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“Sitting up in the dark, he took a deep breath and scented a familiar, beguiling trace in the air…”

Deep Green Leaves, Alex Clark

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Houses Borders Ghosts
Houses Borders Ghosts

We’re delighted to announce that our new anthology, Houses Borders Ghosts, is due for publication at the end of this month.

Houses Borders Ghosts contains nine new short stories in our usual variety of styles and themes from new and returning authors; our regular readers will be familiar with Alastair Chisholm, Jacki Donnellan, and Kate van der Borgh, and there are some fantastic talents making their first appearance in our pages.

Copies will be available soon in paperback and Kindle editions. You can find out more about the new anthology, or order your own copy, here.

Various Authors short story anthology

We’re so busy getting our new anthology ready for press that we nearly overlooked our own birthday! This week sees the tenth anniversary of the publication of our first anthology, Various Authors.

In the years since then, we’ve published fourteen volumes, including 149 stories from 108 different authors. And we’ve got plenty more lined up.

So thank you to all of you — readers, contributors, and potential contributors — who have been with us along the way.

(Speaking of our anthologies, watch out for news of our new volume in the next couple of weeks.)


The daffodils are out, the supermarkets are full of chocolate eggs, and there was even half an hour of sunshine last Thursday. This can only mean one thing: our spring reading period is now open.

For this submission call, we’ve decided not to run a specific theme. Instead, we’ll be concentrating on general submissions, open to any of the themes and genres that we feature in our anthologies. So if you’d like to submit something to us, just take a look through a recent volume, and send us whatever you think makes for a great Fiction Desk story.

Submissions are open until 30 June, and you can find out more about the submission process on our submission guidelines page.

To celebrate Halloween (and the opening of this year’s annual ghost story submission call), we’re running a sale on Kindle editions of all our anthologies.

Our three New Ghost Stories volumes are just 99p each, and all other titles are just £1.99.

You can get the whole series so far (all 13 volumes) for just £22.87.

To grab yourself some bargains, just head over to Amazon UK (or Amazon USA, where you’ll find similar prices). Best hurry, though: the sale ends on Wednesday!

Here’s a quick guide to what’s coming this winter at The Fiction Desk:

Our new anthology

We’re putting the finishing touches to our latest short story anthology, and it should be available to buy within the next few weeks. We’ll be announcing more information soon, and after the announcement you’ll find all the details on our short story anthologies page.

Submission calls for winter 2020-2021

We have three submission calls running this winter. All three are open now:

The deadline for all three submission calls is the end of our winter reading period: 31 January 2021. So if you’re planning to submit to one or more of the calls, please get the story to us by then. As always, don’t forget to read our submission guidelines before sending in your work.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for inspiration, or simply a good read, don’t forget to pick up one of our anthologies. They’re available in both paperback and Kindle formats. (You can find the Kindle editions on Amazon Amazon UK here or 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 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:


