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Founded this year, the Cheshire Novel Prize was set up by Sara Cox, open to submissions from unrepresented authors. It was set up with the belief that all submissions should receive feedback and prizes should exist to benefit the entrants.

So, what’s drawn me to this prize?

Through the SYP Scotland, the Saltire Society offers the opportunity to be part of their shadow panels, in 2021 I was on the shadow panel for the First Book Award category. As part of this, I read the shortlist and provided feedback to the Society.  After this, I was keen to become more involved with a book prize and I began to pay more attention to the conversation surrounding awards.

During a tutorial on book prizes, we were tasked with creating a fictional one. The group I was in, chose to create an award for unpublished writers so when I saw the Cheshire Novel Prize appear on my Twitter, I was drawn in by the similarities. Now having worked on the prize, I’ve enjoyed their transparency. From the beginning, they have offered writing tips, various Instagram lives, reader feedback snippets and an active online presence which has both engaged with entrants and created a community.

What have I learnt?

Volunteering for the prize, I have read entrants submissions and collated feedback. While the prize openly states that reading is subjective, being part of this prize has taught me just how true this is.

Furthermore, I was surprised by how much this role overlapped with editorial. The prize gave me the opportunity to read unpublished manuscripts in a way that resembled a publisher’s slush pile. This crossover with editorial and feedback writing taught me how closely linked being a good editor and a good writer are. The prize itself taught me a lot about writing fiction.

Finally, reading submissions helped me notice trends, both in terms of subject themes explored by writing but also more broadly in relation to publishing. While the industry faces key criticism, it was helpful to also read unpublished manuscripts congruently to this to see how some of these criticisms could potentially be solved.

A couple of tips for aspiring publishers:

  • While publishing placements are of course important for gaining experience, sometimes it is easy to feel as though you need to be doing everything, I know I’m guilty of this! As you look for experience, you’ll find yourself gravitating towards certain things, so I would always recommend you reach out. While you may receive a lot of ‘no’s’, the phrase, ‘don’t ask, don’t get’ can often be true. Any experience you do get, can really help figure out what you want to do and what your skills are.
  • If editorial appeals to you, being involved in a book prize should not underestimated. Not only do you get the chance to read unpublished manuscripts, but also the chance to articulate your opinions and work out your niche.
  • SYP Scotland will be open for applications for the Saltire Society Awards in Autumn, which I would recommend if prizes interest you at all. It’s worth researching smaller prizes also, as they will often accept volunteer readers.

Special thanks to Sara Cox at the Cheshire Novel Prize for giving me a fantastic placement experience. Sara founded the prize with such clear aims, and I have loved the opportunity to be a part of this. It’s rare things end up being even better than you expect them to be but working with Sara and the prize has been one of those things!

The shortlist will be announced 8th June and you can follow the prize on Instagram and Twitter.