Re: Redroom blog theme "rescue." Helping the undersung literary fiction writer is something that has long been on my mind. I am a director at an arts foundation called the Dactyl Foundation in NYC. Primarily, I organize lectures on art and science and run poetry readings and discussion forums, but the Foundation doesn't do anything for novelists. Since I am a novelist, I'm not sure why I have never really made an effort to reach out to struggling writers. I suppose I just never knew what to do beyond the occasional signing or book release party.
Lately though I've been thinking about the changing nature of publishing today. The major houses are going under and they haven't been publishing much literary fiction for a long time any way. Book review space is dwindling in the major newspapers and growing on blogs and other online media. Literary agents are an endangered species. Self-publishing is becoming an increasingly easy and attractive option for authors. But without a great review a good book published by any means will sink into oblivion. How can I help rescue them? How can I try to turn these industry changes into something positive for talented unheard-ofs?
A literary contest can be a powerful way to bring deserving nobodies to the fore. Most contests are looking for new and unpublished work. What about all the great stuff that's already out there? and about which no one knows? I've decided I would like to organize a contest for undersung books by living authors. And I am asking you, fellow writers, for your input to help me figure out how best to organize the contest.
These are some of my initial thoughts. I want it to be as open to as many qualifying works as possible and therefore I would say that any one should be able to submit a work for consideration, the author, the publisher or any reader. The author would have to be living and the novel or short story collection would have to have sold no more than 10,000 copies at the time of submission. The work would have to be published in some form, whether through a traditional publishing house, self-published, print-on-demand, Kindle or etc. It would have to be available for purchase through a bookstore, either as new or as used.
For the initial submission we would ask for:
A short review of the work, written by someone other than the author.
A one- or two-page excerpt from the work.
If the initial submission is approved the author would be asked to submit the complete work. If the work is selected the author would receive a monetary prize.
The chosen authors would then form a group that could choose additional works worthy of recognition. The undersung literary fiction writers list would grow slowly at first but might expand pretty rapidly after the first few years. What's nice about this is it would become a contest for undersung writers run by (formerly) undersung writers. Such a contest might better fulfill the filtering function currently being served by the traditional publishing house.
So what's your experience with contests? Are they a waste of time? Do they help some authors? Which contests do you think are run well? and why? Do you think the undersung writers contest could be different enough to make a difference? Have you run a contest? If so, was it a nightmare? disappointing? rewarding? What do you think is a respectable amount for the prize? And what do you think about entry fees?
I'd love to hear from you, especially if you write literary fiction, by which I mean, to put it as simply as possible, prose poetry with a narrative. Dactyl Foundation has held essay contests before and distributed a number of research grants so I think it's a possible project for us.
I look forward to your comments!