About & FAQ
“It seems to me that the three-day gauntlet forces instinct to the fore; in the absence of conceptual and rewrite time, the writerly subconscious drives things on.”
—The Globe and Mail
“A coffee-fueled, plot-weaving literary juggernaut.”
“The deformed left foot of the literary world.”
Can you produce a masterwork of fiction in three short days? The 3-Day Novel Contest is your chance to find out. For more than 30 years, hundreds of writers step up to the challenge each Labour Day weekend, fuelled by nothing but adrenaline and the desire for spontaneous literary nirvana. It’s a thrill, a grind, a 72-hour kick in the pants and an awesome creative experience. How many crazed plotlines, coffee-stained pages, pangs of doubt and moments of genius will next year’s contest bring forth? And what will you think up under pressure?
1st Prize: Publication*
2nd Prize: $500
3rd Prize: $100
*The first prize winner will be offered a publishing contract by Anvil Press after the winner announcement in the January following the contest. Once the contract is signed, the winning novel will be edited, published and released by the next year’s contest.
How It Works
The contest takes place every Labour Day weekend (usually the first weekend in September), as it has since 1977. You can read the rules for complete details, but here are the basics:
Entrants pre-register by mail by the Friday before the contest. You are allowed to prepare a brief outline ahead of time. (There are no set rules on this, but the briefer your outline, the better the creative experience.) The contest runs on the honour system—this has always worked well because the contest is first and foremost a writing experiment and so, as the saying goes, cheating only harms the cheater. (Plus we can tell if you cheat.)
Entrants write in whatever setting they wish, in whatever genre they wish, anywhere in the world. You may start writing as of midnight on Friday night, and must stop by midnight on Monday night. Then you print up your entry and mail it in to the contest for judging. (Submitting your manuscript is not required, and many entrants do not, preferring to use the contest as a personal creative tool. We recommend you do, though. We like to see what everyone came up with, and it makes it a more complete experience for you. Plus you never know… even if you don’t like what you produced, the judges might.)
Our panel of experienced judges from the writing and publishing community reads and rereads the submissions and picks the winners. We announce the judging results the following January, hand out some prizes, and send a fancy certificate to everyone who delivered a novel. Then we publish the winner!
The prizes are a good incentive, but the contest’s true rewards go to everyone who gives it their all: the 72-hour exile of writers block, bragging rights afterward, an amazing mental kick-start, and a shiny new first draft your novel.
To sign up, read the rules and the FAQ, register online, make a few outline notes (if you wish) and then, you know, just simply write an entire novel over the three days of the Labour Day long weekend. You can do it! Keep energized, stay hydrated, keep your goal in sight and let the momentum of the contest charge your creativity and break through your blocks.
The next contest will take place over the Labour Day long weekend in September. If you have questions or want to join our mailing list, send an email to email@example.com.
About the 3-Day Novel Contest Administrators
The 3-Day Novel Contest is administered by the Geist Foundation in Vancouver, along with the generous help of numerous volunteer judges and supporters from the writing, publishing and arts communities. Please visit the Contest History page to read about the excellent organizations that began and nurtured this unique literary institution.
Email us with any questions or comments, or with media requests for an interview with a previous winner or an entrant from your area.
Please note our new mailing address:
3 Day Novel Contest
210-111 West Hastings Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 1H4
More than Three Decades of 3-Day Novel Writing
It is no surprise that an idea as crazy as writing a novel in three days would arise from a province renowned more for its pot grow-ops, land-locked sea serpents and whacked-out politics. But culture building must be done, and so it was.
In 1977 a handful of restless Vancouver writers accepted the challenge to write a novel over the Labour Day long weekend. No one finished and no one was eager to expose their hasty efforts to the scrutiny of others. Yet, though there had been no offspring, a beast was born, and soon it arose again, demanding recognition and celebration of its existence.
