How Applying for a NWA Helped Me Get Published (Even Though I Didn't Win One)

Natalie Fergie The Sewing Machine
Category: Writing

The decision to apply for a New Writers Award and the Next Chapter Award in 2015 did not happen overnight. It took some serious persuasion from friends at several cake-laden gatherings before I was convinced to go ahead. I couldn’t argue back with my mouth full of blueberry muffin.


The NWA application needs three components: sample, synopsis, and personal statement. Preparing my work for submission to NWA made me look at my manuscript with fresh eyes. I started to visualise someone picking the book up in a shop and this made me consider more carefully how the plotting could be improved to keep a reader turning the pages. 

I wrote the synopsis fifty different ways and concentrated on the themes and method of telling the story. Creating a personal statement - something I hadn’t done for many years - made me start to see myself in a different light. It was full of positive statements, not just wishes and dreams. However, when I sat at the computer with ten minutes to go before the submission deadline, I was still wavering. The phone rang and I stood up to answer it. Before I knew what had happened Personal Statement Me had clicked SEND. 

I had applied. 


There is a six-month gap between the summer submission for NWA and the results date in January. This feels glacially slow but is good preparation for the pace of publishing.

Personal Statement Me started to take over

Personal Statement Me started to take over and kept finding things for me to do. I approached the Wigtown Book Festival to reserve a place to meet the well-known agent, Jenny Brown. Each allocated slot is just 15 minutes long and although I desperately wanted to tell her ALL about my novel, I knew that this was a verbal event and she would not have seen a synopsis. This meant I needed to use my time to listen, not to talk. I condensed the book into a two-minute pitch, which again made me focus on the important themes and plot points. 

On the day, Jenny was there with Adrian Searle of Freight Books, and they asked questions and made suggestions. I didn’t expect either of them to sign me up on the spot, but the experience definitely made me push publication up a notch on the scale of possibilities. 


I knew that the NWA rules said I shouldn’t have an agent or a contract before the results were announced, but in November I saw on Twitter that Scott Pack (formerly Head of Buying at Waterstones and publisher at HarperCollins) was now scouting for Unbound. He was accepting pitches in the comments on his blog and Personal Statement Me took over again. Scott replied quickly and was interested in my novel, but I wanted to wait for the NWA results, and I knew the manuscript needed more work before a full submission. I kept editing. What happened next? 

The emails with the results arrived. I didn’t win the NWA or NCA and was obviously disappointed, but after waiting a month to fine-tune things, I submitted to Scott at Unbound in February and he accepted my manuscript for publication.

It was fully funded in 33 days.

I had my contract checked by the Society of Authors because Personal Statement Me insisted I should. The project went up on the Unbound site for crowdfunding on 17 March 2016. It was fully funded in 33 days. This is not a record, but as book funding on Unbound goes, it’s pretty fast. After all the usual editing stages, my novel, The Sewing Machine, was published on 17 April 2017. 

Should you apply?



The act of applying for the NWA has moved me from a person with 50,000 words to someone who will stand up at my book launch next week and say thank you to everyone who helped. It was a formative process which made me see myself and my writing differently. Personal Statement Me is still around. Who else do you think prodded me into contacting Scottish Book Trust about this article? 


I didn’t win. But! My book has been published and there is a launch at Blackwell’s on Wednesday 3 May. Please come and say hello! 

Find more inspiration in our Five Things series and watch out for the New Writers Awards 2018 opening in May.

Natalie Fergie

Natalie Fergie is a textile enthusiast and has spent the last ten years running a one-woman dyeing business, sending parcels of colourful and unique yarn and thread all over the world. Before this she had a 27-year career as nurse and, latterly, as a Health Visitor. The Sewing Machine is her first novel. Head along to the launch in Edinburgh, Wednesday 3 May.