The Critically Acclaimed Thriller by Christopher Fielden.
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Christopher Fielden

Short Stories & Writing Advice

I'm a writer. I use my published short stories as case studies in the hope that the information and advice provided might help other writers become published authors. I hope you'll learn from my mistakes and therefore have a better chance of winning prizes in short story competitions or having your work published in magazines. That's the aim, anyway! Of course, if anyone just wants to read my stories, that's great too.

Below is an introduction to the site, but if you want to skip that, then you can go straight to the more popular areas - the short story section, the writing advice section, the short story competition list or the short story magazine list.

My New Humorous Short Story Competition!

Short Story Competition Banner

Chris Fielden on Google Helpouts

I'm now available on Google Helpouts. This is a new service that allows writers to have one-to-one video chat about writing short stories and getting them published with me. Cool! At the moment I'm offering Helpouts for free but will probably charge in the future. You can see my Google Helpouts listing here.

How to get a Short Story Published

Being a new writer and facing rejection can sometimes leave inspiration cremated like a forgotten sausage on a barbecue. But then the observation of any event can inspire a story, creating an escape from negativity. If you’re like me, when inspiration launches itself into a skydive, you’ll find yourself staring at a computer screen at 3am, trying to work out how a demon and a legless soldier might interact convincingly, wrestling to unravel your mental parachute in time to enjoy the view and deliver a graceful landing.

Writers hands at laptop computer, Chris Fielden

OK, I tend to be drawn towards the fantastic; characters and subject matters which remove you from reality. But whatever genre you find yourself writing, I suspect you can relate.

Books are notoriously difficult to sell if you’re an unknown writer. Agents are hard to come by and gaining the attention of reputable publishers is even more of a challenge. So, how can one become a successful writer?

In one of my more despondent moments, after another failed attempt at writing a 300 word synopsis that was turning out to be harder to finish than an 80,000 word novel, I found myself wondering what I could offer the world of creative writing that might be a little different. I’m not famous. I haven’t achieved anything particularly newsworthy. How might I stand out amongst the swarm? Then, a devious plan crawled forth from the darker recesses of my mind like a sneaky brain ninja.

I realised, like newspaper articles, short stories are a lot easier to complete. Once finished, unlike novels, there are many opportunities for publishing short stories and you don’t have to write a synopsis. Bonus. There are many respected short story competitions out there, which can gain a winning writer kudos and credibility. Roald Dahl, Terry Pratchett, Stephen King, Philip K Dick and many other successful authors started out writing short stories, so why can’t I?

So, I started writing a lot of short stories. Due to being blessed with skin as thick as Godzilla, I’ve overcome rejection, developed a style that seems to work, and I’m fortunate enough to have been published. It took a while, but I achieved my first competition win early in 2011. But how could I utilise this achievement to further my writing career?

Currently, the internet seems to be a good way of gaining exposure and readers. The tricky bit is standing out and offering something unique. There are so many good writing resources already out there, and gazillions of excellent self-published authors to compete with, that being noticed is very difficult. I work in internet marketing and, over the last few years, have learnt a lot about making websites work well. Offering useful, interesting content seems (to me) to be the best way of engaging with communities, gaining credibility and giving yourself the opportunity of being noticed.

And that’s what I decided to attempt to do. Rather than having a website that simply showcases my work, I thought I’d use my published stories as case studies to provide other writers with useful information, advice and tips on how to get their own work published. All the short stories on the site (see the short stories section) have been published or been shortlisted or won prizes in short story competitions. By sharing my experiences, I hope I can help more writers achieve publishing success.

I’ll also provide information on the pros and cons of the various writing competitions I’ve entered. OK, this is one man’s opinion, but it is based on experience. I hope you find it useful. And, where I’ve been given permission to use their words, you’ll find comments from editors and short story competition judges, explaining why the stories were chosen and published.

So, what’s in for me? There’s a link on all the pages on this site which will take you to Lulu.com where, if you’d like to, you can buy a copy of my first book, Wicked Game. Other than that, it gives me somewhere to publish my work in the hope it might be read, and (fingers, toes and dangly bits crossed) enjoyed.

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Tom M
Finding your website was  like spotting a gold nugget while panning for months in ice cold water. It has given me hope and the push to keep 'panning'. I have been writing for some time with limited success - you have given me hope.

