With that in mind I thought I should set out the kind of books that publishers are looking for. Publishers of commercial women’s fiction have had huge success with novels such as The Girl on a Train and previously Gone Girl. These are known as domestic noir – stories about domestic scenarios that could happen to you – the reader. Annabel Kantaria’s wonderful novel Coming Home, which was a festival win in the competition’s first year, is exactly this kind of novel. These novels often involve unreliable narrators or unreliable characters – characters who purport to be one thing when they are something else. I think this trend is going to continue at least for a couple of years. I also think it may move into stories involving teenage and grown children and the impact these have on adults who perhaps had assumed they were free of them.
As a good 80% of all popular fiction is bought by women, I think hard boiled thrillers are having a tough time of it unless they can give readers something different. If they are exactly like the thrillers that are already out there now, only written by you, then that won’t be enough – they need to be sufficiently original – maybe with cross-genre elements – horror, the paranormal, something like that. All thrillers, even written by men, should try to appeal to a female audience. Lee Child has a huge female audience as does Simon Kernick.
With children’s fiction, middle grade continues to do well, as do novels aimed at a slightly younger audience. Magic realism, rich tapestries of lost worlds, much like another of the Festival’s winners – Lucy Strange and her novel, The Secret of Nightingale Wood, are always popular. YA has been over-published, particularly dystopian novels, and YA crime has not particularly taken off, but again if there is a cross genre appeal then publishers would be open to looking at this.
Crime is always popular but less genre driven and perhaps more upmarket, psychological, twisted or historical. Novels that help you explore a world that is unfamiliar to you are always popular. Sagas are coming back big time – either pre-war up to the 1950s, featuring salt of the Earth characters caught up in a crisis – often with a strong romantic theme or bigger, more contemporary novels featuring multi-generational stories.
When thinking about entering the Prize think about the impact you will make with your first few pages – does it grab the reader? Is it immediately something a reader will want to read? Is the very first line/paragraph a captivating one? Is the plot clear? Is it clearly laid out (I prefer Times New Roman, 14pt, double-spaced); has it been spell-checked? Does your synopsis clearly set out the story in a matter of a few pages? All of this will make an impact.
How serious are you about becoming a published author? Recently we have given some prizes to a number of authors who then told us they didn’t really want to write a novel but had just entered a few chapters for the fun of it. The fact they had won one of the prizes was very gratifying to them but they had no real intention of taking it further. Is this you? I know there are so many people out there who do want to become published authors that it seems to me that in all honesty, if you do want to enter the Prize you should do so on the understanding that it is on this basis and that you too are keen to develop your writing skills. Perhaps you don’t have confidence in your writing ability and winning would give you a real boost and I don’t want to put such people off but it would be a great idea if you could think seriously before entering whether writing is just a hobby for you or a real passion.
I hope the above helps you – the Montegrappa Writing Prize has been a great success and I hope will continue to succeed. There is huge talent here – and I am very much looking forward to discovering a new bestseller among you.