In true pioneering spirit, the call went out, the gauntlet went down, and the 3-Day Novel Contest was on its way to becoming the cheeky and uncompromising rebel of literary forms that it is today. From its modest beginnings as a barroom challenge, it grew to attract the interest and support of neophyte and seasoned writers alike, from Canada, the U.S. and beyond. Now, more than three decades later, it has become a unique contribution to world literary history and a put-your-keyboard-where-your-mouth-is rite of passage for hundreds of writers each year.
The contest has inspired the creation of thousands of novels, twenty-five of which have been published by the contest administrators. From the inaugural winner, Dr. Tin by Tom Walmsley, to the 2011 winning entry, Heidegger Stairwell by Kayt Burgess, the winners of this notorious literary marathon have impressed both adjudicators and reviewers with their level of craft and accomplishment. Many other entered novels have been redeveloped by their authors to be later picked up other publishing houses.
Over its history the contest has found a home with a series of small publishers, including Arsenal Pulp Press, Anvil Press and Blue Lake Books. In 2004 a couple of Vancouver small publishers agreed to volunteer their time and effort to keeping the contest going as an independent organization. They continue to manage the contest today, advised by writers and publishers from across Canada and beyond. In 2005 Arsenal Pulp Press signed on to distribute the winning novels published by the 3-Day Novel Contest (under the 3-Day Books imprint), and so the contest has come close to full circle. In 2006 and 2009, the stakes of the contest got even higher for a select few during two seasons of BookTelevision’s 3-Day Novel Contest reality series (watch a clip here), in which a dozen of the contest’s entrants wrote their novels under the public eye.
Throughout its history, the 3-Day Novel Contest has been called a “fad,” an “idle threat,” a “great way to overcome writers block” and “a trial by deadline.” Unconcerned, it continues to fly in the face of the notion that novels take eight years of angst to produce.
3-Day Books is an independent publishing house established in 2005 to publish the annual winner of the International 3-Day Novel Contest. The titles released by 3-Day Books reflect the diversity and originality inspired by the 3-Day Novel Contest, and are darn good reads besides. You can buy titles by 3-Day Books directly from this website (click the Buy Now links by each title in the Books section to order securely by PayPal), order them with your contest registration, request them at any bookstore or library, or buy them from your favourite online bookseller.
Recent Reviews for Our Titles
“Creepy mystery? Bizarre romance? Hilarious family dysfunction? Terroryaki! has it all in perfect portions, all against the backdrop of the Seattle food scene. At only 122 pages, this is a quick, fun read that will definitely stir up some cravings for your favorite comfort food by the time you’ve finished.”
—49th Parallel Book Blog on Terroryaki! by Jennifer K. Chung
“A lesser writer would have taken twice these 170 pages to tell the same story with as much resonance. Through his sparse, economical writing and keen ear for believable dialogue, Sedore unerringly pulls the reader in, making us care about the three main players in the book… By turns, engaging, gripping, endearing, heartbreaking and funny, this is a fine novel by a talented young writer.”
—The Globe and Mail on Snowmen by Mark Sedore
“[D]efinitely out of the ordinary. By page 10, the reader meets a guy with three fingers on one hand, meets a crooked cop, and learns that the narrator’s current trade is affixing cameras in rest-stop bathrooms on I-95 in the hope of catching people engaged in sex acts. And yes, the narrator’s boss posts the videos on the Internet … It works.”
—The New Haven Advocate on The Videographer by Jason Rapczynski
“…it seems to me that the three-day gauntlet forces instinct to the fore…the writerly subconscious drives things on. Kupferschmidt’s instincts have guided him flawlessly in this tough-minded and deeply moral look at the cost of being good in evil times.”
—The Globe and Mail on In the Garden of Men by John Kupferschmidt
“…an emotionally powerful book and an intense read… McLeod’s knack for realistic dialogue and for shaping young male characters you might have met at summer camp 20 years ago bring this coming-of-age tale to life.”
