Top tips on applying for WriteNow

We’ve pulled together feedback from editors who assessed applications for WriteNow last year. Here are our top tips for what makes an excellent application:

Don’t try too hard

Some of the best writers kept it simple. They weren’t overly descriptive with language and didn’t use too many adjectives or adverbs. This made the story feel more natural.

The best writing had something fresh and new about it – maybe an unusual setting, or a different way of telling a familiar story. The best stories didn’t overdo this, and weren’t too complex. Often the simplest stories with fundamentally human themes are the most engaging.

Lemara Lindsay-Prince sharing ideas at WriteNow

Work on your synopsis, and then work on it again

One of the questions we ask as part of your application is ‘tell us what your book is called and what it’s about’. This can often a question many writers struggle with, so do make sure you don’t let yourself down and put some time and thought into yours. A great synopsis should:

  • Be concise and clear. Get to the point.
  • Include the main plot, a summary of themes, a hint of an ending – and no more. Try looking at the back of a few published books in your genre to get a sense of how to structure a synopsis well. It should be a little longer than what you would normally read on the back of a book, but we don’t need to know everything.
  • Include a hook to grab our attention. A simple and intriguing message will immediately make us want to read more.
  • If you can think of one, include a snappy positioning line which lets us know where to ‘place’ your book straightaway - for example ‘ROBINSON CRUSOE meets THE POWER’.
  • Tell us which genre you think your book is (for example commercial fiction, or women’s fiction, or smart-thinking non-fiction). If you can, make comparisons with other books which are similar to yours - which successful author’s fans might enjoy your book and why?
  • Highlight what is unique about your story or proposal. For example, “there are plenty stories about X, but this one comes from the angle of Y, which will especially appeal to Z readers”.
  • Don’t worry if you don’t have a title or if it’s a work in progress. A great title can immediately capture the attention, but equally if the story and writing is amazing, the title doesn’t matter at this stage.

For non-fiction writers

Be clear about how your proposal offers something new to the discussion. This can be political, emotional or philosophical, but have an answer to why you have chosen to write this book and why you are best placed to write it.

Make sure to demonstrate why you think there is an audience for your story. Non-fiction responds to the trends and status quo in a way that fiction doesn’t have to. For example, a proposal exploring BAME identity in the face of structural racism might point to the rise of activist currents that shed light on the same subject, such as Why Is My Curriculum White / Rhodes Must Fall / Black Lives Matter. Equally, an autobiographical proposal about the transgender experience might point to popular interest in hugely successful TV shows such as Orange Is the New Black.

Finally, the originality of the idea and the profile of the writer can be just as important as the quality of writing itself. We would encourage writers to get their work out there in whichever way possible: in magazines, online blogs, newspapers, etc. and to tell us as part of your application if you have an existing platform.

Be careful with dialogue

Dialogue can be particularly tricky to write in a way which sounds natural, and can be hard to follow if you’re reading a short extract. To develop your dialogue, try listening to how people talk in real life - notice the rhythm and how people ask questions.

Be careful not to overuse dialogue. Overly long passages of conversation can be difficult to follow, particularly for young readers, and don’t always further the plot or show character development.

Show, don’t tell

Aim to create an immersive reading experience, which feels natural and draws the reader in – and leaves them wanting more. Try not to think too much about how you convey the plot or story line in your sample of writing. Focus first and foremost on creating atmosphere and characters.

Less of the backstory

The best plots don’t need to be over-explained but can be referred to more subtly, which creates more pace and intrigue for the reader. It can be easy to try and pack too much information into a short extract.

Workshops during WriteNow Live

Choose the right extract

Think about how you can find a 1,000 word sample which is representative of the book as a whole, and which ideally clearly links to the synopsis you’ve (this helps to avoid confusion).

Try not to start at a point in the book where there are lots of characters who haven’t been introduced, and don’t feel that you need to use the full extract space. A shorter extract that ends after a clear, well-drawn scene is better than having to include a paragraph of your next chapter to fill space.

Get someone else to read it (not your mum)

Ask someone who has never looked at your work before to read through your application – a trusted someone but equally someone who is going to be honest.  They will be more likely than you to spot anything which is confusing or point out anything which isn’t working, or highlight any errors. As a writer, you’re often too close to it.

Give it final proof read before you click submit

The odd typo isn’t the end of the world but it looks sloppy if your submission is full of mistakes. Check for consistency too – for example if you’ve changed the tense or a character’s name in one place, make sure this is the same throughout.

We are humans too!

Remember that your application is going to be read by a real person – a real editor at Penguin Random House. They want to love your book. They’re on your side!

Finally, have confidence in yourself

So many writers who make it through – both to our workshops and our mentoring programme – say that they almost didn’t have the confidence to apply.

In the words of Toni Morrison:“If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.”

Your voice is important. We want to hear it.
What are you waiting for?

Watch this space for genre-specific blogs coming soon...




Read more

  • WriteNow City Literary Guide: London

    To celebrate WriteNow Live coming to Nottingham, London and Liverpool we've been looking into the iconic literary past of these 3 cities. As the UK’s capital city, it’s not surprising that many well-known writers decided to live there or were inspired to pen their stories and verse on the diverse, bustling streets surrounding the Thames.
    Read more »
  • WriteNow City Literary Guide: Nottingham

    To celebrate WriteNow Live coming to Nottingham, London and Liverpool we've been looking into the iconic literary past of these 3 cities. Home to folklore, scandalous stories and romantic poetry, this UNESCO City of Literature's literary history is much more than its famous outlaw Robin Hood.
    Read more »
  • WriteNow City Literary Guide: Liverpool

