odds of winning are much greater (ex.. Writer’s Digest yearly contest has a $3000. prize).

Winning some contests will simply get you published in an anthology and are usually free submission. You will get a copy of the anthology when it is published and maybe something else, but the important part is that you get the writing credits for having been published in an anthology, often with some well known authors.

The kind of contest you enter will be determined by what you write. I write genre fiction, not suitable for journals or university magazines. If you are starting out, pick a small contest, with less entrants, your chances of winning are better.

Here is a link for a list of writing contests:

I came across this contest when I was Googling around. Looks like a good one to start with if you have never entered before, it’s only 750 words:
Check out the judge, Elise Capron with the Sandra Dihkstra Literary Agency. Who knows where winning this contest could take you for a $10.00 entry fee (have a novel ready to go?).

Here is another list of calls for submissions for anthologies and magazines. These are more varied.

Good luck and let me know if you enter one. (I even spotted one I’m interested in submitting to while researching for this post.)

So, tell me what genre of fiction you write and if you have any short stories in your files. Now is a good time to think about getting one out there. You never know where it will take you.


Liv Rancourt said...

I love writing short stories, but it can be hard to remember to keep it focused on one event so it doesn't go sprawling all over the place.

Unknown said...

Thanks Cora for the wise words that short stories are not modified extracts but are a form all of their own.