Chris Fielden
Thanks Tom, really glad to hear it!

Sara S
Awesome, very helpful site. Thank you!

Alan H
Dear Christopher, Great help! Thankyou. Alan

Abdullah H
Your site has proved to be a source of inspiration and I thank you greatly. It's difficult to settle upon a favourite story but The Cat, the Bull and the Madman resonated with me, as I had worked with a paranoid schizophrenic lady a few years ago and this was partially characterised by delusions. Beautifully written and sensitively treated. Humingbee Bumblebird Meadow was an excellent story! The moral was delicately conveyed and the imagery effective in telling the story. And the Ninja Zombie Knitting Circle had a fiendish twist that stayed in my head for a few days! 

I've been writing on and off for years, but this is the first time I've attempted a short story. Novels seem too large a scale project for me and I simply don't think I'm ready to embark on one yet. 

Well done for the site; I really appreciate it. Take care,  Abdullah :-)

Lynda N
Great website, Chris!

Usama L
Extremely useful. It's like finding an oasis in a desert!!

Chris Fielden
Sara, Alan, Abdullah, Linda & Usama - Thank you all very much!!

Andrew N
Hello Christopher, I visited your website today while looking for short story competitions and I've enjoyed looking through it and reading a couple of your stories. I've been writing short fiction for a few years and been placed in a couple of the competitions you've mentioned (made it to the longlist in both Inktears and The Word Hut).

I read your story Hummingbee Bumblebird Meadow and related to your comment on finding it hard to get a children's story published. There doesn't seem to be many around when I Googled. I wrote a children's story called 'The Spider and the Bumblebee' which made it to 3rd place on Writers' Village in 2012, so it's on their site. My plan is to illustrate it and start sending out to publishers, so I'm preparing for a long journey on that one!

Well done on your success so far and I'll look forward to seeing your name pop up in other competitions. All the best, Andrew

Chris Fielden
Hi Andrew, congratulations on your Writers’ Village publication – the amount of competition for that contest makes is pretty tough to succeed, so that’s a great achievement! It’s really good to get a story for children published through them. I don’t know about you, but I find kids stories really hard to write. Still, I enjoy the challenge.

Best of luck with your writing, and getting those illustrations finished :-) Chris

Abhijit
Hi,Chris, I'm an Indian, and you know, this is not the place for dreams, especially when you are not a rich man. Maybe you are talented but at every stage, an uncertain feeling in the core of your heart always makes you remember that you are born in a poor familiy, and poor can only dream of what they never make true. Now why am I telling you this? Bcause I think I am not an Indian but a man, like you, living in this beautiful world, with an extreme endeavour to make my dreams true. And this website has made the blurred way quite easy to walk through. Love you, and thanks a lot.

Chris Fielden
Thanks Abhijit, that's one of the nicest comments I've ever received through the website :-)

Richard S
Hi, your website and the advice it contains may well be just what I'm looking for at this resoundingly despondent juncture; several competitions entered, nil success and (even more dishearteningly) zero feedback - there can't be anything less encouraging than that feeling of being ignored! However, I'll persevere because writing is - and I think always will be - the only thing I've any particular ambition to do. Entered three competitions recently, and only yesterday found self and story unmentioned in the results of one of them, but two still to go. Although I'm now not holding out any particular hope, even if, as expected, I get nowhere fast with either of these remaining, I'll definitely take on board some of the hints and tips you offer, so will be back to this site. Down but not out, then. Many thanks.

Chris Fielden
Unfortunately you rarely hear back from competitions or receive feedback, unless you're shortlisted (sometimes not even then) or win.

I'd advise you to enter competitions that do offer feedback. Writers' Village offer a brief critique to every entrant as part of the entry fee. You can also pay a small fee and receive a short critique from Writers' Forum. Why not try it? I've found the feedback they offer very useful.

Aside from that, never give up! I've had many stories rejected by various publications, but continued to submit them to other competitions and magazines. Eventually they do get published, especially if you take on board any feedback you might receive and make improvements in-between submissions.

Keep at it! It's all about refusing to give up!

Richard S
Many thanks for your reply, and for such helpful and encouraging advice - I'll let you know of any progress!