  • .doc This was once the standard file used by MS Word, and the most common way to share text documents. It was replaced in 2007 by the .docx format (see below). These days, .doc files aren’t always quite as compatible or easy to open as .docx files, but are still fairly common. Use .docx if you possibly can — it’s a smaller, more versatile format — but if you’re running a pre-2007 version of MS Word you can still get by with .doc for the moment.
  • .docx Now the industry standard. Although primarily associated with Microsoft Word, it can be opened, edited and saved with a range of programs, including free suites like LibreOffice. Like the .doc format, it also has MS Word’s ’track changes’ functionality, which will come in handy when your work is accepted for publication and you need to collaborate with an editor, allowing you to see and comment on edits.
  • .docm This is a special version of the .docx file, used when the document contains macros (small apps within the document that can automate various tasks). Avoid using this format: macros are completely unnecessary in basic text documents like works of fiction, and are often used to transmit computer viruses.
  • .dot These are template files used by MS Word; for example, you might have a .dot file in your system that provides the basic layout and styles for your short stories. If you’re saving completed stories in .dot format, though, you’re probably getting into a muddle with your templates.
  • .gdoc This isn’t actually a file type at all: it’s a link to your file’s location on Google Drive. If you send somebody a .gdoc file outside of the Google ecosystem, the recipient won’t be able to open it. If your story is in Google Docs, you’ll need to save it to your computer as a .docx file before submitting. To do this, open your file in Google Docs, go to the File menu, and click ‘Download as > Microsoft Word (.docx)’.
  • .odt These files are the text version of the OpenDocument format. You’re most likely to come across .odt files if you’re using a free open source office suite like LibreOffice or OpenOffice. Like .docx, they have the ability to keep track of changes made during the editing process. They’re quite widely accepted but check first: not all devices can open them, and it’s usually best to save your file as .docx before making your submission.
  • .pages These files are created by Apple’s Pages software. They can only be opened on certain Apple devices, and even the different versions of Pages aren’t all compatible with each other. Awkward, professionally useless, and popular among people with no knowledge of computers, .pages is the Comic Sans of the file format world. Unless the market you’re submitting to says otherwise, avoid sending out work in .pages format. (The .pages format is lousy, but many people are happy writing with the program itself. If you’re using Pages, export the file as a Word .docx document before submitting.)
  • .pdf These files are intended for use with Adobe Reader: they’re usually used for sharing finished documents like digital versions of magazines or fliers, as well as contracts, forms, and other documents. Many programs can export .pdf files, and operating systems usually have a way of ‘printing’ your work to a .pdf file. So should you submit work in .pdf format? Many literary magazines and other publishers do allow it; others don’t. While .pdf files are easy to read on a wide range of devices, it’s not usually possible to reformat them. This means that the reader looking at your work won’t be able to change the font size or reflow the text if they’re using a smaller screen, or if the formatting is otherwise difficult to read. To stay on the safe side, it’s best to avoid sending out work in .pdf unless you’re specifically asked for it.
  • .rtf Relatively simple text documents, .rtf files can be read and written by most text editing programs. The formatting options are probably a little limited in terms of meeting submission guidelines for page layout, but at least you know that the reader should be able to open your file. Potentially useful as a last resort, if you really can’t manage to create a .docx file.
  • .scriv / .scrivx These files are created by the popular writing tool Scrivener. They’re for your work-in-progress, but not for submitting work. Export your finished story from Scrivener as a .docx file, and check it in Word before submitting.
  • .wps These documents are created by Microsoft Works, a basic office suite that was last released in 2007 and discontinued altogether in 2009. These days, .wps files are a nuisance to open, often needing special software to convert them to a readable format. Avoid submitting work in .wps format. (Tip: If you have a lot of old files in .wps format, your easiest option might be to download the free open-source office suite LibreOffice. LibreOffice can open .wps files, allowing you to read them and export them to a more modern and usable format.)


That list should cover most of the basic file formats that you’re likely to come across or find yourself using for your text documents. Here’s the executive summary:

  • Always check the publisher’s requirements before submitting: only they know the exact range of devices and programs they have available to read your work.
  • The single best format to get accustomed to using is .docx. Although native to MS Word, many other programs can read and write this format, and it’s most publishers’ first choice.
  • If you really hate Microsoft, or are unable or unwilling to stump up the cash for MS Word, look into LibreOffice. It’s a free, fully featured office suite available on Windows, Linux, and Mac, and can work with .docx files as well as various other types including its own native .odt files. It can also be used for collaborative editing using tracked changes. (Sending a file with tracked changes between Word and LibreOffice can be buggy, but your editor might well have LibreOffice installed for when its needed. After all, it’s free and available on nearly all computers. Find out more at

Today we’re announcing the latest winner of the Fiction Desk Writer’s Award. The Writer’s Award is presented to the author of the best story in each of our anthologies, and is voted for by the contributors themselves. The winner receives £100.

Our new anthology, Somewhere This Way, features some very strong stories and the voting was close, but for once we didn’t need a tie break: the clear winner is ‘Exhalation’, by Alastair Chisholm.

Congratulations, Alastair!

Find out more about Somewhere This Way or get your own copy right here.

If you subscribe to our email newsletter, you might already know that last week we launched our first themed call for submissions. ‘Houses and Homes‘ is all about the places where we live and the way that they affect our lives.

There should be plenty here for short story writers to get their teeth into: from domestic dramas to haunted houses, it’s an opportunity to explore psychology, class, politics, generational and cultural divides and a whole host of other issues.

