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Sharpen Your Pencils!

Things have been a little quiet here at the Merril Contest, but that’s about to change. The reading period opens in five days!

The Submission Guidelines are posted.

There is bounty ready to be won.

Our Judges are ready to read.

Are you ready to enter? Here are five good reasons why you should!

#1: To support the activities of the Friends of the Merril Collection

The Friends of the Merril Collection is a volunteer organization to support and promote the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation, and Fantasy. They maintain Sol Rising, a bi-annual newsletter featuring original specfic research, reviews, community news and history; they throw tea parties, book sales and filk concerts, free and open to the public; they host readings, discussions, and  panels. The Friends are committed to building the specfic literary community in Toronto and outside of it by making the Merril’s incomparable resources accessible and available to everyone.

#2: To Pin A Blue Ribbon to Your Submission

This year, the Contest is accepting simultaneous submissions. What does this mean? You can take your best, shiniest story and submit it to us while you have it out on submission at the short story market of your choice. Submitting your story does not sacrifice any of your story’s rights. You can publish it and reap the rewards of a win. Past winners of the Contest have gone on to appear in published short story collections and pro magazines - yours can too.

#3: For a Chance to Be Read By Our Award-Winning Judges

The Contest has enlisted the support of three brilliant authors this year - Leah Bobet, Julie Czerneda, and Caitlin Sweet. All the long-listed stories will be read by all three judges, and in the past, the Contest has returned comments on these entries. This is your chance to shine in the eyes of some of specfic’s luminaries!

#4: To Find a Place for That Odd Submission

Ever feel like “the market” doesn’t have a place for what you’re writing? That your story keeps missing, just by inches, that particular flavour or theme that a magazine or anthology wants? Here’s what we want at the Contest: everything. Send us your zombies, your power-armoured elves, your heartfelt epics, your left-field experiments. Take us ten thousand years into the future or deep into the magic of the days of yore. As long as your story can be called “speculative”, we will consider it. Our readers come from all corners of the speculative fiction map, and are ready to show love to whatever you can throw at us.

#5: Did We Mention the Money?

The Contest is awarding $600 in cash prizes this year: $500 for first place and $50 each to our honourable mentions. Smaller than many literary contests, the Merril might be your chance at a happy windfall.

Get ready! Submission open at noon this Friday, November the 14th, 2014. You can direct any questions or comments at Charlotte Ashley - fomsscontest@gmail.com. Do also follow us on Twitter at @FotMContest for updates!

Hope to hear from you soon!

The 2014 Winners/Honourable Mentions: One Stands Alone

It took us a fair bit longer than it has in past years to choose a winner for this contest. Couple of different reasons for that, all of which are largely internal, so we’ll not be sharing them here. Though we do apologize for making everyone wait so long (especially the finalists) after the promised deadline to see the results of this year’s contest.

So, without further ado, we present to you the first place winner of the 2014 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest:

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First Place ($500.00 CDN):

Scott Shank (Unnamed)

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And we have two honourable mentions to award, respectively, to the following shortlisted writers:

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Honourable Mention ($50.00 CDN):

Star Spider (The One in Green)

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Honourable Mention ($50.00 CDN):

Barry King (The Politics of Bird Flight)

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We’re again this year not purchasing the winning stories. Though there has been some debate about going back to doing so, which we’ll talk more about once we’ve come to a decision on that. But in the meantime, we also need to mention who the remaining finalists (or, technically, finalist) were, and attribute the remaining story to its rightful author, who we will once more congratulate for making it to the shortlist. So:

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Charlotte D’Arcy (The Walk)

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Now, ordinarily, the remaining shortlist attributions would have three names. But we had a, well, an interesting year, and we’ll go into more about that with the forthcoming numbers breakdown post.

In fact, we’ll have updates aplenty to follow on forthcoming changes to the contest in advance of next year (based on what worked and what didn’t this year we’re changing things up again), along with the promised numerical breakdown and additional information that we provide every year.

But, for now, we’re going to give everyone some space before we do that. It’s taken us this long to decide on a winner, and for the moment we’d like to just let all the winning parties/recipients of their honourable mentions revel in their victories, and give us a breather so we can get in touch with everyone and get them their prize monies.

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In the meantime, we would like to, once again, take the opportunity to thank everyone who has helped with, participated in, otherwise aided or supported the contest this year. We’d also like to take a moment to again congratulate this year’s winner, honourable mentions, and shortlisted writers, and very much hope you will take the opportunity to do likewise.