Chris Fielden
Thanks Richard. Please do! Look forward to hearing about your first published story :-)

Arka R
I found your website while searching through the internet. I have a question. I was planning to enter one of the writers digest competitions for short stories. Since you have won one, I have a question.

Firstly, I'm not a professional writer (sadly), I have a full time job as an engineer. Writing has been a passion of mine since my childhood so I decided to give it a go again. My question to you may seem silly but it would be really helpful of you if you can answer it.

I was wondering whether you had to declare any money you win through competitions for tax? It's important for me to know this since I am on a visa here in the UK so I would like to be well informed about all this.

I know I'm may be jumping the gun here. I mean who wins the first time right? :) But any form of help would be really appreciated.

Chris Fielden
Hi Arka, yes, you do in the UK – I’m not sure if it’s the same in other countries. I’ve written a post about it which you can see here.

And you never know, you might win the first competition you enter! Best of luck with your writing.

P C
Your engaging style and transparency is truly touching. I am certain that at least some of the visitors to your website will be sufficiently inspired to blossom into great writers.

Chris Fielden
Thanks very much P!

Charmian S
Hello Christopher, thank you for your very helpful website.

I read Wicked Game recently - it is brilliant, I gave it 5 stars and wrote a review on Amazon (which I.'m only occasionally moved to do). I've been thinking about the great story, very well written, and realised it put me in mind of Ben Elton's novels. Would love to see a sequel.

Best regards, Charmian

Chris Fielden
Thank you very much for the review, Charmian, much appreciated :-)

I'm really glad you enjoyed the book. There may be a sequel at some point, but I'm currently working on a short story collection for Ink Tears, which I'm hoping they will publish later this year. Fingers crossed!

Eddie L
I like your site and it is v useful to have links to short story competitions and markets. I have written around eight 3000 word stories recently and have really enjoyed the process even if, in the words of F Murrary Abraham's character in Inside Llewyn Davies, 'I don't see a lot of money here'. The lot of the creative artist, I suppose....

Chris Fielden
Thanks Eddie, I'm glad you like the site. Well, there is some money out there; you just have to enter some competitions!

And there is always another Stephen King / Terry Pratchett / J K Rowling around the corner. Who knows - it might be you :-)

Phil C
I'm just on your website. It's very useful, especially about all the comp's.

I must admit though, as a new writer, I am finding all the various magazines / websites / comp's you can send your work to like a minefield! Which ones are good? Which ones are a waste of time? Anyway, I'm not expecting you to answer those questions, it's down to me to do all the research.

One thing I would really appreciate if you could answer for me is when comp's and / or magazines say that they only accept unpublished work, what does this mean exactly? As I have had three stories published on a website called short-story.me that I did not get paid for. Does this mean that I can't really send these stories elsewhere? It would be a shame, because it is my best work to date and I would like to send it off to other places to see if it is worthy or whether the website that did publish it just happened to like my style of writing?

Please advise. Many thanks.

Chris Fielden
Phil, glad you like the website.

Yeah, it’s a minefield. I reckon Writers’ Forum is a good place to start. The competition is cheap to enter, it’s run regularly and they offer feedback at very reasonable prices, so that’s as good a place as any. It’s worth reading the magazine before entering.

Re unpublished work; usually, it means they want something that has never been published before, on the internet, in print or via any other medium. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t get paid – the story is still published, so the first publication rights are no longer available. But you will have to read the T&Cs of each individual competition or magazine. Some say they do not include publication on personal blogs, for example. It’s down to each publisher and what they require. But if it’s not stated otherwise, you can assume it means not previously published ANYWHERE!

There are a few comps and magazines that do accept previously published work, but not many. Again, I’m afraid you’d have to research that.

Hope that’s helpful. Best of luck with your writing :-)

Phil C
Thanks for this, Chris. If, say, I changed the title of my stories, do you think then I could claim it as unpublished work? I know it's a bit cheeky!

Chris Fielden
Phil, you might get away with it, but it’s risky. All a comp administrator has to do is bung the first few paragraphs of your story through Google and they’d probably see it was previously published!

