Spring into writing

Spring has sprung and if your spring-cleaning has uncovered your unpublished manuscript, or the warmer weather is simply stirring up your creative side, it’s a great time to get working on your writing.

But what to do with your work once it’s written? There’s plenty of opportunities out there at the moment for aspiring writers, whether it’s making contacts and meeting fellow-minded writers at literary festivals, or going straight for the prize and entering a competition. I’ve rounded up a few interesting possibilities for the budding writers amongst you.

If short and sweet – but very high-profile –  is your thing, the Age short story competition is now accepting entries. Entry is free, and comes with a cash prize to boot: first prize wins $1000; 2nd prize, $800; 3rd prize, $500. Winning stories will be published in Life & Style and at theage.com.au. Entries must be under 3000 words and should not have been previously published. Have an idea but not the completed story? You have a few weeks to get it written – the competition closes on September 28th and winners will be announced in December.

Fancy writing something a little more quirky and criminal? One of the more interesting competitions open at the moment is Australia’s Security Nightmares, a national security short story competition organised by Australian Security Research Centre (ASRC).

Entrants should submit a short story with a security scenario as the plot line or essential backdrop. An Australia context to the story is required, and the story needs to be set between today and 2020. They state that, while the story is to be fictional, “it needs to be grounded in a plausible, coherent and detailed security situation. Rather than just describing on an avalanche of frightening events, writers are encouraged to focus on the consequences and challenges posed by their scenarios, and tease out what the official and public responses would be.”

The ASRC competition also aims to raise community awareness of national security challenges and the first prize winner will be taking home $1,000 for their trouble. New and unpublished writers are encouraged to enter and entries close Sunday 30 September 2012.

If you have a full book on your hands and you want to be picked up by Penguin, their Monthly Catch could be your opportunity. For the first week of every month, the General Publishing team at Penguin Australia throw their doors open to unsolicited manuscripts. As many publishers won’t even look at a manuscript that doesn’t have a literary agent singing its praises, Penguin’s monthly open week is one of the few opportunities to get your work to a publisher with a promise that it will not be tossed straight into the recycling.

Not sure if any of the above are for you? The Australian Writer’s Marketplace prides itself on including every opportunity for aspiring writers and is an indispensable tool if you are looking to get published – although it’s about to undergo a spring-clean itself and we should be seeing the 2013 edition hitting the shelves in the next month or so.

So perhaps while you’re waiting for it to sprout up in the shops, you could get started on getting some writing done.

The Return of the Short Story

There’s a popular idea that the rise of the internet has given us short attention spans. It’s something book and long-form journalism publishers have been bemoaning for years. The internet is a compendium of short form content – short videos, pithy reportage, compendiums of weird and wonderful things and, of course, there’s 4chan. Content was originally limited by bandwidth, but now that technological constraints have been lifted? Content on the net is still short – but it’s limited instead by our attention spans. If I see that a YouTube video goes for more than about five minutes, I will sometimes not bother watching it. Seriously. It’s become that bad.

Although this short attention span has (arguably) given us lots of good things (nobody with a long attention span could have thought up Twitter), it’s also made it more difficult to sell books. Even with digital books, which take out much of the chore of going to an actual bookstore, browsing for a book, buying it and then thumbing through pages – books still sell to a limited range of people. People no longer have the free time or the levels of concentration required to read a whole lot of books.

But, of course, people have never really had a lot of time (or concentration) to read a lot of books. It’s just that back in the days before the internet, TV and radio there were fewer other things to distract oneself with. Back in the bad old days, people would sometimes read this thing called a short story. And now Amazon (at least to begin with) intends to bring it back.

Last week Amazon announced Kindle Singles, their attempt at rejuvenating the short form with two heavy-handed blurbs: “Compelling Ideas Expressed at Their Natural Length” and “Kindle Singles, Which Can Be Twice the Length of a New Yorker Feature or as Much as a Few Chapters of a Typical Book, Coming Soon to the Kindle Store” both of which manage to make this announcement sound like the most boring thing of all time. Nonetheless, the announcement is a very interesting one for publishers and authors, many of whom have complained about being forced into a cost effective length in order to make publication in paper form possible. Well, actually, it’s only the publishers who say that. The authors say, “I’ve got this great idea for a short story,” which the publisher quickly shuts down because it isn’t cost effective to publish it. Even short story collections are pretty rare nowadays. They’ve become like the literary equivalent of a Best Of album – only ever awarded to writers at the end of their career. And so the short story has been forced to the margins – awarded to the already-successful author, or sold by hand for $2 a pop by a crazy person on the streets of Newtown.

So what do you think about this development? Would you be tempted to buy an attractively priced short form text? Or is this just not something you’re interested in? Will the lure of other short form distractions get the better of readers and distract them from this new/old one? And authors – are you excited to get a chance to bring that short story to the masses? How successful can this endeavour actually be? Let me know what you think in the comments.