2022 BPA First Novel Award Winners
Blue Pencil Agency First Novel Award 2022 The BPA First Novel Award is open to unrepresented and unpublished authors for a novel in any adult fiction genre. We are…
Blue Pencil Agency First Novel Award 2022 The BPA First Novel Award is open to unrepresented and unpublished authors for a novel in any adult fiction genre. We are…
We are excited to announce the BPA First Novel Award 2022 Shortlist. This year’s judges, literary agents Rowan Lawton and Marina de Pass from The Soho Agency and award-winning author…
We are thrilled to announce the BPA First Novel Award 2022 Longlist. This year’s judges are literary agents Rowan Lawton and Marina de Pass from The Soho Agency and author…
The Award is open to unrepresented and unpublished authors for a novel in any adult fiction genre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
Literary Agent Judges: Rowan Lawton and Marina de Pass of The Soho Agency
Author Judge: 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.
Closing date: May 29, 2022
Favourite Lines: we will post our favourite lines on social media from April until the Long List announcement in July.
· 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.
. the manuscript should be completed or close to completion.
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
To purchase a recording of a Q & A session with our agent judges click here
To sign up for our live Pitch Perfect tutorial with tutor Emma Darwin on April 21 from 6 – 8 pm BST click here.
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.
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.
Jo Bloom’s debut novel, Ridley Road, was 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.
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.
Rowan Lawton and Marina de Pass, agents at The Soho Agency
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.
Jo Bloom, Author
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.
“Entering the Pitch Prize has proven to be a wonderful experience. Not only did winning it give me a much-needed morale boost, but Blue Pencil Agency’s continued support and an introduction by Emma Haynes eventually led to me signing with my wonderful agent, Charlotte Seymour of Johnson & Alcock. To anyone unsure of entering: bet on yourself and your writing, and know that you will be in a safe pair of hands with the Blue Pencil Agency team.”
Amy was a Pitch Prize 2021 winner with the opening of her novel, The Mouth That Swallows. She was also longlisted for the First Novel Award 2022.
Thank you so much for your help again, it’s lovely to feel supported in this process & I’m sure having the BPA pitch prize on my cv helped me get these agent offers so thank you for that as well!
Pitch Prize Longlist 2020
I love the BPA competitions for the following reasons:
1. The BPA team’s creative spirit and enthusiasm – sharing success stories that motivate and inspire writers on their journey.
2. The competitions are open to writers worldwide.
3. The competition includes the cover letter in the ‘submission package’. (Most competitions don’t include this but I enjoy the opportunity to pitch the novel and include comparisons and why the writer feels passionate about their story.)
4. The professional and personal response to queries.
I entered the BPA First Novel Award having never properly shared my fiction with anyone before, and not really knowing what to expect. It was without a doubt the best twenty quid I’ve ever spent.
First making the longlist — and then the shortlist! — was such a huge vote of confidence in my writing style and the story I was trying to tell with Brotherhood and to actually win was unreal. It helped not just in cementing my confidence in my writing (and silencing my imposter syndrome) but it also inspired me to keep working on my manuscript and to stick to deadlines when it came to editing.
Winning during the pandemic made things feel even more unreal, but even though I couldn’t meet the Blue Pencil team in person, I felt incredibly supported and involved and was then able to meet one of the judges, FBA’s Carrie Plitt, over Zoom to discuss my manuscript. Carrie’s continued guidance and expertise (and the depth of feedback of the rest of the BPA First Novel Award judging team) was really invaluable and helped me to see my work through a new perspective, whilst supporting me to get it ready for publication.
I am over the moon to now be signed to FBA with Carrie, and I cannot wait to see where things go next. Without sounding too cliche, it really does feel like a new beginning in terms of publishing Brotherhood and in my fiction career, and I am so pleased I decided to enter last year. It really has been an incredible experience from start to finish.
Roisin Lanigan was the winner of the 2020 Award for Brotherhood. She is represented by Carrie Plitt
I am emailing to thank you so much for taking a chance on me and telling Marina de Pass about my novel, The Silence Project. As of this week, Marina is now my agent and I am thrilled!
Because the novel was shortlisted for The Bridport Prize and was my London Library Emerging Writer submission, it was also seen by agents at A.M.Heath, but Marina has given me such brilliant feedback and encouragement that I have no doubt that she will be my ideal agent.
It’s all because of you. And the novel didn’t even make the longlist for the BPA First Novel Award, so doubly thank you for making the introduction.
“I was two months into maternity leave with my second child when I decided to enter the Blue Pencil Agency First Novel Award. Maybe that’s not the obvious time to write a novel, but the competition offered me everything I needed to make that £20 investment in my writing; a deadline to work towards, an achievable word count, and the chance to have my work read by an agent with a fantastic reputation. Making the longlist was a huge vote of confidence. It inspired me to work harder. To actually win felt unreal. Before I knew it, I was taking my baby boy on a trip to London to meet the lovely BPA team. Nelle Andrews not only offered me valuable feedback but signed me as a client, which is truly a dream come true. Now, I’m excited to be working towards finishing the manuscript with a view to submitting it to publishers. I’ll always be grateful that the award prompted me to take that important first step.”
Katy McNair was the winner of the 2019 Award for her speculative novel The Price of Blood. She is represented by Nelle Andrew
“Entering the Blue Pencil Agency First Novel Award has taken my writing life to a higher level. Self-doubt had stopped me before but just submitting something I thought had potential gave me satisfaction. The excitement of reaching the long list was only tempered by the discipline of the next deadline but then surpassed by the thrill of seeing my name on the short list and finally achieving Highly Commended. I was astounded to hear that agent Nelle Andrew wanted to meet me and elated to then sign with Nelle and begin editing my debut novel. Without the fantastic opportunity the Award offered I would not be on course to achieve my dream so everyone at Blue Pencil has my gratitude.”
Neil was Highly Commended and shortlisted for the 2019 Award. He is represented by Nelle Andrew of Peters, Fraser + Dunlop
I entered the Blue Pencil First Novel Award in 2017. The deadline provided me with much needed motivation, and the thrill of being placed was a great morale- booster. It gave me the confidence to submit my work to an agent and now that my novel The Oceans Between Us published by Headline, I realise how much gratitude I owe the agency for recognising its potential.
“Winning the Award marked a real breakthrough in my writing life. The slightly overwhelming news that I had won first prize (I found myself shaking uncontrollably!) was followed by an exciting week involving a London photo-shoot with the judges, and the sight of my face in The Bookseller. The lovely Blue Pencil Agency team gave me the chance to meet the judges and to talk about my novel in some depth with agent Eve White. This was a fantastic opportunity and one that is rare in the writing prize world. Winning the Blue Pencil Agency competition gave me confidence that my novel is a good one and this, I would say, is the most valuable reward an aspiring writer can get.” February 2018.
Carolyn’s debut novel The Conviction of Cora Burns is out now. Her second novel When We Fall is coming in May 2020. She is represented by agent Andrew Lownie.
“Unless I ever buy a winning lottery ticket the entry fee to the Blue Pencil First Novel Award will be the best investment of £20 I’ll ever make. Each stage has given me so much: the energy of a deadline to complete the first draft; the confidence boost of reaching the long list; the heady excitement of the short list announcement (coinciding with my birthday!) And now the thrilling opportunity to discuss my work with Madeleine Milburn and take the first steps towards launching my writing career. My heartfelt thanks to Sara, Emma, Fiona and Maddy.” December 2018
Jules is represented by Madeline Milburn. She is working on her debut novel My Poor Deluded Girl.
The Soho Agency