When we launched the Online Writing Tips Short Fiction Competition, we didn’t think much about how we would judge the entries. We didn’t decide in advance on any particular process, and we didn’t discuss the values that would inform our judgements. We wrote in the submissions guidelines that we wanted the stories that would move us – stories that would make us laugh or cry or both. That seemed to pretty much cover it. Had someone pushed us for a further explanation we would probably have mumbled about fairness and objectivity, without realising how problematic – even impossible – those concepts are.
So we’ve made the process up as we’ve gone along, and we’re still unsure about the values that inform it. We’ve moved to a multi-judge system, employing four judges, two of whom read the stories ‘blind’, without access to the authors’ names or cover letters. The stories should stand on their own merit, right? Reputation and previous success – or, in the case of two of the longlisted authors, knowing the competition organisers – shouldn’t make any difference. And we’ve started using a points system: the judges rank the stories in order of preference, and then we add up the scores and put forward the stories with the lowest totals (no, we won’t reveal the scores). Such a quantitative process gives an impression of objectivity, and it stops me and Phil arguing indefinitely, but what if it’s a process that favours safe and competent stories over high-risk works of art? What if a story wins because everyone thought it was pretty good, while the pieces that most thrilled and excited each judge alienated the others? More…
The competition is closed, and the judging begins! Thank you to everyone who has submitted a story for our 2016 short fiction prize. We are thrilled – and a little overwhelmed – by the volume and range of submissions we’ve received. We have almost 150 eligible entries, with entries in almost every genre, sent from every continent – except, we think, Antarctica. It’s already evident that the standard is very high, with entries from a great mix of early-career authors and experienced, prize-winning writers. There is so much talent out there. We have ghost stories and love stories, magic-realism and fantasy, crime fiction and comedy. We have minimalist stories and lyrical stories. We have dirty-realist stories that present a slice of domestic life, and we have stories painted on broad canvases, in which whole societies are in peril.
Alas, we have only three prizes to award, so we apologise that there is no way we can give all entries the recognition that they deserve. Please know how grateful we are that you shared your work, and please remember that with so many strong pieces our choices will inevitably be subjective.
We had originally intended to announce a shortlist of ten stories and to choose the winners from those, but due to the volume of entries we now plan to make our selections in two stages. In the first instance our aim is to narrow the field to a longlist of 30 stories, and this will be announced on Monday 15th February. We will announce authors by their name (or pen name) but, so as not to hinder non-winning entrants’ chances of publishing their stories elsewhere, we will not publish story titles at this stage. Please be patient as we try to choose between so many excellent pieces of writing, and thank you again to everyone who entered. Finally, please look out for details of the 2017 prize submission call!
Ladies and gentlemen, this is a final call for the Online Writing Tips short fiction prize. We are inviting short stories of between 2000 and 5000 words on any theme. The competition is open to writers based anywhere in the world, it pays cash prizes, and it’s completely free to enter. You’ve got to be in it to win it!