As always, if anyone has any questions, or needs to get in touch with us for whatever reason, you can do so by e-mailing me, Michael Matheson, at fomsscontest@gmail.com, or you can find us on Twitter @fomcontest.

A Breather Before Returning to the Fray: The 2014 Finalist Shortlist

Well, that’s another reading period and rush to get a finalist list compiled done and over with. We had an interesting, and … well … strange year three, actually. This year’s finalist list is compiled from about half of the number of submissions we had in the first year, despite having a significantly larger prize available this year than in either of the first two initial years.

It was an interesting shift in submissions, and not just because of the numbers. From year to year we see slightly different submissions patterns. The first two legs of the three month submission period have been more or less identical all three years running. It was the last third of the contest this year that was odd. And unexpectedly slow. We have a fair bit of number crunching to look at and see what we can shift to amend that. Though I’m inclined to think that part of it relates to the prize structure we used this year.

I’m always interested by the reasoning contests employ for using the significantly larger first prize and a couple of honourable mentions as opposed to offering a scaled three tier (first, second, third place) set of winning placements. I’ve heard differing accounts of how people react to the former, but given the first hand evidence gleaned from trying it this year I think we’re going to go back to a three tier placement system. People seem to feel better about having a larger number of chances to actively place, and to effectively be on the pedestal, as it were; the idea of being a mere honourable mention seems to lower interest–this based on feedback I’ve heard, and the significantly smaller pool of entries themselves this year. We have a small core of dedicated entrants from year to year, but the rest of the submissions we receive are totally reliant on a combination of prizes offered, our outreach (general and specific), and how we talk about the contest. Those, let us call them casual entrants, are the equivalent of people who purchase gratuitous or upsell items while shopping, or who purchase things off the impulse bays in a retail environment (the racks set up with candy, magazines, and other often low-cost per unit/relatively high-margin items near cash registers, for those of you who’ve never worked retail). Those are the people who are going to end up entering because they came across the contest while planning on doing something else. And I suspect that offering fewer placement prizes actively hurt us with that potential pool of entrants this year.

Anyway, the full numeric breakdown is coming after we announce the winners and I’ve had time to look at all the information and organize it. But the numbers are going to be a fair bit different from prior years. And the discussion of what’s going to change from this year to next year will come up then as well. And, of course, that’s one of the excellent things about not being tied to a specific structure from year to year: we can alter how the contest is set up from as we go both in order to experiment and to refine what works for us.

Though a sneak preview would be to say that from conversations had thus far this year and from a preliminary l0ok at the numbers we’re likely going to revert to the three tier prize structure I just mentioned, and will also quite likely be opening the contest up to simultaneous submissions next year.

But all of that is for down the road.

Right now, we’re focusing on the finalist shortlist from the 2014 contest. And to start that off, thank you to everyone who entered this year. Especially given the smaller number of entries, as every one of those that did come in was very much appreciated. And we’ve posted the finalist list below, but we will, as always, be getting back to everyone who entered.

Again this year we ask that all of the finalists please refrain from mentioning which of the stories below is theirs, though they are as always free to mention that they have a story on the 2014 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest finalist shortlist. We just don’t want to bias the Final Panel Judges before they see the shortlisted stories.

As to the final round of adjudications: The finalist stories will be passed on to the Final Panel Judges over the next few days, and the First Place winner and the Honourable Mentions will be decided upon and announced no later than April 1st, 2014.

In the meantime, the shortlisted finalist stories for the 2014 FoMSSC are presented below, sans author names:

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The One in Green

The Politics of Bird Flight

Unnamed

The Walk

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As was the case last year, once the winner/honourable mentions have been announced, we’ll release the names of all the writers of the remaining shortlisted works as well. And there is a reason there are only four shortlisted stories out of a possible six on that list, and I will discuss why that was the case in the coming numerical breakdown of the 2014 contest.

There are fewer response e-mails to send out this year, so we’ll hopefully be able to get through those in short order, though it will still take us a few days to get to everyone. Also, some of the slush readers this year have attached feedback to their responses, so any feedback earmarked for entrants will be passed along in the response letters.

For the time being, a well-deserved thank you to all of the entrants, our dauntless team of slush readers, everyone who helped promote the contest, and to those of you who have helped in various capacities since the contest’s inception.

And, that being said, any questions or comments you want to send our way? Address them to Michael Matheson at fomsscontest@gmail.com, or hit us up on Twitter (@fomcontest).

We’ll see you back here when we announce the winning story/honourable mentions and reveal the writers of all the shortlisted works.

The 2014 Reading Period is Now Closed!

