This year's deadline is June
30. Submit a self-published book in one of the following categories, up
to 150,000 words in length:
·General Fiction (literary &
·Young Adult Fiction
·Creative Nonfiction &
The winner of each category
will receive $1,500, a marketing analysis and one-hour phone
consultation with Carolyn
Howard-Johnson, a $300 credit at BookBaby,
and 3 free ads in the Winning Writers newsletter (a $450 value). Two
honorable mentions in each category will receive $250. We will publish
online excerpts (1,000-6,000 words) from all entries that win a prize,
along with critiques from judges Jendi Reiter and Ellen LaFleche. Lauren Singer and Annie
Keithline will assist in the judging.
The entry fee is $60 per book.
Your book should be available to the public for sale or download by
June 30 to be eligible. Books published in past years are welcome.
Submit as many books as you like.
All contestants will receive a copy of How to Get Great Book
Reviews Frugally & Ethically by Carolyn Howard-Johnson
(PDF) and free guides to successful publishing from BookBaby.
Thanks to everyone who entered
our second annual North Street Book Prize for self-published books of
fiction, memoir, and creative nonfiction. We received 473 entries. Once
again we were impressed with the creativity, vulnerability, and
perseverance of the many fine writers who prefer self-publishing or who
have not yet been discovered by the major presses.
This year we brought on Lauren
Singer and Anne Keithline as first-round screeners to present a
shortlist of about 50 books to final judges Jendi Reiter and Ellen
LaFleche. We chose Lauren and Anne for their contemporary aesthetic,
political awareness, and professionalism. Our faith was certainly
rewarded. Ellen did the first read-through of the shortlisted books
that were submitted in hard copy, then she and Jendi divided the online
entries. We shared our favorites from each batch with one another for a
full read-through, ending up with the 16 finalists on our winners'
As we read, we asked ourselves:
Would we continue reading this book for pleasure if it wasn't a contest
entry? Is this book truly finished and polished, or does it need
another round of structural or line edits to fulfill its potential? Did
we learn something new from this book?
This year's entries made us
rethink genre boundaries. Some books submitted as memoir were actually
novelizations of family history. As popular subjects like World War II
and the 1960s counterculture become farther away in time, we are seeing
more books by children of the participants in those events. Though
these cross-genre family histories can be good reads, we're eager to
receive more first-hand accounts of recent events that have been under-represented
in the literature.
Our line between
"genre/commercial" and "mainstream/literary"
appeared increasingly arbitrary. A book with traditionally
"genre" elements, such as a romance plotline or paranormal
phenomena, could have the poetic writing style and social significance
of serious literature. On the flip side, a mainstream realist novel
could be a lightweight beach read. Therefore, for the 2017 contest,
we're changing the two fiction categories to General Fiction and Young
We debated how much weight to
give to proofreading and copyediting errors. While theoretically typos
are no reflection on a book's literary quality, these are
self-published books, not manuscripts, so we must also evaluate them as
commercial products. Our touchstone was: Would we feel cheated if we
bought this book for full price and found this many misspelled words
and incorrect sentences? Unfortunately, even among the shortlisted
books, a really clean copy was the exception, not the rule.
Pacing was a common weakness in
books we otherwise enjoyed. Most of the top entries were still too long
by 10-20% and would have benefited from a last round of edits.
Nonfiction writers went in for the comprehensive life story or family
history instead of building a tight narrative arc around a pivotal few
years in their lives. Family saga writers did not take our advice from
last year to include a genealogy chart to keep track of the characters.
We noticed a trend, in both memoir and literary fiction, to skip back
and forth in time and setting, without enough transition markers for us
readers to orient ourselves. One of Jendi's pet peeves is stories that
never specify their location and time period. There's usually not a
good reason to omit this information, which can make all the difference
in the background assumptions we bring to the story and its
plausibility. It's distracting to be looking for these clues instead of
immersing ourselves in the narrative.
Similarly to last year, some
books didn't make the cut because of problematic stereotypes. All
authors should check out K. Tempest Bradford's piece at LitReactor, "Representation
Matters: A Literary Call to Arms", for tips on writing
about ethnic and gender identities different from your own. Queer
erotica writer Xan West's article "Fat
Characters in Romance and Erotica" includes links to
numerous other pieces about body-positive characterization. Whether you
write realistic or fantasy fiction, if there's a love interest in your
novel, take a look at Carol
Van Natta's post about dubious consent in science fiction
and paranormal romantic pairings.
Linda L.T. Baer took First
Prize in Nonfiction for Red Blood,
Yellow Skin, her gripping memoir of survival as a child
and young woman in war-torn Vietnam. As well as being an exciting read,
the book has great historical and educational value as an overview of
the origins of that ill-fated war. Baer sensitively depicts both the
horrors of violence and poverty, and the small joys of a childhood
spent close to nature, which kept her spirit alive.
The judging was so close that
we awarded a special Second Prize for Mary Ellen Sanger's Blackbirds in
the Pomegranate Tree, an American woman's memoir of her
month in a Mexican prison where she was unjustly held as leverage in a
land dispute. Sanger made use of this Kafka-esque experience to record
the stories of her fellow prisoners, many of them victims of a corrupt
legal system. Her poetic writing captures the lush beauty of Mexico and
the dignity of its people.
Honorable Mentions in
Nonfiction went to Jordan Cosmo's Mind Your Head,
a funny and poignant memoir about coming of age as a butch lesbian in a
repressive Christian missionary family; and Mary C. Koral's The Year the
Trees Didn't Die, the story of her three
internationally adopted children (from Vietnam, India, and South Korea)
and their struggles to cope with early trauma and racism.
In Mainstream/Literary Fiction,
Winfred Cook won First Prize for Uncle Otto,
an atmospheric and moving historical novel about an African-American
family in the World War I and Prohibition era. The title character is
based on his real-life uncle, rumored to have been a bootlegger during
the Roaring 20s. With well-realized characters and dramatic twists,
this saga illuminates a crucial period of American social change, from
a perspective that is under-represented in standard history books.
Honorable Mentions in
Mainstream/Literary Fiction went to Jeff Ingber for Béla's Letters,
a spiritually rich novel about the Holocaust in Hungary, based on his
parents' life stories; and Lee Wicks for Some Measure of
Happiness, an intimate tale of friendship and bereavement
in a small Vermont town.
L.S. Johnson won First Prize in
Genre Fiction for Vacui Magia,
a collection of strange and lyrical horror stories about women,
reminiscent of the dark fantasy writing of Angela Carter and Tanith
Lee. Her achingly real characters—ranging from a cafeteria worker on
the verge of a breakdown, to an 18th-century prostitute enraged that
Rousseau stole her life story—are driven by oppression to invoke dangerous
forces. Honorable Mentions went to April Kelly's Winged,
a magical-realist novel about a mother who risks everything for her
daughter's dreams of flying; and Return of the
Convict by William Alan Thomas, a space-adventure
update of Dickens's Great Expectations.
This year's books were
enjoyable, educational, and inventive. We thank you once again for
entrusting us with your work. In our third contest, open now,
we'd love to see even more books by and about people of color,
especially in contemporary settings; young adult novels outside the
paranormal/fantasy genre; LGBTQI characters in all genres; romance
novels that understand consent and feminism; and "own voices"
literature about disability and neurodiversity. We look forward to
discovering our next favorite authors!
We would like to recognize and
encourage these finalists: