No single agent judge
Not all agents are looking to represent every genre, which means that some authors may not get the same chance at finding representation with a sole judging agent. In the spirit of fairness, and to increase the number of opportunities our authors have, we’ve decided to handle the long and shortlisting in-house, and forward the entire longlist to all of our affiliated agents at once. This will maximise the chances of getting longlisted authors’ work into the right hands. After the conclusion of the 2021 Novel Prize, we had more than 30 full MS requests, so we know this is the right choice for our entrants.
Feedback is changing
Providing feedback to each entrant was our biggest challenge in 2021. We found we were repeating many things, and unable to broach many of the more nuanced topics that we wanted to. We have been building powerful tools to evaluate work since Grindstone started, and now feel that using these tools to produce the entire report offers the most value for authors, and allows us to dedicate more time to reading and assessment. These tools will allow us to assess and respond to numerous elements within the work and produce a critical report that is specifically tailored and highly personalised in relation to each submission. As a result, reports will be significantly longer, more detailed, and cover a wider range of topics than in years previous.
The Longer Version:
Why we’re not using a single agent to judge our competitions
During the course of each competition, we receive numerous emails from entrants and potential entrants, and after the conclusion of the competition, we review and discuss them in order to make sure we’re improving what we do each year.
During the 2021 Novel Prize, two things happened that helped shape this decision. Firstly, we received lots of queries surrounding our decision to allow a single literary agent to oversee the competition. It was brought to our attention that regardless of the breadth of their reading tastes, no one single agent will represent every genre and style. And if the agent who is judging the competition doesn’t represent your genre, the whole point of the competition is rendered a little … moot. This was pointed out to us on several occasions.
As such, we began working with other agents, to help combat this. Following the conclusion of the prize, we sent our entire longlist to more than a dozen agents, and what came back was a flood of MS requests. More than 30, in fact. From right across the longlist. Which showed us that this was such a beneficial exercise, and was so vital for those entrants who didn’t win or even make the shortlist, but still had a chance at representation.
Upon review, we’ve decided that in order to maximise the chances of our authors finding representation through the prize, we’ll be forgoing working with one single agent, so that we can work with many. Through the 2021 competition, we earmarked a selection of entries to send to agents we knew were looking for specific types of novels, but couldn’t send them out until after the novel closed.
We’re breaking down those barriers now, handling all the judging internally, and will be sending out work we feel meets the specific needs of an agent as outlined to us throughout the course of the competition. We’ll then be announcing the longlist, the shortlist, and the winners on December 1st, and immediately sending the longlist out to our entire panel of affiliated agents. This gives you the best chance, and that’s what’s important here.
How exactly will our new feedback system work?
Our new feedback system is based on the concept we have been developing since Grindstone began. We have internal tools that allow us to score and evaluate a variety of technical and narrative elements in a piece of writing, including things like spelling and grammar, the confidence and style of the author, the depth of the world that is built, the compositional devices used ... this list goes on. We appraise each piece on all of these elements before moving a select number forward to the next review stage of the competition.
Our new system is mature enough to be able to compile a meaningful, highly detailed, and actionable critical report using this appraisal process. And while the handwritten aspect of these reports will be almost entirely removed, we are able to focus that time and energy into the assessment aspects of judging instead, which will ultimately result in a much longer and more focused critical report. Our main goal has always been to help writers improve, and from all of our experience in judging so far, we firmly believe these new reports should take us closer than ever to that goal.
While keeping a purely handwritten feedback system is still an idealistic idea, doing so at our current scale would have necessitated significant entry fee increases. We strive to offer more than any other competition for our fees, so this was just not an option for us. For now, we aim to, as always, offer more value for writers when entering our competitions at what we feel is a fair price point.
Need more information or want to reach out to us? You can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org