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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Micro Award: Interview with Alan Presley

Interview by Robyn Chausse

Contests are wonderful vehicles for testing our skills, finding our audience, and receiving recognition in the writing community. Here at WOW! we are always on the lookout for quality driven contests.

Today we are visiting with Alan Presley, administrator of The Micro Award, a literary prize presented annually in recognition of outstanding flash fiction from both print and electronic media.

WOW: Hello Alan, welcome to Women On Writing.

What is the history behind The Micro Award—who founded them and why?

Alan: The Micro Award was founded in 2008 by author Robert Laughlin to recognize outstanding flash fiction (which we define as stories that don’t exceed 1000 words). At the time there was no literary award specifically for flash fiction, and because it’s fundamentally different from other short fiction, flash fiction tends to get overlooked by the other awards. Robert saw a void and he filled it.

WOW: What is the mission behind The Micro Award?

Alan: The Micro Award’s mission is still same as it was back in 2008. It exists to promote the craft of the short short story by recognizing the best of the best. I think we’ve been successful so far as both the Micro Award and the entire flash fiction community are on the rise. Hopefully we can keep the momentum going.

WOW: Yes, the craft has really taken hold! How did you become involved in The Micro Award?

Alan: I got involved about two years ago. As a fan of flash fiction, I had just discovered the Micro Award. Unfortunately, Robert was going to discontinue the Micro Award because he didn’t have the time or money required to keep it running. I simply asked him if I could take on administration of the award to keep it alive. He not only agreed, but was very supportive of the idea. So, two awards later, here I am.

WOW: How are the judges chosen?

Alan: I try to find judges who really know flash fiction. Some are prior Micro Award winners or finalists, but all are recognized experts in the craft. I also look for varied styles and genres in the work of the judges. The more perspectives we have, the better. We were fortunate enough to have seven outstanding judges for the 5th Annual Micro Award earlier this year.

WOW: What do the finalists win?

Alan: In each of the last two year, first prize received $500 and a small trophy and the runner-up got $100. For now, the prize money comes from me. I’m hoping to get that changed over the next few years.

WOW: What does The Micro Award look for in a story?

Alan: I wouldn’t say that there’s a specific thing that we look for in a story. In fact, we’ve had finalists representing everything from hard prose to borderline poetry and from realistic fiction to magical realism. And then there’s been plenty of mystery, horror, and science fiction, too. I like stories that tell me something about myself or the world that I haven’t considered before. That’s not easy to do in under 1000 words. When the reader picks up a flash story to read, he or she expects that payoff for time invested. The author can’t disappoint. Indeed, it’s quite difficult.

I’ve mentioned this before, but the most common mistake I see is authors thinking that, just because they’ve written a really short story, they’ve produced a piece of flash fiction. A good flash piece, however, still needs the definitive structure of a clear beginning, middle, and end. You can even see that structure in the six-word baby shoes story usually attributed to Ernest Hemingway.

WOW: That is an excellent point, Alan. Flash isn’t all about the word count, it is about gripping the reader and producing a satisfying story within that word count.

Tell us how the stories are submitted—I see that some are submitted by the writers and others by publications.

Alan: Stories may be submitted by authors or editors. Authors may submit one of their stories, and editors may submit two stories from their publication. I haven’t yet decided on the submission window for the next award, but it’ll probably be Oct 1st to Dec 31st, just as it has been the past few years.

WOW: Have you seen any new trends?

Alan: Hmm… good question. I honestly don’t think I’ve been collecting data long enough to recognize any real trends yet. What I can say is that submissions are going up every year: 33 in 2009, 72 in 2010, 304 in 2011, and a whopping 421 in 2012. Will we top 500 next year? I hope so. I’ll probably then have to hire a secretary just to keep up with everything.

WOW: For readers who are interested, there is a nice breakdown of where submissions came from for the 5th Annual Micro Award on the 2012 Winners page.

This year was the first year a winner was self published; what are your thoughts on that?

Alan: I wouldn’t read too much into it. This year’s winner, Bruce Holland Rogers, has been one of the leading short short fiction authors for years. For someone like Bruce, who’s well established, it works. I generally wouldn’t recommend self-publishing to most new authors. Readers are much more likely to find the work of a new writer in a magazine (online or print) than a self-published site or blog.

I strongly recommend against self-publishing a story just to enter it into the Micro Award. If one can’t get it published elsewhere, how is it going to compete against the plethora of stories that were published? The truth is that stories published by third party markets tend to do much better in the competition. Then again, I’ve been surprised more than once with the Micro Award.

WOW: Well said.

Thank you, Alan, for the opportunity to talk about the Micro Award. I hope to see one of our many excellent authors on next year’s winner’s page!

Check out the 2012 winning story: “Divestiture” by Bruce Holland Rogers

Official rules and entry deadline for the sixth annual Micro Award will be published this summer at The Micro Award.

Links to the markets that have published Micro Award-Honored stories can be found here.

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