Contest Rules


Contest Rules

Contest Rules

If you have questions, write to

  • There is NO FEE for entering any of our contests.
  • DO NOT put your name or contact information anywhere in the story itself. Judges don’t want to know who wrote a story while they evaluate it.
  • All stories must be based on the contest premise.
  • On The Premises uses Submittable to handle all submissions. When you submit your story, you’ll be given a way to create a FREE Submittable account if you don’t already have one.
  • On The Premises accepts submissions in the following formats only: Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx), Rich Text Format (.rtf), plain text (.txt), and OpenOffice/NeoOffice (.odt).
  • We do not accept stories that have already been published in other magazines, blogs, or websites. Having a story distributed through an on-line criticism board or writer’s group so it can be critiqued as part of the writing process does not count as being published.
  • All short stories must be between 1,000 and 5,000 words long. Mini-contests are different; each one has its own word length requirements, but they usually ask for entries in the 25 to 75 word range.
  • One submission per author per contest.
  • Stories must be in English. A little bit of non-English is okay if the story needs it, but make sure people who don’t know that language can get a good sense of what’s being written.
  • No fan fiction and no pastiches, not even with public-domain characters like Dracula, Little Red Riding Hood, Sherlock Holmes, or Tom Sawyer.
  • On The Premises buys HTML, PDF, and ebook publication rights to your story. Current issues are published in HTML; back issues are published in PDF format and (someday, we hope) ebooks, which we consider a modern equivalent to PDF format. All other rights are retained by the author. Especially, all rights having to do with making more money from the published fiction are retained by the author.

Hints for Winning Our Contests

Hints for Winning Our Contests

On The Premises is contest-based. We publish the stories judged as the best of all those submitted to us. We judge all entries “blindly,” and if your entry contains lots of problems, it won’t win, even if we later find out you’re a famous author.

We are earning a reputation for publishing excellent fiction, no matter who wrote it. We deliberately contrast ourselves to magazines that will publish some famous writer’s less-than-best efforts just to get that author’s name on the magazine cover. So if you want your story to contend for first place, consider the advice below.

The basics

1. Your story should contain NO spelling, grammar, formatting, or other syntax errors, unless your story convinces us you made those errors for artistic effect. And please watch for spelling errors that spell-checkers never catch! (Dew ewe sea watt eye mien?) Reading your story out loud, slowly, is a great way to find such errors. Having someone else read it aloud to you is even better.

2. Even though we require electronic submissions, we prefer standard American manuscript formatting (double-spaced text, 12-point font, one-inch margins, etc.). EXCEPTION: Stories saved as plain text format (.txt) should use single spacing within paragraphs and double spacing between paragraphs, much like this web page does.

What judges want to read

3. Your story should be CREATIVE. Whether your story is set in the real world or a sci-fi/fantasy/speculative one is not the point. The point is, how many times have we read (or seen in movies/television) stories similar to yours, in any genre?

4. Your story should be COMPELLING. Make us care about your story and the characters in it. Grab our attention at the beginning and don’t let go until the end.

5. Your story should be WELL-CRAFTED. More than anything else, that means every word is chosen with great care. It also means there isn’t one unnecessary word or idea in your story. The parts of your story form a perfect whole.

6. Your story should CLEARLY be built around the contest premise. If our premise is that a story has to be about a dog, make the dog a major character. Don’t have a dog appear in the first paragraph, then never be seen again. And don’t make the story about some organization whose initials are D.O.G. The more obvious your use of our premise is, the better.

Additional hints

7. Your story should not rely on extremely graphic depictions of anything—sex, violence, gore, stuffed animals, anything—to accomplish its goal(s). We think “shocking” usually means “boring.”

8. Your story should not yell at us or be some thinly-veiled political tract. We don’t like stories that assume no intelligent person could possibly disagree with the author on some matter. Closed-minded characters can make great literature. Closed-minded authors rarely do.

9. Your story should be aimed at adults or mature teenagers. However, we won’t categorically rule out fiction that children would enjoy, as long as older readers would enjoy it too. The Harry Potter series and many of Judy Blume’s books are excellent examples of writing enjoyed by both children and adults.

Finally, some generic advice

10. Marc Raibert, an expert on technical writing, says, “Almost all good writing starts out bad,” and, “Good writing is bad writing that was rewritten.” We couldn’t agree more. So if you want to win one of our contests, free yourself from the prison of high expectations and write an awful first draft. Then rewrite it, get it critiqued, and repeat the process. We’re giving you between 75 and 90 days for each short story contest. That’s enough time for rewrites, in our experience.

What if I Win?

What if I Win?

Congratulations! Now the rest of your work begins.

First, if you didn’t already include such a clause in your initial e-mail to us, we’re going to make you send us an e-mail that clearly states that your work is your original, unpublished creation, at least as far as you know.

Second, we edit your story (see below).

Third, when your story has been edited to our mutual satisfaction, we’ll formally ask you for HTML and PDF publication rights. We’ll send you a contract (electronic unless you insist on hardcopy), and you’ll have to sign it and send it back to us.

Finally, within two weeks of receiving your contract (and usually sooner), we will send you your check, or pay you by other agreed-upon means.

Editing Stories

We hope you’ll work with us as we edit your story. Our goal is to bring out the best story you have inside you, given our considerable time constraints. On a tactical level, our goal, to paraphrase editorial consultant Alan D. Williams, is to ensure that:

1. Every part of your story says what you want it to say; and

2. You’re saying what you want to say as clearly and consistently as possible.

We have a third goal of our own, which is difficult to achieve, but we always strive for it:

3. To make every sentence in your published version as good as the best sentence in your submitted version.

(We have yet to receive a submission without at least one weak sentence somewhere.)