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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:


The One in Green

The Politics of Bird Flight

Unnamed

The Walk

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.

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A Look at What Lies Beneath: A Breakdown of the 2012-2013 Contest Year

All of the notifications – finalist and rejection alike – for the 2012-2013 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest have now been sent out.

And as we did last year we’re going to share a breakdown of the contest’s internal numbers, operating under the assumptions that transparency is beneficial to this kind of endeavour, that those of you who run similar activities (or might be thinking about doing so in future) might like the benefit of some actual numbers to think about, and that the statistical breakdowns are just interesting in general. You can find last year’s statistical breakdown here if you’d like to compare and contrast the two sets of data.

As we’re not covering all the available statistical information produced by the contest I’ve provided some additional statistics and facts below before launching into the actual (fairly short) breakdown.

Interesting facts about this contest that aren’t reflected in the quick breakdown below (for those looking for more numbers):

  • 5 people opted to send in multiple submissions this year (compared with 14 last year).
  • The maximum number of multiple submissions sent by a single entrant was 4 (3 was the cap last year, and we removed the cap before this year’s contest began).
  • The most common number of multiple submissions sent by a single entrant this year was 2 (compared with 3 last year).
  • We had 5 (for sure, there might be one more I’m forgetting) entries that were not speculative in nature. This is probably a failure in communication on our end, and I’ll see what I can do to further clarify the definition of speculative fiction next time round.
  • Despite a smaller shortlist this year (down to 6 from last year’s 9), the percentage of entries making the finalist shortlist was, in both years, roughly 11.5% (because the smaller number of finalist slots this year was offset by a smaller number of total entries).

And, just off the top of my head, several things we’re very happy about:

  • We had far more women enter this year’s contest.
  • We had a handful of QUILTBAG entries this year (counting QUILTBAG characters in any role in the story, protagonist or otherwise). Not many, but it’s a start and we’ll take it.
  • Speaking to the above, all the submissions we saw containing non-cis-gendered protagonists (yes, we actually did have a couple) were extremely well-handled, which was totally awesome to see.
  • The general quality of submissions was high, which is quite gratifying (though it made things harder in the end, of course).
  • Between this year and last we saw several returning writers improve the quality of their writing, which was absolutely wonderful to see. And we expect even better things from them again next year.

And some other things worth noting:

  • We still have one outstanding payment for a story we never received. We could not get in touch with the entrant despite numerous attempts, so we’re holding that fee in reserve if they want a refund. Hopefully at some point we’ll hear from them.
  • We’re thinking about discontinuing taking .docx files next year (owing to some file compatibility issues). If we do, we will still continue to take .doc and .rtf files.

For those of you doing a compare and contrast of this year’s and last year’s numbers, please note that this year we opted to lower the monetary prizes on offer because we had initially overreached in the first year (we’re looking at raising the monetary prizes again next year but that’s a different post for down the road). That is reflected in the numbers below:

Overall Breakdown:

65 Entrants
73 Submissions (3 hard copy, 70 electronic)

Entrant Gender Split: 31 Male / 34 Female

Submissions by Month:

Submissions in November: 9
Submissions in December: 6
Submissions in January: 18
Submissions in February: 40

Submissions by Region/Country:

North America

Canada: 57
US: 11

Europe

United Kingdom: 1
Ireland: 1

Middle East

Israel: 1

South America

Argentina: 1

Oceania

New Zealand: 1

Finalists Overall Breakdown:

0 hard copies, 6 electronic entries

Finalist Gender Split: 1 Male / 5 Female

Finalist Entries Received By Month:

Finalist Stories in November: 1
Finalist Stories in December: 0
Finalist Stories in January: 0
Finalist Stories in February: 5

Finalist Entries by Region/Country:

North America

Canada: 6

And that’s the way things fell out this year. Next year’s numbers will, of course, look completely different. It’s part of what comes with trying something a little different every year.

What does not change, however, is the announcement of this year’s winners, which will be going up on or before April 1st, 2013. At that time we will announce the names of all the finalists as well.

In the meantime, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact Michael Matheson at fomsscontest@gmail.com, or you can catch up with us on Twitter (@fomcontest).

