When I pick up a short story collection the first page I turn to is the authors writing history, this might be publications or competition successes and then there is the author biography. I not only glean background information I can also find out about their successes, triumphs and near misses, or near wins, as I prefer to think of them. I’ve just had another near miss/win of my own; for the second time (the first in Bridport 2016) I have been shortlisted for The Bridport Prize 2019, out of 3772 entries my short story made it into the top 100.
Some competitions print an anthology and inclusion in an anthology is really good news, I have been included in 4. Not only does it get your writing out there to the general reader and perhaps to a small press talent spotting, but it also gives you as a writer beavering away alone, an opportunity to read winners and runners up in the competition you entered and gage what is topical in the world of short fiction. Sometimes, either on the competition website or in a foreword, there is a judge’s report. This is useful, the judge will tell you what they were looking for in a short story and also, and this is important, the predominant themes in the entries. I advise my students to take note and take care when selecting themes, because I often read that competitions have been awash with stories on, for example; Alzheimer’s, refugees, domestic abuse, eccentric villagers, unrequited love etc. While there is nothing wrong with hitting on the topic of the moment, there is in if this theme has been done to death and you are setting yourself the difficult task of delivering your story in an exceptional and unusual manner coupled with standout prose. Try to think of a topic/theme that is not everywhere in the press, stretch yourself and remember to take risks with your writing.
I am also often asked where to find competitions; Google short story competitions and loads will come up. If you want someone to filter them down get hold of a copy of Mslexia magazine. Above all, you need to write stories regularly and re-write them too. You will get better at the craft of writing and through reading short story collections (I recommend the publisher SALT for their short story collections and books) read widely you will learn a great deal about the technical aspects of delivering an exceptional story.