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Write On! Features: Opportunity For Aspiring Writers

by Charlotte Maddox

As a wide-eyed graduate, more than a decade ago now, I stepped into my first job in a literary agency. I imagined plucking bestsellers from the unfortunately named ‘slush pile’ every other day and perhaps even finding the next big thing. Don’t get me wrong, we received some brilliant manuscripts, but I saw far too many declined because the work wasn’t ready. It also became clear that, given the competitive nature of the industry and the subjective tastes of publishers, aspiring authors struggled to stand out in the sea of submissions and to make their voices heard.

I still have that thirst to help unearth fresh literary talent, as well as an appreciation for the power and importance of fresh perspectives and untold stories. Now, as the Prize Manager at The Wilbur & Niso Smith Foundation, I have the privilege of overseeing the New Voices Award and the opportunity to nurture new talent. Sponsored and supported by Bonnier Books UK, the publisher behind Wilbur Smith’s adventure novels, this award is not just a celebration of talent but an opportunity for mentorship and editorial guidance. We work with authors to hone their craft, ready a first draft for submission and find a path to publication. I’ve seen the impact of this award on emerging voices, and I’m thrilled to be part of an initiative that propels writers toward the recognition they deserve.

So, if you’re an aspiring writer and have a great idea for a story, or you’re in the early stages of a work in progress, or perhaps your ideas have been rejected because they’re not quite ready, the New Voices Award could be for you. Here, I answer some frequently asked questions for you.

Q: What is the New Voices Award, and who is it for?

The New Voices Award is a literary prize designed to support writers who are yet to be published or represented by a literary agent. It caters to those in the early stages of their work, and the five winners are provided with nine months of mentorship and editorial guidance to take their work-in-progress to completed manuscript. The award is exclusively for unpublished writers and new work, ensuring that emerging voices get a chance to break through. We are dedicated to giving a platform to voices who have been underrepresented in fiction, seeking entries from writers of all backgrounds and perspectives.

Q: What are the submission criteria for the New Voices Award?

I think the beauty of the adventure genre is that it’s all encompassing, and this is reflected in the entries we receive every year. Having said that, we do have some parameters. Your work must be intended for an adult readership and set in our world, whether contemporary or historical. It should be narrative fiction and commercially viable, which is an important thing to consider. The judges are looking for distinctive, transportive and ‘unputdownable’ entries that take readers on a captivating journey. In the past, we’ve been on a space mission, chased by poachers and shot at in the crossfire!

Q: What does the submission process entail?

To participate, writers must submit their opening three chapters, totalling no more than 10,000 words, along with a full plot outline of no more than 1,000 words. We understand that this outline will most likely change by the time you’ve completed your novel, but it’s useful for us to see that you have an idea of where you want to take the story. The deadline for entries is April 30th, with early-bird entries closing on February 16th. Winners will be announced in September 2024. (And then the real work will begin!)

Q: How is the judging process conducted?

The initial phase involves concealed readings by independent readers who assess the strength of the idea, writing style, characterisation, and that elusive ‘unputdownability.’ They will know no details about the author submitting. A longlist is then selected and shared with a wider judging panel who all work in the literary industry. The final five winners are chosen through collective (and often difficult!) deliberation.

Q: Who else is involved in the New Voices Award?

Bonnier Books UK, the publisher of Wilbur Smith’s iconic adventure fiction, sponsors and supports the New Voices Award. Their commitment to empowering upcoming writers aligns with the award’s goal of unearthing fresh literary talent and we’re so grateful for all they do to make this award happen. New Voices not only offers recognition but also support and editorial feedback, making it the perfect stepping stone for emerging authors.

Q: What can aspiring authors expect from the New Voices Award?

Winners will receive nine months of mentorship and one-to-one editorial guidance from a first-rate editor. We hope that, by the end of the process, you’ll have a complete first draft of your novel, ready for submission to agents and publishers, which we then support you with. You also receive industry feedback on your completed draft from Bonnier Books UK; it’s useful to know where your work might sit in the market. Aside from the chance to be mentored and receive editorial guidance, the award opens doors to exposure and recognition within the literary community. In fact, previous winners have been published in this very magazine!

You can find an excerpt from Nicholas Herrmann’s novel, Short Rains, here, and Joe Totten’s novel, Utopia, Texas, here. Both Nicholas and Joe won the 2022 New Voices Award, and it’s been a joy to witness their novels emerge.

Q: Who has won the New Voices Award in the past?

The prize’s alumni, which includes South African author Kirsten Miller, Bill Swiggs, Cecily Blench and Matt Di Paoli, stand as testament to the success stories that can emerge from the New Voices Award (also in its previous iteration of ‘Best Unpublished Manuscript’).

 A reading of Matt’s upcoming novel, Holliday, was featured in Write On’s October Podcast. You can listen here. Cecily’s second novel, Secrets Of Malta, will be published in February 2024.

Last year’s winners hail from Ghana, the USA and the UK, and are already cracking on with their drafts alongside our fantastic editor. As for the ideas, we see a high school science teacher try to untangle himself from an unusual criminal gang, feel the now-recognisable tension of spending ten months in isolation, and reel from being taken out of a familiar setting and dropped into a new culture, not to mention a political scandal. New voices, indeed! We can’t wait to see how the stories develop over the coming months.

So, what’s stopping you? Visit our website for more information, and get in touch if you have any other questions. We’re always happy to hear from you. Good luck!

The New Voices Award is administered by The Wilbur & Niso Smith Foundation, a charity established in 2015 by the late bestselling author Wilbur Smith and his wife, Niso. The Foundation empowers writers, promotes literacy and advances adventure writing as a genre, working to uplift, inspire and educate writers and readers of all ages across the world. Other prizes run by the Foundation include the £10,000 Best Published Novel award and the Author of Tomorrow award, for young writers.


Issue 19 of Write On! is out now and you can read it online here. Find it in libraries and other outlets. You can find previous editions of our magazines here.

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We are looking for voices with a new story to tell. The goal of the New Voices Award is to unearth fresh literary talent, yet to be published or represented by a literary agent.