–Now magazine on The Convictions of Leonard McKinley by Brendan McLeod
“The stories are told with humour and compassion… Each character is brilliantly drawn, with never a thought or action that doesn’t ring true. First-time novelist Jan Underwood has written an eminently readable, often hilarious, book.”
-—Broken Pencil on Day Shift Werewolf by Jan Underwood
“…the whole project goes beyond language, i.e., beyond the normal and expected scope of a novel. Even the act of reading it is participation in the project and in the game. The authors are bending genre to lovely effect. They worked with their units (of time, of language, of narrative) with nurturing, caretaking voices, hurried as they might have been.”
–Bookslut.com on Love Block by Meghan Austin and Shannon Mullally
What is the 3-Day Novel Contest, anyway?
The 3-Day Novel Contest is a writing challenge that has happened every Labour Day Weekend since 1977. Entrants pre-register and then grit their teeth, lock their doors and try to produce a literary masterwork in 72 short hours. A panel of experienced judges reads the results and the winning novel is published. The contest was originally administered by a series of small publishing houses, but today, thanks to a host of volunteers and friendly literary groups, the 3-Day Novel Contest and its imprint, 3-Day Books, is now an independent organization. Read about the 3-Day Novel Contest’s history here.
Can I submit a novel I’ve already written?
No! Submissions must be written only during the Labour Day weekend of the year you registered for the contest. (And follow all the rest of the rules, too.)
Do I have to come to Vancouver and write in a holding pen with all the other entrants?
No. You can write from your home, your local cafe, in a tree (yes, people have), behind the counter at your workplace, wherever you feel comfortable. You don’t have to do it on TV either—the televised 3-Day Novel Contest did involve 12 of our entrants, but it was run by a separate organization and does not affect the original contest in any way.
Is this contest only for Canadians?
No. The contest originated in Canada, but writers from all over the world enter every year. We have had entrants from Australia, the UK, Sweden, China, Japan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Columbia, Israel, Korea, the Bahamas and beyond.
Does the novel have to be in English?
If you plan to submit the novel and have it compete to be a finalist, then yes. Our entire team of judges must be able to read it, discuss it and compare it against the others. Entrants have teamed up with a translator who works alongside during the contest and in the “typing” week following—that is certainly allowed and even encouraged if you would rather not write in English.
Is there a minimum age to enter?
There is no official minimum age. If you feel you’re ready to commit to the contest, that’s good enough for us. But the young and unsure should consider that the contest runs every year and that there’s plenty of time to enter. So if you’re a young writer, and you want to build some creative and disciplinary muscle first (and the entry fee means two years of your allowance), you can always enter in a couple of years.
Are there style or genre restrictions?
No. The contest exists to help you write the novel you want to write. Most (but not all) past winners are eclectic, genre-busting books, influenced by mystery, horror, western, even sci-fi. The intensity of the contest seems to naturally shake things up. Write in any style you wish and then see what happens. You’ll find that 3-Day Novels are a genre unto themselves.
What about length and format?
We don’t tell you how long to make your novel or how it should look. Write the book you wish to write and work as hard as you can to finish it in the time allowed—that’s what it’s all about. That said, if you are playing to win, try for about 100 pages (the average length of an entry) or more. Length isn’t the only factor in judging, but it is one of them. As for format, we only ask that it is easily read, which means: use a standard font, double spaced in at least 11 point type on plain paper. (And don’t package it so that it takes a team of robot scientists to open it.) Double-sided printing is OK. (It saves paper and postage!)
How do you know that everyone wrote the novel in three days?
The 3-Day Novel Contest is a personal challenge and a writing experiment. It’s about challenging yourself and breaking through writer’s block. The value of your experience will be equal to the sweat you put in to it. Because writers enter to give their writing skills a serious workout, the honour system has always worked well for the contest. We only publish one title per year, so if someone doesn’t want the 3-Day Novel experience and only wants to get published, they’d have better luck submitting their non-3-Day novel (for free) to any of the thousands of “normal” publishing houses (whose readers also won’t have that impossible-to-fake “3-Day spirit” as one of their criteria). For more on this, read this note on the right reasons to enter.