A Trail of Stories in Their Wake: The 2012-2013 Finalist Shortlist

As I’ve already noted today, culling down to a six-story finalist list this year has been extremely difficult. Ultimately, it ended up taking far longer than we had anticipated. Although, I take some comfort in the fact that it actually took the same number of days to compile the shortlist this year as it did last year (15, for those of you who are counting), since we posted last year’s finalist list on March 1st, but 2012 was actually a leap year so we had the extra day to read and debate before our self-imposed deadline.

In the end, though, I want to apologize to all those of you who have had to wait longer this year than we originally estimated. I prefer to keep to deadlines myself, and we didn’t quite manage it this year. There’s always next year, though.

So, we had a spate of excellent work to read through, which is a large part of what made this stage of the contest so difficult and incurred the delay in deciding on our finalists. There was, I think, some concern that the excellent body of work we saw in the first year might have been a fluke, and that we would see a greater variance in quality this time around, especially because we were offering a smaller monetary prize this year, not considering the non-monetary prizes on offer to balance that out. However, the entries that came in for this year’s contest put paid to that fear.

We did see a smaller total number of entries: specifically, 73 entries to last year’s 102. But we were kind of expecting that with the smaller monetary prize. And we were absolutely delighted to see so many entrants from last year submitting work again this year, despite this year’s prize pool. Incidentally, we are looking at reworking the monetary prize structure in the coming year (working on how to manage a higher first place prize, and balance things out better). That will partially involve the sponsorship option we’ve been looking at the past couple of years (if we can swing it that might also lead to some additional non-monetary prizes), and once things get going on that front we’ll talk more about it here.

In the meantime, yes, we had an excellent list of stories to read through, and as with last year I will post a breakdown once I’ve crunched the numbers.

So, again, a huge thank you to everyone who entered. The finalist list is posted below, and we’ll be getting back to everyone who entered in order to let you know the disposition of your story.

Also, we would please ask that all the finalists refrain from mentioning which story is theirs. You are all more than welcome to say that you are a finalist in the 2012-2013 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest, but we don’t want to bias the Final Panel Judges before they make their decisions as to the three winners. Thank you.

And speaking to the final round of adjudication: the finalist stories will be passed onto the Final Panel Judges in the next couple of days, and we’ll be announcing the three winning stories on or before April 1st, 2013.

So, without further ado, here are the six stories, sans author names, that made the finalist ballot for the 2012-2013 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest:

A Room of His Own

One Thousand and One Cuts

Open the Doors, and See All the People

Snow

The Binding

The Mother of All Squid Builds a Library

As we did last year, once the three winners have been announced we’ll release the names of the authors behind all of the finalist entries as well.

I will offer my personal apologies that many of the response e-mails are going to be going out slowly over the next couple of days. However, you will get an update on your submission, and hopefully in relatively short order. The contest doesn’t exactly have a lot of staff so we’re working as fast as we can on this.

Thanks for bearing with us, and, again, thank you to all of you who entered, and to those of you who helped us promote the contest as well. It’s all been greatly appreciated.

As always, if you have any questions you can address them to me, Michael Matheson, at fomsscontest@gmail.com.

A More Literal Cage Match Than Expected: 2012-2013 Finalist List Delays

A quick update:

If you’ve been following our Twitter account you may have noticed the following statement:

So, re the FoMSSC: We’re having some trouble pulling our finalist list down to six.

So much for deadlines …

Now, it’s kind of a fond joke around here that compiling the finalist list for the Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest involves a proverbial cage match. That sentiment is true for a whole host of reasons. It’s partly an issue relating to having quality stories to work with, slush reader tastes, and this year we’re dealing with a somewhat smaller finalist shortlist.

Long story short, we are experiencing delays in compiling the 2012-2013 finalist list, and this year there is a more literal than usual cage match occurring.

So, our apologies. We’re shooting for having a finalist list put together and posted by the end of the day.

In the meantime, if you have any questions or queries you can address them to Michael Matheson at fomsscontest@gmail.com.

Thank you for your patience.

The 2012-2013 Reading Period is Officially Closed

The 2012-2013 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest reading period is now officially closed.

