The East India Press Short Story Contest

East India Press is pleased to announce the winner of the 2011 Short Story Contest:

S. James Nelson's "Forcible Powerdown"

"Forcible Powerdown" is available here alongside David Farland's "Against Eternity", as Nightingale Songs 1:

Download the PDF
Download the Kindle Mobi
Download the ePub

Win $1,000 cash prize

PLUS your story will be published as an opener to the Nightingale enhanced novel, as well as a stand-alone e-book

PLUS East India Press will consider your novel submission for publication

FREE to enter (no fees of any kind)

Open to all – any nationality, any age – with teens especially encouraged to enter

Finally, your chance to test your writing talent and win a shot at fame!


  • Your story must be no more than 2,500 words long and written in standard manuscript format. Feel free to download this pre-formatted Microsoft Word file.
  • Stories must be submitted electronically and must be formatted as either a PDF or Microsoft Word document.
  • Your story must be suitable for a general audience. It cannot infringe on the copyrights of other properties—such as books, movies, television, or songs.
  • Contest deadline for submissions is March 1, 2012. Stories may be submitted beginning October 15, 2011.
  • Only one submission per person.

Best wishes and good luck from all of us at East India Press. Now get writing!

This contest is sponsored by East India Press and David Farland, author of over fifty published novels and anthologies, a former prize writer himself, who launched his novel writing career with a short story written for a contest much like this. When he was discovered, agents stood in line for the chance to be his publisher.

Mr. Farland has taught writing at Brigham Young University and has been a regular lecturer at writing conventions for years, as well as a notable mentor and discoverer of dozens of New York Times Bestselling authors such as Brandon Mull, Brandon Sanderson and Stephenie Meyer. Mr. Farland will personally read your story, along with many other notable judges, such as New York Times Bestsellers Kevin J. Anderson and Tracy Hickman.

Farland will edit the winning story to help get your gem ready for publication.

Your story can take place in any time period, and can take place anywhere, even on on another world.

You also have the option of placing your story in the world of Farland's new masterpiece, Nightingale, using its fantastic system of magic and taking any advantage of the rich setting he has already created. (Sample chapters will be available soon.)

This should be considered carefully. Internet book sellers, such as Amazon, allow us to link related books together, so that should your winning story be set in the Nightingale setting, whenever anyone looking to buy the next book in the Nightingale series searches the website for "Nightingale," your story will likely pop up. This serves to make your story more visible and give you sales that you otherwise could never achieve. So while you don’t have to set your story in the world of Nightingale, it is an effective marketing strategy for you to do so and take advantage of Mr. Farland's generous offer. Farland is, in effect, allowing you to piggyback upon his successes and following.

If you choose not to use the Nightingale setting, your story will be judged on its own merits. After all, East India Press is just looking for good writers. In fact, several finalists in the contest may be asked to submit manuscripts for review.

If you do choose to use the Nightingale setting, you can get a feel for it through the several sample chapters on this site and this "Magic System Spoiler".

Now, earlier I mentioned that Farland was a prize writer who launched his career with a story in a contest much like this one. He wisely followed that story up with a novel, and that is a strategy to success. East India Press will consider a novel submission by the winning author.

How to Win a Writing Contest

by First Judge David Farland

I’ve had a bit of experience with writing contests. When I was a college student, I wrote a short story for an English class and turned it into the teacher. I got an A, and the professor suggested that I enter it into a short story contest. I did, and won third place—about $50. I got to thinking about it. I’d spent seven hours on the story, so I’d made about $7 per hour. That was twice what I’d have made flipping burgers.

I reasoned that if I’d worked harder, I might have won a larger prize, and I decided to try to win first place in a writing contest. So I began writing stories, and six months later, I sent out a few. To my surprise, I didn’t win first prize in a contest, I won first prize in each contest that I entered.

One of them was the Writers of The Future Contest, the largest contest in the world for beginning writers of science fiction and fantasy. As part of the prize, I went to the World Trade Center for an awards ceremony, where I won the Gold Award for Best Short Story of the Year. There I got to meet some of my writing heroes—People like Robert Silverberg, Orson Scott Card, Gene Wolfe, Fred Pohl, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Roger Zelazny, Andre Norton, Tim Powers, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Mark Hamil (who played Luke Skywalker in Star Wars).

