Yesterday's Independent, linked by booktrade.info, carried a report on the outcome of a How to Get Published competition which was run by the hosts of a well-known UK TV chat show, Richard and Judy.
Richard and Judy invited would-be novelists to send in the first chapter of a novel, plus a synopsis of the rest of the story. The first prize was a promise of publication by Pan Macmillan. And 46,000 people took advantage of the opportunity.
By any standards, 46,000 is one hell of a number. Would you like to read 46,000 first chapters, plus ditto synopses?
One of the entrants was a 52-year-old 'grandmother and homeopath from Bournemouth'. Name: Christine Aziz. And Christine has won. Now all she has to do is finish the book. (Apparently it was not a condition of entry that the complete work should be available.) Fortunately, Pan Macmillan are going to give Christine a £50,000 advance, which will give her 'the luxury of having time to finish writing' the book without worrying about money.
The winning manuscript, provisionally entitled The Olive Readers, is described as a love story of courage and redemption told by a young woman who writes from a dystopian future.
Well, good luck to Ms Aziz. Though as she has already contrived to come first in a field of 46,000, good luck is obviously an attribute that she already has in abundance.
One interesting feature of this competition is that Pan Macmillan have also decided to offer contracts to the four runners-up as well. These writers get an advance of £20,000 each. Maria Rejt, publishing director Pan Macmillan, says that 'the shortlist reflected an extraordinary range of talent from the extremely commercial to the exquisitely literary.'
Yesterday also saw an announcement concerning the Million Writers Award. This is a competition to select the best short stories published online in 2004. It is organised by storySouth, which is an online literary magazine.
The explanation of how the award works takes a bit of working out, being spread over several pages of the storySouth web site. You can find the rules here, but if I understand them correctly the procedure goes like this.
To begin with, the purpose of the award is to publicise online fiction, and to demonstrate that online magazines and journals publish fiction which is every bit the equal of their more respectable print equivalents. As far as the 2004 contest is concerned, we seem to have got as far as having a list of all the nominations. By my count these run to 140 or so. You can find the list of stories here.
The next stage is for the fiction editor of storySouth, Jason Sanford, to select what he regards as the ten best stories from the nominations (rule 6). This list will be published on 1 March, and members of the public will then be able to vote for the story which they consider to be the best.
All in all this seems to be an an enterprise well worth supporting. In the meantime you can use the list of nominations to find stories that might interest you. At a quick glance, most of the stories listed seem to have appeared in online journals with a distinctly literary bent. However, there are some commercial mags listed, e.g Plots With Guns, Shots, and Scifiction.com.
I dipped into one or two of the stories on offer, with mixed results. The first one I tried opened with a sentence which I considered clumsy, and proceeded to offer a character who 'paled visibly.' How can you pale invisibly, I wondered? So I gave up on that.
I then tried a story by China Mieville, which I thought was rather good. And another by Terry Bisson, ditto. So I guess it's just a matter of choosing a name you know or a title that looks intriguing. There are several biggish names represented here.
So far as I can see, getting on to the list of the best online stories for 2004 carries no benefit at all other than the amazing glory which will astonish all your friends. This competition does prove, however, that there are a hell of a lot of places where you can publish -- or at least submit -- a short story online. And if all else fails you can always put the story on your own blog. One of these days I'm going to start a blog which will feature my own short fiction.