Phil C
No I probably wouldn't, I don't want to get a black mark against my name. Well thank you very much for your advice, read your story about the girl who gets kidnapped by the fiend and taken back to the dragon; very good. Well good luck with your writing. Thanks again.

Chris Fielden
Thanks Phil, that is probably wise. Glad you liked the story. And best of luck with your writing too.

Phil C
Is there a formatted short story manuscript template anywhere on the internet I can use? I have the latest Writers' Yearbook but it doesn't appear to say anything in there about how to correctly format short stories. I did find a template on internet by a William Schunn which I tend to use, but not sure if that is UK or American. Or doesn't it matter?

There doesn't seem to be a standard way of formatting short stories, each publisher seems to be different, for example, some may ask for double spaces while others only single spacing.

I do find it confusing because when I wrote comedy sitcoms, there was an actual standard template on the BBC Writersroom website that everyone had to use, if you didn't then you probably wouldn't get your work looked at.

Appreciate if you could help me.

Chris Fielden
Phil, there isn’t a standard template that is used by everyone, as most publishers have different formatting requirements.

The William Schunn template is the one I use if no guidelines are given. It seems to be widely regarded as the right way to do it – I’ve seen some magazines and competitions link to it as an example. Usually you’ll just have to reformat depending on what a publisher wants.

Brandon A
I want to thank you for your site, and all the work you have put into it, and for your desire to help other writers. This site has provided me with a lot of insight.

I am trying to become a writer myself. I have submitted several works to various literary journals and all have been denied with very little comment other than "this is not for us." I did, however, recently receive some criticism from one such journal that refused my work. They said it was languorous and that I needed to be more "economical" with my words. I am afraid what they are saying is that "artistic writing" is just no longer of any import in today's market. If I am wrong I would love to hear your opinion about this. You have been doing this far longer than I have and you have met with success.

I would love to submit my story to you for your analysis and critique. Unfortunately I do not have the budget at the moment.

Thank you for your time and for reading this email from a desperate and discouraged would-be writer.

Chris Fielden
Brandon, I wouldn’t be too discouraged. While one journal might not appreciate your style, or find it appropriate for their audience, others might. I write quirky fantasy and have received a lot of rejection as it does not suit every editor. As time goes on, you develop skin thicker than Godzilla. I find that rejection really doesn’t bother me anymore.

What I’d do is take the advice you have received on board. Is there any editing you could do to improve your story, while keeping your style in place? Often, when I look at my own work, I find I can cut it back and make it flow more convincingly.

Once you’ve done that, I’d research your markets carefully and submit to publishers who are more likely to appreciate your style. From what I’ve read, Fish Publishing tend to like more artistic stories so that might be a potential market for you. Another good one is the Writers' Forum short story competition. They offer brief feedback for a small fee when you submit and seriously consider all styles, so that might be good for you.

I hope that’s helpful and best of luck with your writing. Oh, and never give up!

Nicky K
Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your website. As someone who feels inexorably drawn to writing but is doing everything but getting down to it, your site was full of ideas, practical advice and invaluable links - thank you!

Just a couple of questions. What creative writing course did you take? Would you recommend any locally? I live in Gloucestershire and have picked up your links to the Bristol Folk House and Writing Events in Bath. Just interested to hear what you think. Also, when you submitted articles to newspapers, were you paid?

Best wishes, Nicky

Chris Fielden
Thanks Nicky :-)

I did The Writers Bureau creative writing course. I found the course very well structured and informative. The feedback from tutors was useful and encouraging. You have to be self-motivated though, as there are no deadlines (this might have changed as I did the course around 7 or 8 years ago now). It’s down to you to complete an assignment and send it in for feedback. The only thing I found a little disappointing was that they didn’t give you a certificate or anything to say you’d completed the course. Still, it was very good.

I did a short 1 day course at the Bristol Folk House and found that offered excellent quality at an affordable price. It’s a nice place too, with a good café, which is always important!

Yes, I did get paid for the newspaper articles I’ve written. Some were for a flat fee. The articles were written for local newspapers and I was paid around £50 – they work on small budgets. Others articles were paid by the line, at around £0.08 per line for each column. You also got paid for photo space, if you submitted photos they decided to use. Photos could earn you more than the article itself if the photo was large. That pay structure ended up earning anywhere from £5 to £50 depending on how long the piece was and how much space it took up. I haven’t written any articles for a while now as I’ve been concentrating on fiction, so these figures could well be out of date.