In the UK (where The Fiction Desk is based), rising house prices have impacted hugely on the lives of their inhabitants and reshaped whole communities, as have the tensions between the different roles that housing plays: not just homes but investments, refuges, businesses, repositories of family memories. The conversation is by no means limited to Britain, either: as always, international contributions are very welcome.

Submissions to our themed calls work exactly like normal submissions. You submit through the same submission form, it’s still just a £3 fee, and we aim to reply to all submissions within two weeks. We pay at our usual rates for any stories we publish.

The ‘Houses and Homes’ call is open now for submissions, and you can find out more here. The deadline is 30th September. We’ll be announcing more themes over the year, so do sign up for our newsletter if you don’t already get it.

And Nothing Remains

Today we’re announcing the latest winner of the Fiction Desk Writers’ Award.

Although we’ve recently stopped running writing competitions (here’s why), the Writers’ Award is something a little special. It’s awarded to the best story in each anthology, as voted for by the contributors themselves. As well as getting the thumbs-up from their fellow writers, the winner also receives £100.

In the case of our latest anthology, And Nothing Remains, we have a tie between two stories: ‘Thirteen Wedding Dresses’ by Douglas Bruton and ‘All Washed Up’ by Chris Hogben. To break the tie between these two very fine, and very different, stories, we’ve asked our previous contributor S R Mastrantone – now writing as S R Masters – to cast a deciding vote. Over to you, Simon:

And Nothing Remains is an extremely strong collection, and it is unsurprising that this issue’s Writers’ Award came down to a tie. I found plenty to admire about Douglas Bruton’s ‘Thirteen Wedding Dresses’, an optimistic story on the unifying meaning of objects that had an exceptional sense of place. In the end I chose Chris Hogben’s ‘All Washed Up’, which grabbed me from the opening sentence right up until the final moving image of a man drifting in and out of visibility beneath street lights. Chris’s voice is confident and compelling, and the first section of dialogue between the friendly bear and Tommy was very funny and incredibly clever.

So congratulations are due to Chris Hogben (and to Douglas Bruton, for running him such a close race), and thanks to Simon for casting the deciding vote. Now it’s time to get back to work on our next anthology…

(If you’re wondering how to enter a story for the Writers’ Award, it’s simple: just submit your work to our anthology series. All the stories we publish are entered automatically to the competition.)

Over the years we’ve found some fantastic stories through the writing competitions we’ve run here at The Fiction Desk. There’s no doubt that our pages have been enlivened by ghost stories, newcomers, and flash fiction that we might not otherwise have had the chance to see – and there’s more to come, as our most recent winners will be appearing in our next anthology.

Still, we’ve decided to take a break. We won’t be running any writing competitions in the foreseeable future – although we continue to welcome both general fiction and ghost stories through our standard submissions system.

So why such a drastic change? There are a few reasons:

  1. By choosing stories through a regular submissions process, we can go much deeper into the work. We can take into account context, and if necessary follow up with the writer before making a decision. We can look at the synopsis, the bio, the writer’s other work, and any other information people choose to include with their submission. We can get back to potential contributors with questions or suggestions if we need to. Publishing is about development as well as selection, and the binary yes/no of a writing competition doesn’t allow for this.
  2. Although rewarding, running writing competitions takes a lot of time and energy: from launching a competition to publishing the winner can take anything up to a year, and we’d rather put that energy into reading regular submissions and creating great anthologies. Freeing ourselves of the competition timetable also allows us to be more agile in terms of trying out new ideas in editorial and publishing.
  3. There are a lot of writing competitions around these days, and more seem to launch all the time. We’re seeing a lot of writers whose bios are little more than a long list of prizes and shortlistings. It’s great if that’s working for them, and writing competitions definitely have their place, but at the moment we can probably make a better contribution to the short story in other, more unique ways.

So there it is. We’re stepping away from writing competitions, but continue to welcome the same kinds of story through our regular submissions system, which we will continue to evolve to create better opportunities and support for writers. If you were thinking of entering one of our competitions, please do consider sending us the story as a regular submission anyway. You’ll find full details over in our submissions area.

Incidentally, the competitions did serve one other purpose: the entry fees helped to keep us going. So if you like what we’re doing, please consider supporting us in the old-fashioned way: by picking up one of our anthologies!

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