As a result of that award, I received a three-novel contract with Bantam books within a week. My first novel, On My Way to Paradise, won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award for “Best Novel in the English Language,” which I thought was a rather over-the-top boast. It hit high on the science fiction bestseller list and remained there for five months.

Two years later I was asked to be the lead judge for the Writers of The Future Contest, a position that I held for nearly a decade. In that capacity, I read through the manuscripts and passed the finalist stories on to other judges. I’ve judged other contests, too—for short stories, novels, poetry, and many for scholarship competitions.

Now that I’ve judged dozens of writing contests and studied tens of thousands of short stories, I’ve created some tips on how to win—not in any order of importance.

  1. Look neat and professional. You’d be surprised at how many stories can be rejected based on looks alone. I’ve seen manuscripts covered in cat urine, reeking of dope, and written in orange ink on orange paper. In some cases, I tried to give the author the benefit of the doubt and read the manuscript anyway.

    I no longer read such manuscripts. Careless people won’t bother to write well enough to win a contest.

    Check your spelling and grammar in your submission. Read through it carefully several times. Make sure that you say exactly what you want, the way that you want to.

    If you are sending it in as a paper submission, make sure that the paper is clean and bright. A nicer quality presentation—one with a heavy bond paper—will feel more substantial in the judge’s hands. (Note that the East India Press Short Story Contest only allows electronic submissions.)

  2. Follow the rules. Very often, people would send stories for a competition that just didn’t fit. Either the sex was too graphic, the language was perverse, or it was in the wrong genre. I’ve had people send me letters detailing their childhood traumas. I’ve had people sending in stories set in a Star Trek universe, or using song lyrics. (We couldn’t publish those stories, since they violate copyright laws).

    Please note that for the East India Press Short Story Contest, we’re allowing people to set their stories in the world of my novel Nightingale. In fact, we encourage it, since the story will be published at the back of the electronic book.

    One rule that you need to follow is to send the story in “standard manuscript format.” Learn what that is. (You can Google it.) Basically, your story should be in a 12-point, Courier font, double-spaced. Too often, new authors try to cram long stories into a tiny space and hope to fool the judge. We’re not fooled.

    To make it easier for the East India Press Short Story Contest, we’ll provide you with a link so that you can upload a properly formatted document where you can simply fill in the blanks.

  3. Give me a “promising start.” This means that you promise me a story. That promise might be delivered through a simple hook: “I looked into Johah’s eyes, and saw my own death staring me down.” That line promises me that this is going to be a life-and-death story. Once you make such a promise as a writer, remember that you have to deliver on it.

    But there are other ways to make a promising start. A beautifully written description, a startling phrase, a terrific voice—all of them can promise to the reader that you’re an author who is to be taken seriously.

  4. Show your genius. Always strive to write beautifully if you’re out to win a contest. Spend some time on creating vivid images, using poetic diction, and finding just the right metaphors. But be careful that you don’t overload your story. You don’t want to call too much attention to yourself.

    Now, there is one thing that lies beyond your control: what other writers enter into the contest. No matter how brilliant and original your story concept is, someone else might come along and blow you away.

    Or if your style is beautiful, the next Shakespeare might come along and embarrass you.

    Just remember that there are dozens of things that you can do to impress a writing judge.

    Let’s say that the next Shakespeare does enter the contest. Maybe his use of language floors the judges. How can you beat that?

    Maybe you could handle pacing better than he does. Maybe your story might be more original. Maybe it could have more emotional power. If you do enough, if you impress me on several levels, chances are good that you’ll edge out even Shakespeare.

    In fact, as I entered contests, I found it helpful to make a checklist when I was writing, and then to go back and look at my short story from every angle. I couldn’t hope to be the best in every way, but I could strive for excellence on a dozen fronts.