Hope that’s helpful!

Nicky K
Thanks for the information - very helpful, appreciated!

I am aware of the Writers Bureau, so I'll check it out. I was looking at the Open University's Creative Writing course also. A friend did it years ago and found it pretty good. And at the end of that you would get a certificate!

Again, congratulations on an excellent and informative website.

Chris Fielden
Thanks Nicky :-)

John G
Life is hard, particularly so currently as I recently told my employer to go swivel but still have three kids to feed, clothe, subscribe to Xbox Live...

So I wondered if you were aware of any short poetry competitions I could enter, obviously without charge (see above) but with HUGE prizes?

If so, do you think you could point me towards them and if I win, (guffaw), I'll buy you a curry, whether you like curry or not!

Chris Fielden
John, I do like curry so it’s a deal :-)

I’m not familiar with many poetry competitions. Writers’ Forum run one, but I think there is a small entry fee. It might be worth buying the magazine, or having a look in the back of it in WH Smiths, as they list some poetry comps in there, so that might be a good starting point. And try Booktrust too. Not sure if they list poetry comps, but they might do.

Hope that’s helpful and you manage to earn some pennies to sort out the kid’s gaming addictions.

Julie D
Chris, you might remember me: we briefly corresponded about a year ago, I think. I was asking you about short story competitions and so on. Well, I have sent my stories to a number of competitions and was shortlisted for one but that was it; I think the nature of my stories is part of the problem. They are more like 'short tales' than short stories, as you will see. You can see my blog here.

If you've got a mo, I'd love you to take a look and let me know what you think. There are 2 stories on there in full and my idea is to replace them periodically with others from the collection, and eventually publish them as an ebook when I have generated enough interest. If you like them, I'd love you to share with whoever you feel might enjoy them.

Thanks very much, Chris. Looks like you are going from strength to strength with your writing - good on you! Julie

Chris Fielden
Julie, I read Resurrection. It’s really well written and imaginative.

I find that my stories are rejected quite a lot because they’re imaginative and often require the reader to suspend their disbelief. Sometimes, readers find this hard and therefore don't engage with my writing style. Others, with vivid imaginations, tend to be drawn to the style. This means people seem to love my stories or hate them with very little in-between, much like Marmite. You could find your style creates a similar situation. I look on it as positive, because at least it provokes a reaction!

I would advise you to keep entering competitions and approach magazines too as they tend to accept longer stories so that might be appropriate for you (have a look at the magazines page). If you’ve already been shortlisted, that’s encouraging and means you are likely to receive a prize at some point.

Writers’ Forum is a good one to enter, but it does have a 3,000 word limit. If you have a story that is short enough I’d suggest trying that one. As it’s run monthly, you have better odds of being published and they will consider all styles of story, where some magazines prefer certain niches which can make things harder unless you write in a manner that suits their audience.

Publishing an eBook is a great idea. Having some stories previously published will help though, as that adds credibility to you as a writer and means people are more likely to buy it. So I’d definitely keep submitting!

Best of luck with it all Julie :-)

Julie D
Thanks Chris; you are so helpful!

I'm impressed you read my story so promptly - and very happy you liked it.Yes, I think the same thing about suspension of disbelief, and wondered if that was behind the lack of interest for many competitions I've entered. I can't recall if I've entered Writers' Forum or not but that's a great tip; I will do it. Some of my stories are under 3,000 words too. I sent a load of stories to Aeon in Ireland which is a competition for speculative fiction - you may know it? - but no interest from them either, which was really discouraging.

I didn't realise you wrote stories that are a little similar. That makes me feel better!

I will have a look at the magazine section on your site too. And yes, I feel the same about a 'real' publishing deal which is why I have tried to go down that road first. Oh well, I'll keep trying.

Thanks again for your encouragement and ideas. VERY much appreciated.

Chris Fielden
No problem, Julie!

I submitted to Aeon too and they weren’t interested in my submission either. I suspect they receive a lot of submissions as they’re well known, so I wouldn’t worry too much as the competition is likely to be very high. You could try Strange Horizons or Light Speed Magazine. They are US magazines with a similar audience, so that might work for you :-)

Motkahil A
I live in Egypt and I wanted to participate in a short story contest. Can you please tell me if that is possible from my country? I write romance novels. Thank you.