And for the next two weeks while we sort through all the submissions we’ll be … um … reading.

I suppose, ultimately, that was predictable.

In any case, we’ve acknowledged receipt of all the electronic entries and catalogued them. Well, all save one, whose author we have not yet been able to get in touch with (it looks like the e-mail address tied to their PayPal account may no longer be active). Still working to sort that one out. And if you happen to be the writer who submitted your work and haven’t heard back from us yet, and are reading this now, please do get in touch with us as we don’t yet have an entry to go with your payment.

Speaking to situations like the above, if anyone else has sent us something electronically and not heard back from us please do get in touch with us because we did not receive whatever you sent.

We’ll also be keeping an eye out for any late postmarked hard copy submissions (everything postmarked no later than February 15th is eligible) , but you’re more than welcome to get in touch with us and query as to the status of receipt of a hard copy entry if you sent one and haven’t heard back about it yet.

Please use fomsscontest@gmail.com to get in touch with us, or you can DM us on Twitter (@fomcontest).

We’ll be sorting through the submissions in hand over the next couple of weeks, and the proverbial cage match to determine who makes the finalist list will be held at the end of February. Consequently, we’ll have the finalist list prepared by March 1st.

There will be six finalists this year (down from nine last year), and we’ll be posting up the titles of the finalist stories (without attendant names) on the website at the same time as we send our Final Panel Judges copies of the finalist entries. Notifications will be sent out to the finalists at that time as well (via e-mail). Finalists may announce that they are finalists in this year’s contest, but we ask that you please not mention which story is yours in order to help preserve impartiality in the final round of judging.

As with last year we’re also going to get in touch with everyone who did not make the finalist list in order to let all entrants know the status of their submission(s). And once all the numbers have been compiled we’ll be posting a statistical breakdown of the contest, following the same format as last year. Both for transparency’s sake, and also because the breakdowns prove to be interesting in general.

And at this point we would like to thank everyone who has, again this year, been good enough to help us through various means. To all those of you who have taken the time to promote the contest, and to those of you who have offered direct support via submissions, thank you immensely. We appreciate all of you sticking with us while we try different things from year to year, and are grateful for all the input and feedback we receive as well.

And speaking to things done differently, we’ll address more fully this year’s non-monetary prizes and how those will work for the finalists once the finalist list is posted.

Thanks again to everyone who stuck with us for the second year, and thank you as well to those of you who are new to us this year.

If there are any questions or concerns you would like to raise while waiting for the shortlist to be posted (or, generally, really), please don’t hesitate to contact us. Again, you can reach us either via e-mail at fomsscontest@gmail.com, or get in touch with us via Twitter (@fomcontest).

An Update on Coming Changes, and the Opportunity to Offer Input

What with the restructuring of the contest (in terms of prizes and rules) that’s taking place in advance of the 2012-2013 contest year, a lot of things are currently being floated as possible ways to improve the Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest. We’ll be unveiling a complete list of changes once everything has been settled on, but there are some things that are, in fact, already being firmed up:

We will be bumping the allowable word count to at least 5,000 words. Whether we ultimately go with 5,000 words, or a higher limit, that limit will be firm; send a story over the stated limit and you will be asked to cut it down to the allowable limit or submit something else in its place – this to be done because we would very much like to offer people the opportunity to meet the guidelines rather than simply disqualify entries.

We will have no restrictions on story content as long as it meets the requirement of being speculative (sf/fantasy/horror, fabulist, magic realist, slipstream, etc.) fiction. Technically, this relies on one other thing happening re the contest planning, but given that we are attempting to foster diversity in all respects, give writers the option to explore even the most extreme and/or challenging edge(s) of whatever subject(s) they choose, as well as promote the best possible writing in whatever form that takes, I, for one, will be pushing for this particular change.

The reading period is going to remain three months, and will run from November 15th, 2012, through February 15th, 2013. The deadlines for determining finalists and winners, however, may change depending on any structural changes enacted as we go forward.

