Richard Foreman is a former publicist and literary consultant. Over the years he has worked with numerous bestselling authors, including Simon Sebag Montefiore, Kate Williams and William Dalrymple. He is the founder of Sharpe Books, one of the UK’s leading independent publishers, and a bestselling historical novelist. His books include Warsaw, Spies of Rome and Sword of Empire. He lives in London.
Historia asks him about about the new HWA and Sharpe Books Unpublished Novel Award.
Sharpe Books is partnering the Historical Writers’ Association to launch a competition to find the best unpublished historical fiction of 2019. Who are you hoping will enter?
I’m not sure if I have a set profile in mind as the competition will hopefully invite a wide range of authors and genres. It would be nice to kick-start the career of a new writer who has a long-term goal of being a professional novelist. It may also be the case that an author digs an old manuscript out of the drawer, or that someone who writes modern thrillers is encouraged to write historical crime. In the same way that the HWA is a broad church, the competition will be as well.
What sort of novels do you want to see submitted?
Variety is the spice of life. The HWA and Sharpe Books want to be inclusive. I would like to see people submit commercial page-turners, novels with literary merit and ones which introduce readers to new periods and figures from history. Submissions may be the first book in a series, or a stand alone.
I suppose, from my perspective as a reader and publisher, I would like to see some strong submissions in periods I write about (Ancient Rome and Medieval). But I would also like to see some historical crime, naval fiction and historical spy thrillers.
What will the judges be looking for when choosing a winner?
I suspect that each judge will have their own preferences and periods of interest. Whereas one judge will look for something that is genre-strong, another may want to champion a book that works across genres. Ultimately, they will all want to be compelled to turn the page and reward good writing. The fun part, or not, for the judges will come when they discuss the longlists, shortlists and winner with each other.
And what will the winner receive?
They will receive a £500 cash prize, as well as being offered a publication deal by Sharpe Books.
This competition’s unusual in that everyone whose entry is accepted will be offered a free consultation with you. What sort of advice will you be giving?
I have worked as a literary consultant for some years now. I often give talks to writing groups, students and literary festival audiences. The main thrust of the consultation will be to advise the authors on submitting their work to agents and publishers.
It’s incredibly difficult to secure an agent and publishing deal in the current climate, but it’s also far from impossible to do so. Hopefully I will be able to narrow down the odds for some entrants. I’m happy of course to provide advice to authors about self-publishing their work too, but I always encourage writers to try and secure an agent or conventional publishing deal first. I will provide some practical hints and tips, as well as encourage writers to keep going to find a home for their work.
Will you accept entries from writers who haven’t got an agent?
Absolutely. The competition was partly designed to grant agentless authors an opportunity to secure a book deal. Authors with agents are equally welcome to submit their work.
If a writer has already submitted their manuscript to an agent or a publisher, can they still enter?
Yes, that’s fine.
Where did the idea for an unpublished novel award come from?
Although the HWA has its Crowns, we thought that there was an opportunity to spread the net wider across the writing community and reward an unpublished novel with a cash prize and publishing contract.
The HWA and I also wanted to create a prize where every entrant could receive some encouragement and advice, to potentially further their career and get on the first rung of the ladder.
What excites you about being involved in the HWA and Sharpe Books
Unpublished Novel Award?
For years I have worked with countless bestselling authors, both as a publicist and publisher, and generated plenty of sales and marketing coups. It’s extremely satisfying to see a book top the Sunday Times or Amazon bestseller charts.
But I also experience a different kind of satisfaction in breaking a new author through and developing them as a writer and brand. As a reader I love discovering a new writer. And as a writer I know the feeling one gets when finishing and releasing a book. I also get a kick out of furnishing someone else with that feeling.
Obviously, there can only be one winner, but the purpose of the prize is also for Sharpe Books to find some new writing talent. By all means check out our website and submissions page and submit directly to us, as well as entering the competition.
Any tips for new writers thinking of entering the competition?
Make sure your ms is proofed and polished. Your synopsis needs to be well-crafted (read other bestselling blurbs in genre to help you structure and style things). Read plenty of other authors in your genre and period. Both on a conscious and unconscious level, by reading the likes of Bernard Cornwell, Philippa Gregory and Robert Harris you will improve your style and structure.
Where do you, as a publisher, see historical fiction going in the future?
History will continue to provide writers with an inexhaustible source of good stories. As a publisher – and author – I will need to be prolific. There will still be a healthy appetite for series and brand loyalty in the future – and it will be up to publishers to feed that appetite.
Imogen Robertson, the HWA Chair, says: “The prize is open to any complete manuscript between 40,000 and 100,000 words. So if you think you can transport our judges with matchless story-telling and a palpable sense of time and place, please send us your manuscript along with a synopsis of 500-1000 words, and let’s see if we can share it with the world.”
The closing date is 30 September, 2019.
Update: the longlist for this award has been announced (28 February, 2020).