The Harper Collins short story contest fiasco

About 240 of us finalists are licking our wounds after the unexpected end to the ‘get published’ contest. For those who don’t know about the contest, the short story contest was organized by Indiblogger, the popular Indian blogging directory, in collaboration with Harper Collins. After putting up with constant changes to the submission guidelines, and waiting long beyond announcement dates for results, the contest finally ended in a fiasco for the finalists. Of the promised 50 winners, Harper Collins selected only 10 to be published in the compilation book, and didn’t bother announcing the changes to the participants.

I entered into two contests this year. The first was the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) for my novel, and the Get Published (GP) contest for my short story. The two experiences were like chalk and cheese.

  • The ABNA had clear rules and announcement deadlines that remained unchanged throughout the contest, unlike the GP whose rules changed every time someone at Harper Collins sneezed. GP folks never cared to meet their own announcement deadlines, either. And we’re talking 10,000 ABNA entries v/s 500 odd GP entries.
  • My book went till the top 500 in my category, but I received 2 pages of feedback when it didn’t qualify for the next round of ABNA. The feedback gave me valuable insights on the real category of my book, its strengths and weaknesses. The judges honestly considered every entry. Do I need to mention again the careless way the GP judges changed the final list from 50 to 10 at the last minute, without any announcements?
  • Contract—the most important thing in the publishing industry, and defined meticulously in ABNA. Where was it in the GP contest? What about royalties, and copyright? A lot of us probably did wonder about it, but then we trusted Harper Collins’ reputation and submitted our stories anyway. Although they didn’t bother disclosing their contract, they would come after us with bloodhounds if we violated the contract, wouldn’t they?

I have one word for the way GP was executed—Unprofessional.

I wonder, would this have happened in another country? If results were bungled like this elsewhere, Harper Collins would be buried under hundreds of lawsuits. Not to mention the hit its reputation would take.

The least the GP coordinators could have done was update the participants, stating the reasons for the drastic changes in the results. After the initial outrage, we’d make peace because this is the first such contest they’re hosting, and teething troubles are to be expected. But instead they decided to take the easy, sneaky way out and quietly changed the rules, quietly announced the results and shut off communication.

This was a great opportunity, and Harper Collins had the opportunity to tap into young, modern and eloquent talent. And what did they end up doing? They probably lost 400 odd entries for their next contest, assuming that 80% of us will think twice before we submit our creation to another contest run by them. A lot of us won’t bother wasting our time and energy again at all.

Indiblogger did a great job. The people who coordinated the contest did a great job. But ultimately, they were all powerless since there was no contract holding Harper Collins to their word, and Harper Collins probably called all the shots. At the end of the day, it was a symphony of apes.

My hearty congratulations to the winners, your entries were awesome and deserved to win. And although I wish I’d made it to the top 10 too, I think I’m still in pretty good standing. Why?

  • The way GP was executed doesn’t inspire my confidence in the next steps hereafter and the contract. But now I am not contractually bound, which means I can enter my story into more contests, self-publish it or add it to my own collection of short stories for publishing. My story is still mine, and now I can get published on my own terms.
  • The final announcement surprised everyone by hinting that the winners will have to make changes to their story. Why weren’t participants informed before? I’d specifically asked that question too. They are hazy on what changes will have to be made. Can you imagine having to expand a 4000 word short story into 20,000 words? What if they ask the authors to rework so-called objectionable content and situations? It’s unfair, and I sincerely hope the winners don’t have to go through that.
  • Finally, I’m glad that I got a validation for my short story skills. I wouldn’t have ever tried my hand at it otherwise. Now that I have, there is a whole world of opportunity in front of me. And through the process I also found an awesome community of bloggers, who make up my intellectual family.

So dear Indi-family, pick up your pieces and charge on. You know you’re good, so don’t let one dreadfully organized contest break you.

Finally, don’t forget to delete your entries as soon as you know there is no way the results are changing. And winners, please check your contract before signing anything.


About chaitanya

Since the day I realized that making two words rhyme was the first step to poetry (a step I've now thankfully outgrown) I've been writing. I've just been too shy to blog. But What is the Question? is a baby step toward exploring my blogability. I aim to post twice a month and I'll try my very best to not bore you, because I hate boring blogs too! Keep checking back in!

Posted on May 28, 2013, in Food for Thought and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. I don’t know what to say, Chaitanya. I wouldn’t say I am licking my wounds exactly but, yes, it hurt.

    There is no denying the truth HarperCollins has treated the participants like trash. And now you say Indiblogger has been the saint in the whole enterprise but that reminds me of that voting farce. Yet, that may be nothing in face of the volley of weird books HC wants to be reviewed.

    You are a good writer. I expect to read more from you in future.


    • Well, at this point, it looks like Indiblogger had good intentions, but was ultimately powerless because the people at harper Collins called all the shots. I don’t know if they are saints, but they did screw up by not entering HC into a contract. We’ll hopefully find out soon enough.
      Thank you for reading and coming back to my blog, a compliment from another accomplished writer always feels good!


  2. I expect you to delete this comment after you have read it -I hate inserting links.

    But I did object.

    You may want to check out some of the comments towards the bottom of the post:


    • Hmm, I can see now why the more accomplished bloggers were so peeved at the time. I entered the last week of the contest, so by then the ‘like’ thing had been straightened out.
      For me, a blog-ling then, the other voting thing (where they discarded the value of votes and judged on merit alone) was a boon, as I knew nobody who’d vote for me and I had 7 days to get all the votes. Looking back, I think it should have been a combination of votes and merit, because the stories which had more votes would also increase the reader base for the book.


