Contest Alert:

Writer BewarePosted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I’ve been getting some questions about a new competition:

In May 2011, the publishers of many of the world’s most famous authors – including Dan Brown, Terry Pratchett, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King and Stephenie Meyer – join to support The Next Big Author: a new initiative which encourages budding authors to write the opening to a novel in May.

All you have to do, according to the Competition Rules, is write your opening chapters (any genre, between 5,000 and 7,000 words), upload them between May 17 and May 21 to writers’ critique community/POD publishing service (this requires joining YouWriteOn, which is free), and exchange reviews with other contestants and YouWriteOn members (for every review you do, you receive a review of your own chapters). On July 1, the five highest-ranked contestants will be announced. Each of these winners will receive a critique from someone at Random House, Bloomsbury, Orion, Little, Brown, or Hodder & Stoughton.

Hang on, you may be thinking at this point. YouWriteOn. Doesn’t that ring a bell?

Why, yes, it does. YouWriteOn is the originator of the ill-conceived 5,000 writers publishing initiative, which in 2008 aimed to recruit 5,000 writers in slightly over a month, and publish their books (via a bare-bones basic POD service) just two months later. Not surprisingly, this did not go well. At most, a few hundred books were released, and many writers experienced significant problems, including substantial delays, poor production quality, and difficulty communicating with YWO. The dissatisfaction generated thereby was energetically displayed on the YWO message board–leading to the message board’s abrupt closure in mid-December 2008.

Despite these problems, YWO continued its publishing service–though it parted ways with its original partner in the venture, Legend Press. Last September, possibly looking to boost its business, YWO issued another call for writers–though this time, it was wise enough to hold the number down to 200.

Apart from facilitating the competition, what exactly is YWO’s relationship to TheNextBigAuthor? YouWriteOn’s website and the press release it’s sending out state only that YWO is “supporting” the competition. TNBA itself offers no information at all about its organizers (who are referred to only as “the organizers”), and the wording of its website could encourage people to assume that the competition is being helmed by the publishers involved. But given that entering the competition forces you to join YWO and follow its critique rules, that the prize is basically the same thing YWO offers monthly to its top-rated members, that apart from brief mentions by two of the participating publishers YWO appears to be the only group that’s actively promoting the competition, and that the competition will likely substantially boost YWO’s membership–I’m guessing (and this is just a guess, mind) that “supporting” is something of an understatement. (There are also various telltale similarities of expression–for instance, TNBA displays YWO’s odd quirk of identifying publishers by their most famous authors.)

(Interestingly, when I was researching this post yesterday, the competition announcement on the YWO message board had generated a number of questions about the rules and a couple of skeptical comments to the effect of, “How is this different from what YWO does anyway?” Today, magically, those comments are gone.)

There’s no question that this is a real competition, and  that the publishers’ participation is also real–as noted above, a couple of the publishers have acknowledged the competition, and the book covers, author quotes, and excerpts that appear on TheNextBigAuthor are clearly by permission of the publishers. There are no “gotchas” in the guidelines, and assuming you’re willing to fulfill the entry requirements, the prize is worthwhile–who wouldn’t want a critique from a publishing professional?

Nevertheless, if YWO is indeed the nameless organizer, it’s kind of sneaky not to make that clear. Either way, the lack of information about who’s running the competition is something of a red flag. When entering a competition, you should always know exactly with whom you’re dealing.

4 Responses

  1. Pauline

    It seems to be a good contest, Random House and Orion have already participated on for several years giving feedback to authors every month, and taken on authors who have developed there as a result. As a review site, the community there is a very good one. If you look at the homepage members have as a direct result of developing on site been viewed and taken on by many very big publishers including Hodder, Little Brown, Random House, Orion, and Harper Collins. These include a bestseller last year called The Legacy, and an author taken on by Random House called Doug Jackson for a six figure sum directly from site development. These publishers seem to know’s good reputation for highlighting talent, including authors they have published, so this seems to be why they are involved.

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  3. Nennifer

    I am wondering if anyone knows if you have to be eighteen or older to enter. I looked at the rules link that was posted and it didn’t mention it, but I’ve found it is often the case that eve if it is not listed in the rules, I will get a rejection notification because I am not an adult. So, does anyone know?