Showing posts with label writers' manifesto. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writers' manifesto. Show all posts

Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Long and Short of Longlists

Long lists, what are they good for? Absolutely nothing...

This was the rather tongue-in-cheek comment I made as part of The Writing Competition Entrants' Manifesto, a plea to writing competition organisers to make entering their competitions just a little less stressful for us poor writers. It was a throw-away comment, just putting it out there that I don't like long lists. Little did I know that it would be the part of the Manifesto that attracted most debate.

There are two types of long list: those that appear before the final results are announced, and those that appear after. To be clear, it is the first that I really object to. Waiting for results of competitions can be stressful. Some people get positively obsessed, checking their email, stalking the organisers on Twitter and Facebook. Personally, I like to enter a competition and, as much as possible, forget about it. It helps that I enter a lot of competitions, so there is always the next one to think about. I keep a spreadsheet to track entries and make a note on there when the results are expected, just so I can double check. But generally I try not to think about it too much.

However, if I find out a few weeks before the results come out that I am on the long list, it's so much harder to forget about it. Knowing I've crossed that first hurdle makes it all but impossible not to indulge in those little daydreams where I am the awards ceremony, designer be-frocked, perfectly coiffed and shod, on the arm of Ryan Gosling - oh, sorry, that's my Oscar ceremony fantasy. Moving on...

I find the disappointment of not making the short list or the winner's enclosure worse if I know I'm on the long list. The punch feels a little harder. This may not be entirely logical, but it's the way it feels to me. And the agony of waiting is ratcheted up, another tightening of the ropes on the rack.

For media-savvy competition organisers, publishing a long list before the final results is a great way to get people talking. It's a smart move, even if it does add to the agony of those waiting. The inaugural Bath Short Story Award has been notable for its great use of Twitter. Friendly, approachable, happy to answer random writerly questions, they have ensured that people are talking about them for the right reasons. And with their long list due to be published in a few days time, they have got us all talking about it, even me, a long list refusenik. So the pre-results long list is here to stay. I just have to find a way of dealing with it.

Finding myself on the other sort of long list, the one that is published after all the winners, runners-up etc have been announced, is a different experience altogether. In the past, I've regarded it as a consolation prize. I've had the burn of disappointment, but there is the balm. I recently found myself on the long list for the Fish Publishing Flash Fiction Prize 2013. Fish are famed for their looooong long lists. In this case, it was a list of 348. I was pleased to be there, of course, but when lovely writerly tweeps tweeted to congratulate me, I was a bit dismissive. It's such a long list, where's the achievement in that?

As it turns out, getting on the long list, any long list, is a bigger achievement than I ever realised. Writers who have been on the other side of the judging table tweeted to tell me that the cut from the entire field to the long list is the hardest for judges, and any story that ends up on the long list is a potential winner. As Tracey Upchurch recounts on her blog, she used to think being long listed was like being called someone's 'third favourite girlfriend', but Tania Hershman put her right, pointing out that the long list separates the great stories from the not-so-great. Who wouldn't want to be on a list like that? According to Vanessa Gebbie, getting on the long list means a story 'has legs', one of the most encouraging things you can hear about your work.

So the next time I find myself on a long list, I won't look on it as a consolation prize. Being on the list means that someone, somewhere, read my story amongst many, many others and thought it might possibly be a winner. That's quite an achievement.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Writer Worms Have Turned

Today's blog post is brought to you in collaboration with Guy Le Jeune. It is essential reading for all writing competition organisers. Writers are invited to add their own amendments to the manifesto via the comments box below. Too long have writers suffered under the tyranny of unclear, confusing or inadequate competition rules. We have lost too many brain cells banging our heads on our desks trying to fathom where to put our names on our entries, too many nights' sleep wondering if we should have sent that attachment in docx format.

Ladies and gentlemen, we present to you:


We are writers: entrants into many competitions, winners of too few (runner-up is nice and all that, but let’s not kid ourselves, it’s the winning that matters. Oh, okay, and the writing. But mostly the winning).

