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Friday, 15 February 2013

Blog - 15/02/13

Where's this short story I was promised then, Paul?

Trust me, I'm as frustrated about this as you are. I know you’re used to me letting you guys down but usually it's because projects overun and I'm incompetent at meeting deadlines. The difference this time is that the story is finished, I'm now waiting to hear if I can post it.

Last month I talked about starting being the hardest part for some writers. A while ago I was searching for a short story competition that would fit my recently completed draft for another story I wrote, when I stumbled across a competition that provided the first paragraph of a story the entrant had to continue. Having read the paragraph out of curiosity I left it alone, put off by the fairly steep (in comparison to other competitions I was looking at) submission fee. Sure enough, the ideas started to trickle through a few hours later when my brain was idle and I quickly found myself putting pen to paper and making notes for my entry. I felt my idea was too good to throw away and it wouldn’t work elsewhere because of the exclusive nature of the competition, so I committed to writing it. That same principal of difficulty getting started actually suckered me in.

I’d been looking forward to the results for months, eager to see how my first competitive entry would fare. Then, the night before the results, things changed.

Building up to this point I’d been doing a lot more online reading around writing than is normal for me. I had so much initial content for the story that I’d been looking into releasing a “full” version of the story as an Ebook and was researching self publishing, formatting etc. I had so many tabs open from link after link of useful information I’d found but so far I’d resisted the short story tip links, thinking (foolishly) there couldn’t really be much to gain. I mean, you find a competition, submit your entry and wait to hear back about your glorious victory right?

Wrong. It was literally the last tab I had open, and I’d clicked it by mistake. The advice was generally about being wary about who you’re dealing with; vanity publishing winners (and anthologies that aren’t distributed beyond the website and with such poor quality that it comes as no surprise), extra critique services and or contact from an “agent” (claiming to see potential in and asking to sign you up for a small fee, regardless of the fact you’d sent in the first error-riddled copy by mistake that also contained sudden bouts of a Mandarin you’d had no conscious memory of learning), retaining rights and such. One thing it suggested was to research the company providing the competition before you enter it, which to most conscientious people would be a natural first step but one that I’d completely overlooked. So I did. On the eve of the results, into my search bar went ‘Chapter One Promotions’...

What a crushing blow that was. Aside from their own pages, horror stories started spilling down my screen from several different sources and with the grim resolve of somebody called in to identify the body of a loved one I read them all. Tales of late, unflattering or nonexistent payments to winners, anthologies that never made it to print and of poor quality, bad communication and general unprofessionalism got me down, but more worryingly with my own plan for the full release I desperately scrabbled to find what rights I’d signed away in entering. They’d taken down the terms and conditions for entry page and replaced it with ‘results coming soon’. I checked the terms on other competitions from the same website but again, these are replaced as soon as competitions close. There is a page available for rules to the novel competition, and it gives me hope in that ‘The copyright of the work remains with the author who gives Chapter One Promotions permission to display it on the website’ but I’m worried it’s different because the format of the competition I entered in the writing is based on something they’ve provided in the first paragraph, so it might alter what they’d consider ‘theirs’? Especially as I plan to earn money from it. I tell you, it’s a weird feeling after months of hope and anticipation in your maiden competition to sit there wondering whether it might be better, and at this point slightly hoping, that you don’t make the shortlist...

And typically, I did! So mega happy on that front, but also slightly sickened, haha. I finished in one of the runner up places which complicates things even more as this is the first time they’ve run this particular competition and I don’t know whether it’ll make it into an anthology as there are no previous results to look at. I’m happy though, at this point in time I can boast 100% success rate for short listing in competitions I’ve entered! And until I’ve entered two more I shall continue to do so :p . (I shall boast so long as I’m above 50%.)

I’ve emailed Chapter One enquiring about the rights of my story and complications about selling my own full version in the future. As yet I’ve had no response. Two weeks might not seem a long time on the face of it, after all this could be a busy time for them, but I’m panicking more each day with regards to the future of the full version. I’ve stopped work on it altogether fearing it might be a waste of time. One of the reasons I’m concerned is that I contacted them before when there was a problem with the entry and they got back to me on the same day – quick to enough get into contact when it’s about giving them money...

So we’ll have to wait and see. I’m loathe to post the story here until I get a response. Aside from being really unprofessional I don’t want to risk being forced to retract it and souring potential negotiations over the future of the full version of the story.

Aside from short listing in the competition there has been another positive outcome from all this. Whilst trawling the horror stories as mentioned from earlier I came across a writer called Dan Purdue. He was the outright winner of the International Short Story Competition run by Chapter One in 2010 and blogged about his experience dealing with the company. Whilst reading though I had a look around on his site and was astonished to see a sort of future version of myself in terms of writing. Not to sound creepy, but the way he’s mapped his career is very similar to how I project mine heading; entering short story competitions, short listing and winning, then bundling them into a collection for sale - it’s like we’re reading from the same blueprint. Dan has an impressive list of all his short story achievements to date and I think (if I’m not going crazy) I read somewhere he’s now working on a longer project. You may argue that it’s a blueprint shared by everyone in the game, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it from a personal level so it hit me harder. The list of credentials is also good for me in that I now have a preapproved list of competitions to enter without much fear of reliving my current dilemma. Again, it might sound creepy to follow in another person’s footsteps so closely but I see it as a target now. I wonder if as my list builds I can provide the same, safe competition list for someone else in the future? I might make it standard practise now to only enter competitions that others I have a little familiarity with have entered.

I haven’t actually got round to reading any of Dan’s work yet, but I intend to. To read his blog about his experience with Chapter One (it’s the initial one I found from the search results) go here – http://lies-ink.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/when-big-prize-means-even-bigger.html

It wasn’t all bad though and did reach a natural conclusion. You can read about it in another blog post here – http://lies-ink.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/us-retrospective.html

At this point I would like to point out that the dubious results I found were dated a few years back. Like with Dan, the rest of the ‘missing’ anthologies seem to have been added to their bookstore and it all looks up to date. I don’t know if this is just a case of them finally getting their act together after a bumpy start but it does give me hope with my own situation.

Bit of a long post this time as I actually had something to talk about! Obviously I’ll get the story posted on here as soon as the situation is resolved - you’ve been starved of fresh content from me for far too long already! Here’s hoping it will be sorted soon! Until next time, buh-bye!

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