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2021 Novel Prize Judge Interview: Literary Agent Hellie Ogden

Ahead of the first deadline for the 2021 Novel Prize, we caught up with the brilliant Hellie Ogden of the Janklow and Nesbitt Agency, who is presiding over this year's prize.

Literary agents play a pivotal role in the careers of authors, and we're so very excited to work with some of the best in the business! And to get to present so much rising talent to them. The 2021 Novel Prize is shaping up to be the biggest ever, and to help our budding authors and hopeful entrants get to know this year's judge, we asked Hellie some tough questions (and a few just for us!)

Hey Hellie, lovely to talk to you finally! Let's start off with a direct, and hopefully useful question for all the entrants submitting their opening pages to this year's prize. What are the top three things that writers do that put you off in the first few pages?

H: Starting with a dream. Anyone waking up. It’s lazy, it doesn’t feel original and the reader can see right through it. Alarm clocks, breakfast, hung-over all in that category for me. Talking about the weather: It’s predictable, it’s safe and it’s small talk. And being gratuitous for the sake of it. Sex and bodily functions… need I say more.

No, you needn't! Okay, here's a quick one. Describe your perfect writing style in three words.

H: Lyrical, ambitious, unique.

Perfect. Now, we all know agents are busy people who can't personally respond to each submission. But if you could, and you had time to give personal feedback to every pitch you pass on, what would be the most common thing you write?

H: Honestly, it would probably be that I’m just not connecting. I can often read something really very good, very well put together, but there just isn’t a spark that I’m searching for.

It's really interesting you say that, and one of the main reasons why it's so important to pitch widely when looking for representation -- and to not to take a rejection to heart! So, outside of your 'work' reading, what’s your favourite ever book, and what makes it special to you?

H :The GO-BETWEEN by L.P. Hartley. I think it’s perfection: a coming-of-age story about forbidden love, scandals, affairs, deception. It’s such a special novel.

All the right ingredients then! Let's get back to pitching and advice for our writers -- where should a story be by the end of the third chapter?

H :I’d like to see by then a strong sense of place, I’d like to have a clear sense of plotting and movement, characters I’m fully behind and something really keeping me going by this point, a momentum that is pulling it along.

Place. Plot. Pace. Pull. And... characters. Damn. We almost went five for five on the Ps there. Here's a curve ball, then -- what do you prefer to see in pitches: innovation within convention, or outside-the-box thinking?

H: Both, definitely both. I’m looking for a new take on areas that I know work, as well as things I have never seen before where we set the trends. In that vein, how important do you think it is for an author to write a book with the market in mind?

H: I think it’s extremely important to have a sense of the market, and to read lots and know what is working. That’s smart. But I don’t think you can write to order so it’s probably a case of being market savvy and making sure your pitch and positioning reflects consumer interest without having to fully compromise on what you believe your novel should be.

We really believe it's important to know your market and genre. So what is it about a competition like this that appeals to a literary agent?

H: Lots of smart, ambitious writers seek out competitions to network and get noticed and I want to find those writers!

We do too! Okay, let's get real here for a moment. If a book has that special quality — you know the one, where you just think oh, and your heart beats a little faster — does it matter whether it’s in your genre or not? Would you still take that writer on?

H :I absolutely would. My taste is broad and I love being challenged, going for wildcards, stretching myself. That really excites me.

That'll be music to our entrants' ears, I'm sure! Finally, one just for us — ketchup or brown sauce?

H: KETCHUP! I have it on everything.

That's the correct answer! Aha, thank you so much for joining us, Hellie. We're very excited about this year's prize and can't wait to get stuck into the entries. Take care!


The 2021 Novel Prize is open to writers of all genres. Submitted manuscripts must be aimed at adult or young adult audiences. Works which are unpublished or self-published may be entered. We accept finished and part-finished manuscripts which exceed or will exceed 70,000 words in length and can be completed by the end of 2021.

Super Early Bird Entries: Must be submitted by midnight GMT April 1st, 2021

Entry Fee: £16.00 (+£8.00 Optional Feedback Supplement)

Advanced Announcement: June 1st 2021

Early Bird Entries: Must be submitted by midnight GMT July 1st 2021

Entry Fee: £18.00 (+£8.00 Optional Feedback Supplement)

Advanced Announcement: September 1st 2021

Final Entry Period: Must be submitted by midnight GMT October 1st 2021

Entry Fee: £20.00 (+£8.00 Optional Feedback Supplement)

Winners Announcement: December 16th 2021

What to Submit: Opening 3,000 words of your novel, accompanied by a 300 word synopsis.

For full rules, further information, and instructions on how to enter, visit:

Thank you, and good luck!

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