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 the Books section 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.

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