Writing prizes: Always read the fine print

Great for getting your name out there (and for forcing you to finish something before a deadline, ahem), writing competitions have got a lot going for them. Well, some prizes do, others, maybe not so much.

It can take a lot of gumption to start sending your stuff out so when you’re on a roll and submitting left right and centre, it’s very tempting to send your writing off to anything that looks remotely decent. And therein lies the risk.

Before you post your little sweetheart off to be judged, spend some time researching the competitions properly. The biggies – your Bath, Manchester, Bridport, Bristol and so on – have clear rules and even clearer benefits, but some of the smaller, more independent prizes can be a little hazy on the details.

A charcoal picture of a typewriter by Lynsey MayIgnore haziness at your peril.

Lots of prizes charge an entry fee. This is generally used to cover admin costs and to help boost the prize money pot. Absolutely fair enough. Unless you’re paying £10 to enter a competition that only offers £100 to the winner and book tokens for second place. A well advertised prize is very likely to attract a substantial amount of entries, so where is all of the rest of the money going?

There’s also the worrying possibility that you’ll pay to enter a competition that won’t still be in existence by the time the winners are meant to be announced, so do assess the slickness of the website, the reputation of the judges and the history of the organiser before parting with your cash.

Even free competitions can offer a bad deal if you fail to read the fine print. I was once shortlisted for a competition only to find that my name appeared nowhere on the publicity, online or in newspapers (the winner, happily, did). The thing is, the story was included in a pamphlet that was available to a select group of people (although not for sale) and for many publications, a piece of writing loses its value once it’s been printed elsewhere. So after being shortlisted, my story became much harder to place and the only real benefit for me was a small ego boost.

Other competitions, typically ones for novels, may offer the chances of publication. Excellent news! But they could also only be offering first refusal and once your manuscript is in their hands you might find they’re under no obligation to make a decision or get your book printed within a certain timeframe. Read the rules closely and look at the publishers’ backlist before submitting – there are plenty of competitions (like the Dundee Book Prize) that actually will get the winner in bookshops.

You spent a long time making sure that bit of writing is as good as it can be, take the extra few minutes to make sure you’re not packing its lunchbox and sending it off to a very shady neighbourhood.

Have you ever had a bad experience with a competition? Please tell!

Smut and Monsters

If I was a little richer, I’d be on my way to Manchester right now to help the FlashTag crew celebrate the launch of Quickies, a book of flash fictions that’s sure to be a regular smut fest. A have a wee story in there myself, and would’ve loved to join the nice people I met back in for an evening of raunchy readings, but sometimes the bank balance has other ideas.

Luckily, I am somewhat consoled by the fact I’ll be reading with Illicit Ink in Edinburgh on Sunday, as part of Monsters, Ink. Looking forward to hearing what spooky fare the line-up is planning on dishing out.

So it’s a week of smut and monsters, and is likely to turn out to be more exciting than most.

Reviewed but not rested

lynsey may kapow

Me at Kapow pretending I like Dr Who

It’s been one jam-packed old weekend. Chumming Ink to London for Kapow was good fun, but less restful than I probably could have done with. On the bright side, we caught up with some pretty awesome and creative people – and I also managed to pick up some of those freckles that mean summer is near.

Even better, on the train to London I was checking Twitter on my phone (sorry Ink, I know I do that too often) and I saw that Scott Pack had reviewed my story for the Fiction Desk anthology as part of his reviewing-a-short-story-everyday-for-a-year project. A walloping couple of heartbeats later, and I was very relived to see it was a positive one. He said:

“This is a well observed piece of writing. Uncomfortable and unsettling.” Which is how I like to think of myself. Well, as a writer anyway, not in person obviously. This put a nice spin on the weekend for me, good thing seeing as opportunities to sleep or even sit down were few and far between.

