How to Win Short Story Competitions

I’ve written (with Geoff Nelder) a new book that you might like.

Two competition judges (Dave and Geoff) discuss everything they know about entering, judging and (most importantly) winning short story competitions, in an easy-to-follow question and answer format.

Click on the cover image on the left  if you’re desperate to buy it immediately. Or read on for some entertaining anecdotes about how we created it.

We actually wrote this book in August 2009. And when I say ‘wrote’ I mean spoke – because it was intended to be an audio recording. For various reasons,  that didn’t work out too well (the voice recorder I’d ordered didn’t turn up until three days afterwards, the microphone I purchased at very short notice sounded like you were speaking down a cardboard tube, and our voices were not at their best). We did end up with a recording (not good enough to sell) and (later) a transcript that we thought would make a very good book if we tidied it up a bit.

The plan was to record it at the beach – because writers can work anywhere, so let’s live the dream! So, once he had finished judging the 2009 Whittaker Prize, Geoff caught the train down to Devon and spent a day revisiting his past, with the intention of meeting me at the seaside the next day. Next day dawned . . . and it was raining. So we recorded it in the hotel’s dining room instead.

While we were there we tried taking a photo of the two of us together, which we could use for things like blogs, magazine reviews, etc. But the microphone (the one that sounded like a cardboard tube) used up all the batteries. Here is the only photo we have (taken just before the batteries died completely). The flash didn’t go off so it was murky and blurred, but we’ve brightened and sharpened it as best we can. It isn’t great, but it’s all we’ve got!

The transcript passed back and forth between us a few times. And then time passed, and some more time passed, and we both got engrossed in other projects. And then suddenly it was spring 2012 and Geoff said he was judging the Whittaker Prize again. It was time to get this book finished!

This was the first book I formatted for Amazon’s Kindle ebook reader, and the process turned out to be a nostalgic blast into the past. It’s exactly the same process and coding system that I used back in 1996 when I created web pages by hand using Windows Notepad. I used something a little more advanced this time around, but I still went back to Notepad a couple of times, as its search and replace function works with curly quotes and the other software doesn’t recognise them.

You can of course cheat and use Amazon’s Word-to-Kindle converter, but I’ve seen too many examples of mangled formatting to trust it. I’d been meaning to learn how to do it properly anyway, so this was the perfect opportunity to do so.

The medal on the cover was knitted by Mary, a volunteer in the swimming pool fundraising shop I manage. (My role is also voluntary I’d like to point out!) She brought in some medals she’d made to sell in the shop, and I thought they had just the right sort of quirky touch to make our cover stand out. So she made one especially for us (and donated her fee to the swimming pool fund.)

The text in the cover photo is from a sample story we included in the book to show how the judging process works. The story is ‘Return to Cairo’ by Jonathan Pinnock – and it includes a few naughty words. (Geoff chose it, not me!) Despite arranging the medal as artfully as I could, one unfortunate word remained uncovered – and featured rather prominently. So I had to airbrush it out using Photoshop. It isn’t a terrible word, but you really don’t want it taking pride of place on your book’s cover!

Photographing the cover took longer than ‘writing’ the book. (Such is the life of a perfectionist – or a ‘control freak’ as some people call me.) It took 80 shots over three days using two different cameras to get a result I was happy with. (And I am very happy with it.) I tried different angles, lighting conditions and camera settings, with and without a tripod, and ended up going back to the camera I first started with. The photo on the cover was shot number 78.

So that’s the story of how this brilliant little book was created. If you enter short story competitions, or have ever considered doing so, you’ll definitely find it useful, and it should boost your chances of success considerably. If you win any please let us know so we can brag about it celebrate your success.

How to Win Short Story Competitions is available from the following outlets:

Kindle –
Kindle –

If you’re a full lifetime member of ideas4writers you’re entitled to receive the PDF version at no cost. Please email Dave if you would like one. We ask that you send us a one-paragraph review in exchange.



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