Word to the Wise

Now listen ‘ere, you lot, he says with a conspiratorial tap of the nose. On checking my site stats (which I do from time to time – oh all right, every day), I’ve noticed that an awful lot of new people have found this site either by a direct link from this post on Teresa Stenson’s blog or by Googling variations on a theme of “Bridport Shortlist 2010” (see the last post but one for the reason behind this).

Now this is all very nice – and a big “Hi!” to everyone, by the way (do have a look around whilst you’re here) – but I find the scale of it a bit surprising and ever so slightly worrying. I know that the Bridport is – for obvious reasons – pretty much THE writing competition (at least for those of us without an established track record), so it’s inevitable that an awful lot of writers start getting very twitchy at this time of year (I know, I’ve done it myself). But there are other ones out there that are just as deserving of your support, ones in which we all stand a much better chance of being in the money.

So whilst any short story writer or poet worth their salt should most definitely be sending their best work Dorsetwards every year, those of us who are looking to build up a track record should also be going in for as many of the second- and third-tier competitions as we can manage as well. If you’re wondering how on earth you can get enough material together to do this, I strongly recommend checking out competitions like the Slingink Scribbling Slam (running at this very moment) or the Whittaker Prize (which usually starts in March). There’s no better way of forcing yourself to come up with stuff, trust me. And if you need to know what competitions there are accepting entries at any time, the lovely Sally Quilford has done all the work for you: here’s her calendar.

Apologies if this came over as (a) a bit of a rant or (b) teaching Grandma to suck eggs. But when a perfectly respectable, if slightly low-key competition such as this year’s Slingink Prize fails to get enough entries to cover its costs, you have to wonder if we writers are sometimes being a bit too picky. I’d be interested to hear what anyone else thinks about this.

8 thoughts on “Word to the Wise

  1. Teresa says:

    Great point, Jonathan. I can be guilty of the ‘Ooh let’s just see if — have announced anything in the last HOUR’ when I’m s’posed to be writing. Better to put that energy into writing, or sending finished work out, or at the very least – researching new markets.

    Well done, by the way. I should have said that before I linked to you, but as I haven’t commented here before I didn’t want to sound like I was only saying ‘Well done’ because I did OK at Bridport too. It’s a great achievement, I hope you’ve celebrated.

  2. admin says:

    Thanks – and many congrats to you for last year! Like your use of the phrase “did OK”, there, by the way. Kind of feel you may be underselling yourself slightly 🙂

  3. Effie says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you Jon. I endorse the pitch to the Whittaker and the Slingink Slam – both are valuable for building up the story bank and honing the craft. That’s at least fifteen stories a year apart from any others you might write, that can then be sent out into the wide world. Who knows where they might end up.

    As for competitions – don’t be too picky. There are plenty of smaller comps out there to chose from and more chance of success as there are less entrants. The confidence these small wins give mustn’t be dismissed or scoffed at. We all start somewhere and one day, I hope to be amongst the literary bunch who succeed in the Bridport. Until then, I’ll keep putting my work out for anyone who is interested and kind enough to read and/or place my story.

    Well done Jon – you’re an inspiration. Long may your success continue.

  4. admin says:

    Thanks, Effie! You’ve set a great example yourself over the last few months, and coming first in the Global Short Story comp is definitely not a small win by any means 🙂

  5. Dan says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    Firstly, congratulations on the shortlisting. Great stuff!

    Secondly, not that it makes a lot of difference, but in the interests of market research, I found this blog as a result of your tightrope-walker story airing on Radio Four. I recognised the story from the City of Derby and headed to Google to find out more.

    Regarding competitions, I feel there are a couple of factors that affect the smaller competitions. Some of them are very badly publicised – I don’t know if they sometimes rely entirely on word of mouth, but I’ve entered some that if I hadn’t found completely by accident I would never have known about.

    I also have a lot of trouble deciding what work to send to which competition. Quite often I rely on a sort of ‘trickledown’ approach – I tend to save stories that I’m really proud of, and excited about, for the bigger competitions. Assuming those come back empty-handed, I then feel a bit less confident about them and look for smaller comps where the odds don’t feel so high.

    However, there are a lot of other factors, including how a given competition’s website is put together, and the entry fee / prize fund ratio. If a competition charges £5 to enter but the top prize is only £30, I’ll give it a wide berth.

  6. admin says:

    Hi Dan,

    Thanks for dropping in – quite coincidentally, I stumbled on your blog last night when I was looking at Teresa Stenson’s post, and I noticed your mention of the Radio Four story!

    You’re absolutely right about publicity. You’ve only got to look at the way that the Bristol Prize has grown in size and reputation in three short years to see what an energetic and well-organised team can do (and everything about that one runs like clockwork), by comparison to others that just don’t seem to have a clue. Sally’s calendar is very useful in this respect.

    It’s always tricky deciding what to send out where, isn’t it? Although sometimes we aren’t always the best judge of which of our stories are the “best” ones. I know I’ve got several stories that I love that consistently come back empty-handed, whatever level of competition I send them in for.

    Absolutely right about the other factors, though. From the sound of it, you’re savvy enough to work out which ones to go for. It’s the people who JUST enter the Bridport that I’m curious about 🙂

    Oh, and I just took a look at “Changeover Day” – missed that one on EDF. Nice story!

  7. Dan says:


    In some ways I think Bridport has acquired such a mythical status that some people regard it as a kind of fast-track to success – No point messing about with these small-fry competitions, get a placing at Bridport and the agents and publishers will be hammering on your door in no time…

    And I know what you mean about having a favourite story (or two, or three) that just can’t seem to find its place in the big bad world. One of mine came back recently (from EDF, as it happens), and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for it. It’s like being a parent and watching your offspring going on a series of disastrous dates, constantly thinking, ‘There must be somebody out there who’ll love you, there *must* be…’

  8. admin says:

    You’re absolutely spot-on about the fast-track thing, Dan. It’s a bit like the X Factor in that respect. The interesting thing is that if you look at *most* of the ones who make it big at Bridport, they will have a prior track record as long as your arm.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.