To assuage my guilt I immediately subscribed to Zoetrope's AllStory: a quarterly mag of shorts published by Coppola's company based here in San Francisco. I am also on the elist for Narrative. But I just can't afford to buy all the publications I might want to submit stories to.
But the best way to contribute is by entering the competitions and paying the fees, which - I assume - is a major income stream for periodicals.
Trying to choose the 'right' competition is, however, pointless. As far as I can tell, it would be as effective - and certainly quicker - to close your eyes and point randomly at the long list of options.
But, I am nothing if not methodical so I've drawn up my own crass selection criteria:
- How much does it cost to enter? If it's more than $20 there's no chance...unless the fee is value for money. For example, if you submit to The Pinch Journal you get a year's subscription thrown in. Or, in the case of BritWriters, you can submit as many pieces as you like for one fee.
- Is the competition okay with your story being submitted elsewhere at the same time? I have 5 stories I want to get out in the short term and I want to give them maximum exposure.
- Does the magazine/journal/competition look professional? They say don't judge a book by its cover but there are lots of websites promoting competitions that look like they were created by an elderly student at a community college and, sorry to say, they just don't look credible.
- Is there a cash prize? I know. It's mercenary of me but - honestly - I just want to break even. On competitions alone, I'll be spending over $100 in the next 3 months and that's a projected total of at least $400 for the year. The BritWriter competition's top prize is £10,000.............excuse me, I've dribbled on my keyboard.
- Is there a theme to the competition that one of my stories fits? This year, the RipTide International Short Story Comp is looking for 'cross-over' fiction that appeals to 12+ as well as adults. This could be a great opportunity for my allegorical folktale The Empty Tree, which might struggle in a contest for purely adult material.
So. There are 8 competitions between February 26th and April 30th, starting with BritWriters. Now all I need to do is take a deep breath, stop my obsessive tweaking and send the stories off. I do have a psychological problem with this. It feels a bit like writing a note, tying it to the string of a balloon, then letting it go. Once it's out of my hands, it starts to look so small and insignificant and I wonder if it will make it as far as the thousands of others like it. And if it reaches anyone, will they be sufficiently moved by my words to return my note with some kind words or their own? Or will my note just be discarded and my balloon burst? Well, who knows, so here goes...