New Reality Show Is Looking for ‘America’s Next Great Author’

Applications are open for aspiring writers who want to appear in the pilot episode

Stack of books
Contestants work under time pressure to pitch ideas and write complete novels.  Getty Images

America’s Next Great Author is exactly what it sounds like: a reality show about writers, eventually pitting six novelists against each other as they each try to finish a book. Still in early stages, the project is now accepting applications from writers interested in appearing in the pilot episode, reports the Guardian’s David Barnett.

Hosted by Newbery Medal winner Kwame Alexander, the show will put an American Idol-esque spin on the publishing process. At first, contestants in cities across the country will compete in tryouts, where they will pitch a book in one minute. Eventually, the winners of these pitch contests will be narrowed down to six finalists, who will get to compete for the title of America’s Next Great Author.

At this stage, the finalists will live together during a month-long writing bootcamp. The goal is to write a novel by the end of the 30 days. 

The show’s creators, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, will serve as mentors. (They are also the founders of Pitchapalooza, a somewhat similar contest that started about a decade ago.) During the bootcamp, the pair will also be working on storytelling challenges with the contestants. 

These exercises will “show off a writer’s ability to use words, think fast, be creative,” Sterry tells Publishers Weekly’s Joanne O’Sullivan.

This season will focus on novels (both young adult and adult) and memoirs, but the creators hope to focus future seasons on other themes—from thrillers to fantasy to romance.

Publishing a book has always been tough, and it’s even tougher for writers of color. Among a sample of books published in 2018, the New York Times found that 89 percent were written by white authors.

The series hopes to promote work from “writers who aren’t normally given a seat at the table in mainstream publishing,” per its website. “Contestants don’t have to be graduates of elite MFA programs that basically guarantee an open door to the book business. The series will feature writers from communities and cultures all across America who bring their unique voices to readers and the world of literature.”

For the pilot, which will be filmed this fall in San Francisco, the judges will include author Jason Reynolds, FOX5 TV presenter Angie Goff and comedian Marga Gomez.

The winner of the pilot will get $2,500, as well as a larger role in a second episode. Per Publishers Weekly, Eckstut expects that “substantial” prize money and publishing opportunities will become available when the show is picked up.

Even if that happens, though, how will a show about authors stack up against reality TV staples?

“I get it. It’s writers writing books. That seems boring, right?” Alexander tells Publishers Weekly. “But, as an author … who has written in coffee shops, parks, writing retreats, subways, lunch breaks, who has sold books at farmers’ markets, who has had his books banned, who has lost friendships over bookish drama, [you’ve] got to see it to believe that it’s drama. The irony is, the stories are drama, so why wouldn’t the writers be?”

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