Meet the Judges of the 2019 BookLife Prize Fiction Contest
The semifinal round of the 2019 BookLife Prize Fiction Contest was judged by five accomplished authors.
According to Tim Pratt, author of 30 books, “I followed what was once a fairly standard path to publishing in the science fiction and fantasy world: I wrote a bunch of stories and gradually began selling them to small magazines, then to the professional magazines, garnering some positive critical attention.” His accolades, and “blurbs from some prominent writers,” eventually led him to publish a short story collection, which led to an agent, and the publication of his debut novel, The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl in 2005.
Pratt has always had a DIY mindset, being involved in the “’zine scene” of the 2000s, publishing chapbooks, and a small magazine. But Pratt also counts himself lucky for the contacts he’s had within the publishing community: “I wasn't just toiling in isolation…Early on I got an entry-level job working at a magazine in my field, where I was able to meet lots of people from all parts of the publishing industry, which didn't hurt.”
Pratt credits his steady success to his willingness to be flexible and to experiment: “These days I'm very much a hybrid author, publishing books with traditional presses large and small (and medium), while also crowdfunding passion projects... I’m always on the lookout for other opportunities that look interesting.”
Pratt selected Pluto’s Ghost as the finalist for the science fiction/fantasy/horror category. He called it “a compulsively readable, twisty first-contact tale… full of physical, mechanical, and moral disasters.”
Rachel Howzell Hall
When discussing her path to publishing, author Rachel Howzell Hall mentions two other groundbreaking authors: “Terry McMillan and Walter Mosley exploded onto the literary scene around 1995, with one story featuring contemporary black women (Waiting to Exhale), and the other, Devil in a Blue Dress, with a black private eye.” Hall had herself always wanted to write a police procedural and was inspired by McMillan's and Mosley’s work. Her first book, A Quiet Storm, which was published by Scribner in 2002, “had crime around its edges.” While that novel was critically well received, “it was not a bestseller, and so I had difficulty landing another book deal. But their ‘no’ didn’t keep me from writing," Hall says. She went on to self-publish her next book, The View from Here, in 2011, and followed that book with No One Knows You’re Here, which she counts as her first true venture into writing about crime. “Both books taught me about marketing to readers and also helped me hone my voice in writing mysteries and suspense. Even though I now have traditional publishing deals, I look at my two indies as one of the most valuable moments of my writing career,” Hall says.
Hall selected Carrie Rubin’s Fatal Rounds as the finalist in the mystery/thriller category. She called the book “a brisk, page-turning read” and praised Rubin’s heroine, saying “I rooted for Liza, a devoted daughter, a gifted medical resident, and an amateur sleuth committed to finding out the 'why.'”
Few self-published authors have achieved the level of success that Amanda Hocking has seen. She has written more than 20 young adult novels, including the New York Times bestselling Trylle Trilogy and Kanin Chronicles. An indie trailblazer, she was one of the first authors to self-publish her books as e-books and sell more than a million copies single handedly.
Hocking’s path to success didn’t happen overnight, however. Hocking worked in group homes for people with disabilities for several years, with writing taking somewhat of a backseat to her employment. But in 2010, sales of her books took off and she’s written full time ever since. Despite the benefits of self-publishing—namely, the independence and earning potential—Hocking signed with St. Martin’s Press in 2011. “As book sales started blowing up, it was a lot of work for me to do on my own...I wanted someone to help with marketing and editing and the other aspects that aren’t writing,” she told PW. Hocking spends her time in Minnesota, taking care of her menagerie of pets and working on her next book. Hocking selected The Edge Rules as the finalist for the young adult/middle grade category. Hocking commented on the book’s complex protagonist, “a fully layered teenager who has made a lot of mistakes but genuinely wants to be better."
According to author Rebekah Weatherspoon, she first turned to writing romance novels because she couldn’t resist “meddling in my friends’ love lives.” Raised in Southern New Hampshire, Weatherspoon now lives and writes in Southern California forevermore because she admittedly “hates moving.” While Weatherspoon now spends her time meddling in the lives of her characters, she’s held a number of other unusual jobs. According to her website, she’s worked as a “library assistant, meter maid, middle school teacher, B-movie production assistant, reality show crew chauffeur, D-movie producer, and her most fulfilling job to date, lube and harness specialist at an erotic boutique in West Hollywood.” Her recent books include the romantic comedy RAFE: A Buff Male Nanny and Xeni: A Marriage of Inconvenience. Her retelling of Sleeping Beauty, A Cowboy to Remember, will be published by Kensington Books next year.
Weatherspoon selected Lauren Smith’s Never Kiss a Scot as the finalist for the romance/erotica category. She described the book as "a fun, sexy historical ride that sucks you in from page one.” She added that, “[protagonist] Joanna is an immensely likable and refreshing heroine and Brock is a hero worthy of her love. You can't go wrong with a sexy man in a dark library and marriage on the run.”
Adam Pelzman, who judged the general fiction category, has personal experience with both traditional and indie publishing. He published his first book, Troika, a modern love story, with Amy Einhorn Books (an imprint of Penguin) in 2014. He decided to take the indie route for his second novel, The Papaya King, a work of literary fiction about an eccentric outsider in Manhattan. He sought the expertise of publishing expert Jane Friedman, who guided him through the process of creating a professional product. Pelzman values the freedom and control he was given through self-publishing. “In short, I went from being the author on Troika to being author, creative director, and publisher on The Papaya King,” he says.
Pelzman selected John Bragg’s Exit 8 as the general fiction finalist. Pelzman called the novel “a poignant and beautifully written novel, a heart-wrenching story of one man's voiceless yet dignified battle against the advances of modern society. With captivating detail, sparse but pitch-perfect dialogue and a rich, evocative prose that's reminiscent of some of the great Southern writers, Bragg shows us the ache of human solitude and a tragically heroic commitment to a past that no longer exists.”
BookLife will announce the grand prize winner of the 2019 BookLife Prize in Fiction on December 16.