The First Chapters contest, sponsored by Gather.com and (the lately much-discussed) Simon & Schuster, has declared not just one winner, but two. (I blogged skeptically about the contest last January.)
S&S will be publishing The Way Life Should Be, a murder mystery by grand prize winner Terry Shaw, and also–in what Gather.com’s press release describes as a “surprise” move “due to the tremendous quality of the submissions”–Fire Bell in the Night, a historical thriller by runner-up Geoffrey Edwards. The publication date for both books is September 2007, with major promo to be provided by Borders.
Just over three months to pub date. In the slow-moving world of publishing, this is lightning speed. “Instant” books are sometimes put out that fast or faster to coincide with current events (remember the spate of books after the O.J. Simpson verdict?)–but for your typical novel, it barely allows time for editing, let alone marketing–and what about reviews, with trade journals and newspapers wanting galleys a minimum of three months before the pub date? So why the rush? I’m thinking it’s because S&S fears that, if it takes the more customary year or year-and-a-half to publish, people will have forgotten all about the contest and its winners, and a valuable publicity angle will be lost. Hence the rush to print.
Sadly, the press release helps to perpetuate a particularly pernicious writers’ myth. “Just before Christmas,” grand prize winner Terry Shaw is quoted as saying, “I was told by an agent that it was ‘just impossible to sell a first novel, unless you’re a celebrity or have the flavor of the month.'” Need I point out that this notion is easily disprovable just by reading the review section of PW on a regular basis? I’m not saying it’s not tough–but debut novels certainly do get published (most without the help of gimmicks like the First Chapters Contest or Project Publish).
I wonder if that agent’s name is in Writer Beware’s database.
According to contest guidelines, the winner(s) must agree to sign S&S’s boilerplate contract. Unfortunately, that means these two writers may be stuck with S&S’s new never out of print contract language. (Although a recent internal memo by the AAR suggests that S&S may be backing down a bit, at least to the point of being willing to negotiate a revenue-base threshold for taking books out of print.)
(Note: Any snark in this post is not directed at Mr. Shaw or Mr. Edwards, whose books sound very interesting. Congratulations to both of them, and best wishes for success.)