First Novel Award 2022
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The Award is open to unrepresented and unpublished authors for a novel in any adult fiction genre

Winner: £1,000 + Agent Introduction  

Runner up: Manuscript Review + Agent Introduction

Highly Commended: Agent Introduction

To Enter Simply click on the Pay Now Button.

You will be directed to PayPal to make one payment of £20 per entry.

After the payment is successful, you will be directed to the submission page automatically.

This year we are offering a minimum of 20 free entries for UK based writers on low incomes.
If there are more than twenty applications the most promising submissions will be selected by the BPA team.

See submissions details below for more information

Judges:

Literary Agents: Rowan Lawton and Marina de Pass of The Soho Agency

Author: Jo Bloom

The team at Blue Pencil Agency will oversee all submissions.

Submission: Opening chapter or chapters up to 5000 words plus a 300 word synopsis and a covering letter

Entry fee: £20 for each submission. Online entry only. 

Timetable: Enter now

Closing date: May 29, 2022

The long listed writers will be contacted by email with announcements of the titles on the website in July.

Short listed writers will be asked to submit 20,000 words (includes the initial entry).

The winners will be notified by email and announced on October 28, 2022

Favourite Lines: we will post our favourite lines on social media from April until the Long List announcement in July.

What we’re looking for:

· any genre with the exception of children’s fiction and non-fiction.
YA is permitted provided there is an adult crossover.

· a strong voice.

· an original and unforgettable story that grips the reader.

· an attention grabbing first paragraph.

About our Judges
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ROWAN_BW-3

Rowan Lawton:

Rowan joined The Soho Agency in 2019 after two decades in the industry, predominantly in agenting. Her internationally bestselling authors have been awarded and shortlisted for literary prizes including the British Book Awards, the CWA Daggers, the Irish Book Awards, the Wales Book of the Year, Romantic Novel of the Year and the BBC National Short Story Award. She has also been involved in the judging of a number of fiction prizes including Richard & Judy ‘Search for a Bestseller’ and the Bristol Short Story Prize. Rowan was a Bookseller Rising Star in 2012. Rowan’s taste ranges from the most commercial well-written genre fiction and domestic suspense to accessible literary and reading group novels, as well as narrative non-fiction (often, but not always, written by women) – particularly moving and inspiring memoirs.

Interview with Rowan Lawton

Questions & Answers with Rowan Lawton

Marina de Pass:

Marina has been at The Soho Agency for over five years, after previously working in editorial at Little, Brown and HarperCollins. She adores great storytelling in all its forms and is building a list of upmarket commercial, reading group and accessible literary fiction – and is actively looking to take on clients in this area. Marina especially loves launching debuts – the last three she has sold have been bought by UK publishers as lead titles – and enjoys working editorially with her authors. She also works with #1 Sunday Times & New York Times bestseller Sophie Kinsella, Sunday Times bestseller Veronica Henry, and the award-winning writer and cook Nigel Slater, among others. Marina is a trained copyeditor and proofreader and, in addition to her agenting work, she has a rare insight into the publishing industry as a published author and graduate of the Faber Academy’s creative writing course.

Interview with Marina de Pass

Questions & Answers with Marina de Pass
Marina de Pass – Blue Pencil Agency Online Events
Jo Bloom ©MatthewAndrews

Jo Bloom’s debut novel, Ridley Roadwas published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 2014. She was inspired to write her novel after hearing about the 62 Group, the group of Jewish men who took to the streets to fight fascism in the early sixties in London. Ridley Road was adapted into a four-part thriller for BBC One and aired in October 2021. Jo’s latest novel, Permission, will be published in 2022.

