Contest Caution: The Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award

Founded in 2010, The Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award bills itself as “the richest prize for a single short story in the English language.” And indeed, the prize is major: the winner receives a cool £30,000 (no, I did not add extra zeroes.)

With judges yet to be finalized, the selection process will include a 20-story longlist announced in May 2020, a six-story shortlist unveiled in June 2020, and the winner revealed on July 2. The shortlisted stories will be published in an Audible audiobook, with included writers receiving “an extra £1,000 fee, on top of a prize payment of £1,000”. To be eligible, writers must previously have had at least one work published in the UK or Ireland by an “established print publisher or an established printed magazine” (the Terms and Conditions include an extensive list of the kinds of publishers and magazines that don’t qualify). The contest is open for entries until 6:00 pm on December 13.

You can read more about the award, including the prestigious judges who’ve participated and the well-known writers who’ve submitted stories, here.

So what’s the catch? — because you know I wouldn’t be writing this post if there weren’t one. Well, as so often happens, it’s in the Terms and Conditions. Specifically:

To summarize this dense paragraph: simply by entering the competition, you are granting a sweeping, non-expiring license not just to Times Newspapers Limited (The Sunday Times‘ parent company), but also to Audible and any other licensees of TNL, to use your story or any part of it in any way they want, anywhere in the world, without payment to or permission from you.

This is far from the first time I’ve written about “merely by entering you grant us rights forever” clauses in the guidelines of literary contests, some of them from major publishers or companies that should know better. Sure, in this case the license is non-exclusive, so you could sell your story elsewhere–but only as a reprint, because by granting non-exclusive rights to one company, you remove your ability to grant first rights to another, at least for as long as the initial rights grant is in force.

It’s not uncommon for literary contests that involve publication to bind all entrants to a uniform license or grant of rights–so that, when winners are chosen, the license is already in place. But ideally, the license should immediately expire for entries that are removed from consideration–or, if the contest sponsor wants to retain the right to consider any entered story for publication (as TNL clearly does–see Clause 4.2, below), rights should be released within a reasonable period of time after the contest finishes–say, three or six months. There’s simply no good reason to make a perpetual claim on rights just in case, at some unspecified point in the future, you might just possibly want to use them.

Not to mention–why should Audible get to make this same claim?

There’s a couple of other things to be aware of. Shortlisted authors enter into a 12-month exclusive contract with Audible, for which they are given a “one-off” lump-sum payment (the £1,000 noted above). But thereafter, Audible retains the right “to record, distribute and market such audio version for at least ten (10) years.” Again, this right is non-exclusive–but there’s no indication that Audible has to pay these authors for potentially exploiting their work for a decade. (If you don’t consent to these terms, you can’t be shortlisted.)

Finally, although publication is guaranteed only for the shortlist, TNL reserves the right to publish longlist and non-listed entries as well. Great! Except…there’s nothing to suggest these writers would be paid either.

There’s no question that this is a prestigious–and, for the winner, rich–award. But sober evaluation is definitely in order here. Enter at your own risk.


  1. @ V.M.Sang

    They do know better. They know how desperate most writers are to get exposure to better find readers and sell their books. They are counting on your hopes and assumptions to collect as much IP as they can. If a writer that sent in a story goes hot then they have something they can sell and make money on.

    Always follow the money because publishers are not a writer's friend. They see writers as mere sheep – to be sheared and the wool sold – with as little back to the writer as possible. And here they were offering to take your wool for free. One lucky one does make some hay, a few others get a little scratch, and the rest get nothing for their wool – other than not being able to sell it elsewhere.

    That's probably another reason they wanted only those that had gone through the trad-pub mills before, they're already used to signing poor/bad contracts and getting fleeced; whine they'd get too much kickback on their bad contract from the indie/self publishing crowd.

    Writer beware, the odds are greatly against any of these cons being set up to aid you in any way.


    "Somewhere between the ages of eleven and fifteen, the average child begins to suffer from an atrophy, the paralysis of curiosity and the suspension of the power to observe. The trouble I should judge to lie with the schools." – Thomas Edison

  2. Thank you for that. It just shows how important it is top read EVERYTHING. The problem is, that with respected companies, we expect some kind of transparency and fairness, not this kind of subtle underhandedness.
    Yes, it's all there in the smallprint, they would say, and it is, but it's about fairness, and telling the entrant exactly what they are agreeing to. They know full well that people don't always read all the details.When you find out, it's too late.
    These companies should know better. In fact, they should not insist on the applicant granting rights for as long as they seem to do. NOT FAIR.

  3. Yeah, keeping all the rights of those that don't win smells just a bit too fishy to me. Only way it could have been worse is if they'd had a 'fee' to submit your offerings – so those not in the know would be paying them to steal their rights.

    Only good thing I see here is by enforcing that 'previous trad-pub book', they protected all the indie/self-pub writers …


    The difference between a Miracle and a Fact is exactly the difference between a mermaid and a seal. — Mark Twain

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