“These regular anthologies ... are becoming essential volumes for fans of short fiction.”

— Scott Pack

Houses Borders Ghosts
Houses Borders Ghosts

The first and most important thing to do if you’re planning to submit short stories to a magazine or series publisher is read them first. Pick up a couple of issues, or anthologies, or whatever it is they publish, and read them closely. Work out what they’re trying to do as publishers, and whether what you write is a good match. If so, think about which of your unpublished stories would fit best.

Not only does this save you a lot of time and disappointment (and if you don’t like a publisher’s output, your own work is probably not going to be a good match for them), but it is also a great way to keep inspired and engaged with what’s happening in today’s short fiction world.

To supplement this process, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at some of the short stories that we’ve published recently here at The Fiction Desk, and think about why we chose them, and what they say about us and the kind of stories we publish.

All of the following stories appear in our last-but-one anthology, Houses Borders Ghosts, which contains a mixture of general and genre fiction.

I should make it clear that this list is not a ‘best of’: as publishers, we naturally love all of our (adopted) children equally. Instead, I’ve tried to highlight stories that might best shed a light on our editorial approach.

‘Name’ by Andrew Cochrane

Although many of the stories we publish have a fairly classic plot-driven structure, we do regularly feature pieces that try to do something different: what matters is that they are successful on their own terms, and that they engage the reader.

Andrew Cochrane’s story ‘Name’ is a good example of this: it takes place in a council office, where two new parents are trying to register their baby’s name. The clerk is trying to explain why the (unspecified) name they have chosen is not appropriate. They don’t accept his reasoning. The conversation pushes back and forth, but they are essentially deadlocked for the entire story; when it ends, no progress has been made on either side.

Some readers were thrown by this. (Keep reading …)

Ghost story submission call

Always one of the most popular (and entertaining) parts of our editorial year, our annual ghost story submission call is now open.

Supernatural fiction has always been an important part of our output here at the Fiction Desk – just as it’s always been an important part of the history of the short story as a form. This annual call is about celebrating that, as well as finding a home for some some superb new ghost stories.

You can read more about the call here. (And if you’re in need of inspiration, you’ll find our latest supernatural fiction in New Ghost Stories IV, which you can get right here.)

Finally, if you’re not into ghost stories, don’t worry: our general call is open now too. Find out more about the general submission call here.

New Ghost Stories IV

It’s time to announce the latest winner of the Fiction Desk Writer’s Award.

This award is presented for the best story in each anthology we publish, and is judged by the contributors to that volume.

Time time we had a particularly challenging contest, with a three-way tie between Matt Plass, Jacqueline Gabbitas, and Jo Gatford. To break the tie, we invited our previous winner Zeph Auerbach to cast a deciding vote. He chose Jo Gatford’s story Yellow Rock as the winner, and here’s what he had to say about it:

‘Yellow Rock is superb at conjuring a sense of mystery and longing. Details – including those of the intriguing narrator – always seem just out of reach, and you’re left just with the pure drive and fear of someone working at a dangerous frontier of discovery. It’s a dark, uncanny tale that will stay with me for years to come.’

So thank you to Zeph for helping with the vote, to Jo for her excellent story, and to all of our contributors for the fantastically high standards they set. If you’ve not yet read New Ghost Stories IV, it’s out now and you can get your copy right here. (And watch out for our next anthology, featuring another new story from Jo.)

Here’s a quick guide to submission calls this autumn and winter here at The Fiction Desk.

We’ll have two submission calls open during this period:

  • Our general submission call is for stories on any theme, in any of the genres we usually feature in our pages. This is open now, with a deadline of 31 January 2024.
  • Our annual ghost story submission call, for all kinds of supernatural fiction. This call opens October 1st, and will also run until the end of January.

As always, don’t forget to read our submission guidelines, and please read at least one of our anthologies before sending in your work.

(You can get our anthologies directly from us here.)

Kate van der Borgh

We are delighted to hear that Kate van der Borgh has found a publisher for her debut novel, And He Shall Appear.

Kate’s stories have appeared in two Fiction Desk anthologies to date: Home, Time was featured in Houses Borders Ghosts, and The History Lesson was in Separations.

And He Shall Appear is described in the Bookseller announcement as “a dark academia thriller about a young Cambridge undergraduate in the 2000s who finds himself in thrall to his notoriously wild classmate Bryn Cavendish. Bryn, a budding occultist and host of debauched campus parties, commands a group of loyal fans and followers; those who cross Bryn end up outcast, haunting the peripheries of the college like spectres. When Bryn’s magic tricks start going further than they have before, those around him begin to wonder: is there a darker side to Bryn than any of them imagined? ”

Kate’s agent Rosie Pierce at Curtis Brown placed the novel with Fourth Estate in the UK & Commonwealth; US and German editions are also coming, with no doubt more on the way.

Fans of Kate’s short fiction should certainly look out for And He Shall Appear, which is due for publication in autumn 2024.

New Ghost Stories IV

Our latest anthology, New Ghost Stories IV, is out now.

You can find out more, or order your own copy, right here.

File Formats

We see a lot of different file formats here at The Fiction Desk. Although our guidelines specify that submissions should all be in MS Word format (.doc or .docx), we do our best to open and read most document types that come our way. Sometimes it’s just not possible, and we have to ask writers to resubmit their story manuscript in an alternative format.

There seems to be a lot of confusion about file formats, so here’s a quick guide to the main document types, where they come from, and their pros and cons as submission formats.

When making a submission it’s important to always follow the individual publisher’s guidelines in terms of the file formats they can accept: after all, only they know which devices and software they have access to. Still, the following should provide you with some insight into why they make the choices they do, and what you can do if your preferred formats don’t match their requirements: (Keep reading …)

New Ghost Stories IV

Our new anthology, New Ghost Stories IV, will be published at the end of April, and it’s available to pre-order now.

New Ghost Stories IV is part of our occasional series dedicated to supernatural fiction, and includes stories from Fiction Desk regulars Alastair Chisholm, Matt Plass, Jo Gatford, Mark Taylor, and Cindy George, as well as a host of new (and new-to-us) writers.

To find out more, or pre-order your own copy, just follow this link.

Our spring submission calls are now open.

This year, we’re running two calls:

  • Our themed call this spring is City Stories – for stories about cities and how they shape the lives of the people who live, work, and travel in them.
  • Our General Submission Call is our standard call for stories in any of the themes and styles we features in our anthologies.

Click above for more information about either of these calls. The deadline for both is 31 May, 2023. As ever, be sure to read our submission guidelines before sending in your work.

On Friday the BBC announced the shortlist for this year’s National Short Story Award.

There’s a total of five shortlistees, and we’re delighted to see that two of them are Fiction Desk contributors. That’s almost half the list!

The two writers whose work has appeared in our pages are Danny Rhodes and Richard Smyth.

You can find out more about the award over on the BBC’s website. The winners will be announced on 19 October.

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