 

Interview with Jo Bloom

Questions & Answers with Jo Bloom

Eligibility
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  • Authors must be over 18 years old at the time of entry.
  • The Award is open to unrepresented and unpublished authors of fiction at the closing date of May 29, 2022.
  • Writers must advise the organisers if they accept representation during the judging period or win any other prizes. They may still be eligible for the Award.
  • Self-published authors are accepted. Entrants who have had other types of books published such as non fiction, memoir or poetry are also eligible.
  • The novel must be completed or close to completion at the closing date of May 29, 2022.
  • Long-listed or short-listed entries in other competitions are eligible.
  • Entrants may submit more than one novel but as separate entries.
  • Entries must be written in English.
  • Entries can only be submitted electronically via this site and payment made via Paypal.
  • Entrants may withdraw entries but fees cannot be refunded.
  • Judges’ decision is final. Judges are unable to comment on individual entries.

How to submit
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  • Please enter through the link on our website
  • Upload your opening chapter or chapters up to 5000 words plus a 300 word synopsis and a covering letter with some information about yourself/career as a writer. Your submission should be three separate documents.
  • Please ensure that the file name is the title of the story and ensure that this is also in the subject line of your email.
  • Entries must be in either a doc., docx, or pdf. No other formats will be accepted.
  • Entries must be double spaced in a clear font (Times New Roman or similar) and pages numbered.
  • The novel’s title must be on every page but your name should not appear anywhere on the story.
  • The covering letter should include the following details: your name, the title of your novel, your email address and telephone number, a brief CV or publication history and the genre of your novel if applicable (e.g. uplit, romance, contemporary, historical, psychological thriller, fantasy, crime, women’s, literary)
  • Please tell us how you heard about the BPA First Novel Competition Award? This helps us make the best decisions on marketing to help writers find our Competitions.
  • Click on the Pay Now button on the page and pay the fee.
  • If payment is made using a different name, it is essential you include that name in the email you send with the story.

Assistance to writers on low incomes 

This year we are offering a minimum 20 of free entries for UK based writers on low incomes

If there are more than 20 applications the most promising submissions will be selected by the BPA team.

Please click here to Contact BPA with your application and proof of financial eligibility such as: Jobseeker’s Allowance; Disability Benefit; Income Support; Working Tax Credit; Child Tax Credit; proof of being a full-time student; Housing Benefit; proof of being a full-time carer.

All details will be kept confidential.

Before entering, please ensure to familiarise yourself with the Rules, Terms and Conditions, and Privacy Policies. Entering the Blue Pencil First Novel Award is taken as your full agreement. Do not enter after the closing date of May 29, 2022 as your entry will not be valid.

Interview with our Judges
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Rowan Lawton and Marina de Pass, agents at The Soho Agency

soho logo

When reading submissions, what is it that makes you want to read on?

ROWAN: Marina and I often talk about this, because it’s so difficult to define. There is a feeling you have when reading – you want to cancel all your plans and immediately get your hands on the rest of the manuscript. I call it the ‘tingle’ and Marina calls it the ‘shimmer’!

MARINA: The shimmer, yes – it’s a feeling of excitement, a bit like butterflies. When I’m reading something I really connect with, the words literally shimmer on the page. This might come from any number of things – a brilliant sentence, a book with a strong premise, a memorable character, a voice you can’t get out of your head. It’s thrilling when it happens – a true highlight of the job.

What do you look for in that first chapter? Any tips for the first page?

ROWAN: I want to be engaged with the characters straight away, so that I am immediately drawn into their world and feel compelled to keep reading.

MARINA: Yes, I agree. And I want to be thrown headfirst into the story and the action – I would prefer to infer the necessary backstory and set-up later.

I often have a clear sense from the first page/paragraph (and sometimes even the first line) whether a book is going to be right for me. I often find it useful to go back and re-read the first paragraphs of books I love to see how their authors decided to begin – it can be surprising.

Rowan, you have a reputation for finding bestsellers, and describe your taste range from well written commercial genre fiction and domestic suspense to accessible literary and reading group fiction. Is there a quality that you feel is integral to all the authors you’re attracted to?

ROWAN: I am often, though not exclusively, drawn to fiction told through a female lens. But above all, I love finding something compulsive – and all my authors have written novels that have this compulsive quality to them. This could be through plot, character or indeed voice.