We’ve had our local midnight, and the 2014 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest reading period is now officially closed. (The PayPal button on the Pay Entry Fee(s) page is gone again and everything–it’ll return with the opening of the 2015 reading period come November.)

And so now the contest staff retreat to our individual lairs, libraries, and other congenial places, to read and reflect on this year’s entries in aid of preparing the coming shortlist.

Indeed, the next two weeks are for slush reading and making sure that any stray physical entries get accounted for. Everything else looks to be in order at the moment. I believe we’ve replied to everyone who sent us an entry (or entries), but if you’ve not heard from us at this point please do give us a shout. You can do so via e-mail (address your query to Michael Matheson at fomsscontest@gmail.com) or via Twitter (@fomcontest).

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And while we focus on getting everything organized and read on this end, I’ll take a moment to thank everyone who has been good enough to help out with the contest in any capacity:

A sincere thank you to those of you who submitted; to those of you who spread word about the contest; and to those who have been generally supportive of our efforts to promote and fundraise for the Merril Collection. This year’s contest was an odd one (no other way to put it really) in terms of the submissions patterns we saw. The first two years were fairly consistent. This one not so much. So everyone’s continued support has been distinctly appreciated.

In any case, there’ll be number crunching in that regard later. And we will, of course, share that breakdown with you once it’s ready.

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In the meantime, keep an eye on the blog for any updates, and in a couple of weeks’ time we’ll have the shortlist up and running.

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And as always, if you have questions, queries, or just need to get in touch for whatever reason, use the fomsscontest@gmail.com e-mail address, or ping us on Twitter (@fomcontest).

See you all again in a couple of weeks.

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Coming Into the Home Stretch – Two Weeks Left In 2014 Reading Period

Well, we’re coming up fast on the end of the 2014 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest reading period. This year’s reading period will close at 11:59:59 p.m. EST (UTC-5) on February 15, 2014. (Or, put more simply, our local version of midnight on the date thereof.)

If you’re working on a submission (or more than one as we’re still allowing unlimited entries) hopefully things are going well. We’ve been delighted to see all the entries that have come in so far. Though, somewhat unaccountably, we’ve had a slower submissions year than the first two years of the contest. So we’re hoping to see a deluge of work correct that at the close, but we would very much appreciate it if anyone so inclined would go forth and help spread the word that we’re here, still looking for more entries, and we’ve got (really rather excellent) prize money to disperse.

Ideally we’d like to see an uptick in entries because of the contest’s mandate: to provide both exposure and financial support to the Merril Collection of the Toronto Public Library system (incidentally, the number of items listed in the Collection on that link is slightly out of date – the Collection houses closer to 80,000 items at the moment) through the efforts of the Friends of the Merril Collection. The contest has been quite a success in the first respect, and for two years running we’ve come so close to doing the second. (For those who aren’t already aware we’ve come just shy of breaking even on the prize monies every year the contest has run thus far.) Everything we (potentially) raise above the funds needed to cover the prize monies goes directly toward supporting the Merril Collection through Friends activities. The current Events page (for 2013) of the Friends’ website will give you an overview of the kind of things that means. And at the end of the year the Friends also make a direct donation to the Collection to help the Merril purchase special acquisitions.

So, long story short, if we can raise more than we need for the prize pool this year we can finally have something to put directly toward supporting the Merril Collection as well as paying the prize money for this year. Which was one of the major reasons the contest began in the first place. (The others being to offer another venue for people to get paid for their work, and to get writers some more exposure as well.)

Speaking to the prize pool (for those just now coming to the contest website): This year’s First Place Prize is $500.00 (CDN), and we’re awarding two Honourable Mentions (of $50.00 each) as well. Which is the highest we’ve yet offered.

If you have just come to the website and require some  additional information, the quick breakdown is as follows:

  • There is an entry fee of $5.00 (CDN) per entry. Though you may enter an unlimited number of times. (You just have to pay a fee for each story you send.)
  • Entries must be original, previously unpublished speculative fiction (SF/F/H, magic realist, fabulist, slipstream, and so on). The only exception is that you can send us something which was previously published in another language but has never appeared in English (though we need to see the English translation).
  • All entries must be a maximum of 5,000 words in length.

For the complete set of rules see the Contest Rules page and the FAQ page.

And, as always, any questions or queries can be directed to Michael Matheson at fomsscontest@gmail.com, or on Twitter @fomcontest.

That said, we’re looking forward to seeing the rest of the entries that come our way, and announcing the shortlist once the reading period is closed and we’ve had the two weeks it takes to get everything in order for that.