Now I’m back, I’ve got a little catching up and a whole load of writing to do (maybe I should just take long train journeys for no reason, they seem to be good for inspiration). Maybe I just need to check my blog feed first though, everyone else seems to have been pretty busy this weekend too…

4’33” – audio stories and reading aloud

I conquered one of my pet fears this year, I read a story aloud to a group of people. Not just any story, but one I’d written myself. Sitting terrified in the Forest audience beforehand, it seemed like more of an ordeal than anything else. But as I walked off the stage again I realised how much I’d enjoyed it. So much so I volunteered to read again not long after, for the Bugged launch in Manchester.

To celebrate the idea that I could join the ranks of those people not too scared to let their stories be heard as well as read, I also applied to cool new audio magazine 4’33”. Luckily for me, they said yes and I set to work recording myself reading Two Dancing Doves – the same story I’d read at the Forest. God knows how many takes later, I was about happy with it (I did it with iMovie, and had to cover the camera up with bluetac to stop distracting myself as I read).

Now that story is up there on 4’33” for anybody to hear and somehow I feel a lot more vulnerable knowing my voice is up there along with my words. If you prefer to read rather than listen and have an iPhone/pod/pad, you can also download Two Dancing Doves and several other short stories of mine from the Ether app.

I’m really chuffed about these two publications. I know I’m a bit old fashioned sometimes and not exactly cutting edge (fountain pen anyone?) but listening to stories on my laptop or reading them on my phone does make me feel a bit like I’m in the future. Now for 2011 – if I can have a robot monkey butler or a hover board that would do just nicely!

Into the Ether

Well, as I’m sure most readers are well aware, it’s been a bit of a bitch of a month – and that’s me found out that another setback means I won’t know whether my mortgage has been approved until after the holidays – gah!

However, it’s not all bad news, I’ve also just discovered that iPhone short story publishers Ether have managed to get my stories up in time for Christmas. If you have an iPhone/Pad/Pod, please do download the Ether App, where you’ll find me in the Authors section and be given the option to grab a few of my stories free and three others at the modest price of 59p.

There are some amazing authors on there, and I feel thrilled to be in such esteemed company – so go check it out for work from everyone from Hilary Mantel to Henry James.

Ether is possibly the perfect pocket-sized entertainment solution for any booklovers stuck waiting for nonexistent transport to hurry up and materialise, and if you’re one of the many people struggling to get home this year – here’s wishing you good luck.

A sweet and sour day for sure, but that’s always the way isn’t it!

New Chapbook – It Starts So Sweetly

cover for It Starts So Sweetly Lynsey MayToday I’m happy that my shiny wee chapbook – It Starts So Sweetly – and made by the lovely folks at Forest Publications is up on their site.

We had to pull it together very quickly due to an unexpected gap in the schedule (which I was happy about as it bumped my date forward by a few months), and luckily I had the stories all ready and waiting anyway.

Ink did the cover art and title pages, and it was really nice to complete a project together. We were reminded about my lack of stamina when it comes to design though – and my tendency to make rash decisions when I get bored enough – but all worked out well.

This morning I got up at six so I could do a variety of chores before starting the day job. Whee, I am looking forward to having a holiday! Only nine days to go, not that I’m counting . . .

Finding (writing) encouragement where you can

Whether by choice or circumstance, writing tends to be a lonely pursuit. A pastime that is so solitary that many writers run the risk of disappearing into their own fantasies if they don’t find some way to drag themselves back to reality. That’s why I go to group, force friends to read things and offer my editing services up to all and sundry.

I also try and make sure I read at least one book about writing or writers every month or so, just to remind myself of two things. One) that I’m not alone and this is a great and wonderful thing and two) that I’m not alone and that means there’s nothing special about my own struggles with words.

This week I’m reading The Forest for the Trees by Besty Lerner, which I’m finding almost as entertaining and enjoyable as her blog. I especially liked her section on rejection – rejection is always my favourite topic ;). Although today I am happy as I’ve just had an acceptance confirmed. Now those are the best kinds of days!