I entered a short-story competition and…

c/o Foxtongue on Flickr

c/o Foxtongue on Flickr

And? Won? Lost? Read on! On December 17 I posted that a short-story I had published in August of last year on this blog titled ‘Coming Up’ was ineligible for entry in a writing competition because of its publication on this blog.

I then tried to make it disappear by making it private and hoping that Google would not be able to find it. But it has not been able to escape Google’s gaze even if clicking on the link takes the searcher to an empty page, this is still a trace that this story was previously published here!

But then it did not matter anyway because I discovered another site hosting a writing competition that did not mind, give two hoots and what have you, that a story had prior publication, at least online, print media was still not allowed.

Them being the Writer’s Village based in Leighton Buzzard, England. No significance to Leighton Buzzard rather some place names are just worth sharing! And indeed wherever you happen to be in the world this competition is open to you.

Writers' Village Web Page Banner

Their prize went by the name of ‘Best Writing Award Winter 2012’ and so I entered it.

It was the first writing competitoin I had ever entered.

Their remit was broad and to quote the site:

Any form of short story may be submitted up to 3000 words and in any genre (eg. mystery, romance, fantasy, crime, science fiction, children’s, etc).

Closing date was 31 December 2012 and having already a story complete it was just a matter of ensuring it was presented in the manner they required.

Entries were by Email and win or lose you would be notified of this by Email too. You would be so notified because all stories were guaranteed a critique from the judges. Another selling point to me – whatever the outcome we would not be ignored.

Having Emailed my story then came the twilight period of wishing and hoping and doubting and…trying as much as possible to forget the whole thing until that Email shows up in your Inbox. Of which we were promised this would be late January.

And Monday January 21 proved to be that day.

At the sight of this Email my body involuntarily braced!

And recoiled further when I saw I had been scored a 3 on one of the categories ‘Professionalism of Presentation’. I looked away, instantly forlorn. On casting my eyes back I then noticed this three was out of three and a sigh of relief followed!

There were five other categories and I scored as follows:

‘Unity of story form, incl. closure’ 6/8.  And that was my lowest category score. Looking good for my story?

The category allocated the most points was ‘Overall power to engage the reader, incl. use of conflict’ of which I scored 8/10.

For ‘Appeal of first paragraph(s)’ 7/8.

For “Originality of  story concept’ 9/10 – oh yeah!

And finally for ‘Aptness of language to story-line’ 6/6 giving me a total score of 39 out of 45. Enough to win?

The written conclusion they gave was:

A delicious satire on the vacuity of television shows, populist reviews and fatuous publishers! (Or is it a subtle lampoon of a political manifesto?).

So of course I won?!

They ended by saying:

You have an impressive gift for fiction writing and your work shows great competence. Merely address a few points of detail and you will be well placed to win a worthwhile award next time.

So no I did not!

The main point of negative criticism was that perhaps the story went on a bit. This I was aware of because this was my intention – I was making a meta-pont – no really! – that just as these TV product-touting shows can go on without end so my story! I Emailed this back to the judge who said he got that point but still thought I could have shortened my short story! He reiterated his praise though saying that ‘he thoroughly enjoyed it’.

All very pleasing and encouraging. Or perhaps not.

This particular competion also had a second cash prize. And further cash payouts for five shortlsited entrants. And yet further five highly commended entrants get a free entry in the next prize.

So with all the praise of my story I was still bested by another 12 stories.

I know that prizes have a lottery element. Consider a competition which attracts a low entry of one-hundred stories with just one prize. Your story has to be deemed in the top 1% to get that prize and 99% of you will get nothing!

And leave aside the subjectivitiy of the judges.

I am not discouraged though. I will enter further competitions and may submit Coming Up again. (I today made it public again, it may go private again but for now at least…!)

Indeed today I am finishing up a flash-fiction story of up to just 100 words for a Reader’s Digest competition with a £1000 cash prize. £10 per word! And this one is free to enter! But only open to residents of the UK.

Readers' Digest 100 Word Story

But in the future I will focus more on submitting my work to journals than entering competitions. Getting published in a journal is still a lottery but with better odds if smaller prize!

Oh and just to show how magnaminous I am, I provide a link to the winning story of the Writers’ Village ‘Best Writing’ Award, Winter 2012 Writing Competition.

It was titled  The Ghosties and written by Ellie Stewart. I enjoyed it very much.

Previously published

When I started this blog much of my writing was opinion pieces – some politics but mainly reviews of TV, music, art, fashion and other categories too numerous to mention – I did not know much what to expect but knew enough about how the web and search engines worked that much of the traffic I was going to get would be based on the subject of my reviews not for the quality of my writing. And so it proved to be. Some of my most popular posts have not been ones I thought were my best, in turn some of my posts that I was most pleased with sank unseen.