    So I’d look at my tale and ask questions like: Is my world so real that the reader is transported into it? Does my story excite at each of its plot points—in the way that the story twists and turns? Does the reader remain “engrossed” in the story—riveted to it intellectually, emotionally, and bound to it by the senses? Are the basic concepts and images unique? Do my characters come alive? Does the dialog pop and sizzle? Does my narrative voice deliver information in a way that the judges and editors will admire? Do I use imagery—metaphors and similes—in a way that is original and evocative? Does my use of poetic elements—consonance, alliteration, and stress—enhance the tale? Does the story deliver a strong emotional climax? Is it a story that judges will remember an hour after reading—a day after, a year later, at the end of a lifetime?

    If I can answer yes to all of those questions, I’ll probably beat out my competition—not because I have a single overwhelming strength, but because I have a well-rounded story, one that exhibits many strengths.

  5. Know your audience. Who is your audience with a contest? As writers, we’d all like to imagine that “Everyone will love my story.” That isn’t true. I’ve never seen a story that everyone loves. Even the best stories have their detractors. Decide who your story is for.

    In the case of our contest, if you set your story in the world of Nightingale, you could imagine that it’s a young adult story. But there’s someone you have to worry about, the gatekeepers, the contest judges.

    Note of course that every publisher has its gatekeepers. They’re called editors.

    Who are those people? Well, for this contest, I’ll be the first judge. If you make it past me, you’ll have to deal with some of my friends. So far, Kevin J. Anderson and Tracy Hickman have agreed to be final judges, and we may have one more.

    Since most of your judges for this contest would be men, you might look at the story from the angle of, “Would those gentlemen like this?” Knowing the age and gender of your audience is valuable.

    But since this story will be published in a young adult novel, I’d like to see you write a story that is aimed more at young adults. So you have to please a couple of audiences.

    What’s even more valuable than knowing the age and gender of your judges is to know the TASTES of the judges. You can find that out by doing a little research. For example, when I was going to enter a contest, I’d see if I could find books or articles written by the judges. If a judge used a lot of memorable similes, I’d make sure to sprinkle in a few. If he loved to have characters make powerful arguments, I’d look for opportunities for my characters to argue. If he was big on plot, I’d make sure that my plot had more twists than an anaconda.

    In short, the judge’s own works gave me a standard to strive toward.

  6. Use all of your space. If an author writes a super-short story, one that shows his or her genius a couple of times, I might like the story.

    But the truth is that a longer story, where an author shows his or her genius fifty times, will carry more weight with me as a judge.

  7. Be creative. Most stories that don’t get published languish because the author suffers from “failure of imagination.” The author hasn’t thought enough about his characters, world, or plot, or the way that he will tell the basic story. Maybe he uses tired metaphors, or approaches scenes in the way that they’ve been handled a hundred times before. Be fresh and original.

  8. Bring the story to a powerful conclusion. Years ago, a young man won two contests for the Writer’s Digest back to back—a remarkable feat. His advice was this: “Make ‘em cry.”

    Ultimately, a story with a strong emotional impact lingers in the reader’s memory. There is more than one way to make your reader cry. You might have her weep in joy because a love story comes to a great conclusion. The audience might cry at the injustice of the world, or in elation that a lovable protagonist has earned a well-deserved reward.

    I’ve read beautifully crafted stories that I couldn’t recall the next day. Why? Because despite the high quality of the author’s style, the story itself wasn’t emotionally moving. That’s why most contest judges, after narrowing down the entries, will mull the decision over for a day or two, to see which story plants itself firmly in their memory.

    I once had an editor reject a friend’s story, then write back three months later to ask if it was still available. He found it unforgettable.

    If a story is supposed to be adventurous, I want my heart to pound. If it’s a romance, I want to fall in love with your characters and wish them a happy life together.

When you consider entering a contest, don’t get discouraged. Don’t tell yourself, “There are so many great writers out there, I can’t win.”

More people are defeated by their own attitudes than by competition.

A few years ago I judged a contest that was open to children ages 8-14. I got hundreds of entries, but the contest was won by an eight-year-old girl, Morgan Barron. There were a lot of older, more practiced writers who entered, but this young lady polished her manuscript, going through it some forty times, and she beat them all.

Believe in yourself. Approach a writing task with cautious optimism.

Good luck!

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