The Richell Prize is one of the most generous prizes offered to Australian writers of an unfinished manuscript. This year I threw my hat in the ring for a second time, having entered for the first time in 2021.
Now, when I say threw my hat in the ring, it felt more like 3 months of grueling training for an Olympic throw of the shot put. I once again entered my story tilted ‘Scattered Scones’.
You can enter the same piece of work for a second time if it has been extensively reworked, and that is exactly what I spent every waking minute I had spare from my day job and, well, life in general, doing.
So, what is The Richell Prize?
Writers need to submit the following;
The first three chapters of the work (up to 20,000) words
A one-page synopsis
A full chapter breakdown of the book
A statement, up to 750 words, telling the judges what winning the prize would mean for you and your writing journey
The prize is $10,000 and a one-year mentorship with a publisher from Hachette, Australia. Many winners have been published by Hachette. Several short listed authors have also been published through this prize.
So, I dusted off the half-finished manuscript I hadn’t looked at in over six months and got to work. The dreaded synopsis terrified me, so I put that aside to begin with and started reworking the opening chapters.
I asked for both beta and sensitivity reader feedback on those first three chapters, more than once, and made changes based on the feedback I received. Most of the feedback I got was extremely helpful, and most of it I took on board. The feedback helped tighten the work and show the emotion experienced by my protagonist when she receives her devastating diagnosis, driving her to act.
Once I was happy with these opening chapters I got to work on the synopsis. When it was finished I got feedback from a trusted author friend of mine who helped me ensure it captured the essence of the story, the inciting events, and the main characters. Summing up the main points of an entire book on one page, spoilers and all is a challenge, and I will be forever grateful for her support with the process. I have learned so much and am no longer paralysed by fear at the thought of writing one.
Now, the chapter breakdown is where I almost gave up on the whole entry. I thought to myself, how the hell do I write a breakdown for a book I haven’t finished yet? I only had a rough idea of what was going to happen in the middle of the story. Typical pantser problem 101.
My trusted author friend told me not to stress too much about this part of the entry. The judges just want to see that you have an idea in your head as to where the story is going and are committed to finishing the book.
For me, the biggest challenge with the chapter breakdown was getting it all in two A4 pages. I write contemporary fiction with a word count of about 65,000 words. I can only imagine how hard it must be if you were writing an epic fantasy.
If you are thinking of entering The Richell Prize next year, here are my tips to get your entry in with your sanity intact and make it the best it can be.
Check when the entries open and close. There is normally a 3 month window to get your entry in. Trust me, do not leave it until a week before it closes. You will need a lot of time to prepare your entry
Spend more time on both the first three chapters and the synopsis. Don’t stress too much about the chapter breakdown as it's not set in stone. Remember, this competition is for an unfinished manuscript, so the story can change. Just ensure you can show you have a beginning, a middle, and an end
Seek feed back. Use beta readers
Your opening chapters need to pack a punch, introduce your main characters, set the scene, show your style of writing, and have an inciting incident that drives your protagonist to act
Now, once you are happy with the components to your entry, read and re-read the instructions on the website about entry specifications and follow them to the letter. This year’s entry required your first three chapters, your synopsis, and chapter breakdown as one single PDF document, in that order. The PDF document had to be 12-point roman font (eg Time New Roman), double spaced. The one-page synopsis and two page chapter breakdown could be single spaced. The document had to have three centimetre margins. Your 750 word statement about winning the prize was to be submitted on electronic entry form on the website and was not to be included in the PDF. Your name was not to appear anywhere on PDF document and the title of the document had to be the title of the manuscript
There is no use spending weeks or months working on your entry, only to have it disqualified due to formatting issues. The entry requirements are quite strict
If you are an Australian writer and have an unfinished manuscript gathering dust in a drawer somewhere, consider entering next year. Like me, you have nothing to lose, and even if your entry doesn’t get a look in, going through the process can only strengthen your writing.