2021 Story Contest

The Annual Spectrum Short Story Contest Returns!

Welcome, one and all, to the 2021 edition of our annual short story contest.

Please make sure you read through all of the requirements before submitting and have fun with your entry!


It’s simple: to submit, you need to have either:

  • attended at least one critique meeting in the last calendar year (determined by the contest submission deadline), or 
  • participated in any of our previous contests over the last 4 years. 
If you are a new member and have not attended a critique meeting yet, please get in touch with one of the organisers.

Please note: By entering the contest you are committing to reading all other competition entries, voting in the contest and providing critiques on three entries (further information below). 



The theme is decided by the winner of the previous year’s contest. Past themes have included “betrayal,” “mirrors”, “rebirth”, and “failure”.

In 2020, the top spot was snagged by Allan McKinnon, with his story “Lucky Jenny”. 

The theme Allan has bestowed upon us this year is Depths. You can interpret this literally or figuratively—be as creative as you like! You just need to factor Depths into your story in some way.

Contest Submission Guidelines

  • ANONYMOUS submissions only. Do not put your name/email/etc anywhere on or within your entry (including in the file name), or you will be disqualified!
  • You must address this year’s theme, Depths, in some way.
  • Submit using the special story contest upload page. Do NOT use the regular submission page for critique meetings.
  • DEADLINE: 23:59 on 31st August 2020. 
  • STRICT WORD LIMIT: 5,000 words. As there will be a lot of reading to do with everyone’s submissions together, we cannot have any story exceed this amount. If yours is found to be any longer, you will be disqualified.
  • Any story submitted must be your own work, and original. Please see the contest as an opportunity to develop something new.
  • You must not share your competition story or identify your story to any Spectrum members during the competition period, including for the purposes of critique. Doing so will result in your story being disqualified.
  • This competition is a fun way to get our members used to writing to a brief and entering contests, not hold them back. Simultaneous submissions are allowed, however we ask that whatever you’ve written is new material for the contest, not a previously written piece.
  • We will include a list of content warnings in the submission form; these will be included in the entries booklet as a reference page at the end, so that readers can be prepared for any difficult or upsetting themes and content in your story. Please take care to note any applicable warnings to your story when submitting.
  • Submissions must be in manuscript format, double spaced with numbered pages.
  • … And again because there’s always someone who makes this mistake, do not put your name on it!


All submissions will be made available for download via the website in PDF, Mobi/Kindle and EPUB formats on September 12th, and removed after voting closes.

Voting will open in early October and will close at 23:59 GMT on October 17th.

There will be five separate categories for voting: 
  • Best Plot
  • Best Dialogue
  • Best Worldbuilding
  • Best Characters
  • and lastly, “I Don’t Know Why, But I Liked It”.
You will be able to pick 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in each category. Each choice is weighted, so your first choice gets 3 points, your second choice 2 and your third choice 1 point. Therefore a story that earns many 2nds can beat a story with only a few 1sts. The overall winner will be decided by adding all earned points across the five categories.

Some rules on voting:

  • To ensure a fair contest, we expect everyone who enters to read the other entries and take part in voting. If you enter the competition you are committing to reading and voting on all entries, please only enter if you are happy to do so.
  • The only exception is any member of the organising team who check the submissions and votes on the backend to ensure the process runs smoothly. They are permitted to enter the competition, however as backend support necessitates they know author identities, they will be disqualified from voting. This year, the burden of this knowledge has fallen on Kat.
  • No voting for your own story in any category. Any self-votes will not be counted and your story will be disqualified.
  • Further information on voting, including how to vote and more information on each category can be found on the voting page below:



The stories submitted will be assigned for critique among the participants of the contest, and attendees at the award meeting. Everybody will get at least 3 critiques for their story.

Critiques should be in written format so they can be sent to the authors.


Award Ceremony

There will be a special meeting held on October 30th to announce the winners in each category and the overall winner. This will be a virtual event, to make it easy for our international and far-away members who have submitted this year to attend.

The winner of Best Overall Story will get to choose the theme for next year's contest!

The Prizes!

Any story receiving first place in one of the voting categories will receive a Spectrum mug! (Limited to one per story.)

Design TBC; but it'll probably look something like this:

All stories that place 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in the voting categories and overall will also receive vouchers to The Portal Bookshop.

This year we’re delighted to announce that the overall winner will receive a critique on their story by the author C.L. Clark!

C.L. Clark worked as a professional editor before going on to have short stories published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, FIYAH, Podcastle and Uncanny, and has just published her debut novel, The Unbroken. Until recently she was co-editor at Podcastle, and she was one of our guest speakers at our March 2021 event, How To Write LGBTQ Characters in SF/F.
She will provide a written or verbal critique to the winning author and share her thoughts and expertise on your writing and story.
Finally, just because these points are so important, remember that the submissions must be anonymous (do not put your name or any other identifying information in the submission) and the theme of the contest is DEPTHS! Any entries which do not fulfil these criteria or go over the word count will be disqualified.

Good luck and happy writing,

The Spectrum Organising Team: Grant, Rachel, James, Vivienne, and Kat, and Allan who has volunteered to help out with this year’s contest.

One last thing…

As a reminder, Spectrum is able to run competitions like this because of the goodwill of our members. This will not impact your competition entry in any way (Allan, stop saying wink wink nudge nudge) but if you would like to support Spectrum to host fun competitions like this one, continue to invite brilliant speakers and keep doing unsung work like running the website, then please donate via our Ko-Fi page:


Thank you!