In the meantime, good luck to you all. Also, a hello and welcome to those of you who’ve just come across the contest for the first time. And we’re quite serious about feeling free to contact us. If there’s anything you need addressed, or any questions you have, let us hear from you.

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Rise and Shine! It’s 2014 and the Current Reading Period is Halfway Over

A happy New Year to all!

The celebrations have been had. The libations partaken of. Now it’s time to rise and shine (or at least make a noble attempt to shrug off the hangover) and get back to writing.

Ideally some of that writing will result in a submission(s) to the 2014 FoMSSC. This post marks the halfway point of the current reading period, so you still have some time. A month and a half, in point of fact: all entries have to be in by 11:59:59 p.m. EST (UTC-5) on February 15, 2014.

As always, good luck to everyone submitting, and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. You can address all queries to Michael Matheson at fomsscontest@gmail.com. Or you can ping us on Twitter @fomcontest.

Here’s hoping that 2014 has been treating you well thus far. And that it will continue to do so. May it be an excellent year for your writing, in whatever capacity.

Clarification on What We Consider a Reprint and Apologies for Any Prior Confusion

(No, the fact that Koyomi is frowning in that image is not a reflection of my mood, it’s just hard to find screenshots where Koyomi isn’t making a weird face.)

So, we’ve been getting some reprint stories submitted. And it’s easy enough for us to just ask people to exchange a story sent (and worst case scenario we’re entirely capable of issuing a refund, which we’ve done in past), so no real worries there. It happens. And we just sort it out when it does.

But as the same reason for the reprints coming in keeps cropping up, I thought I would just take a moment and clarify our position on what the FoMSSC considers a reprint. Because we do allow some, under the right circumstances (and we’re aware that can get a little confusing):

Now, we do allow stories that have been published/appeared publicly in a language other than English, and that have then been translated into English, to be submitted to the contest. However, any story appearing in English and available publicly is considered by us a reprint.

Specifically, if you’ve self-published a story, or have posted it to your own website prior to submitting it, we can’t take it. If the story appears online, but in a non-public/closed environment, say, for example, a members-only critique group accessibly only via login, or a listserve where you’re sharing works in progress, that’s fine. As long as it’s not publicly available, right?

The reasoning for that has to do with the fact that we judge all submissions blind. Our slush readers and the Final Panel Judges all have to be able to read the work without any kind of bias, or indication of the writer’s identity. And if your story is available online, it’s very easy to find it, either by title or by pulling and searching for text. Conceivably, our slush readers and/or judges may even have already come across it if it’s free to read online or you’ve self-published it.

And because this does tend to come up, we do check all submissions to the contest to make sure we can’t find evidence of it being published or posted anywhere prior to assigning a story to a slush reader. Specifically so that anonymity is maintained across the board and we avoid any potential instance of favouritism. The same reason we ask our slush readers and our judges to recuse themselves from reading/evaluating a story if they recognize the text and can identify who wrote it.

We do apologize for any lack of clarity that happens. We’re aware this is not a universal ruling on what will constitute a reprint (there really isn’t a universal constant for that, but still). Nevertheless, we don’t like creating confusion. And, ideally, despite the wealth of text we’re operating under with the Contest Rules and FAQ pages, we’d like things to be as free of frustration, and as clear, as possible.

A contest is supposed to be fun for the entrants, not a headache.

And to that end: we’re always available for consultation. If you’re not sure about how something works given the rules we’ve set up (we’ve covered a lot in the relevant sections, but we’ll not be able to cover everything), or if you just want to make sure that you’ve got everything in order before you submit, that’s totally fine.

By all means, feel free to send us an e-mail at fomsscontest@gmail.com, or you can talk to us on Twitter (@fomcontest).

We’re always happy to hear from you.

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Now Awaiting the Crushing Pile of Stories Inbound: The 2014 FoMSSC Reading Period is Open!

Come midnight tonight (according to our local timezone, so UTC-5), the 2014 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest reading period will open for the third consecutive year. And this year’s reading period will remain open until midnight (again, UTC-5) on February 15th, 2014.

For those of you not already familiar with the contest, follow along for a few minutes:

The Friends of the Merril Collection are running our third annual Speculative Fiction Short Story Contest in order to raise awareness of, and funds for, the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy through the Friends of the Merril Collection (whose stated objectives, codified in the organization’s constitution, can be found at http://www.friendsofmerril.org).

The annual Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest distributes cash prizes to three entrants, as judged by a panel of authors, editors and other notables in the Canadian Speculative Fiction community. This year we’ve adjusted the prize structure to grant the first place winner a prize of $500.00 (CDN), and are awarding additional prizes of $50.00 (CDN), each, to two honourable mentions.