Marina, I know you’re building a list of upmarket commercial reading group and accessible literary fiction. You’ve had some recent success launching debuts, what is that magic ingredient that draws you to a new writer?

MARINA: There isn’t a magic ingredient – and all of the authors I work with bring something different. The truth is, sometimes it’s obvious why a book resonates so strongly for me and sometimes it’s not. If I had to boil it down, I would say that confident writing is important to me, but so is a great plot. I want to end up somewhere different from where I started, to have learned something, seen a different perspective, travelled somewhere new, or even just spend more time with an unforgettable character. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula – but I think that’s the beauty of it and one of the reasons I adore this job. You never know what is going to capture your attention next…

Rowan, you suggested your client, Jo Bloom, to be our author judge. Can you tell us what stood out for you as far as her work was concerned?

ROWAN: I was initially drawn to Jo Bloom’s debut novel Ridley Road because I was intrigued by the period and story she was telling. In historical fiction, I tend to focus on books set in the 20th century and I especially loved that Jo was looking at a well-known period from a lesser-known perspective. And it had the beginnings of a great love story…

How important is the synopsis and at what point do you read it?

MARINA: Both Rowan and I read these after we have read the cover letter and the writing sample – for us they’re a tool by which we can track the main beats of a story and how it develops. We want to know what happens next, who the key characters are, how the book ends – and we want spoilers. It is essential to include plot twists, the murderer’s identity, whether the will-they-won’t-they couple actually come together.

ROWAN: Absolutely, and this doesn’t ruin the reading experience – it helps us evaluate a novel and what the author has set out to achieve with it. Know that we are not judging the writing style – by their nature, synopses are cold and clinical and we are well aware that writers sometimes find these difficult to write.

For writers that don’t necessarily fit with the genres you currently represent, is it still worth their while to enter the competition, i.e. sci-fi, fantasy, horror?

ROWAN: We would never want to discourage anyone from entering this competition, but it’s also true that neither of us are experts in the sci-fi, fantasy and horror genres and therefore may not be the best evaluators of it. It would be insincere to say that there isn’t a degree of subjectivity involved when we read – we are always reading through the lens of our own tastes. However, that said, we will be valuing each submission on merit, and often the things we don’t think we’re looking for are the things we fall in love with.

What are you looking for in the submission letter?

MARINA: Above all, the submission letter is where you present your novel in the most persuasive and straightforward way. Think in terms of a book blurb – give us context, a sense of the intrigue, the driving force of the novel, a sense of where this might sit on the shelf. We want to know what your book is about, so we are not going in blind. Market comparisons are useful to give us a sense of who you are writing for.

ROWAN: We also want to know a little about the writer – just a couple of sentences about you and why you chose to write this book, where you are based and any relevant qualifications or writing competitions you’ve won or been shortlisted for. We don’t need a full CV, but it’s useful for us to know details about you that are relevant to the book and writing.

Do either of you have a favourite book or author of our time? And the classics?

ROWAN: From the classics, I love Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. It has it all: it’s utterly compulsive, atmospheric, and both plot- and character-driven.

Of our time – there are too many authors and books I admire to pick just one. But the book I have loved most this year, which does tally with my agenting taste, is Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason.

MARINA: Like Rowan, I couldn’t possibly pick just one book or author of our time, but there are two stand-out novels for me from this year: Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam, which I read in a breathless, edge-of-my-seat frenzy, and The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller, which is utterly vivid and immersive.

From the classics, I always come back to Jane Austen’s Emma, because I think it is witty, romantic, and says something smart about relationships and self-awareness that resonates to this day. To me, Emma is an iconic character – and proof that your protagonist doesn’t always have to be likeable, as long as they’re relatable. And, of course, it is the original rom-com!

Anything that puts you off that our writers should be aware of?

MARINA: I always think it’s a shame when a writer has taken the time to write an entire novel, then rushes the cover letter and synopsis. Take your time to prepare your submission carefully to ensure that it feels targeted, personalised and does your novel justice – but, above all, know that we can’t wait to start reading.

Any other advice for entrants?

