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Short story competition provides an opportunity for new writers

20 May 2010


Waterstones is running a short story competition in partnership with publishers Pan Macmillan and writing training organisation The Arvon Foundation.

What's caught my eye about this particular competition is the prize: the winner gets to "do lunch" with Will Atkins, editorial director at Pan Macmillan, and author James McCreet. The idea is that they will offer advice on how you can advance your writing career, but if you've got a killer story to pitch, I'd definitely take a copy of the manuscript with you. The winner also gets a creative writing course and their story published in the Waterstones magazine and on the Waterstones website for a couple of weeks. Three runners-up will get concise feedback on their submission, their story published online and £50 of books for their trouble.

Pan Macmillan has differentiated itself by trying to remain open to new and unagented writing talent. While most major publishers will only look at submissions from agents, Pan Macmillan has a New Writing scheme and promises to look at everything sent in. Michael Barnard's book Transparent Imprint tells the story of how the New Writing imprint came about. The transparency refers both to how approachable the scheme is and to the lack of secrecy surrounding the contract terms, which are published online.

As usual with writing competitions, you need to watch the terms and conditions. The Waterstones promotion is open to anyone who hasn't had fiction conventionally published in book format before. Self-publishers and magazine contributors remain eligible. The story must be original not have been submitted previously elsewhere.

The catch, as usual, is the copyright clause. In return for the opportunity to enter the competition, you give Waterstones the right to do pretty much whatever it wants with your story, even if you don't win. You're giving them a licence, rather than transferring the copyright, so you can still use the story how you like too. The worst that's likely to happen is that Waterstones might publish a fat book of the best stories and not pay any of the writers, or they might make a few quid selling your story on when you become famous. But perhaps that's fair enough if they're giving you a shot at your first steps on that ladder. If you have a story that has strategic significance for other projects, though, I'd consider submitting something else instead.

Find out more about the Perfectly Formed Short Story Competition.

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