When Competitions Hinder You

This is really, really odd.

The Richard & Judy bookclub, that well known bastion of literary knowledge and talent, has teamed up with a person favourite publisher of mine, Quercus to bring you: Richard & Judy’s Search for a Bestseller.

Aspiring authors, emerging writers, send your first 10,000 words to them along with a biography and a synopsis and you could win a publishing deal worth £50,000. Simple right? Amazing, yes? An incredible opportunity? No.

See, I was kind of thinking about entering. I have a partially complete novel which I’m getting more and more confident about as I continue writing it. I have a synopsis which is more or less getting there and my biography is a bunch of words that appear in places. Plus, I figure my novel would fit quite nicely within Quercus’ line-up of titles.

Then I read, as I recommend you all do right now, the small print.

Some choice points in the terms and conditions:

You must “have not previously submitted your partial novel (the “Extract”) or any work to a publishing company or literary agency.”

You must “have not had any other work published in any format whether under the entrant’s name or a pseudonym.”

You cannot have a literary agent.

You won’t find out you’ve won (or lost) for a full year from now.

The things they don’t tell you are even stranger. Whilst it’s clear that you cannot have had any other work published in any format, it’s unclear whether this is limited to novels, or whether it also applied to short fiction, poetry, micro/flash fiction, non-fiction, journalism and any other kind of writing that could be consider “work”. Do any of these (of which I’ve written and had published all) count?

What happens if I submit my novel to a publisher, they turn it down, and then I send it in to the competition and win? If I reveal that it was initially turned down by another publisher, does that make my entry ineligible?

Worse still, if I send my novel extract to them today, as I am able to do, I cannot do anything with it for a full year. That’s a big chance for a writer to take. The deadline, by the way, is the 1st of January, so every entrant has to wait at least 9 months before they know what they can do with their book. That’s a London Book Fair where an agent can sell their title. That’s hundreds of different websites, blogs, anthologies, radio plays that could be publishing or airing your work: and during that time, you should be doing nothing. Otherwise, you could be ineligible. Of course, if you don’t get shortlisted, you find out earlier, but what benefit is a full year to shortlisted candidates without being able to do anything with your piece?

So, the novel I am working on, which I submitted to the Northern Writers Awards and didn’t win…would I even be able to enter that?

Here then is my question: Who is this competition for? Who is this writer who has never tried or had their work published? Who is sitting out there with a single ‘masterpiece’ which has never seen the light of day? Who are the creators of the competition looking for?

What do you think? As emerging writers (which a lot of you are), would you want to enter this competition? If so, I’d love to know why.


I have now received a reply from the Be a Bestseller team. I have copied their response in full below:

“Our sincere apologies for the original ambiguity in the terms. To clarify, the restriction is if you’ve had a novel previously published or released into the public domain. Other forms of writing, including but limited to non-fiction, journalism etc, wouldn’t exclude you from the competition.

However, I’m afraid we can’t accept novels that have previously been submitted to a publisher or agent. For this competition, we’re looking for something completely new and fresh that hasn’t yet been shared with readers, either within the industry or in the wider world.”

Comments are welcomed!

6 thoughts on “When Competitions Hinder You

  1. Rules like this really piss me off and show how incredibly out of touch some rule-writers are with the modern world of writing and publishing. I’m really surprised at Quercus for this. I can kind of see why they don’t want you to send it elsewhere during that year – imagine how annoying it would be to decide on a winner only to discover they’ve been picked up by Random House a month earlier or whatevs. But:

    You must “have not had any other work published in any format whether under the entrant’s name or a pseudonym.”

    You cannot have a literary agent.

    What horrible nonsense is this? So you can’t have any previous writing background or, going the other way, be an established writer with a literary agent? So, yes, who do they want entering this competition and seriously what sort of quality can they expect from a writer who has never experienced any sort of publishing of their work before? Very odd and annoyingly vague.

    There was something similar in the rules for the Sunday Times Short Story Award:

    “The author must have a record of prior publication in creative writing in the United Kingdom or Ireland. This means the author must previously have had works of prose fiction, drama or poetry published by an established publisher or an established printed magazine in the UK or Ireland, or broadcast by a national radio station in the UK or Ireland.
    3.6.1 For avoidance of doubt ‘established publisher’ means a publishing house that publishes a list of titles by different authors, that produces titles with an ISBN and sells them in pounds sterling or euros, and that distributes them through established retail outlets.
    3.6.2 For avoidance of doubt ‘established printed magazine’ means a periodical that is published regularly (monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly), that has been and is currently in circulation for at least the past 12 months, has an ISBN or ISSN number and is not self-published.
    3.6.3 None of the following will constitute a ‘record of prior publication’: self-published material of any kind work published using a print-on-demand service work published via commercial arrangement through which the publisher is paid by the author online publication a piece of creative writing pending publication work published in a newspaper”

    That is taking out a lot of people, particularly online publication. Most of my best stuff has been published online and its where some of the most interesting literature is currently being professionally produced. It feels very elitist & old fashioned and puts me off entering completely.

  2. It’s the literary equivalent of the X factor. You don’t necessarily have to have any talent, but the myth is continued that anyone can do it. There will be a few decent entries and, like X factor, probably a ringer or two. Most competitions are aimed at people who are interested in that sort of thing. This is aimed an everyone.
    This mass media approach will probably draw in people who would not otherwise have bothered. Is that a good thing? I don’t know. Essentially it’s a lottery. It’s already true that you are more likely to win the lottery than become published.
    The short listing in March will exclude most entries. Being shortlisted can go on your CV, even if you don’t win, so I don’t see that as a major issue. Surely it’s not your only literary effort. What will you do while your are waiting?

  3. Oh wow thanks so much for posting this! I was thinking about entering my novel extract as well but will definitely have to think twice about things if it means I wouldn’t hear anything back from them for nine months and so couldn’t approach any agents/publishers with my manuscript in the mean time! I mean, my manuscript isn’t 100% finished yet but I’d like to think I would have it finished before September next year and it would suck if I then had to sit on it for months on end just to hear “Thank you for your submission to the Richard and Judy Search for a Best Seller Competition – Unfortunately, you have no been successful this time….”

  4. That’s ridiculous. Surely they should mean went the rounds and got rejected. Or, notify us if shortlisted elsewhere. Or, not if you’ve already got an agent. Sometimes they do say must submit exclsively, but then general response is 3 months. But, once join a time, big agent at a big agency once said, ignore all that, just submit. What about that novel, what was it, Andrew Cowan’s, that got rejected everywhere then won that prize? That wasn’t ‘fresh’ then? This kind of straightjacketing winds me up. They need to rewrite their T&Cs.

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