ROWAN: Good luck! We know the quality will be extremely high, and we are really looking forward to reading your entries.

Interview with our Judges
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Jo Bloom, Author

Jo Bloom ©MatthewAndrews

What will you be looking for in the competition line up?
Engaging, propulsive stories with heart, crafted by strong author voices. Originality is always a bonus but it mustn’t compromise authenticity or the storytelling. Substance over style, always.

Any advice for the first page?
The usual advice applies; the opening paragraph needs to pique interest and grab the reader, but in a way that is authentic to the book. Attention grabbing doesn’t always mean the first paragraph needs to be big or noisy.

Top three tips for the first chapter.
• Introduce us to your interesting, well-conceived main characters and hint at the conflict they might be experiencing or the journey they’re on; remember, it’s vital that we engage with your characters….
• Establish a strong sense of place – what world are you creating and how? What details can you use to draw the reader in?
• End the first chapter (actually, every chapter) on a hook – make it impossible for the reader to stop turning the pages.

What advice would you give to writers submitting to agents and competitions?
Work on your covering letter so it’s sharp, focused, and pithy. (No flourishes or crazy fonts, no rambling paragraphs). Include a very short book synopsis – a few sentences that takes us to the heart of the story – and also a line about why you want the agent to represent you (perhaps mention a couple of their authors whom you love, so they know you’ve done your homework).

But remember, it’s a numbers game. It might take several enquiries before you find an agent. Don’t take rejection personally – just brush yourself down and target another one.

What are you reading at the moment?
Oh William! By Elizabeth Strout

What was the inspiration behind Ridley Road?

I was at a funeral of a close family friend when I overheard a conversation about the 62 Group, a Jewish defence organisation that started up in the summer of 1962. I knew nothing about the group or how, less than twenty years after WW2, British fascism was rearing up again. But now it was opposed by members of the 62 Group who took matters into their own hands and spent the sixties, and beyond, fighting fascism on the streets. This was a relatively unknown story that I knew I had to tell.

Ridley Road has become a successful BBC television series, which must have been a wonderful experience for you. Please tell us how you feel about the director’s vision of your novel. Is it close to how you envisaged it when writing it? How would you say it compares to the novel?
Actually, the main changes and vision came from Sarah Solemani who wrote the script. She approached me soon after the hardback of Ridley Road came out in 2014. She was very clear about what she loved as well as the changes she wanted to make. So, I always knew the adaptation would be quite different in parts to the novel, but I didn’t care. I loved the idea of her breathing new life into the story in a different medium.

Tell us a little bit about your writing day and your perfect writing environment.
My writing day depends on my workload (I write scripts or content for web, elearning and virtual reality projects in a freelance capacity). But for the past 15 years I have regularly been at my desk at 5.30am to write. I find the early start really helpful.

Tell us a little bit about your writer’s journey, whether you did any courses and how long it took you to write Ridley Road and also please tell us a little bit about how you came to be represented by Rowan.
I started out by doing a few short creative writing courses, then wrote a contemporary novel. I got an agent quite quickly, but it didn’t work out and we parted company before it went on submission. A few months later, I started writing Ridley Road, which took a few years to finish as I had a baby in between drafts! Once it was done, I sent the first three chapters to some agents. I had a good response but Rowan was very quick to read the whole manuscript and I really liked her feedback. We met soon after and I immediately knew that I wanted to be represented by her.

We always try to have a writer to judge the competition as well as an agent (or two). How do you think your view on the entries will compare to Rowan’s and Marina’s?
I would imagine Rowan and Marina will reflect on where a novel can be sold/placed in the market – that’s their job. But that’s the only place I imagine our priorities might diverge. Ultimately, I don’t think it matters whether they’re agents and I’m a writer – we all love great books.

Links

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The Soho Agency

Jo Bloom

Key Dates for the BPA First Novel Award 2022
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Entries
Opens
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Jan 4, 2022

Entries
Close
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May 29, 2022

Shortlist

July 30, 2022

Winner
Announced
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October 2022