The entry fee is going to remain $5.00 (CDN) per story. Relative to that is the allowable number of entries, which we are still debating altering. There are good reasons both for and against changing the number of allowable entries (the current limit is three – and, yes, we did have someone who submitted more than one entry get a story into the finalist round, so there’s room to argue in favour of both sides of this issue), so this will be one of the things we mull over in terms of rules questions when the Friends of the Merril Collection convene to discuss the contest and hash out the changes.

In light of the fact that there are some things settled, but many more not, this seems a perfect time to get some input from you, our potential entrants, and anyone else interested in contributing ideas.

So, I’m going to do something (not actually all that) radical here, and offer everyone reading this the opportunity to have an impact in (re)shaping the 2012-2013 contest. There was some input given in response to the In the Green Room post I made earlier this year, but now is your opportunity to offer any and all suggestions or ideas concerning the contest. Is there something we’ve overlooked doing that you’d like to see as part of the coming year’s contest? Or even feedback on the last go round? Let us hear from you.

You can either do this here, in the Comments field below, or, if you’d like your input to remain more private, you can feel free to send an e-mail to Michael Matheson, at fomsscontest@gmail.com.

I’ll be sharing whatever information/feedback/ideas/concerns come in with the Friends of the Merril Collection when we next sit down to discuss the contest, so anything you want to put forth will get an airing.

We look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Incidentally, if your post doesn’t show up immediately in the Comments field below, that’s because we’re manually approving all Comments at the moment as we’re getting an inordinate amount of spam on the site. I’ll be approving Comments as soon as I’m able to, so thank you for your patience .

And on an entirely different note, the Friends of the Merril Collection are currently seeking a new home for the Friends website, so if you’ve been encountering some Friends related links on the website which aren’t actually going where they’re supposed to, that would be why. You can, however, still access the old Friends of the Merril Collection website in the interim. We’ll let you know once the new website is up and running again.

Victory Celebrations! (And You’re All Invited)

It’s been a little while since our last post, but what better way to get back into the flow than with the announcement that we’re having a party!

Well, participating in one while someone else throws the party, but that shouldn’t stop us (or you) from having a good time.

It’s been a long road pulling together the inaugural year of the Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest, and laying the foundations for the next. So to celebrate the truly exceptional results and turnout of the contest’s first outing we’re going to fete the winners and finalists from the 2011-2012 year. Specifically, Sarah Ennals, James Bambury, Suzanne Church, Claire Humphrey, and Kari Maaren are all going to be reading from their contest stories at the July 11th edition of the Chiaroscuro Reading Series here in Toronto. Sandra Kasturi, one of our 2011-2012 contest judges and the co-publisher of ChiZine Publications, who also co-organizes the CRS, has put together a Facebook events page with full details here: http://www.facebook.com/events/397394833658249/.

Several of the judges will be in attendance – possibly all of us if schedulin allows, and Mike Bryant is also slated to put in an appearance, so the evening should be a blast.

If you’re local or feel like coming in to Toronto (or are already going to be in the city on the 11th), you’re cordially invited to drop by and spend an evening in some thoroughly awesome company.

Also, by the time the 11th rolls around, the Chiaroscuro Reading Series will be the only place you’ll be able to read (or, in this case, listen to) Sarah Ennals’ winning story “The Emmet” since the story will no longer be available on the website after July 4th.

Yes, it’s true, all of the the 2011-2012 winning stories are coming off the website EoD July4th (approximately Midnight, UTC -05:00, July 4th). So if you haven’t already read them, now is the time to do so.

We look forward to seeing all of you who can make it out for the celebrations!

One Journey Ends, The Next Begins – The 2012 Winning Stories Are Now Available To Read

You can now read the three winning stories from the 2011-2012 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest. They will be available here on the website for ninety days, from April 5, 2012 – July 4, 2012.

And with the posting of these stories we now put to rest the inaugural year of the Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest. Thanks to all of you who have helped through various means – everything from sending submissions on down – we’ve managed to make an extraordinary success of the contest.

In light of that success, we begin the work of preparing the way for the 2012-2013 contest later this year. But, for now, we’re going to sit back, take a bit of a breather, and enjoy the fruits of our labours as we round out the last attendant details of the 2011-2012 contest (like making sure our winners get their limited edition booklets).

