For new and emerging writers, getting your first manuscript in front of a publisher, let alone securing a publishing deal, can be extremely difficult, particularly as many traditional publishers no longer accept unsolicited submissions.
One of the ways to get your work noticed is by entering unpublished manuscript awards. One such competition is the Impress Prize for New Writers, run by UK publisher, Impress Books. The Impress Prize is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year and I spoke with Rachel Singleton from Impress Books to learn a little more about who can enter and what the judges are looking for.
Here’s what Rachel had to say:
What is the Impress Prize and how did it come about?
The Impress Prize is a writing competition designed exclusively for new, unpublished writers where the prize is the publication of their entry with Impress Books. All entries are judged internally by the team at Impress Books, a shortlist is put together and the winner is decided by a panel of external experts in the publishing industry. Many of our winners – and also some of the shortlist – have gone on to have series published by Impress. As an independent publisher, we know that there are very talented writers who don’t have agents and the prize offers these writers the chance to enter their writing directly to a publisher of fiction and non-fiction.
Can you share a little about some of the previous winners and entrants who’ve gone on to have their work published?
The 2015 winner was Annabel Abbs with her historical fictional novel The Joyce Girl (originally submitted under My Perfect Mind). This novel is about James Joyce’s daughter, Lucia, who was a talented dancer in 1920s Paris. Lucia had an affair with Samuel Beckett and also suffered from mental health problems, which led her to psychotherapy with Jung. It’s a beautifully written novel and is also incredibly tragic. The book will be published in June as we aim to publish the winner within a year of them winning the prize.
There are two other authors who, although they didn’t win, were on the shortlist in their respective years and have gone on to be prolific writers. The first to mention is Jennie Finch, who was shortlisted in 2010 with her crime novel Death of the Elver Man. The panel were so impressed by Jennie’s novel that they signed it alongside that year’s winner and her novel has been adapted into the Alex Hastings series, with the last instalment, Smoke and Adders, being released this September. The next author is historical fiction writer Tracey Warr, whose novel Almodis: The Peaceweaver was also shortlisted. Tracey then went on to publish The Viking Hostage with Impress, which has seen a lot of success in the last year and she will also be publishing the Conquest trilogy with us too.
In 2016, the prize includes a crowd-funding element. Can you explain a bit about how that works?
We know that the shortlist contains more than one winning entry and as the prize is in its tenth year, we thought we’d do something a bit different once the winner had been announced. This year as well as deciding the winner, the panel will then choose their next three favourites in the shortlist which will be entered into a crowdfunding campaign. The book will be available on an online crowdfunding platform with a target to be fundraised (much like when people raise money for charity through sites such as Just Giving). Readers can then take a look at the proposals and if they’re really interested in the subject matter, they contribute a small sum of money. If the book reaches its target, then Impress will publish the book and those who contributed will receive a free copy.
Who should consider entering the prize?
Any writer who hasn’t had a full work published in the traditional sense. This means that if you have had a short story or piece of academic work, you’re still eligible. We also accept self-published authors as well. If you have an idea for a novel or piece of non-fiction that you think people would read, then we want to hear from you!
Why should emerging writers seek out opportunities, such as the Impress Prize?
Big publishers such as Penguin Random House and Harper Collins don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts from authors anymore and will only go through agents. The process of finding an agent can be extremely demanding and difficult for an emerging writer to navigate. The Impress Prize for New Writers ensures that a writer can get in contact with us directly. Each entry receives our full attention and there’s a publishing deal waiting at the end of it.
Can you take us behind the scenes of the judging process? Who reads the entries and how are the shortlist and winner selected?
Initially, the entries are divided up between everyone who works for Impress and they are marked based on originality, commercial potential and writing style. The entries are then read by another member of the team and marked in the same way, so that each entry is read twice. A shortlist of the best entries is compiled (usually with a few discussions and debates along the way) and the shortlist is then sent to the external panel. Each year the panel is different and it is made up of authors, booksellers, and other prestigious people in writing circles. The panel have around 6 weeks in which to read and judge the entries before then meeting in Exeter where Impress Books are based to have a discussion and come to a decision about who should win. Sometimes the winner is decided very quickly, but at other times it can take a few hours.
Is there anything particular the judges are looking for?
By the time we get to shortlisting stage, the judges are weighing up the plot and writing style of a submission as well as its commercial potential. They will look into this in a fair amount of detail as there can be some entries that are very closely tied as to how they should win.
As part of their entry, writers are asked to submit a book proposal along with a sample chapter. Are they required to have a completed manuscript prior to submission, or can it be a work-in-progress?
The preference is that the manuscript be completed because this means we can publish it the year after they win the prize, however this is not mandatory. Once a contract is signed with the winner, the manuscript will receive the attention of a development editor who may ask that some changes be made to improve the work.
Entries close at midnight on 1 July 2016. How long does the judging process take and when will the shortlist and winner be announced?
We have 6 weeks in house to read all the entries and the shortlist is usually announced towards the end of August. The panel usually meet towards the end of September/beginning of October and that’s when the winner is decided.
What tips would you offer to writers entering the prize?
- Always proofread your 6,000 word entry before you submit. Spelling mistakes, sentences that don’t make sense and grammar errors can contribute to your mark in terms of writing style. This also applies to the synopsis and publishing rationale.
- Make sure that the synopsis makes sense. If we can’t follow the synopsis, this can impact the viability of publication.
- In the publishing rationale, tell us why it is different and where it fits in terms of genre, don’t assume that we will know it’s different.
- You don’t have to select the first chapter as your 6,000 word entry, you can submit another part that you feel best displays your writing style. If you do this, make sure you give a brief overview of what has happened previously in the manuscript so that we can follow the entry.
What advice would you give to emerging writers in general?
- Make sure that you’re reading widely, both in the genre that you’re writing in and also in other genres. If you don’t read books then you can’t develop your style.
- If you’re trying to hit a certain number of words, make sure you set yourself achievable goals.
- Take a break and come back to your writing – hindsight is a powerful thing!
- No sentence is perfect when you first write it. If you have a sentence that you haven’t edited, there’s probably something that needs changing!
- Talk to people, go to writing clubs, literary festivals and book fairs. There are always other writers who might have tips.
- Try starting a blog or joining reading platforms such as Wattpad. This is a good way to engage with other readers and there are some authors who have been discovered through platforms such as these.
- Enter prizes, these get you noticed.
- Perhaps consider doing a writing course. Some agencies offer these.
Where can writers find out more about the Impress Prize?
There’s our website http://www.impress-books.co.uk/impress-prize/ which is where you can find out more about terms and conditions, entry requirements and submit your entry.
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