Am I allowed time after the contest to edit?
No. If—and only if—you handwrote your novel, you are allowed until the following Friday to have your novel typed. You should not edit or re-write your novel, just send it in as soon as it is finished. We expect a few typos and clumsy sentences—you wrote the darn thing in three days, after all. If it wins, our editors will work with you to bring it to a publishable level.
Does that mean that previous 3-Day winners were edited before publishing?
Yes. No writer of sound mind wants an unedited piece of work to go to print and haunt him or her for all time. But the editors work with a light hand and a strong will to retain the feel of the true 3-Day works that they are.
Do I retain the rights to my novel once I’ve entered it?
Yes! We will make an offer of publication to the winner, and will purchase the rights to that novel only. All other entrants, including shortlisted entrants, retain all rights to their novels and can do whatever they wish with them—submit them elsewhere, continue developing them, use fragments in other works, bury them in holes, anything they want. However, to avoid being disqualified, we strongly suggest that you wait for the formal announcement of a winner before doing anything with your manuscript. We will not be able to publish the novel if it has been published in any form elsewhere, including self- or e-publishing.
Can I include artwork with my entry?
We’re not going to stop you, but it won’t help you win. Put your time and energy into your writing, because that’s what’s going to be judged.
Do you have a list of winning novels and their authors?
Yes. Visit Books to see the complete list by year. To get these books, order past winners on your registration form when you enter, ask for them at your local bookstore or library, or click the Buy Now links to order them securely through Paypal. Recent 3-Day Books are also available in ebook formats.
Why were there no winners declared in some years?
In the contest’s early days there were very few entrants. Three times in the early years, none of the entrants were deemed publishable. The 1991 winner declined publication for his own reasons and made other arrangements with the organizers. The 2003 winner was found to be in violation of contest rules after the publishing process had begun.
Why is there an entry fee?
The entry fee is kept as low as possible while still being able to support the promotion and maintenance of the contest and the publishing, distribution and promotion of the winning novel. The contest runs on a very thin shoestring, does not turn a profit and labour is largely volunteer. Plus, most entrants find that the fee is necessary to commit them to the process. (As one said to us, “It’s like paying for the right to have 50 hours just for writing over that weekend, at $1 an hour.”) As with any marathon, the fee is non-refundable (even if you do not complete or submit your novel).
How do I get through this alive?
Read the Survival Guide. Remember to eat once in a while. Beyond that, we can’t help you.
I’m playing to win. Any advice?
Every year our entrants tell us that they did it for the experience, not the prize. But you can’t fool us, we know in your secret heart you want to win. The best advice we can give you is to not worry about it. If you’re thinking about the judges or the other writers, you’re not thinking about your book. You don’t have time to not think about your book. That said, get your hands on some of the past winners before the contest and get a feel for how they read. You’ll find that most of them have lots of interaction between characters and story hooks that keep the reader moving forward, especially in those crucial first pages. Remember to get your characters out of their heads and into the world. Remember that you aren’t describing a movie, you’re writing a novel, so take care with your word choice, rhythm and sentence structure. But, as of 12:01 on that first day of the contest, forget the past winners, forget the other entrants, forget what we say and write your own book.
If I don’t make the shortlist, are my dreams crushed forever?
Absolutely not. Hundreds of people enter, only one can win, and only a small handful can make the shortlist. Successful professional authors have not made the shortlist, previous winners have entered again and not made the shortlist, we ourselves have entered before we ran the contest and none of us made the shortlist either. If you like anything about what you produced, keep working on it, despite how it fared in the contest—this is first and foremost a personal creative exercise. (Read this pre-registration check-in for more on this subject.)
So, how do I register?
Read the rules, fill out a registration form from the registration page and submit it online or mail it to us with the entry fee, uploaded or postmarked (this means “be at your local post office”) by the registration deadline.