November 1, 2015
Stephen King Short Story Contest Infuriates American Writers

Stephen King is probably - if not the most renowned - the most popular modern fiction writer in the world. He has been called a modern-day Mark Twain, which is pretty high praise indeed. Extremely prolific and well-read, Stephen King releases books yearly, and often releases multiple works in a single 12-month span. King has written novels, short stories, e-serials, teleplays and screenplays. He is the King of Horror. He is an American Original.

So, all the above being true, when Stephen slaps his name on a short story contest, writers around the world take notice. A short story contest is being run by The Guardian and publisher Hodder & Stoughton, and the competition will be judged by Stephen King. The winner will get their short story published on the Guardian website, and will get to participate in a Guardian Masterclass on writing taught by Stephen King's editor in the United Kingdom, Philippa Pride.

Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

When the announcement about the contest was made on Friday, (the day before Halloween, how appropriate) it, of course, spread throughout the internet and the world like wildfire. The announcement concerning the Stephen King contest was shared on Facebook and Twitter, links to the contest rules and regulations were posted on numerous writing and Stephen King fan sites.

And that was where the anger began.

Imagine that you are a writer, and possibly a horror writer at that, and you read about a short story contest that Stephen King will actually be judging. What writer wouldn't be salivating at the opportunity to have the King of Horror just get a glimpse of a story you have slaved over? Imagine reading the headline for the contest, feeling excitement, exhilaration and a healthy dose of elation.

And then you read the part where the contest is only open to residents of the U.K.

Shock. Despair. A twisting in your stomach. Depression.

Maybe, just maybe, as some of the Facebook posts and Tweets proclaimed, maybe Stephen is actually going to do a contest in multiple countries, and the one in the U.K. is just the first? Maybe.

The reaction on the internet was instant and identically widespread. Initial joy upon reading about the contest, and then deflation, irritation and anger as it was realized that the contest wasn't available to writers in America, Canada, Mexico, Germany, Italy, Australia or even Russia.

Ah well. Then what are the rules of the Stephen King short story contest for those lucky devils that do live in the U.K.?

Photo by George De Soto/Getty Images

To enter the competition, you must write a short story of less than 4,000 words, inspired by the following passage that was provided by Stephen King.

"There's something to be said for a shorter, more intense experience. It can be invigorating, sometimes even shocking, like a waltz with a stranger you will never see again, or a kiss in the dark, or a beautiful curio for sale at a street bazaar."
In addition to a mess of other rules, (i.e. you must be 18, you can only submit one story) the contest promoters state that each piece will be judged on the following criteria.
  1. The story must be Original, in that it is a total fabrication by the author and that it doesn't feel cookie-cutter.
  2. The story is Gripping, in that it grabs hold of the reader from the get-go and holds their attention throughout.
  3. And finally, the story should be Chilling, in that it should "unsettle" the reader.
All of the entries will be read by a team of readers from Hodder & Stoughton. They will be judged on the above criteria and whittled down to 20 entries. Those 20 entries will be delivered to Mr. Stephen King, and he will decide the grand prize winner.

Of course, if you don't live in the U.K., you can't enter the Stephen King contest.

[Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images]