September 6, 2016 § 3 Comments
Right now, podcasts are a thing. Podcasts about accused murderers, about science, about old Hollywood. And many, many podcasts about personal stories. Ever listen to This American Life or The Moth and thought, I have a story that would be great for that show?
You probably do.
So what’s the process? How does the story get from your head (or the essay you already wrote) to the airwaves?
First, listen to the show(s) you want to be on. Different programs have very different styles and subject matter, and the story that’s perfect for Risk! is going to be terrible for Radio Ambulante. If a program is broadcast on the radio rather than solely on the internet, they have FCC restrictions on language and content. Some shows have a presentation component, where the first step is showing up at a live show and sharing your story in front of an audience (eek!).
Then think about your story, and whether it’s right for radio. As it happens, most of the points that make a good podcast story are the same things that make a good essay. On their pitch page, This American Life says:
…each of these stories is a story in the most traditional sense: there are characters in some situation, and a conflict. These pitchers are clear about who the characters are and what the conflict is. Also: each of these stories raises some bigger question or issue, some universal thing to think about. That’s also pretty important, and you stand a better chance at getting on the air if you let us know what that is too.
Radio stories are sold with a “pitch.” Instead of sending a whole story, you craft a pitch email–it’s a lot like a query letter–and submit your idea. At Transom, a site with hundreds of resources for radio storytellers and independent producers, Ari Daniel gets even more in-depth with seven tips for successful pitches, including:
Pitching a story about a generic idea — a group of people losing money on their subprime mortgages, say — isn’t nearly as effective as finding one or two people experiencing that issue who can illustrate the broader idea.
…If there’s any reason why the story needs to be aired soon, mention that. This is called a news peg.
…Don’t worry about chasing press releases and embargoed about-to-be published studies. It’s likely that staff journalists will cover these. I like to look for stories that aren’t yet on the news radar. In fact, most of my story ideas emerge out of casual conversations.
If you’re feeling like a total beginner (which is a great place to start) Youth Radio breaks it down for teens, and it sure helped me navigate at the beginning. That page has a great interview with Radiolab’s Robert Krulwich, too.
Snap Judgment even has a handy flowchart to see if you have a story (scroll down on the linked page).
Most of the shows that accept pitches have very specific and detailed guidelines. It may be challenging to structure your story to fit their mold, but it’s not hard to find the instructions. In learning to pitch, I found two things incredibly helpful:
- As an exercise, I listened to podcasts I wanted to be on and wrote pitches for the stories I heard on the air. This helped me identify characters, conflict, bigger issue, and see how stories were structured for particular shows.
- I downloaded archived sessions from the Third Coast International Audio Festival. Each year their conference includes Getting to Yes: The Art of the Pitch, and listening to people pitch their ideas to radio producers, and the producers picking them apart (kindly) helped me understand what does and doesn’t make a story. After you’ve listened to two or three sessions, you’ll start saying, “No! That’s not a story! But if you came at it from this angle…” before the pitcher even finishes their spiel.
Another great resource on story structure is This American Life’s Radio: An Illustrated Guide. It’s a $2 PDF download, and it’s so useful an approach to “what makes a story,” I think you should get it even if you never want to be on the radio.
On Thursday, I’ll be back here on the Brevity blog to talk about the process of actually presenting and/or taping. Meanwhile, check out some pitch guidelines, and see if one of these shows is the right match for your story.
This American Life (it’s a treasure trove including sample pitches that succeeded)
The Moth (with a link to tips for telling live stories)
AIR’s pitching page, with links to many shows and how-to-pitch resources
Allison Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor, and has appeared on The Moth GrandSLAM, Snap Judgment, and CBC’s Love Me and Definitely Not the Opera, among others. She’ll be hosting the upcoming Brevity podcast.
July 1, 2016 § 7 Comments
From our friends at Gulf Coast:
Gulf Coast is now accepting entries for the 2016 Barthelme Prize for Short Prose. The contest is open to pieces of prose poetry, flash fiction, and micro-essays of 500 words or fewer. Established in 2008, the contest awards its winner $1,000 and publication in the journal. Two honorable mentions receive $250 and will also appear in issue 29.2, due out in April 2017. All entries will be considered for paid publication on our website as online exclusives.
Jim Shepard will judge this year’s contest. Shepard has written seven novels, including The Book of Aron, published in 2015, which won the Sophie Brody Medal for Excellence in Jewish Literature and the PEN/New England Award for Fiction, and four story collections, including Like You’d Understand, Anyway, a finalist for the National Book Award and Story Prize winner. His previous novel, Project X, won the Library of Congress/Massachusetts Book Award for Fiction as well as the ALEX Award from the American Library Association. His short fiction has appeared in, among other magazines, Harper’s, McSweeney’s, The Paris Review, The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, The New Yorker, Granta, Zoetrope: All-Story, Playboy, and Electric Literature, he’s won a Guggenheim Fellowship, five of his stories have been chosen for the Best American Short Stories, two for the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, and one for a Pushcart Prize. He teaches creative writing and film at Williams College.
