New prize launches for fiction writers of colour

Avon Books UK has partnered with Silé Edwards at Mushens Entertainment to launch a competition exclusively open to un-agented, unpublished writers of colour. The winner will receive a two-book publishing contract with Avon with an advance against royalties of £10,000 (£5,000 per book), an additional £3,000 grant to support their writing, and representation from Mushens Entertainment.

The competition is open to writers from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds who are writing a commercial novel – whether in the crime, thriller, women’s fiction or historical genre. Avon publishes page-turning, entertaining fiction with clear pitches that immediately engage the reader. 

The winner of the competition will be selected by Avon Senior Commissioning Editor Tilda McDonald, Mushens Entertainment literary agent Silé Edwards and author Imran Mahmood, based on their assessment of the work’s quality and strength of pitch. Initial evaluations will also be made from readers drawn across HarperCollins including the Elevate and HC All In networks.

We put some questions to Tilda McDonald who told us more about the prize and how to enter:

What is Avon looking for?

Avon would love to see the first three chapters and synopsis of your unpublished commercial novel – whether it sits in the crime, thriller, historical or women’s fiction genre. Shortlisted entrants will be asked for their full novel, but you won’t have to have it ready until August – so if you’ve just started a new project, you can submit the beginning during our 11th January-28th February submission window and then you’ll have time to finish it!  

What exactly is ‘commercial’ fiction?

Commercial fiction just means a book that’s written to entertain and keep the reader hooked! That might be a wartime love story, a police procedural, a romantic comedy or a serial-killer thriller – anything that can grab a reader’s interest with just the idea itself, and then keep them reading with gripping storytelling. 

Commercial fiction can be divided into genres (in the case of this prize, crime, thriller, historical or women’s fiction) that have existing audiences who are hungry for more. A commercial fiction reader often takes a chance on an author they’ve not read before who’s written an idea that just really jumps out at them from the shelf.

Cover designs help point readers in the right direction (along with the title, strapline and blurb) – for example, certain cues tell you it’s a chilling psychological suspense, and very different ones might telegraph that it’s a romantic story with an escapist setting. Here are a few examples of books Avon has published recently, including thrillers, crime, historical and women’s fiction – both escapist and cosy and romantic comedies:

What makes an idea stand out?

Avon’s books all have two things in common: first, they are great, page-turning reads. We’re looking for strong writing – by which we mean writing which makes us want to read on and on, rather than writing which doesn’t contain a single mistake! Part of the publishing process, once you have a book deal, is to work with your editor to polish everything so that it’s ready to print. We’re not looking for perfection but rather for an amazing ‘voice’.

Second, Avon books have clear pitches. A pitch (or hook) is the concept of the book, which can ideally be expressed in a sentence or two, and grabs a reader’s attention even if they haven’t read a word of your amazing writing yet. You can read lots more about what a pitch is, and see examples, on our website.

Do you have any tips?

Think about what’s currently on shelves (from supermarkets’ book sections, to bookshops, to the Amazon Kindle charts) and do some research – if you want to write a psychological thriller, read a few that are on sale now and think about the storytelling techniques you can make use of, from character backstories that tie into the present day action, to stunning ways to reveal a twist. If you want to write historical fiction, for example, you might think about what reviews on Amazon and Goodreads highlight as favourite features – perhaps you want to write about a little-known aspect of history that you don’t think anyone has explored much in commercial fiction, but you can still bring in a love story or mystery element that will draw in historical fiction fans.

That said, don’t forget to put your own spin on the genre! Write the book that you haven’t seen out there yet – whether that’s a brilliant twist you’ve never seen done, or a character or setting that’s crying out to be brought onto the page. We want to see the book you want to write.

For more information about The Avon x Mushens Entertainment Prize including how to enter please visit the prize website.