5 Reasons to Enter a Literary Prize

3:58 PM




Sitting in a chapel listening to one of my dearest friends deliver a beautiful eulogy to her mother on a cold August day, I was oblivious to the little party my phone was having in my handbag.

As the first to arrive at the wake I made myself a cuppa, checked my phone and saw that I'd missed several calls from my friend and writing mentor Meredith. Then a text pinged through.

You've been longlisted for the Richell!

Have you ever choked on hot tea? It's not a pretty sight. Nose-blowing was involved. Fortunately the only witness was a platter of mixed club sandwiches.

Well, I thought. Well, well, well.

You see, I very nearly didn't enter the Richell Prize. Even though it's the only literary prize I'm eligible for as an 'unpublished writer of adult fiction', it just seemed too daunting. It was all very well sending my manuscript out to trusted beta-readers, but to a panel of industry savvy literary judges? Woah. The musical score that plays in every unpublished writer's head (Do you know it? It's called the Imposter Syndrome Symphony) began playing at maximum volume just thinking about it.

Then along came Hachette publisher Robert Watkins with some compelling advice to potential entrants that convinced me to give it a whirl. In this podcast, Robert interviews the past two winners of the Richell Prize, Sally Abbott and Brodie Lancaster. Along with an hour of brilliant advice on what the judges are looking for, Robert's final words resonated . . .

If you don't seize this opportunity I think it's a foolish thing. If you have a manuscript that fits the submission guidelines you should do it.

It was the kick up the bum I needed and just in the nick of time. I listened to the podcast on a Friday night; the submission was due Monday. Nothing like a deadline to get you whipping the first three chapters of your MS into serious shape!

Fast forward eight weeks and I found myself on the longlist of 20 out of 579 entrants. Cue shivers (there may have been a sneaky glass of bubbles too!)

So why should you enter? Here are my five reasons:

1. Your novel will be better for it

With only two days until the deadline I got up early on that Saturday morning, took a deep breath and plunged into an endurance swim through my first three chapters. The weekend went something like this . . .

Unnecessary adverbs, passive voice, info dumps, redundant dialogue tags - gone! . . . Print alternative first chapters and run them over to my neighbour and fellow book nerd "Quick, read these, which one grabs you?" . . . Have lively discussion with mentor on the topic 'To prologue or not to prologue?' . . .  Children shepherded away by thoughtful husband. . . . Endless cups of tea, followed later by bottomless glass of wine, provided by same thoughtful husband. . . Press SUBMIT, knowing I've done my very best with those words. 

The intense editing process I put myself through gave me the impetus to apply the same ruthless edit to the rest of the manuscript, a lesson I wouldn't have learned quite so thoroughly without the precise expectations of the Richell Prize as my goal.

2. What's the worst that can happen?

The very worst thing is still a very good thing. You enter, you don't make the longlist but you still have three chapters and a two page synopsis DONE! That's 10% of your manuscript written and a road map to the rest of your novel - a wonderful springboard made of words to catapult you forward. That's more than most people have.

3. What's the best that can happen?

Of course the best best thing that can happen is you win the Prize and start singing from the Bona Fide Author songbook. But 'best' comes in degrees. What you do with it can make all the difference. The Richell Prize Longlist 2017 might be my 'best' but if that's as far as it goes, I'm beyond happy to have reached the lofty longlist heights. It's a nod to my writing. Someone, other than the people who love me and/or rely on me for meals, believes I have something to offer. It's a bloody good incentive to keep going.

4. You'll make new friends

Shortly after the longlist was announced, my Twitter and Facebook feeds bloomed with goodwill from lots of lovely writers, some of whom were also on the list, along with several industry folk including the prize organisers at Hachette and EWF. Forming new online friendships was an unexpected but delightful side effect of entering the prize. One of the entrants Kinch Kinski has provided a fascinating peek into all the longlisted writers over on his blog.

We all know writing can be a godforsaken desolate somewhat lonely pursuit - it's nice to know you're not alone.

5. Get yourself a new Plan A

You've gone to all this trouble, maybe even been longlisted, but the prize remains out of reach. Having something else to aim for takes the sting out of failing. Preparing my manuscript for the prize has got it to a stage where it is almost ready to be pitched to an agent or publisher. So there's my new Plan A. And if that fails, there'll be another Plan A after that. I know at least thirty people who'll pay $2.99 for the e-book. Some of them aren't even related by blood!

In other words, just do it. Press submit and then get on with the words. Let us not do a foolish thing!

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