Chris Fielden
Motkahil, most of the contests I list accept entries from writers living anywhere in the world, as long as the stories are written in English. You will have to research the requirements of each competition as some only accept entries from the countries they operate in, but most will accept international entries.

Try looking through the lists in the Writing Advice section of my website and you'll be able to start your research.

Best of luck with your writing :-)

Jo B
Hi - we are a proper stock holding bookshop in Devizes and have a customer who would like a paperback copy of Wicked Game, is it possible to get one?? Many thanks, Jo

Chris Fielden
Jo, yes, you can, but the only way is to order them from Lulu. They print to order and then send you the book. Will that work? If not, I'll have to buy one and then send it to you, so going direct to Lulu will be much quicker!

Hamse I
Greetings! I have been busy writing my autobiography. I am a 27 year old doctor who, following a car accident, became paraplegic. I live in Somaliland, Horn of Africa. I've never written a book before and I would like to participate in an Autobiography contest, if there is one somewhere in the world. Please advise me on this.

Chris Fielden
Hamse, I’m afraid I don’t know of any autobiography contests. Try searching on Google for ‘memoir competition’. That might help you find something suitable.

Hope that’s helpful!

Victoria J
Dear Christopher, I was looking at the short story competitions on your site and am in the process of writing one. I am new to this and just wondered about spacing when starting a new paragraph.
I was always taught to leave an empty line between paragraphs but some books I have been looking at have a left indent, do you know which is the correct one to use? Many thanks, Victoria

Chris Fielden
Victoria, different competitions and magazines often ask for different formatting, so you always need to check the submission criteria.

Often they require the formatting with the first paragraph left aligned and then following paragraphs indented. Usually, magazines will expect stories to be double spaced. They will not expect a space between paragraphs unless there is a scene break.

If there is a scene break, there is a space between scenes, sometimes with a ‘*’ centrally aligned in the gap, especially if the space occurs at the end of a printed page. Without a marker in this instance, it is unclear if there is a break or not.

The first paragraph is left aligned and following ones indented.

I hope that’s helpful. But always read the submission guidelines, as many magazines and competitions have different requirements for layout and formatting!

Victoria J
Thank you so much for getting back to me, I really did not expect you to. Your guidance has helped greatly, I just need to get out of the habit of leaving a full line-space between each :) Hope you have a wonderful weekend, and thanks again.

Chris Fielden
Welcome, glad it helped Victoria :-)

Moshe P
I am a writer and I have a question. Let's say I have a 1,900-word short story, submitted to a magazine. Now, another magazine wants a 400-word flash fiction and my 1,900-word story's core essence fits perfectly. I manage to condense it from 1,900 to 400, give it a new title (or leave it as is), change the characters' names (or leave them as is), etc.

My question is: is this a NEW story? If the magazine says they want 'unpublished before' - what about my revised story? Not ALL my story is revised - is it submittable as 'unpublished before'?

Thank you very much.

Chris Fielden
Moshe, that’s a good question…

I think if you change the name of the story and the names of the characters, the story is different, even if it’s about the same subject matter. As it’s only 400 words instead of 1,900, it would be very different. So in this instance, I think it would be fine to submit to two different magazines and say they were different stories.

If you just changed the name and the characters' names and nothing else, then I think you’d have problems as the story would essentially be the same.

I hope that’s helpful :-)

Trenten M
I had a book self-published. It's really short and not my best work, but it's out there. I wouldn't have done it unless I was inspired by your site, so thanks.

Chris Fielden
Great to hear, Trenten! I hope you’re selling a few copies :-)

Kenza S
I am in a dire need for your help, so please send me a way which may help me to contact magazines as I have 15 short story and I want to publish them. Thank you.

Chris Fielden
Kenza, if you look through the Writing Advice section of my website you will find lists of many different short story competitions and short story magazines. You can use these lists to research and find places to submit your work. Just make sure you do thorough research to ascertain whether your style and genre of writing is suitable for the publication you're submitting to.

I hope that's helpful. I wish you the best of luck with getting your stories published.