    • blogs
    To celebrate WriteNow Live coming to Nottingham, London and Liverpool we've been looking into the iconic literary past of these 3 cities. Named the European Capital of Culture in 2008, Liverpool is home to some of the UK’s most celebrated authors, poets, musicians and artists; all of whom were inspired by their iconic city.
    Read more »
  • Top tips on applying for WriteNow

    We’ve pulled together feedback from editors who assessed applications for WriteNow last year. Here are our top tips for what makes an excellent application...
    Read more »
  • Thoughts from a Sound Editor involved in our audio project

    • audio
    Read thoughts from Richard Hughes, Sound Editor on working with the young authors from Ministry of Stories to bring their stories to life. Richard also explains the importance in choosing the right sound effects and music for an audio book.
    Read more »
  • Your stories are full of wisdom and wonder

    In May 2018, Penguin Random House Audio and Ministry of Stories launched their first ever audio collection of 35 short stories, written and recorded by children aged between 8 and 12 and and published as an audiobook CD entitled The World was an Avocado. The unique publishing project is part of a partnership between Penguin Random House UK and Ministry of Stories, which is now in its third and final year.
    Read more »
  • Celebrating National Storytelling Week 2018

    Storytelling is an age old form of human communication: a way to tell others of our experiences, dreams, ideas and feelings, whether through the spoken word or in writing. With National Storytelling Week drawing to a close for its eighteenth consecutive year, we asked some Penguin Random House colleagues to tell us what storytelling means to them.
    Read more »
  • A look back at 2017: October to December

    As we start the New Year, we're taking one final look back at 2017. It was a big year for Penguin Random House UK, full of award successes, brilliant titles, and unforgettable campaigns, and the final three months were no different.
    Read more »
  • A look back at 2017: July to September

    The third instalment in our 2017 retrospective is July to September. From Penguin Pride to WriteNow 2017, summer at Penguin Random House was filled with exciting events and announcements.
    Read more »
  • A look back at 2017: April to June

    As the year draws to a close we’re taking our time to look back over Penguin Random House UK’s 2017. Next up is April to June; three months spent celebrating outstanding titles, cover designs and our history.
    Read more »
  • A look back at 2017: January to March

    It's been a big year for Penguin Random House UK, full of award successes, brilliant titles and unforgettable campaigns. As the New Year draws closer, we're taking a moment to look back and reflect on a jam-packed year.
    Read more »
  • Behind the scenes at the in-house Vintage Creativity Day

    • Vintage
    Ever wondered how our design teams create their fantastic covers? Back in November, the Vintage Design team decided to give their colleagues a taste of their day-to-day work with a special Creativity Day.
    Read more »
  • Celebrating Libraries Week 2017

    • corporate-responsibility
    This week marked Libraries Week; a week celebrating the innovative, diverse and creative opportunities that UK libraries have to offer. Throughout the week, we had a chat with two very different libraries about the role they play in our community in 2017.
    Read more »
  • We visited four of our favourite independent bookshops for #BookShopDay

    On Saturday October 7, bookshops, publishers and authors from across the country are preparing for #BookShopDay - the annual centrepiece of Books Are My Bag's nationwide campaign to celebrate bookshops. To get you in the mood, we met up with four brilliant bookshops - Libreria, Gay's the Word, Dulwich Books and Mr B's Emporium.
    Read more »
  • Celebrating poetry at Penguin Random House

    On National Poetry Day, we're sharing some of the ways Penguin Random House is championing poetry in 2017.
    Read more »
  • Meet our volunteer readers

    • corporate-responsibility
    As schools across the country kick off the new academic year, 80 Penguin Random House colleagues are getting ready to take part in our annual volunteer reading programme in ten local schools.
    Read more »
  • What happens at a JobHack?

    What does it mean when you walk into a room containing a flurry of flipchart paper, a host of enthusiastic publishers, and tables filled with Penguin merchandise? Nine times out of ten, a JobHack is about to begin.
    Read more »
  • Author Naomi Alderman on writing about an under-discussed community

    When I started work on my first novel Disobedience, which was published in 2006, I knew that I wanted to write about the community I come from: the Orthodox Jewish community in Northwest London.
    Read more »
  • Thoughts from an illustrator involved in our picture book project with Ministry of Stories

    In June 2017, Penguin Random House UK and Ministry of Stories launched seventeen unique new picture books, all written by children between the ages of 8 and 12 and brought to life by volunteer illustrators. This unique publishing project is part of a partnership between Penguin Random House UK and Ministry of Stories, which is now in its second year.
    Read more »
  • Celebrating Sir Allen Lane’s life and legacy

    In 1934, on his way to London after visiting his friend Agatha Christie, the young publisher, Allen Lane, stopped at the station bookstall at Exeter St. Davids and saw that the books on sale were of a poor quality and overpriced. What was needed, he realised, were good books at a price everyone could afford. Within a year he had founded Penguin Books, creating a paperback revolution that would sweep the world.
    Read more »
  • Interview with Clare Morpurgo, Sir Allen Lane's eldest daughter

    Clare Morpurgo MBE is the eldest daughter of Sir Allen Lane. She is the inspiration and driving force behind erecting a plaque to her father at Exeter St David's station where he was inspired to create Penguin Books in 1934. Clare spoke to Graham Sim, Creative Director at Penguin Random House, about her father and her own work.
    Read more »
  • Cathy Cassidy: “libraries treat us all as equals”

    Penguin Random House author Cathy Cassidy spoke passionately about the importance of reading for pleasure and public libraries at the launch event for Read North East, read her speech in its entirety below. Click here to find out more about Read North East – a new campaign to raise children’s literacy levels in the North East.
    Read more »
  • The Female Lead and Gail Rebuck

    The Female Lead features portraits of 50 inspirational women. Baroness Gail Rebuck features in the book, so we caught up with her to talk through her hopes, ambitions and female role models that helped shape her career.
    Read more »