Times/Chicken House: what we've read!
The submissions are read and the longlist announced, so we’ve finally had a moment to sit back and realise what an extraordinary number of entries we received this year – the most we’ve ever received. I asked our team of readers for their observations, as well as their thoughts for writers planning on entering the 2018 contest. Here’s what they’ve noticed …
What exactly are people writing?
This year, due to the introduction of online entry, we offered a survey to online entrants and had a fantastic response. The results of our survey indicate that nearly half of entries were aimed at middle grade readers. Teen/YA stories proved less popular than in previous years, with the lowest percentage of all aimed at the youngest age-group of 7-9.
In terms of genre, over 60% of entries were categorised as either fantasy or magical realism. Our readers’ individual reports certainly confirm the enduring popularity of middle-grade fantasy in particular (thanks, Harry Potter). Some of our readers reported a huge number of timeslip stories, others a surge in traditional swords and sorcery – one even had a glut of woodland fairies! It’s worth noting that fantasy itself is an incredibly diverse genre, and we were all impressed by the range of subjects, tone and setting in our reading piles.
Who is entering the competition?
All our returning readers noticed a marked increase in entries from overseas, which is fantastic. In fact, the survey indicates that nearly half of this year’s entrants live outside of the UK. The resulting diversity of voices and stories has been a real asset, and we’re excited for this to increase further as news of our competition spreads internationally.
As for age, nearly half of our entrants are in the 26-45 bracket, followed by 46-55, and much smaller proportions in 18-25 and 65+. And impressively, over 80% of entrants have never entered the competition before. We’re so pleased to be attracting so many new voices!
What would you like to see more of in the future?
Of course, all of our readers had different answers to this question – however, it does throw a light on those areas which appeared to be less popular. One of our readers never found that funny, quirky, contemporary story she was searching for – another was yearning for a fully-realised, unique fantasy world that never quite materialised, despite the number of fantasy submissions. We loved the range of settings, peoples, religions and nationalities on show in this year’s longlist, and are keen to encourage even more diversity in years to come. As a company, we’d also love to see more novels for a 7+ readership with fun, original and exciting concepts – it’s a difficult age-group to write for and we’re always on the hunt for those fantastic younger voices.
Any common blunders you noticed in submissions?
The most common one remains ending your synopsis on a cliff-hanger. Please don’t do this: seriously, we need to know what happens! Otherwise, a lot of writers this year didn’t tell us anything about themselves – it might feel like you’re blowing your own trumpet but we do invest in authors, not just stories, so we’re truly interested to know who you are and what you do for a living.
I’m thinking of finishing a novel for next year’s competition – what sort of thing should I write?
The best advice is to write about something you’re passionate about – don’t try to anticipate or follow trends. The market is unpredictable, and the lag time between acquiring a book and publishing it means that any attempt to jump on a bandwagon may well miss the bandwagon entirely! Better to follow your nose – your enthusiasm for your subject will often translate to the reader, too.
The Times Competition shortlist is due to be announced at the end of April … watch this space! Thanks for reading, and we hope you’re inspired to enter the competition next year, and perhaps follow in the winning footsteps of Laurel Remington, Kerr Thomson and Sophia Bennett - keep an eye on the submissions page for instructions on how to enter.