This post is a bit of a combo, with a brief summary of this year’s award first, followed by an in-depth share of how we do things behind the scenes.

We are always striving to ensure absolutely clarity and transparency in all we do at WriteMentor, because we value the money you send us for the awards and other things, and want you to know how it’s being spent.

First of all, though, thank you to everyone who submitted to this year’s joint awards. We have decided to completely separate the PB and Novel categories as last year we found judging an incredible PB with a brilliant novel quite tricky. Therefore, when we announce the long lists, shortlists and winners, they will be discrete.

In total, we received a whopping 1361 entries this year. For comparison, we received 444 entries last year.

Nearly 95% of you opted to pay the extra £5 for the feedback from your 4 readers (hardly a surprise at that price!) and we hope when you receive this, it will prove to be very useful, regardless of how your entry does.

In terms of age category, we received:

In terms of genre (you could pick two), we received:

At the conclusion of reading, I will ask the readers to give me their most frequently given advice for feedback, and collate this into a useful post (hopefully) for you all.

Now, obviously with those numbers, we are likely to need an extensive reading period, as more than 50% of the entries arrived in this last week, and 25% in the last 2 days. Here’s a lovely graph of entry number by date in January. We received about 160 in December.

In all honestly, I wasn’t prepared for so many entries, thinking a moderate increase from last years 444 entries would be covered by our original readers, but with many having to do more than initially thought, please be patient as we work through them.

As we approach the conclusion of our reading, we will update you, both via the newsletter and Twitter, when the long lists will be announced. It is pencilled in for late February at present.


Now, onto how things have been run behind the scenes this year. Last year I shared this post with you: How to run a novel award by Stuart White

But obviously things have changed this year. I have made some good decisions and changes, and other, more questionable, ones too!

Pricing

As you know, I do really consider everything we do, in terms of making things affordable to as many people as possible. We retained the 30 free entry spots and they were all used again this year (and of course, my soft heart let in a few extra, too!) which we fund ourselves.

We also decided (after a couple of complaints – again my soft heart) to half the PB entry fee from £10 to £5. This was a mistake in hindsight, and plenty of people have told me this. One friend called me ‘A fool of a Took!’ and I deserved it. We will have to rectify that going forward.

I am not much of a business person unfortunately and I see all of you as writers and peers and, many of you, as friends. So I do things which don’t make financial sense in order to be nice, and that stings our organisation to the extent that we could be (if I wasn’t also the most stubborn person in the world) facing closing down. So, any changes henceforth will need to try to encompass both my desire for us to as affordable as possible, with the need to make sensible financial decisions that will allow us to keep going beyond the next 6 months.

This year, after much persuasion from my brilliant co-pilot Florianne, we decided to add a small fee for receiving feedback. A dialogue with our readers also made me realise I should pay them more for reading, too, and a passing comment on Twitter about kids getting better book tokens also led to a decision to give the kids £10 tokens this year instead of the £5 from last year.

This combination of factors led to the pricing decisions for this year. I hope you understand all of them.

So where does your entry fee go, precisely? Well, I did a quick breakdown of this for you to see:

  • PB (with feedback): £10 entry fee.
  • PayPal fee: £0.59
  • Adult Readers (x2): £2 each – £4 total.
  • Kid Readers (x2): £2.60 (towards book tokens for each kid)
  • Prizes: £1.80
  • Trophy: £0.50
  • Website/Form Plugins: £0.17

This means that of the £10 you send to us, £9.66 is accounted for here. The £0.34 surplus from each entry goes towards funding those 30 (or more) free entries that we subsidise and to pay our agent judges, who read the shortlisted entries.

This will proportionally vary depending on which entry you opted for – eg the £5 PB entry would be half all of those and the £15 novel entry would be 50% increased from our example.

I hope you appreciate this insight – I know what it’s like to enter a competition and not know any of this information.

Reading

Now, onto the less dry part – the reading of the stories!

