A few months ago I posted about what appeared to be a good competition for new writers working on a novel.
The Next Big Author invited writers to begin writing a novel and submit the first chapters during the second half of May. It had to be new writing - anything you’d already written was barred. The top five would win a critique with a big publishing house, with the possibility of a contract if successful. It seemed very exciting.
But what happened next was a big let-down for most of the authors who joined. When the submission date arrived in mid-May, writers were told to load their chapters into the already existing (and overloaded) You Write On dot com. They were instructed to join the peer critique process, revise and edit. Silence.
So, in fact there was no point in being part of The Next Big Author at all. Those who joined, wrote the first chapters of their novels and submitted them within the date guidelines, have simply been thrown into the YWO pond to compete with the short stories, novels (both published and unpublished) and children’s books that were already on there - many of them for years. The Top Ten includes work that goes back to 2008.
There is no separate category or rating system for people who joined The Next Big Author, so one is forced to conclude that the whole exercise was simply a drive to get some new writing onto YWO. This is very unfair, if not downright dishonest.
And what about You Write On? The peer critique idea is generally a good one because you get feedback from readers on your own work and you have to work hard reviewing theirs - which, in theory, hones your own editing skills.
The flaws in the system are that everyone wants a five star rating for their own book and, because it’s competitive, they aren’t going to give anyone else a five star rating because that would mean they might go higher up in the charts. Reviews are also either very subjective ‘I don’t like this kind of writing. It didn’t do anything for me.’ Or painfully Creative-Writing-Text-Book ‘I think you should Show not Tell more in the Third Person Revolving mode’. The process also favours commercial, main-stream fiction because it’s such a broad audience - anything difficult, or a little out of the way, doesn’t do so well. James Joyce would never have got anywhere with Ulysses!
The other problem is that YWO also operates as a publisher - for less than a hundred pounds you can get your work published by them and readers/reviewers can buy it either as print-on-demand or an e-book. That means that new writers are competing in the ratings with already published stories. There is no separate chart for them either.
It’s worth having a look though - you don’t have to load any work to join, you can simply sign up as a reader and browse. YWO is keen to sell the work of those authors it publishes. I would advise anyone to take a look before they decide to submit work. And there have been some notable successes, such as ‘The Legacy’ which was picked up by Orion and then won the Costa.
And what happened to the three chapters I uploaded to try the whole thing out? Well, I did make it into the top twenty (with about three hundred others!) and that - as any author will tell you - is just not good enough!!