The Everything Is Everything Award was a chance for authors to showcase what they can do away from the restrictions of writing prompts and word counts. We threw the doors open and said “Show us what you’ve got.”
We Asked. You Delivered.
Perhaps most the most noticeable difference between this award and previous short lists was the story length. It was probably fortunate that we ran the Everything Is Everything shortlist for two weeks, as our judges had to wade through stories up to 6 thousand words in length!
For those of you who have been reading the shortlists since the beginning, original Needle In The Hay Awards often let writers go long with word counts. Our awards also ran longer, fortnightly and monthly, which gave everyone enough time to catch up.
Why the change?
There’s a twofold reason for this, and it’s worth pointing out for future open awards. When it comes to fiction on the internet, bigger isn’t necessarily better.
Reading, and reading fiction especially, is almost a solitary pursuit as writing. Most of us will read books, novels, novellas, away from our main screens. We’ll read them on e-readers and in paperback. We might go somewhere particular to read, have a favourite spot, chair or position to read in.
So long form stories published online, even though stretching into the multiple thousands, are less likely to attract complete reads. A story in the hundreds of words has the advantage of being roughly the same length as a piece of copy, a news article, or even a bit of clickbait. It’s more comfortable to read at this length online, and when you ask a readership to do more, your inviting disinterest.
So Is Longform Dead?
Not at all, the readers and judges who participated loved the stories this week. But everything we’ve learned over the last few years on how our audience reads has shown us that ‘reading fiction online’ works better in small chunks, where the stories more resemble other types of writing in length and approach. Elements like:
- Sub 1000 word counts
- An opening hook
- Clearly defined sections, often with headings
All help make it easier to read fiction online. When it comes to longer formats, short stories, say three thousand words and up, it might be better to serialise, to use imagery to break up the story, or to publish it in a digital or physical format.
Now there’s no hard and fast rule here. Lots of people did read the whole shortlist this fortnight, but overall we know that despite there being more stories than the average shortlist, they were completed less, read less and overall receive less attention. As one judge put it ‘The free platform worked well, even though some stories were very long!’
Something to chew on when the next open award comes round.
Along with a healthy helping of stories by seasoned writers, we also welcomed some new faces to the shortlist last week. Please welcome Mhari Campbell and Jamila Alibrahim, both of who made fine first showings on debut.
Everyone will receive feeedback from our judges this week, though we’re trying something a little different. Detailed feedback from a single judge will be presented to every author. This might take up to a week for everyone to receive, but we think it will be invaluable given the length of some of the stories. A big ‘thank you’ to our judges for taking on such a big challenge over the last fortnight.
Without further ado, let’s announce the winner:
Despite such a variety of stories this week, both in tone, theme and length,scores remained remarkably close, with less than 20% difference between first and final place. However our winner this week is known for standing out from the crowd. Please congratulate Lydia Trethewey for her outstanding story Death Date. Lydia captured the social upheaval and everyday anxieties of what it might be like to live in a world where everyone can access a scientifically accurate death date, a knowledge of the how, why and when you will die. Death Date challenges us to think about what it means to get the best out of life when we know there’s no way out of it.
It was also a great opportunity to see Lydia write without award restrictions… Something you can find on our anthology, Burn, Thrive, Burn.
Up next, Part 7 of the To The Nines Award.