As you know, each entry is read by 4 readers – 2 adults and 2 kids. We pass those on fairly soon after we receive them to the adult readers. We like them to get a head start and read all the entries first because past experience tells us many entrants fail to include important content/trigger warnings in their stories that could be quite difficult for a child to read. They will add any issues they have found to our spreadsheet, which has a column for warnings like these, and they will then be passed onto the children to read. The Boss (Florianne) allocates these to the parents, who pass onto the children, and read them.

The readers read your extract or PB text, and then use our multi-craft-aspect scoring grids to give you a score out of 5 on that basis. They also give a YES/NO vote on whether they think the entry should reach the next round. And finally, if you have asked for it, they will write a short piece of feedback on what they’ve just read. We ask for each reader to give a positive aspect of the extract/text and an area for development. Clearly the articulation of this will vary from reader to reader and especially with the kid readers, depending on age, etc. But we hope that ultimately you’ll receive something that, taken as a whole, will leave you a little encouraged, but most importantly, with some ideas on how to improve your work.

The readers also indicate their favourites (and we list these below the long list to give those a boost, even if you don’t make the LL).

Feedback is not easy to receive, especially if it’s not full of praise. But, with a deep breathe, and a break (once you’ve slammed down the laptop and launched a multitude of curses towards WM and all that it stands for!), we hope that you’ll be able to use it to make progress with your work.

Producing a long list

Reading is still continuing as you read this, but ultimately when all the feedback is filled in, we look at sheet and we start to look for entries with 4 x YES votes, which are candidates for the long list.

When that number exceeds what a reasonable long list would be, we would also look at craft scores given by readers. Ultimately, we use a mix of these, and the readers favourites list to help us compile a long list of the most promising and exciting stories.

The good news is that, if you requested feedback, you’ll also know how many YES votes (if any) you received, and while zero votes isn’t nice to hear, we hope that bad news is better than good news. Personally, I know this is always the case, even if you need to repeat the step above: slam down the laptop and launch a multitude of curses towards WM and all that it stands for!

If you make the long list, we ask for the full manuscript of a novel. For PBs, there is no need to send a new version.

Onto the short list

If you make the longlist, we will ask different readers to look at your work, and at this stage we are asking readers to be much harsher with their votes – we will ask them to only vote YES for the next round if they truly believe the novel is potentially a book they’d love to see on the shelves (not necessarily on this draft, but it’s got to be close).

We would be cutting down the long list to (ideally) 5 or 6 novels and 5 to 8 PB texts. Though, in reality, we can vary either way – it will depend on what stands out and what doesn’t.

And our winner is…

This year we are planning something different and a little more special – after all, I think we need something nice this year – and will be having a LIVE awards ceremony.

The plan to hold a live ceremony on Zoom, with readings, speeches and, of course, the winners being announced by our judges.

We’d invite up to 100 people for the live Zoom meeting, but we’d also simultaneously stream in on YouTube, so everyone can watch, and we’d make the recording available to view on YouTube afterwards, too.

Subject to everything working out, we’d love at a schedule similar to below:

7pm: Opening remarks from Stuart and Florianne

7.10pm: Readings from the PB Shortlisted writers

7.25pm: Special guest

7.30pm: SL overview and PB winner announced by Justine Smith and Paul Moreton

7.35pm: Winners Speech

SHORT BREAK

7.40pm: Readings from the PB Shortlisted writers

7.55pm: Special guest

8pm: SL overview and novel winner announced by Lauren Gardner

8.05pm: Winners Speech

8.10pm: Closing remarks from Stuart

8.15pm: Drinks in the Cantina on Tattoine

All of the above is subject to much change between now and April/May but we didn’t want the idea to be a surprise to anyone later.

Good luck to everyone who has entered. We truly value how much support you give us, both in terms of these awards, but also in everything we do.

Writing can be lonely, but with people like you in our corner, it doesn’t have to be!

May the Force be with you!

Stuart


PS – if you’re feeling the competitive itch and want to submit a novel to another competition, we’ve got one open right now: WriteMentor Novel-IN-Development AWARD 2021