By January 11, 2007 2 Comments Read More →

Contest Worthwhile? You Be the Judge

Undaunted by the folding of the Sobol Award, Simon & Schuster will be a partner in another new venture, the First Chapters Writing Competition. Announced today (by an “exceptionally excited” Tom Gerace) on, a social networking site, the award offers a contract with Simon & Schuster imprint Touchstone, promotion and distribution by Borders, and $5,000 in cash from

The basic idea is that, well, read for yourself:

Round 1: January 11 – April 3, 2007:

The Gather community will vote on the entrants’ first chapters to select 15 of 20 writers to advance to the next stage. The Gather Editorial team will select an additional 5 writers to advance to round 2.

Round 2: April 4 – May 1, 2007:

The 20 remaining novelists will have their second chapters posted on First Chapters where the Gather community and Editorial team will narrow the pool down to 10 semifinalists.

Round 3: May 2 – May 22, 2007:

The third chapters of the 10 semifinalists’ manuscripts will be reviewed and rated by the Gather community and Editorial team and 5 finalists will be selected (4 by Gather members and 1 Editor’s Choice).

Winner Announced: May 31, 2007:

The esteemed judging panel will select one talented novelist as the Grand Prize Winner!

I didn’t see any mention of an entry fee, which is nice, and it’s hard to criticize something that seems so democratic and, well, nice (“put away your query letters and fear of rejection” they declare).

But you knew I’d criticize it, didn’t you?

Several years ago I took part in an online writing competition–it seemed at the time like a fun and easy way to try to win the writing lottery. The whole enterprise quickly devolved into intrigue that makes the Senate of ancient Rome look like a Montessori kindergarten. Writers would slam each other’s work while recruiting friends to praise their own work and take out carefully selected targets. And then, in the same way that high schoolers will exert a truly enormous amount of energy determining who is truly punk and who is merely a poseur, accusations would fly as to whose ratings were in earnest and whose were Machiavellian maneuvering.

I’m sure the people who gather at will do no such thing.

Actually, one thing working in this contest’s favor is the fact that people are invited to rate the novels even if they haven’t written one. The contest I referred to above was, if memory serves, populated mostly by writers. If everyone’s competing for the same prize, it’s more like Survivor than a collaborative effort to reward the deserving. So if there are more Gatherers who want to read than write, maybe the contest has a chance to be worthwhile.


From The New York Times:

"It is akin to an ‘American Idol’ for thinking people," snarked Tom Gerace, the chief executive of

Maybe they’re not so nice after all.



About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

2 Comments on "Contest Worthwhile? You Be the Judge"

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  1. Yeah, but our script was No. 1 on the day we gamed the system! (If that’s the contest to which you’re referring, although I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about, just as I’m equally sure you’ll have no idea what I’m talking about…)

  2. Keir says:

    It must have been some other contest. I could never in good conscience “game the system.” I’m shocked–shocked!–at the very suggestion.

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