  3. Moral of the Story:
    Creative Writers must avoid “contests” and just put their stories on their blogs.
    In any case, the death of the printed book is near.


    • Agree. There is no easy road to publishing.
      I try very hard to stay old fashioned with books, but its getting increasingly difficult. Sigh…


      • Hi Chaitanya:
        If you like books and want to see your work printed in books, the only other way is self publishing. Maybe it is easy out there in USA to publish, market, distribute and sell your book, but over here it is easy to publish but very frustrating to market and sell your book.


      • Its funny you mentioned it, this contest infuriated me so much that I’m thinking of trying out self-publishing this story to test out the market!
        It’s easy to self-publish, but yes, marketing yourself needs a lot of time and talent.


  4. Well, it is well understood in India lack of professionalism and responsibility is quite common anywhere you peep in . So a mismanaged contest will neither be regretted by the organizers nor will the entries actually stop doubling up next year. That is how India is and will be I am sure.

    But its good to see a whistle blower expressing out the fact in public.That was important.
    Although I have nothing to do with publishing as my domain is completely different and nor did I participate in this however I felt bad about the way contestants have been treated.Creativity put on radars of judgement of few individuals willing to monetize from it is injustice to ones work. As you explained about ABNA’s way of handling even rejected contestants shows the publishers know what they are doing. Indeed a rejected contestant deserves equal explanation as much the positives of a selected contestant is revealed.


    • It annoys me that people shrug off unprofessionalism by saying ‘this is India’. Everything needs work to improve, and if enough people care about it, things will change. slowly, but it will change.
      My main peeve with the contest was how the contestants were treated like trash. Feedback takes some work, but a 5-line explanation of the big changes in the results would have done it too.
      Yes, you’re right in guessing that HC won’t suffer much for the next year’s contest. We need to cultivate more pride in our abilities.


      • Well reminds me of a bollywood movie named – Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron

        Well in India nobody says that … because we know it. I am not being defensive Chaitanya but the India which is changing is in the few metros with 23% of the population !!
        Its been 11 years I am doing my bit .. I will till the last breath .. however in India unprofessionalism is a cult and for reasons good enough !!
        A cop station , A PWD office , an LIC office … whatever belongs to govt … either you need to have a so called source or you will sooner than later stop being annoyed of people who say ‘this is India’


      • I agree with you. I’ve only lived overseas for a few years, so I know what you’re talking about. What annoys me isn’t your particular comment, but the situation as a whole. By being complacent we’re giving a free run to people who want to get by without working for it. All the contestants are irritated, but what are they doing about it? You see it seeping into our generation, and our corporate culture. Why would anyone work hard if they didn’t have to?
        My apologies if I came across as being cross, I hope you understand that I’m very peeved at the what that the contest was executed.
        Do keep dropping by, I promise I won’t bite 😉


  5. I agree with you. I would have been happy had they sent me a feed back why they couldn’t select my story. I, too,am licking my wounds. God forbid!


  6. people promote mediocrity when they are not capable enough to differentiate between good and bad or when they are shamelessly dishonest. we see things like this everywhere.

    i am shocked to see some of my favorite entries not there in list. that disgusted me more than the revised number of selected entries. but then again, those were my favorite entries not judges’.


    • Judging is always subjective, so I’m actually not worried if the winners deserved to win. But did the finalists deserve to be treated this way, that’s my question.
      shamelessly dishonest, that hits the spot.


  7. I can summarize everything in one line – Almost every contest in India is for publicity. I know how you feel. I don’t know how long you have been blogging but you will witness so many cases that eventually you will stop reacting.


    • True. But publicity doesn’t have to be at the cost of fairness. I started blogging seriously about the time this contest happened, so yes, I was excited about it. I won’t even try to find out how the other contests are going to go- I’ll stop wasting my time participating in these contests and write my own thing.


      • Hmmm…I am not the right person to comment as I have been on both winning and losing side. Participate, if the contest attracts you. Winning wins you more readers. 🙂


      • Saru, the issue is not about winning or losing, any contest will have more losers than winners, its a reality we are aware of when participating. The issue is about wasting our time and energy for a badly organized contest. The least the participants are entitled to is transparency in the process.


  8. From my experience of contests, I can tell you this. The only contract will most likely be an unconditional assignment of copyright to H-C by the winners. And, they probably will be hounded to publicize the book as well. I was, at least, lucky enough that the contest I got published in – ‘Uff Ye emotions’ – offered 3k prize money, but that was that.

    I was expecting that part. I was also expecting the possibility that my story would fall through merely because the taste seems to be light candy-floss and not the heavy tragic tale that I had told. What I hated was that a. after all that hoopla they are turning out such a small book – which seemed more like they were trying to limit costs of the publicity that they had garnered than a serious attempt at publishing a book and b. springing this idiocy of a ‘set’ at the end. I mean, if you wanted a certain sub-genre of ‘real love stories’ why not declare that upfront?


    • Exactly. I remember lots of people asking the exact question in the forums. If they wanted popcorn love, they should’ve mentioned it upfront and half of us mature writers would have saved our energy for another contest.
      You know what will be worse? If they take this attitude to the publishing process, and end up publishing only a few hundred copies. The authors can’t even use that story anywhere else.


  9. Need to be more careful with these contests. Of late I have been participating in so many. If Harper Collins turns out unprofessional, I don’t know what to expect from others.


    • Exactly. I’m once bitten twice shy too, and I think my energy is better spent focusing on my blog.
      I really liked your ‘moral of the story is’ contest entry, good luck with that!


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