09 April 2019

How to prepare a great submission to the Curtis Brown First Novel Prize

Curtis Brown First Novel Prize
by Curtis Brown 120 Curtis Brown 120, Events

As part of its 120th birthday celebrations, Curtis Brown – in partnership with Curtis Brown Creative – has launched the inaugural Curtis Brown First Novel Prize, our mission to find the exciting new voices of the future.

Tracy Chevalier, bestselling author of Girl with a Pearl Earring and A Single Thread, will chair the judging panel formed of Curtis Brown agents and the Curtis Brown Creative team.

The author of the winning novel will be offered representation by Curtis Brown plus a prize of £3,000, while the first runner-up will receive a place on a three-month novel-writing course at Curtis Brown Creative, and a mentoring session with one of the Curtis Brown literary agent team. A further four shortlisted entrants will be offered a place on a six-week online course with Curtis Brown Creative and a mentoring session with one of the Curtis Brown literary agent team.

The prize is now open for entries, to enter all you need is to send us the opening (up to) 10,000 words of your novel (including any prologue) and a one-page synopsis of up to 400 words. Find out more about the prize and how to enter here.

Here’s some great advice on how to perfect your submission to the Curtis Brown First Novel Prize …

FORMAT:

We’d love it if you could format your work so that it looks professional and is pleasant for us to read. This is how we’d like you to do it:

Check your spelling, grammar and punctuation. Make sure you include paragraph breaks and set your dialogue out correctly with a new line for each new speaker – all of this makes your material easier to read by our judges.

Check that your word count does not exceed 10,000 words.

OPENING:

The openings of books are incredibly important. In a general sense, agents and publishers will only read beyond the first page if that page is really good. And these days, with people increasingly reading ebooks as well as physical books, readers will often download and read the first 10%-20% of a book before they decide whether to buy the book and read the rest. Make your opening really strong by:

Getting quickly into your story. Writers often make the mistake of spending a lot of time on scene-setting or introducing characters one by one with lots of information about their personal histories before they actually start the real action of the story. Move straight into the action to engage the reader fully.

Don’t open with clichés. We’d love to see something fresh, new and intriguing. At all costs avoid openings with people waking up in the morning, characters staggering around with hangovers or long passages about the weather or rather generic landscape.  Give us something to hook us in immediately – something which makes the reader curious or establishes a mystery which must be solved.

But … Openings don’t need to be explosive. An unusual exchange between characters can be as dramatic as a man bursting into a room with a gun. Your opening should set the tone for the novel which follows it.

Establish the necessary context quickly.  We need to know, rapidly, where we are as readers.  If your novel is set in the past, drop some clues very early as to when the action takes place.  If your story is told by a child, let us know fast how old your narrator is. Help us to settle quickly into your story so that we can lose ourselves in it …

Read over your material on the page before you send it in.  Yes, we do think it’s a good idea to print out your material on the page – old-style – and sit with a pen in your hand to make edits before you enter the competition.  Polish it up as much as you can. It’s also a good idea to read your work out loud to yourself to see how it sounds – particularly when you have lots of dialogue.

SYNOPSIS:

We do know, of course, that it’s hard to write a great synopsis before you’ve finished writing your novel. But give it your best shot. We’d like to see one good page (up to 400 words) to show us where your story is headed. Here are our tips:

Start with a sentence which tells us what’s really at the heart of your story – this is, essentially, your one-line pitch. If that’s impossible for the kind of book you’re writing, head your synopsis up with a line from your novel which carries some of its flavour.

Give us the broad strokes of your story – we want to know the through-line of your plot. Try to be clear and concise, and don’t drop in lots and lots of character names, settings and minor events. If you have a twist in the tale, it’s up to you as to whether you want to include that in the synopsis, but we should certainly get the arc of your story.

If possible (and without being too corny about it) try to get some of the tone of your novel into your synopsis so that it reads entertainingly and not like a characterless business document.

Remember – this is an overview of your novel, not a detailed plan.  We don’t need full chapter-breakdowns – just the key points of your story.

Avoid putting in any value judgements about your own work.  This isn’t a blurb on a published novel. Don’t tell us it’s going to be the next best-seller or that it’s gripping and moving etc. Frankly, we’ll be the judge of that!

TITLE:

Give your novel a title. It doesn’t matter if you change it later – it’s still better to have a working title than none at all. A title gives your book an identity. It will also make it much easier for our agents and the judges to talk about it. Otherwise we end up having conversations like this:

“I really like the one where the girl goes missing.”

“You mean the one where the girl goes missing on her way to school?”

“No, not that one.  The one where …”

See what we mean?

Find out more about the Curtis Brown First Novel Prize and how to enter. Applications close August 1 2019.

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