Contest Alert:

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I’ve been getting some questions about a new competition:

In May 2011, the publishers of many of the world’s most famous authors – including Dan Brown, Terry Pratchett, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King and Stephenie Meyer – join to support The Next Big Author: a new initiative which encourages budding authors to write the opening to a novel in May.

All you have to do, according to the Competition Rules, is write your opening chapters (any genre, between 5,000 and 7,000 words), upload them between May 17 and May 21 to writers’ critique community/POD publishing service (this requires joining YouWriteOn, which is free), and exchange reviews with other contestants and YouWriteOn members (for every review you do, you receive a review of your own chapters). On July 1, the five highest-ranked contestants will be announced. Each of these winners will receive a critique from someone at Random House, Bloomsbury, Orion, Little, Brown, or Hodder & Stoughton.

Hang on, you may be thinking at this point. YouWriteOn. Doesn’t that ring a bell?

Why, yes, it does. YouWriteOn is the originator of the ill-conceived 5,000 writers publishing initiative, which in 2008 aimed to recruit 5,000 writers in slightly over a month, and publish their books (via a bare-bones basic POD service) just two months later. Not surprisingly, this did not go well. At most, a few hundred books were released, and many writers experienced significant problems, including substantial delays, poor production quality, and difficulty communicating with YWO. The dissatisfaction generated thereby was energetically displayed on the YWO message board–leading to the message board’s abrupt closure in mid-December 2008.

Despite these problems, YWO continued its publishing service–though it parted ways with its original partner in the venture, Legend Press. Last September, possibly looking to boost its business, YWO issued another call for writers–though this time, it was wise enough to hold the number down to 200.

Apart from facilitating the competition, what exactly is YWO’s relationship to TheNextBigAuthor? YouWriteOn’s website and the press release it’s sending out state only that YWO is “supporting” the competition. TNBA itself offers no information at all about its organizers (who are referred to only as “the organizers”), and the wording of its website could encourage people to assume that the competition is being helmed by the publishers involved. But given that entering the competition forces you to join YWO and follow its critique rules, that the prize is basically the same thing YWO offers monthly to its top-rated members, that apart from brief mentions by two of the participating publishers YWO appears to be the only group that’s actively promoting the competition, and that the competition will likely substantially boost YWO’s membership–I’m guessing (and this is just a guess, mind) that “supporting” is something of an understatement. (There are also various telltale similarities of expression–for instance, TNBA displays YWO’s odd quirk of identifying publishers by their most famous authors.)

(Interestingly, when I was researching this post yesterday, the competition announcement on the YWO message board had generated a number of questions about the rules and a couple of skeptical comments to the effect of, “How is this different from what YWO does anyway?” Today, magically, those comments are gone.)

There’s no question that this is a real competition, and  that the publishers’ participation is also real–as noted above, a couple of the publishers have acknowledged the competition, and the book covers, author quotes, and excerpts that appear on TheNextBigAuthor are clearly by permission of the publishers. There are no “gotchas” in the guidelines, and assuming you’re willing to fulfill the entry requirements, the prize is worthwhile–who wouldn’t want a critique from a publishing professional?

Nevertheless, if YWO is indeed the nameless organizer, it’s kind of sneaky not to make that clear. Either way, the lack of information about who’s running the competition is something of a red flag. When entering a competition, you should always know exactly with whom you’re dealing.


  1. Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards, this contest requires an entry fee of $100.

    should I have an alert?

  2. Well, the word of the day seems to be 'Paranoid'. The question you should be asking is, "why is the author of this article writing this? What are their motives and what are their credible sources?" Maybe we should consider investigating ourselves to give a more balanced view. This article is almost religious in its undertones.

  3. Thanks for sharing all your information with us like this! I would never have known. Clueless…

  4. Critique sites like YWO are great for one thing–getting feedback on your writing. The brilliant writers who critiqued my unpublished novel on Authonomy in 2009 showed me what it needed to become publishable. But I had to find an agent to sell it. HarperCollins has yet to publish a single book posted on Authonomy that won its prize which was also an editorial critique. Oddly, my agent sold my novel, which didn't win on Authonomy, to HarperCollins.

    Unfortunately, when the prize becomes more important to participants than the critiques the quality of the critiques plummets as people learn how to work the system and band together in groups driven by "I'll rate yours high if you rate mine high."

    I wasn't knocked out by YWO's design when I tried it–I received a very poorly written nearly content-free crit in return for the ones I did. But I have met other authors who have found it useful.

  5. Thanks for the scoop on this. The first thing I do when I go to the site is look for the "about us" tab/link. There isn't one.

    I need credibility before I spend any more time on the site – any site.

    There is a lot of name dropping on the site – another red flag.

  6. Given both and are designed by and hosted by Zarr, the connection is fairly obvious. Also the use of phrases such as 'in association with the publishers for …' which is the YWO stock phrase.

    Certainly this is a membership booster for YWO and there's nothing wrong in that, but I do agree, would be less open to doubt if this were made clear.

  7. So you could write a chapter, join YWO a hundred times in different names and write 99 glowing reviews – or do you have to write another 99 chapters?

  8. As always, I'm grateful. You point out the slippery spots on the journey from being a writing to becoming an author.

Leave a Reply

FEBRUARY 28, 2011

What’s an Idea Worth?

MARCH 9, 2011

Can an Old Dog Learn New Tricks? Internet Book Promotion