The contest is open to international entrants without restriction on country of residence, entrant’s publication history (or lack thereof), or any other delimiting factors (though entrants not of age of majority will need a parent or guardian’s permission in order to enter).

Entries must be original, previously unpublished short stories with a maximum length of 5,000 words, and must be submitted as an e-mailed .doc or .rtf attachment (composed in Standard Manuscript Format) to fomsscontest@gmail.com. We welcome, and indeed prefer, inclusive and innovative stories. Entries must contain some speculative element, however slight, but content is not otherwise restricted in any fashion. For a more detailed rundown of the kind of things we want to see in entries, please see last year’s post “It’s Time: The 2012-2013 FoMSSC Reading Period Opens at Midnight” and scroll down to the section titled “That Content Advice I Kept Promising and Am Finally Getting Around To.”

Again, the reading period runs from November 15, 2013 through February 15, 2014, and each entry must be accompanied by an entry fee of $5 (CDN). There is no limit on the number of entries you may submit.

For full rules see either the Contest Rules or FAQ pages. For all other information please use the menus and tabs to navigate the site.

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And Some Final Words Before The Submissions Start Rolling In

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Again, as always, we need to take a moment to acknowledge the work of those who keep helping to make this contest enjoyable on all sides. To those of you who have submitted work over the past two years, who’ve helped us to promote the contest, our past slush readers and those who’ve come onboard for this year’s reading period, and our past and returning Final Panel Judges, as well as everyone else who otherwise helps, aids, and supports the Friends, and by extension the Merril Collection, we offer our sincere thanks.

As ever, we’re looking forward to seeing what comes over the proverbial transom. If there are questions or concerns you would like addressed, please feel free to direct them to me, Michael Matheson, at fomsscontest@gmail.com. And you can either follow the website here or the contest Twitter feed (@fomcontest) for updates.

Good luck to everyone!

Not Far Now: Two Weeks Until the 2014 FoMSSC Opens

Just a (very quick) reminder that the reading period for the 2014 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest opens in a little less than two weeks, on November 15th. The reading period will run until February 15th, 2014.

As previously mentioned, this year’s prizes include a first place prize of $500.00 (CDN), and two Honourable Mentions of $50.00 (CDN) each.

Please feel free to browse the site for more information. You can find more information about the 2014 Final Panel Judges on the Judges page. And it’s highly advisable that you have a look at both the Contest Rules and FAQ pages (both have been updated for the 2014 FoMSSC) if you’ve never entered the FoMSSC before.

We’re looking forward to seeing this year’s crop of stories. Our preference for the kind of fiction we like to see holds fairly consistent from year to year. But for those of you not already familiar with some of the posts we’ve put up about the kind of content we always hope to see, you might want to have a look at the “It’s Time: The 2012-2013 FoMSSC Reading Period Opens at Midnight” post (scroll down to “That Content Advice I Kept Promising and Am Finally Getting Around To“) from November of last year.

Luck to everyone entering the contest this year. And, as always, everyone is welcome to direct any queries to Michael Matheson at fomsscontest@gmail.com. Or you can find us on Twitter @fomcontest.

Reminder: One Month to Go Before the Next Reading Period Opens

There’s now just under a month before the reading period for the 2014 FoMSSC gets underway. The coming reading period (for the 2014 FoMSSC) officially opens on November 15th, 2013 and will run through February 15th, 2014.

We’re spending the time before the reading period opens by doing … well … not much right this moment. That’s the advantage of having pretty much everything set up at this point.

Although, there is one thing to share, for those who haven’t already seen it:

In the first year of the contest, we had the opportunity to offer a set of additional prizes to the winners. Specifically, each winner received a limited edition, hand crafted booklet containing the winning stories. The crafting of those booklets saw some setbacks, as hand crafted items sometimes do, and we finally got those mailed out just recently.

Dr, Philip Edward Kaldon, whose entry took third place in our inaugural year, posted some pictures after his copy arrived in the post. The link to his LiveJounal post with pictures of his numbered booklet can be found here. The booklets turned out very nicely, actually, and we’re quite pleased with the end result.

With that last component of the inaugural contest cleared off the table, we’re just making sure everything is in working order for the coming year. Which it certainly seems to be at this point. An ideal state to be in as we’re looking forward to opening up the reading period and seeing what the submissions look like this time round, especially in light of the new prize structure we’re trying out this year.

So, that said, if anyone has any questions, please feel free to address them to Michael Matheson, at fomsscontest@gmail.com. Or you can direct your questions to us on Twitter via @fomcontest.

See you back here in a month.

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