So, please join us in once again congratulating Sarah Ennals, Jason S. Ridler, and Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon on their winning entries, and enjoy the stories – which you can read from the Winning Stories (2012) page of the website. Going forward, the Winning Stories (2012) page is also where we’re housing the permanent record of the full finalist list for the 2011-2012 contest year.

If you would like to show your appreciation for the winning works you are more than welcome to do so in the Comments fields, either for the individual stories, or the Comments field of the Winning Stories (2012) page itself.

We also intend to post up some pictures of the finished limited edition booklets containing the winning stories once the artist crafting them has completed the booklets, but for the most part we’re going to ease into the next contest year. It’s been a long five months, and we’re looking forward to a little downtime around here.

And if you need anything in the meantime please don’t hesitate to either contact Michael Matheson at fomsscontest@gmail.com, or drop us a line on Twitter (@fomcontest).

And the Winners Are …

And now, friends, followers, entrants, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The declaration of our juried winners in the 2011-2012 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest:

First Place ($350.00 CDN) goes to:

Sarah Ennals (The Emmet)

Second Place ($100.00 CDN) goes to:

Jason S. Ridler (Rikidōzan and the San Diego Swerve Job)

Third Place ($50.00 CDN) goes to:

Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon (Your First Real Rocket Ship)

The three winners of this, the inaugural contest year, will each be receiving, as part of their prize, a hand-crafted limited edition copy of the booklet being specially produced to house the winning stories. As previously discussed on the contest website two other copies will be produced, one of which will remain with the artist, and the last is to be added to the Merril Collection. We hope to post photos of the finished booklets once they’re ready.

The winning stories will also be published on the contest website as soon as everything is in place to make that possible. We’ll have them up and available to read by our stated deadline of May 1st without fail, but we hope to be able to post them a good deal sooner.

And, as promised, the remaining finalist stories, complete with name recognition for the authors, are listed below:

Colleen Anderson (The Ties That Bind)

James Bambury (The Mobius Garden)

Suzanne Church (Muffy and the Belfry)

Barbara Gordon (Climbing Boys)

Claire Humphrey (Weathermakers)

Kari Maaren (My Profit On’t Is)

We’ll be posting updates to this information and any attendant contest information in all the usual places, so you can keep an eye out for new information here or on the contest Twitter account (@fomcontest). And, as always, if you have any questions or comments please feel free to send them to Michael Matheson at fomsscontest@gmail.com.

The Last Three Stories Standing

The Final Judges Panel has held the proverbial cage match for the finalist stories, and we’ve come away with the last three stories standing.

Now that we’ve selected the winners of the inaugural Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest, we’re going to take a few days to get in touch with all the finalists. We’ll be announcing the winners once we’ve had a chance to get in touch with everyone, and then we’ll be displaying both the winners’ circle and the other six finalist stories with attendant author names.

We’re on track to have that list up by April 1st, at the latest, so you can expect that go up shortly. We’ll also be displaying the full text of the winning stories on the website beginning no later than May 1st, and hopefully a good deal sooner than that.

And, you know, being here in the home stretch of our first year, being able to look back on all the help offered, all the stories submitted, and, indeed, the vast diversity of stories we got a chance to read, we wanted to offer another thank you to everyone who has contributed to making this contest work. You’ve helped us spread the word, sent us your work, offered moral support, and generally helped us create another outlet for the international Spec Fic community to come together. That’s no small thing, and I’m not sure we’ll be able to show our appreciation loudly enough.

But one thing we absolutely have to do is give a special thank you to everyone who submitted but didn’t make the finalist cut. Contests are a brutal proving ground, and all of us on this end have been there. We know how terrifying it is to set your work adrift on that vast and terrifying ocean, waiting to see if it can weather the fierce seas and battering winds of that perilous sea to make safe harbour, or whether those fathomless depths will claim your work and drag it down to the cold and empty black of lightless deeps. Yes, I ran that metaphor straight into the ground, but, in all earnestness, thank you for showing the courage you did by submitting to the contest. We hope you are the better by it, and we wish you all luck, whatever path your writing may lead you down.

So, that being said, we suggest everyone stick around. We’ll have a fully attributed finalist list and winners’ circle up sooner than you think.