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Article  •  25 November 2022


A previous Penguin Literary Prize winner’s message for this year’s entrants

James McKenzie Watson, the author of Denizen, offers up some advice to anyone interested in entering the Penguin Literary Prize 2023.

Dear Penguin Literary Prize 2023 entrants,

First of all, congratulations on considering entering the Penguin Literary Prize!

You can’t get what you don’t go for, so let me start by saying well done on taking the leap and submitting your manuscript. By entering the competition, you’re giving yourself the chance to live the dream and be published by the world’s best-known publishing house.

Winning the Penguin Literary Prize was life-changing. Not only did it mean publication for my debut novel, but it meant that Denizen went out into the world with a unique level of support, publicity and endorsement. It’s the equivalent of winning the lottery for a debut author.

It’s hard to pick a favourite moment from the past year, but one that stands out is the initial phone call informing me that I’d won. It was utterly surreal and I think one of the few times in my life I’ve been genuinely speechless. Looking back at it now, it’s strange to be able to identify such a clear point separating two phases of my life: before winning, and after.

Another highlight was speaking about Denizen’s history, inspirations and development with media and at events once the book was published. I had invested so much of myself into it; to have it suddenly out in the world, being discussed and enjoyed by an audience, was incredible. 

I know the idea of submitting your manuscript may seem overwhelming, but I promise it’s worth it. For those still hesitant, here are two bits of advice I hope will help.

One: Don’t be afraid to submit something bold, original and daring. The Penguin Literary Prize is a unique opportunity for writers whose fiction heralds from strange and singular places. As well as rewarding captivating stories and technical skills, this prize also celebrates vision, honesty and fearlessness. Don’t submit your safest, most genre-adherent work; enter the manuscript that has clawed at your heart and kept you from sleep, and trust that it’ll have the same effect on the judges.

Two: You have to be in it to win it. You’ve already written a novel; that’s the hard bit done! No one needs to know that you’ve entered; no one needs to know if nothing comes of it. But just imagine how it would feel to get a phone call saying you’ve won, and know that that scenario starts with you taking ten minutes to enter this prize. 

Remembering how it felt to stand in your shoes, I wish I’d known that establishing a career as a writer is a very long game… and that that’s okay! 2021 was not the first year I’d submitted a novel to the Penguin Literary Prize. In fact, I had been entering various manuscript competitions since 2016. But every entry was a learning experience, and any shortcuts along the way would have prevented me from growing and getting to the point I am at now.

You don’t have to win to gain something invaluable from entering a prize like this. The process of putting your work forward is an immensely beneficial exercise and, arguably, the real legwork of developing a writing career. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by entering.


Best of luck,

James McKenzie Watson


Ready to enter? More info here! 

Feature Title

Denizen: Winner of the Penguin Literary Prize
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