Entries are due August 31, 2016. The $18 entry fee includes a year-long subscription to Gulf Coast.
We will accept submissions both via our online submissions manager and via postal mail. Visit https://gulfcoastmag.org/contests/barthelme-prize/ for more information,.
June 27, 2016 § 2 Comments
From our friends at Anam Cara:
Send us your funnies about writing, and win £150!
Entries are now being accepted for the Verbolatry Laugh-a-Riot Contest. Humorous essays and cartoons about writing/publishing.
Deadline 31 August 2016. Two categories, free and paid, with cash prizes and publication.
Results announced October 2016. Sponsored by Anam Cara Writer’s and Artist’s Retreat.
May 31, 2016 § Leave a comment
Isthmus seeks stories, essays, and poems with political engagement for special issue where the writer serves as public intellectual. Works should bear witness, advocate, or explore a current issue or event, such as climate change, the current election, LGBT rights, and everything in-between. Successful submissions will NOT be op-ed pieces or propaganda. Original, unpublished works and translations welcome in fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry, through our regular submission manager. No fee. DEADLINE: August 1, 2016. See guidelines and link to submission manager at www.isthmusreview.com/submit
May 6, 2016 § 1 Comment
With just weeks to go until submissions are closed, we’ve woken up to the disconcerting fact that some of our earlier blog posts contained erroneous e-mail addresses for certain entry categories. So here we go again. The addresses listed below are up and running and correct (and the gremlins in the interweb pipes have been soundly chastened):
Brevity is excited to announce a special issue to be focused on experiences of race, racialization, and racism … we are looking for work that considers all aspects of race: what it is, what it means, how our understanding of it is changing. We want flash essays (750 words or fewer) that explore how race is learned during childhood, lived over the entire course of a life, and how our changing understanding of race shapes the way we experience ourselves and others. We are very excited to announced that our anchor authors for this issue will be Claudia Rankine and Roxane Gay. The guest editors for this special issue will be Ira Sukrungruang and Joy Castro.
Submissions will be open until May 31st, 2016 and the issue will be published in mid-September. Essay submissions should be sent through our Submittable page.
However, because we are committed to showcasing a variety of lived experiences in this issue, we want to be certain that everyone is able to submit their work. If Brevity’s small submission fee of $3.00 would keep you from submitting, you may submit your work to firstname.lastname@example.org without paying the fee.
We are simultaneously running a student writing contest. For student work, we ask that writing program directors encourage students enrolled in their creative writing program to address our special issue theme and we invite each program to choose the best work (or two best entries if you have both undergraduate and graduate students) from among those submitted. The one or two finalists should be forwarded by the program director directly to email@example.com by May 15, 2016.
May 3, 2016 § 1 Comment
From the good folks at Under the Gum Tree:
Under the Gum Tree invites you to submit today to our first creative nonfiction contest, judged by Brenda Miller! We are so pleased to have Brenda as our inaugural judge for many reasons, and especially because she is a past contributor to Under the Gum Tree. Brenda’s work has received six Pushcart Prizes. Her essays have been published in many journals, including Fourth Genre, Creative Nonfiction, The Sun, Brevity, The Georgia Review, and The Missouri Review. Visit Brenda online at brendamillerwriter.com.
Contest submissions should respond to the theme of (un)seen/(un)heard (see full theme description at underthegumtree.com). Contest submissions are accepted March 30-June 30, 2016. Contest entries must be previously unpublished, submitted blind, and not exceed 5,000 words. One winner will receive a modest $300 cash prize (and more, if submission fees permit!), publication in our January 2017 issue, and a one-year subscription to keep or gift.
The winner also receives the option to guest-edit the features section of a future issue of Under the Gum Tree; in this way, we desire to push the limits of our aesthetic and include more and more voices. Honorable mention(s) will be published and receive a one-year subscription to keep or gift, plus a mystery box of inspirational CNF goodies including books and UTGT schwag. We also hope to publish many finalists and other contest entries, so submit today!
Submissions are accepted via Submittable through underthegumtree.com. Multiple submissions are welcome, though only one manuscript is allowed per submission. Current Under the Gum Tree subscribers submit for free! General submissions bear a $20 reading fee and include a one-year digital subscription to the magazine; a year of the print edition is available for an additional fee. Under the Gum Tree subscribes to the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses Contest Code of Ethics and provides complete and transparent contest guidelines and process overview at underthegumtree.com.