I did not mind. Most importantly for me I was writing and writing regularly. And occasionally I was getting encouraging feedback.

Earlier this year I decided to try some fiction too.  I was wanting to do it but was aware that having regularly posted review-type posts I may lose the interest of those that had followed me for that.

Nevertheless this same group of subbers provided me a guaranteed if unwitting audience and I was sure I would get some feedback – unless it proved too horrible and then a diplomatic silence! Well I did get some feedback and it was encouraging.

However search engines bringing new traffic and readers I was less hopeful about – the nature of fiction is that it is messy and fuzzy and all of those non-categorizable things and so I was not expecting my poems and flash fiction to get as many hits as my reviews of The Jelly Fox or The Wolf Is Getting Married which have both had over a thousand hits. And so it proved to be.

The general audience pattern of my fiction is initial hits within the first 24-48 hours as regular subbers give it the look over, a very few of them hitting the Like button, and a few comments too. Then pretty much that is it – the odd trickle of single views appearing over the subsequent weeks and months.

Incidentally if you don’t know this already as well as being able to see your whole blog traffic for the last day, week, month, and longer, you can also see the complete history of traffic for any individual post. It can be edifying viewing!

The small feedback I did get was though insightful and gave me confidence in those posts (and caution about the posts where there was silence). It gave me the confidence indeed to want to submit them to journals and competitions.

One such post whom I can not name – very cloak and dagger! – all will be revealed (or not revealed!) shortly – I decided I would submit to a short story competition for Writers’ Forum. Writers’ Forum are a British based print and online writing journal and each month run a Short Story and Poetry competition. Nothing remarkable about this – many journals do. You can use sites like Duotrope who list many – not just for competition entry but for journal publication too. Or you can just use a search engine and be inundated and perhaps overwhelmed by all the options available to you.

This particular competition was a fee one – £6 – with a first prize of £300 second £150 and third £100 – not life-changing amounts to be sure but not to be sniffed at either. And they can build up your profile too. For this particular competition they even offer to critique your submissions – for an extra fee, naturally!

More importantly if you win a prize you can call yourself not just a Writer but a Professional Writer and that’s the end of that, no arguments!

This competition required writing between 1000 and 3000 words and my post was somewhere bang in the middle. So there I was happily reformatting my blog post as per their competition requirements – double-spacing, wide-margins – when I thought I should perhaps give the Terms and Conditions the once-over and there it was

All entries must be original and previously unpublished

– this includes newspapers, magazines, books and websites.

Publication on private online forums that are password-protected

and in private letters and emails does not count.

So even though the post in question has made me not a penny and has but double-digit viewing it counts as published and can make me not a penny more nevermind £300.

I was not going to be perturbed though. They would never have likely even heard of my blog-site let alone this short-story post, right?

But I thought I would type into Google a few lines from it as figure this is something they would likely do too and lo and behold it showed up on Google’s first page – yikes!

So I thought I would mark it private. This particular post received 9 Likes and 3 Comments and to all concerned I thank you. The post has not been removed just hidden!

It would disappear from Google eventually surely – I know that Google can make back-up copies of content but in terms of the original it would become unindexed. I hoped.

I only marked the post private a few days back and it is still listed on Google Page One so I will keep revisiting. But if it should not disappear?

Now I am not putting all my apples in the proverbial one basket. I intend to submit to many journals and competitions, the same entry multiple times too. Rejection I care not! I do not expect everyone who reads my prose to like my writing and same expectation applies to magazine editors and prize jurors too. If not for you, then someone else, and on.

And it is not just money that I am seeking for my writing, it is for increased profile  – for my writing that is, not me. I want my writing to be as read as widely as possible. It is not for me to say how high a profile my writing deserves but I do know that simply self-publishing it on a blog is not enough. It can get too easily overlooked, irrespective of its quality. I need to go out and pro-actively tout it too.

And I am aware that some journals and competitions do not have this stipulation about previous publication – and yet others that do but allow blogs. There are no standard terms and conditions in these things. But equally I do not want to limit my options in this regard either.

So if I cannot make my current blog fiction elude the all-seeing Google eye then none of my future fiction will be self-published on my blog. It will be typed on my Mac as per but then reside hidden away in a private file awaiting its life being endlessly entered in competitions and journals.

This does not mean the end of my blog I should add. Though fiction is the writing that gives me most pleasure its particular well is not as yielding to me as non-fiction or opinion-piece writing. And that type of writing will continue – I hope! – on this blog.

This post is as much to clear my head about my current writing plans but I also thought it was worth a share as some of you reading this may also be happily publishing your fiction on your own blogs unaware that it may limit your options to submit it for paid publication at a later date.