We are also neurotic. It’s part of the job spec. That’s why we are writing in the pluralis
modestiae. (We had to look that up on Wiki: modesty is the sister of our particular neurosis)

We spend hours and days sitting in front of glowing screens or scribbling on scraps of paper, crafting, shaping, honing. Our stories are our babies, we love them (even the ugly ones, though sometimes they have to sit on the naughty step).

So, there we are, neurotic parents of babies that only a parent could love, and what do we do? We send those babies out into the world to be judged. 

Give us a set of rules and we will agonise over every single, insignificant detail, worried that one misstep will send our beloved creation straight into the recycling bin, unread. Entry deadlines, shortlist dates and prize money pots are scribbled on sticky notes. Fridges, notice boards and laptop screens are covered in the yellow slips of potentiality and hopeful dreams. We study eligibility criteria and submission guidelines. We lick stamps, reformat entire manuscripts and pluck sentences of outstanding beauty and genius out of finished pieces, just to fit the word-limits. We trudge to the Post Office with our brown envelopes stuffed and sealed, or hit the 'submit' button on the keyboard five minutes before the deadline, our eyes swimming with word counts, font mandates, file type restrictions.

But, fellow writers, stop and think. Where would these competitions be without us and our
stories? Where would they get their entry fees, their publicity, their sponsorship? That’s right, without us, they are nothing! And it’s about time they listened to OUR rules.

And so we present to you: The Writers’ Manifesto for Consistency and Clarity in Competition Guidelines. Each and every writing competition should adhere to these guidelines or WE WON’T SUBMIT (that’ll show ‘em).

The Writing Competition Entrants’ Manifesto

1. Word Count. Pretty straightforward, right? Wrong. Different software counts words in
different ways – and some programmes count things as words that clearly aren’t (an asterisk is not a word, Word. Asterix was a Gaul, but that’s another story). Tell us which software is your gold
standard for word-count. And tell us if the title is included (here’s a hint: it isn’t).

2. Deadline. Now we can submit electronically, a date is not enough. We need a time as well. Midnight is always a good choice.

3. Filename. Just make it the title of the story. It’s how we’ve saved it anyway, but tell us too whether we need to add or omit our name. And as far as unique identifiers go, there isn’t a literary
award in the world that requires 16bit encryption so keep it short.

4. Format. Doc, docx, pdf, rtf, blt, whatever. Just be specific. Pick one and stick with it. And if you are going to upload any of the entries anonymously, please ensure that you check the properties tab to make sure that any inquisitive right-clickers can’t see our name, address, email and telephone number.

5. Cover sheets: if you must insist on us having a cover sheet, does it go in the story document or is it a separate attachment? No, seriously, we can lose a good half-hour worrying about things like this. If you want it in the one document and you want the pages numbered, do we really have to wrestle with trying to take the number off the cover sheet and get the numbers to start at number 1 on the second page when computer says no? *contemplates applying Tippex to computer screen because that would totally solve the problem*

6. Exactly where can we put our names? Polite answers only, please.

7. Long-lists, what are they good for? Absolutely nothing.

8. Short-lists. Okay, we like short-lists, that’s a credit we can take to bank. But here’s the thing: sometimes a short-list is a list of people who might still win; sometimes it’s a list of people who nearly won, but here’s the names of the people who already did. Sometimes the people on the short-list are told before it’s published, sometimes seeing their name on the screen is the first they know about it. Follow a few writers on Twitter and you will see how we agonise about short-lists. Has anybody heard anything yet? Will the short-listed people get an email first? Anyone stalking the judges on Facebook? Has the deadline been extended? HAS ANYBODY HEARD ANYTHING YET?

For the sake of our sanity, state when the short-list will be published, and tell us if the writers on the list will be emailed first. Simple. Of course, that won’t stop us believing the email got lost in the ether, and scanning the lists just in case. But that’s our problem, not yours.

9. Each and every competition shall submit the rules and guidelines to a consultant writer before advertising the competition. That writer shall go through the process as if they were submitting. Nine of ten times they’ll ask you for clarification. Better one writer emailing you before the competition starts than hundreds a day before the deadline.

10. And remember, always, that without us, there is no competition.

Thank you for your attention and we hope we can assume that all competitions will one day
abide by these simple suggestions.

You can view this manifesto in spiffy pdf format by clicking here.